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The International Vegetarian

Go Veggie Internationally!

Loving Mexican – as authentic as it can get… From the Tacos and Tamales to the Chipotle sauce… being vegetarian restricts your food choices but then Mexican has great veggie options for those like me. Fast food joints do a super service. Their tacos are even lighter and can be had on the run – so no wonder a hit with the local Americans. Exotic/ethnic cuisine gets distorted in other parts of the world as we see with even Indian curry masala. After my Pizzas and Risottos and Raviolis in Florence and Rome, never could I bring myself to touch the Spaghetti or Pasta again anywhere else. The US may not be exactly the right place to sample Mexican but this is the best that I could manage. Tamales are my No.1 and somewhat remind me of steamed south Indian rice dishes such as Uppurundai for instance, and Tacos come a close second. What makes Mexican special is that, it is a bit spicy to cater to typical Indian taste buds bred on red hot chili pepper and pickles. Neither did I find the Mexican junk. With rice and bean sauce and elaborate preparations, the cuisine can be a complete meal. A vegetarian connoisseur’s delight lies in discovering regional veggie cuisine. That way the Falafel is my hot favourite Arab signature dish with their dessert ‘Baklava’ now getting popular in India. Of course, the Sharia rice is irresistible to me, so filling and sumptuous tweaked with kismis and pistachios toasted on ghee. A curious twist of long grain rice and vermicelli, the dish is yet to hit the party circles. Egyptian Kushari is a welcome diversion as is their Babaganoush, the eggplant dish. Love equally the Lebanese veggie platter with ‘Labneh.’ Labneh or labaneh which may be the whey is my most preferred bread spread for last fifteen years. We live in the Olive-and-Date heaven so I make most of the flavour of the region. Sehlab the syrian ‘kheer’ and the Turkish ice creams remain my other top favourites. Life in Middle East is a blessing that way that I get to sample the original versions, as gulf countries teem with expats from every corner of the globe. Partial to cheese – and as much as possible I go for vegetarian cheese that is not made with rennet. We have a selection from the Mediterranean to choose from. Vegetarian from birth, I have been aware i can never get to taste most of the food spread the world has to offer and that my choices are enormously limited. But sampling the global vegetarian cuisine seems to somewhat make up for what I stand to lose on food front. Of course, of late I am loving something as staple as Mashed Potatoes and Spinach Potato patties from IKEA, so predictable and boring to most, served with Mushroom sauce. But only a vegetarian will know, what a luxury it is to find something as trivial as smoked potatoes in a world gorging on meat and fish. My exploration of vegetarian world dishes started with our time in Malaysia. The ‘Kuihs’ from ‘kumpungs’ of Malaysia, the rice dumplings steamed in Pandan leaves, were my first ever veggie foreign dish over a quarter century back nearly. Introduced to me by my Malay and Chinese friends, a wave of nostalgia washes over me as I think of kuihs and I can strangely remember the aroma of the pandan even now. May be smell travels fastest over light and sound! I was lucky to get my order of veggie Kway Teao (thick Malay noodles) done to my taste and preference in Malaysia. Come a long way since then. This as much breaks the stereotypes about nations and cultures. There is no doubt that India is the vegetarian capital of the world with infinite and unique recipes from practically every district and state of the country. A lifetime is not enough to experience and savour the phenomenon called India palate. But there is vegetarian aspect to every cultural cuisine as I have seen, that most of us Indians especially vegetarians tend to neglect. It adds a beautiful dimension to food theories. India does not monopolize vegetarian cuisine. Neither can we Indians reduce others to mere meat eating status. I have savoured Poori and Halwa, veggie Samosas and Channa-Dal in Pakistani restaurants and Bindi (okra) and Naan from Afghan. The latter to me offered the bestest bread basket ever, putting five star restaurants to shame. My favourite eating place is Chinese with its simmering Tofu on the grill with mixed vegetables and Jasmine tea. The variety of veggie cuisine the world has to offer with respect to regional and seasonal harvesting/vegetations makes for interesting menu. Survival is possible in any part of the planet provided we nurture an open mind even as a vegetarian. Help yourself to generous servings of global vegetarian. You will want to eat out of humanity’s hands.

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