Food, there’s plenty of it around me, but not a morsel to eat! This is a predicament that has befallen me quite often. Being a vegetarian is not easy, more so when I travel. On several occasions, I have had to virtually starve.
The latest episode took place during a trip to Shanghai. Some of the most exotic fares were served at a well-known restaurant, but almost all had meat in one form or the other. I had no choice but to nibble on a fruit platter.
My food travails date back to the 1990s during my cricketing days. When we landed in Singapore, we were a hungry bunch. So we found a burger outlet and I played it safe ordering a cheeseburger.
But when I bit into the burger, I smelt something unfamiliar; something unpleasant. Yet, I chewed on, but couldn’t swallow. I dashed to the washroom and threw up. When I returned, I saw a smirk on my teammates’ faces. They said all burgers had beef patties and cheese was merely the filling.
After that shock, I survived on bread, biscuits and fruits. Later, we would land at a restaurant in Serangoon Road to have an unlimited meal.
Even in Tamil Nadu, India, I had faced problems when I travelled to the outskirts of Chennai (then Madras) to play a match or a series of matches. There would be just one small shop on the roadside and we would end up eating anything that was available — from roasted nuts to puffed rice to rusks and biscuits.
I was a bit apprehensive when we planned a family trip to Canada and Europe. The Canada leg went off well as we stayed with my cousin. While leaving for Europe, my uncle packed several bottles of pickles and a couple of kilos of raw rice to sustain us during the 10-day trip. A small electric rice cooker came handy.
Munich, Baden Baden and Lucerne were kind to us. Vegetable burger and vegetable sandwich were available next door, and in Lucerne we even had the option of a steaming vegetarian pasta. We would have curd rice and pick up yoghurt from the station supermarket. We relished it. Chips and pickle were fine accompaniments.
By the sixth day, our stock was exhausted and we were embarking on the French leg. We headed to Paris with confidence, having encountered no issues thus far.
Google helped us find a burger joint few blocks from our hotel in Saint-Denis. But to our dismay, they didn’t have a veggie burger. We faced a communication barrier too. After a lot of trouble to get the message across, we managed to get a burger: It was nothing but two pieces of bun!
My heart sank. How am I going to get through three more days with two young children? Google came to our rescue again. I managed to find a Tamil vegetarian restaurant in Gare du Nord. Interestingly, Gare du Nord is en route to Paris from Saint-Denis.
When we reached the streets of Gare du Nord, we couldn’t believe our eyes. It was like entering a place in my hometown Chennai. There were so many shops with Tamil signboards, and then the restaurant.
For three days, our routine would be the same: Get down at Gare du Nord, eat the lunch or breakfast, visit Paris. On our return trip, we would do the same. Gare du Nord, we will not forget.
My wife and I visited Dubai in 1999 before I started living in the city. As vegetarians, we didn’t have any problem. Actually, I was spoilt for choice. Food must have a played a role in the decision to make Dubai my home.