China is one of the harder places for vegetarian tourists, which i found out the hard way during my visit back in 2004. Most of their dishes are not a slab of beef (which is easy to identify) – instead they use meat to flavour their food, or they garnish it with a little sprinkle of pork. Around 60% to 90% of the dish is vegetarian and vegetarians are expected to pick around the meat.
Ask any vegetarian who’s been to China about the food and they will tell you something along these lines: “I told them I was vegetarian and they offered me Crabs” or “I ordered vegetable noodles and they came with bits of pork in the broth” or even “I went to China a vegetarian but came back having eaten duck, sparrow, dog and snake!”
This I am talking because it was sometime in 2004, when I had visited China with my Dad. We are PURE Vegetarians and WOW!… The welcome to CHINA begins on the flight itself! China Eastern Airways (Our Ticket said “HINDU VEG”) was serving us dinner and I along with my Dad and two other friends’ of his were very carefully investigating every dish. Papa said “start with salad, bilkul safe hoga (it would be totally safe)” … And here after 2 bites my fork digs straight into Salami…
With all the feedback and suggestions from people who have been to China, we had a separate bag of Theplas, Mathri, Achaar, Khasta and the staples with us but to survive 21 days on all this was a little too much… And after 8 days of having Fruits & Boiled Rice…. Papa and his friends said “Kuchh spicy Indian hona chahiye” (Let’s have some spicy Indian Food). *This is being discussed while we are totally on our own (normally the Company’s Marketing Exec. and Translator used to be with us) in a small town near Shanghai (Wuxi).*
But… being the Jugaadu Indians I tried explaining in all possible languages (including Body Language) I know to the Restaurant Manager and finally was WELCOMED in their NO ENTRY zone (Restaurant’s Kitchen which even caters to the 250 rooms of the Resort)…. Here I am, wearing the Chef’s Hat and apron with humongous cookware to cook for 4! I Chopped our favourite onions, tomatoes, chillies, capsicum and added all this to the rice (it was quite weird for the Chefs inside the kitchen as they were looking with their eyes literally popped out) and then I go on to make Aloo Parantha (although it was some mix of wheat bran, maida and cornflour)…. The Restaurant had 10-12 other guests too and to my surprise (fortunate one)… the waiters served the dishes prepared by me to them too….. And finally it was The Aha! Wow! Moment.
Every person present at the restaurant relished my Aloo Paranthas and Indian style Fried Rice but for me the happiest moment was that Papa and his friends were able to eat well after more than a week.