Born and raised in Bombay, Vivek Kagzi currently lives in New York City, where his vegetarianism is considered only slightly less alien than his love for cricket. His column will appear regularly on bpb. You can also find him at http://lonelyveg.blogspot.com.
Vegetarians are a misunderstood breed, especially once one ventures out of India. Through the years, people have always struggled to understand exactly what it is that they do and don’t eat. I am constantly reminded of the scene from the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, when, on being told the vegetarian fiancée of the Greek protagonist will be unable to eat her aunt’s cooking due to his dietary requirements, the aunt brushes it off with a “No matter, I make lamb!”. Some of it is self-inflicted, all with the various kinds of vegetarians now present in the world. However, when it comes down to it, I believe the common concept comes down to four simple words – ‘no meat, no fish’.
I have been a vegetarian my entire life. Growing up in India, no one really questioned or wondered about this dietary choice – in fact, one didn’t even feel quite that lonely at a dinner table. All that changed when I moved to the west. Suddenly, I was explaining how, yes, I had been a vegetarian as long as I could remember and no, I had NEVER tried meat or fish. Strangely enough, I never seemed to have a good enough reason for why I was a vegetarian. It’s that I just couldn’t get myself to. Nurture always seemed to prevail over nature. I am destined to remain an herbivore.
And yet, I have reveled in this choice. I love eating good food, and though at times my vegetarianism might have restricted the variety available to me, it has not stopped me from seeking out great chefs and restaurants all over the world. Living in New York and London for extended periods of time has definitely made this a lot easier, but that’s not to say it has been all smooth sailing. From trying to get reservations to getting chefs to prepare special vegetarian menus to the toll it has taken on my wallet, eating well has always required a fair deal of planning, preparation and perseverance. In spite of that, not all my food experiences have turned out well, as can be evidenced by the many, many risottos and medleys of vegetables I have been subjected to. Regardless of good or bad, however, each culinary expedition has been an adventure unto itself, resulting in some unforgettable, as well as some not so pleasant, memories.
It is these gastronomical experiences – past, present and future, from Europe to the States – that I intend to share in this column, in part to encourage the millions of vegetarians out in the world to not hold themselves back from trying out some great restaurants out of their fear of leaving hungry or dissatisfied. While I would not recommend every restaurant I have been or will go to, there are some chefs who prepare amazingly creative dishes using just the plants and vegetables offered to them and these are not to be missed. ‘Living to eat’ isn’t easy, especially being a vegetarian abroad, but it can still be quite enjoyable. Bon Appétit!