Monday, May 24, 2010

The Rolling Stone’s Moss: Chronicles Of Anicka – No Maggi In My Baggage

So after the initial giddiness, that their daughter would be embarking on her first trip abroad, had faded from the minds, the family started worrying about the fact that I am vegetarian. As are they. I am sure visions of an emaciated brown-skinned me walking amongst all the Europeans would have flashed across my mother’s mind. Where would the poor girl find vegetarian food in Slovakia??

The worry pushed them to suggest that I carry loads of bread, biscuits and the lifesaver – Maggi – to Europe. Whom were they kidding? Did they realize how much it would weigh to carry 3 weeks worth of Maggi meals in my baggage on the first leg before I could come back refill and return? Lufthansa’s 20 Kg limit on baggage did not help. And Europeans love bread. I was sure there would only be a million stores selling bread out there. I would manage. Where I saw an opportunity to move away from Indian cooking and lose some of that weight, my family saw disaster.

Only until I landed and reported from the disaster site. That the world and their daughter were both safe and apparently going to be well fed.
The very first evening in Slovakia, we had landed to –4 degrees as compared to about 20 degrees in Bangalore and the light was already fading at 4:30 PM. Not exactly jetlagged after the 10.5 hours journey, we agreed to our manager’s offer of roaming about the market street and visiting the Christmas market. Post a good dose of culture and some very interesting conversation in the very first hour of meeting, she took us to Slovak Pub on Market Street and suggested we try the national dish of Slovakia.

I shifted in my seat since these things were known to have meat in their content 90% of the time. Ok I’ll make that 99%. When have you heard a delicacy, a famous recipe, a gourmet’s delight in any country but India being vegetarian in nature?

Turns out the Slovaks knew better than that. Their national dish – Haluski (pronounced Ha-loo-shki) is also available in a vegetarian variant. That was such relief. What was a bigger surprise as well as relief was my manager’s sensitivity to food habits, turned out her son was vegetarian too! So she knew all the places that served vagetarian food : ) Could one ask for any more than that on their first trip abroad?

The first time I went to the cafeteria at the client site, there wasn’t any vegetarian dish on the main course. So I decided to make do with fruits and salads and add lots of dressing to them. As I went to the counter to pay the measly amount that my meal was costing me, the very elderly lunch lady looked at my plate and smiled sweetly. I hadn’t even learnt basic words in Slovak until then and couldn’t tell her I was vegetarian. I don’t know what she made of it but pointed her hand to a corner and motioned for me to go there. I didn’t quite understand but went anyway to find broth and bread being served there. All this while she kept looking at me to make sure I took my fill. I looked back at her and smiled to say thank you. I felt immensely taken care of in that moment as she went back to counting her cash.

Over the period of the next two months, I sampled some delicious vegetarian food in the restaurants of Slovakia and Czech Republic. The soups were some of the best I had ever had and they were always served with some fresh bread. The Risottos were to die for and so were certain preparations of eggplant and spinach.

There was even a pure vegetarian bistro in the central district of Prague and the food was a delight. Add to that the Hare Krishna restaurant that was a 10-minute walk from our Bratislava office and one did not have anything to worry about – whether I wanted it or not, I was eating a healthy serving of Salad-Curry-Rice-Daal-Papad-Raita almost every other day in Slovakia.

And that’s not all. Globalization and massive cross culture exchange ensured that TESCO everywhere stocked a few basic pickles, Basmati Rice, a few variety of Indian spices and pulses and loads of Ready-To-Eat Indian dishes like Palak Paneer, Daal Makhani etc. Anyone who wanted to, could subsist on a decent spread of Indian cooking while in Bratislava.

What’s more, my manager and her family loved Indian food and Caj (Slovak for tea, pronounced chai). In fact they get their Darjeeling first flush ordered from India every season and consume a good dose of it. So we even went to her place and cooked some Indian food for her family while she made Haluski for us. And we ate like one big happy family and drank our post-dinner tea. All this was when we were not eating at the Indian restaurant Ashoka (terribly expensive, not that great but the guy stocks MDH spices, just in case).

Anyway, I had a whole lot of fun discovering vegetarian food in Europe and being pleasantly surprised. Among other things, it taught me to never pack Maggi on a trip abroad. It pays to eat a delicacy made with boiled potatoes in a restaurant that someone has caringly picked for you rather than cook Maggi in your kitchen.

It saves the excess baggage fare too.

5 Thinkers Pondered:

Nirupama said...

Lovely post D! :) Though Mom and the family was worried about you, somehow I wasn't, lemme confess. You're a born traveller. I know you will enjoy the place you go to, not caring about what will be available and what not. We've been brought - up like that, I guess. :)
Love ya!

AA said...

Thats the way to travel! Glad you arent one of those typical southie who carries "gun powder" along! We get a great chance to try out new cuisines and we shld. And ya, theres atleast one Indian with a restaurant anywhere on Earth...maybe on the moon too!

Christina said...

:) ... That's the thing about traveling I guess... You trust the universe and then the universe looks after you... It does not happen all the time... But when it does, guess those are some of travels most beautiful moments :)

mentalie said...

ahhh. what about chocolate? the slavs have super hot chocolate!

Priya Iyer said...

lovely post!! :)especially loved the last part. :)

i admit we did take along a lot of ready-to-cook food on our visit to thailand for our honeymoon. we read a lot of stuff on the net about veg food not being available there. we experimented with whatever little veg food was available there, but we were glad we had the packets, too!