Carrots and Claret

I am a vegetarian who loves to travel.  I love the thrill of experiencing new places and cultures and of being in awe of breathtaking scenery.  I love discovering the buzz of new cities.  Dining alfresco on balmy evenings, sipping delicious local wines and trying new cuisines can be the jewel in the crown of a perfect day.  But being vegetarian dinner can sometimes be tricky and at other times downright exasperating!  Although I abstain from meat I am definitely on the epicurean rather than the wheat grass glugging end of the spectrum, particularly whilst on holiday. And as I also sometimes both hang out with carnivores and drink wine, hunting down wine free health food cafes before they close for the evening is never usually an option.  I find other peoples’ tips and recommendations about where and what to eat in various heavily carnivorous countries very helpful and would like to share some of mine.
Las Ramblas

Cuba

I recently visited Cuba for the first time and loved it!  This is definitely a place I would like to visit again.  Having said that finding delicious meat free dinners was a challenge at times.

But my first little episodes of exasperation began before I even set foot on that beautiful island curtesy of the Cuban national airline Cubana.  As my flight from Gatwick wasnt until 12.40 I had brunch at the ever bland but the best of a bad South Terminal bunch that is Cafe Rouge.  I trod the much trod but ever hopeful baggage-free semi-euphoric exotic location expectant route of looking at the Vs on the food outlet menus around the big bright wide holding/shopping hangar.  I knew already that I could have a good glass or two of red with my brunch, this is Gatwick not Karnataka after all.  But after a credit card bashing instant buy of an entry level DSLR (this was imperative as I hadnt been able to locate my Coolpix on a last minute trawl of the clutter of my flat) …I ended up with the soggy circle of pastry on mixed mushrooms on the almost nice ‘Feuillete de Champignons’ £5.95.  Comfort food, almost nice but to be more comforting it needed a side of French Fries £2.95 and a salad £3.50. Boring boring boring!  But more than boring I suppose, scandalous almost as this had to be paid for after all.  I’ve noticed a penchant in French (and pseudo French) restaurants for using unsalted butter.  To my not quite Francophile palette unsalted butter just tastes like unsalted grease.  Also scandalous for a French or pseudo French or has given itself a French name chain the ‘Baguette’ for which the unsalted grease was an accompaniment and for which they charge £2.25 is a little cheap basket of stiff airy inconsequential cardboard.

To add insult to injury all the staff were fawning over two uber serious speaking and miserable looking suited types who seemed to be trying every dish on the menu, on closer inspection I discovered they actually were trying every dish on the menu bite by bite and then after serious discussion they were writing things down.  These people it transpired worked for the company and were taste testing or would have been if anything had had a taste.  With these two to be sucked up to service was slow.   The salad was anaemic, the fries were flaccid, the wine was fine. I havent even got to the diabolical interpretation of vegetarianism I encountered on the plane yet.  Its a good job I didnt have a sandwich on the train.

I am not one of those people who wave away airline food when its brought to me especially as I am one of those people who everyone stares at to see what they’ve got because the vegetarian meals are invariably served first.  So less than four hours after my expensive Cafe Rouge stodge I removed the foil lid of the small adequate almost tasty portion of pasta in tomato sauce, another anaemic salad and the obligatory cup of chilled melon.  I wasnt hungry so didnt envy my neighbours chocolatey cake.  I have noticed a definite pattern in the delivery of lacto ovo vegetarian meals.  There may be cheese in the main part of the meal but its not usually given with crackers afterwards as it is with the non vegetarian meals.  Anything sweet and sticky is replaced by icy melon cubes and the pat of butter is replaced by white margarine (this would make sense of course for a vegan meal but there was cheese on the pasta).  I drank the wine that was served with dinner and as I was to be find out was only to be served with dinner and was not for sale.  At one stage there seemed to be a man at the back of the plane selling plastic cups of rum (or maybe this was a hypoglycemic hallucination) but he was gone by the time I decided it was time for another drink.  The flight was thirteen hours as there was a stop for dropping off passengers and refueling at Holguin.

No more refreshments were served for what seemed like eight hours and by then I was really hungry again.  The next offering was preceded by the welcome flourish of activity of the crew, this state of anticipation was cut short for me when a steward with a deadpan expression place a banana in a plastic tray in front of me.  I asked him what was in the sandwiches that were now being handed out.  They looked like cheese.  They were cheese.  ‘These are not for vegetarian, this is for vegetarian’ he scolded me holding up my banana.  ‘But I would like a sandwich as they are cheese’.  I was seated near the galley and a stewardess started to read the ingredients label on the sandwich.  ‘There is cheese.  You eat cheese?  Anyway you cannot have, you order vegetarian’  Now I was subject to suspicious looks, the fake vegetarian.  ‘There was cheese on the pasta you brought me’ I told them, my nerves now jangling in famished irritation.  Eventually after everyone had been given a sandwich one was placed in front of me, luckily there was one left for the awkward vegetarian.

Coming soon!

Beautiful Valle de Vinales and amazing Havana, books, films, recipes and more!

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5 thoughts on “Carrots and Claret

  1. I agree it can be a nightmare trying to find veggie food when travelling. I’ve had similar experiences to your cheese sandwich/banana fiasco and it is infuriating. As regards eating when you get there, as well as googling local restaurants etc I’ve also contacted veggie groups in the past. They have useful local knowledge of what’s available and are usually happy to help :-)

  2. anyone departing from gatwick south must have been to cafe rouge if in hunger, since the alternatives ere very poor indeed..
    and everyone must have experienced some bad service there, since the staff knows customers are there more for necessity than desire of an authentic french bistro.
    same disappointment with the baguettes, that, at the time, i excused, given the very late hours..
    no excuses for a friend of mine being given the wrong order, even after a busy day, any inesperienced waiter should be able to get the right orders, if he has a notepad, and is serving a table of 3.. and all this in a nearly empty place (maybe 2 other tables)
    even then, anyway, we were accomodating, and my friend accepted the wrong order, it was late for the flight, after all, but would have been nice to receive some sort of discount, or at least free fake baguettes..
    i was reasonably happy with my naked snails (yes, they don’t even pretend to reuse empty shells, they give you just the bare slug..) and the soggy baguette was a decent dip in all that parsley and garlic sauce..
    but next time i will make sure to dress smart, and pretend to fill a secret shopper form, not to escape the bill, but to see if the service improves..
    about your flight, i suppose it’s not entirely their fault, it was you to expect a bit too much..
    Cubana Airlines must be staffed by cubans, and probably for them, used to so much deprivation, where a slab of meat is a brown luxury item covered in flies at the local market, the idea of a wealthy and healty foreigner refusing such a treat as a meal coming from some animal parts, must look as an insult to their struggles and to their imposed fruit and veg rich diet..
    it is probably impossible for them to grasp the differences between vegans, edenics, and macrobiotics alike..
    but we cannot blame them for being offered a banana or a boiled egg at the wrong time, after all they just follow directives..
    I am a proud carnivore, so i would go for the egg AND the banana, whit cheese on top, but i would also suggest any vegetarian on holiday to keep a couple of cereal bars handy, when abroad, just in case, to avoid starvation..

    • Pier

      I couldnt agree more! Anyone who departs from Gatwick South (regularly) and even a lot of people who havent been to Gatwick South must have gone to the phony Bistro. But we do they put up with it? Personally I would rather have soggy mushrooms on soggy pastry than naked slugs in sauce but why hasnt someone staged a protest along the lines of ‘we wont eat in your grotty overpriced restaurants until they arent grotty and overpriced anymore’? Down with the fake baguettes! On faire la greve!

      I found Cubans often to be nonplussed by vegetarianism. On the flight the upholstery of the seats was different and my light wasnt working. The sleepy couple next to me pulled the blind down and I asked them to raise it a little so I could read. There was no interactive entertainment but the seats were bigger with more leg room. The banana incident was a prelude to experiencing it all without eating flesh. I’m no Edenic but they can keep their brown luxury items covered in flies.

      And next, proud carnivore, Im going to post a delicious recipe that will have you shouting ‘meat is murder’ before you can say Escargot Bourguignon.

  3. if the recipe that was supposed to make me scream ‘meat is murder’ (once agreed on giving murder a bad connotation) was your penne con melanzane rendition, that failed to hit the mark, not because of the ingredients, I in fact love aubergines, rich in nicotine and with a very peculiar spicy texture, but because all the effort and time spent in cooking could be saved and spent pursuing different objectives..
    just yesterday, what a coincidence, i bought in sainsbury’s a jar of roasted greek aubergines imam, that, once chopped in smaller chunks, spread onto slices of mozzarella, and put in a microwave for about 40 seconds, gives you a very close approximation of your recipe..
    just to be sure i was’n fooling myself with the final result, ive just had it as an afternoon snack, without the pasta, of course..
    delicious.. ..and within a very reasonable price range (£2.26 a jar)
    of course if i had to cook for more than 2 people, your method would be considered, but to indulge myself in a fast treat, i consider my procedure easier..
    going back to the murderous recipe, i was expecting something on the lines of the ortolan, blinded songbirds fattened up to 4 times their size in a dark cage, then drowned in a snifter of armagnac, plucked, then roasted for about 6 minutes…
    such a delicacy that they must be eaten whole, biting off the head, with the diner’s own head covered by a napkin, not to be disturbed during such a feat…
    unluckily the practice has been banned in the past 3 years in france, and it would be very expensive to get hold of one in the near future..
    good for me, as you know, i am off to vietnam in less than a month, and there, next to dogs, rats and snakes, i will be able to taste drunken prawns, drowned in rice wine..
    maybe not the peak of gastronomy, as ortolans are reputed to be, but still some new flavours to add to my library..
    after all even Darwin himself wanted to taste every single animal he was coming in contact with..

  4. Darwin was rumoured to have become vegetarian in later life, if so he evolved. He said ‘There is no fundamental difference between man and the higher animals in their mental faculties.… The lower animals, like man, manifestly feel pleasure and pain, happiness, and misery’. But as you perhaps condone murder you are not being discriminatory.

    That dish doesnt really take long to cook at all (I usually make lots of tomato sauce and freeze it so its even easier for subsequent suppers). You could cook it one evening and even if you were all alone I’m sure you wouldnt lose any of your other objectives. It just appears time consuming when every action is listed. Anyway its worth it! I’m pleased, however, that you enjoyed your jar of aubergines they may have saved the life of a small bird.

    You could always add some more plant flavours to your library. Have fun in Vietnam and remember dogs are man’s best friend.

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