Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Being Veg

We arrived in Chennai on January 1st of this year and since that time, we have been what is called "veg" here. Being a vegetarian is so common that a restaurant is either Veg or Non-veg, and it's about a 50/50 split on the number of restaurants.

For us, being Veg means no red meat, no chicken, no fish. The most strict vegetarians here will not eat eggs, garlic, and onions as well, but we still indulge ourselves on those items.

Being veg has a lot of advantages for us:
-Cheaper meals (at least 20 rupees cheaper at a restaurant)
-Not worrying about if meat is going to spoil in the fridge, or if it gets left out on the counter, or if bits of bacteria are hiding in a cutting board
-Being able to freely invite others to eat our food. Many who are vegetarian here will always question what something is made of. Also, they will not want to eat off dishes that have had meat on them before, even if they are washed.
-Being Veg is seen as a practice of those who are more spiritual or religious
-After seeing where some of the meat is sold, it becomes much less appetizing
-It's usually a shock for someone to learn this about us, which always invites interesting conversation

Part of the training that we do is getting the trainees more familiar with American culture, and they are always interested in our "food habits". Here are some snippets of conversations:

"So are the Veg restaurants in the US very good?"
"Uhhh...." (I could not for the life of me think of any chain of restaurant that had only vegetarian food - help me out if you know of any!)

"The Midwest has a lot of farmland."
"What kinds of things do they grow?"
"Mainly corn and soybeans. But we don't eat those."
[confused looks] "What do you do with them?"
"Well, we feed them to our animals and then eat those."
[gasps of horror!]

"I want to know some of the famous American Vegetarian dishes."
"Umm, potato salad?"
"But there aren't any main dishes that are vegetarian?"
"Not any really common ones."
"Well what about pot roast - I've heard of that one."
"Umm, it's not exactly vegetarian..."

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Always barter

When we first moved here, I loved the thrill of bartering with auto-rickshaw drivers. It was fun to get our feet wet and try to learn how to do it. Quickly, though, the novelty of it wore off and I found myself dreading the bartering process and hoping that the driver would just agree with our first price and we could move on. However, after some careful reflection, I have come to a new appreciation of the back-and-forth that must happen between a passenger and a driver. In fact, it is critical to ensuring a quality, safe and fair auto experience. You see, if you tell a driver where you want to go and he immediately agrees on the price without arguing with you:

1) He didn't understand you and therefore you will get lost
2) He doesn't actually know the location you are talking about and therefore you will get lost
3) You offered to pay way too much and therefore you will be overspending
4) He's had 'one too many' and therefore you might die

All of these possibilities don't bode well for the passenger. Once I realized that lack of bartering was simply a short-term gain with some serious long-term set-backs--I now deeply appreciate a driver who wants to dicker with me. It means the opposite of the above four, which is exactly what I want in a driver.

Bring on the bartering!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Indian Carry-Out

We've got a little eatery about a block away from us that we go to whenever we need a quick bite. Or, in the case of these photos, when I've made an Indian gravy that needs to be sopped up with some delicious, homemade bread. Packaging is a little different than the States :)

Paratha bread wrapped up in banana leaves & twine.

Sambar, a vegetable stew, and raita, a yogurt & onion based condiment, in the plastic & twine.

In other news, has anyone else noticed how frequently I post about food?