Having spent a little over 3 months in a city where people eat almost everything possible, I feel proud to have held my ground on being a vegetarian. There have been times when I have had Oreo Shake and Red Velvet Cupcake in a restaurant: sat there for over an hour with a group of seven other people, and eaten just that! This was, in a Japanese restaurant. A Korean eatery was the most uninviting place for me. As a result of my culinary habits I am compelled to have biased affection towards Italian and Mexican food. Indian food is obviously the Santa Claus, providing me the joys of a full stomach from time to time.
In the hotel where I was staying, I would most often eat Mango Salad with Garlic Bread, or Pesto Pasta without chicken. After about a month of living in the hotel, I once noticed a new menu on offer. It was as if some of the items on the menu had been crafted especially for me. I thought to myself: finally! The staff and chefs felt a slight mercy towards my rumbling stomach and perpetually semi-satisfied appetite. There were “two” new vegetarian items they could serve! I ordered the first: I forget what it was called, but “Japanese Vegetarian Noodles” was the description of the chef’s recommended item. There came the “udon-something” noodles, and to my disappointment, the thin glass noodles were laced with fish oil! Fortunately, the choco lava cake with vanilla ice-cream came to my rescue again. The next veggie thing on the new menu was Spaghetti Aglio Olio Classic. It promised to be spaghetti with garlic, chilies and herbs only. For lack of enough options, I took a chance and enjoyed the seemingly spicy meal to my heart’s content.
In a pub, you would see me sitting with a glass of Caprioska and Cheese Nachos, while my friends feasted on fish and chips, chicken lollipops, beef-somethings and what not! I was happy with my Nachos with a tang of jalapeno in it.
In the food court which occupies a considerable area of the mall adjacent to my office, I was delighted to find Burger King when I first came to the city. A week later, Burger King decided to leave me alone. Even though they offered me a bean burger which was quite different from my favorite typically Indian alu tikki, I missed it. Looking for options again, I went up to the staff at the Pepper Lunch counter in the food court. “Ada vegetarian?” I asked in my half English-half Bahasa tone. “Gada”, he replied; meaning a stern no! With a grim, sad, hungry face; I walked a full circle around the food court. Coming back to Pepper Lunch, I watched as several people came and ordered their delicacies of rice with fancy parts of ‘edible’ animals. After eyeing other people’s food like a greedy child, I stood there for a while. Salivating and staring, I stood there trying to find a fix to my “being vegetarian” problem. After about half a score dishes had been swiftly served by the staff, I walked up to the counter and placed my order with faked confidence. One steam rice, one portion corn, cheese and butter. Yes, that was my order. Surprisingly, my little experiment ended pleasantly. Pepper Lunch serves their meals on iron plates, the kind of plates we use for sizzlers. So, my sizzling concoction of rice, cheese, butter, corn and pepper was not so bad after all. (Though, quite fattening!)
Among my other memories of being a vegetarian in Jakarta, are the days when I have shoved the beef shavings off Nacho chips and gulped it down, made myself Maggi to keep the vicious cycle of digestion in process and of course, there have been times when I have let myself down miserably and gone to bed in disgusted hunger!