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Being a vegetarian in France

My tryst with the French cuisine, being the hallmark of refined gastronomy that it is, never saw the light of the day! Call it fate or choice that being a vegetarian has limited my affair with this sensual French dimension. However, I have more than compensated for this 'lack' by indulging in sweet French temptations over many a cup of hauntingly aromatic espressos.

In a place where the concept of vegetarianism is limited to greens, french beans and grated carrot, a vegetarian visitor is certain to find good fare in Italian, Lebanese or Indian Restaurants in Paris.

Paul's

Apart from some 'guided' food outings, where help was almost always at hand, I did not venture alone to experiment much in my 'initial' days. A visit to Café & bakery (French boulangerie) has always been an exception though! A feast for the eyes and an even greater feast for the taste buds, i would consider myself a child in a toy store wishing to have everything if only I could! With the exception of sandwiches and tarte salées or salted pies, a French bakery is a delight for an eggatarian/ vegetarian like me. Meticulously prepared and delicately presented, delightfully delicious and sometimes, enormously ostentatious, these pastries are a sin worth committing over and over again.

Somehow strangely, I have never associated these rich pastries with tea. If I have got the supreme satisfaction of indulgence, then it had to come with a combination of a double shot of espresso with one of those chocolaty opéras or trois chocolats. Probably something to do with being in France, where cultural mix sort of dilutes the uniqueness of its offerings ?

Apple pies or a seasonal Galette de Rois (crust pastry stuffed with Frangipan) , flans or lemon tarts, baba au rhum or eclairs, strawberry short cakes or fruit tarts, every piece is worth your next visit to the baker's.

Coming back to which, vegetarianism, as a concept, holds different meanings for different people except perhaps in India. Travels to East-Asia sensitized me to the word 'precision' while ordering or buying food. I learnt to specify that I did not wish to have any meat, poultry, sea food or animal fat. I get an eerie feeling when the labels on food products or description in Menus are in a foreign language.

However, in France, Dining with friends and family can safely be considered a social outing, given the amount of time the French spend around the dining table. I almost always had a difficult time at such 'social outings'.

I believe that eating is a total sensual experience. If one does not relax enough, one can not 'eat'. Of course, I do 'gobble up' , 'stuff myself', 'gorge on' like a glutton, but if I were to really savour something, it would have to be a sensual experience, singularly indulgent.

viennoiserie

A luscious 'Charlotte au Chocolat' served with Champagne & Fresh Fruits

It used to embarrass me to send a 'forewarning' to my hostess telling her what all I could not eat, which, by French standards of gastronomy, included almost everything. This used to be a start of backward and forward exchange of mails on 'can you eat this' or 'is this okay with you to eat'. I have resorted to sending culinary suggestions to the non-initiates of vegetarianism. Almost sacrilegious for the proud French hostess.

This is not to say that I have been deprived of good culinary experiences. To the contrary, apart from the wide variety a vegetarian has in Indian cuisine, my palate has been more than delighted to have 'discovered' the Italian gastronomy. Grilled vegetables with a hint of provincial herbs, and oodles of olive oil is sure to set the taste buds tingling. Risottos or an enormous choice of pasta with dressings, accompaniments and sauces are a vegetarian's paradise.

In India, it is not common to find baked vegetables or its variations. I have had the most delectable baked dishes, right here in Paris, offered by my enterprising hostesses- stuffed aubergine halves, zucchini stuffed with cheese, potatoes in cream, vegetables 'tian', vegetarian lasagna, eggs and mushroom in cream, 'bouchées de la reine' (short crust pastry shells stuffed with vegetables), spinach and cream salted pies, Mediterranean vegetables' pies...the list is quite long...I would share these recipes here one of these days. Keep watching this space for more.

Hornazo served with avocado salad

 

After five years of being a vegetarian in France, I finally feel at home. Having frequented my French connections- family and friends, all of them pretty 'familiar' with my limited repertory of menu choices by now. It makes me less guilty and leaves me more relaxed to enjoy the table.

I am also glad to have discovered the enterprising side of the gastronomic French who will find ways to make their guest at home when seated at their dining table!

Bon Appetit!

 

Vegetarian's Paris Resource Book

 

 

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