My Week as a Reluctant Vegetarian

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I don’t remember you this thin.” he said, as his hands ran up and down the curves of my body. I looked over and said “Who says that?” with a half smile, one brow arched. Our eyes met, he pulled me into his arms and we both started laughing.

This type of playful banter basically sums up the week I spent in London. With him. It was a last minute trip, booked on a whim. We met in Tokyo at some gross bar in Roppongi. On impulse I blindly ended up in London about to spend a week with a man I barely remembered.

Before anyone thinks I am completely bat shit crazy, there is a back story. I swear.

 

 

I stumbled onto a dilemma when I got news one of my favorite people on the planet is getting married during the summer in the South of France. The wedding venue is miles away from the closest town. I don’t have a driver’s license anymore (don’t judge me, I’ve lived in walking cities for 10+ years and never bothered renewing my California driver’s license) and… there are no Ubers in the South of France. So I did the next best thing: asked several men who live in Europe or close to Europe if 1. they had a license and if so, 2. if they would fancy accompanying me to the wedding.

I offended two guys (I really don’t know why anyone would be offended). The third said he wasn’t sure if he could take time off. The fourth, was him, who said: “Oh Mona. You always amuse me in the most endearing way.” One thing led to another and I found myself on a 12 hour flight to London. As if it’s not already terrifying, absolutely stupid and outright nuts to see a guy I barely remembered, the worst was a text I got from him a few days before my arrival. I was enjoying a lovely meal (steak) when my phone goes off. It was him. I looked down at my phone and…

Are you ready to be a vegetarian for a week?

Uhhhh what??? My heart dipped down to my toes, head felt light from inhaling too quickly and holding my breath from panic after reading the text. Vegetarian? Oh god. Maybe he is a semi-vegetarian?? Turns out he is a true vegetarian: the man eats zero meat. Not even fish.

Dining is my life. How am I going to survive?

I immediately tuned out my dining companions as I furiously googled ‘what does vegetarian food look like?’, ‘what are vegetarian dishes’, ‘vegetarian dishes for non-vegetarians’, ‘why would anyone choose to be vegetarian?!’ — kidding about the latter. But to my relief, I was reminded some of my favorite cuisines are largely vegetarian. Middle Eastern and Indian to be exact. I texted him back and told him: “Okay! I can do this! I love Middle Eastern and Indian food!!” Although he said he doesn’t mind if people eat meat in front of him, I wanted to respect his beliefs (it’s not for religious reasons by the way).

And thus, I became a very reluctant almost vegetarian for a week (I had dinner with a friend who isn’t vegetarian and fish-n-chips at a pub without him).

Mediterranean food is a bit trickey as it includes a lot of the foods from in and around the region. I even discovered there are ongoing arguments about origins of foods like humus, falafel and kebabs and which country invented them. Apparently, it’s a serious topic and I’ve come across a few message boards with years of documented debates — I love the passion! Though I noted to specify the region of foods, even if the dishes are similar, I don’t want to offend anyone. So I would precisely state: Lebanese food, Turkish food, Greek food, etc.

One of my favorite meals in London – believe it or not – was a takeaway lunch we had on a rainy Saturday afternoon. We used the delivery service Deliveroo and ordered from a lovely Turkish place called Koza. Which is the photo from above.

Humus, of course, because one can never have too much humus. Ispanak tarator (spinach with olive oil, yoghurt and tahini), tabbouleh (salad with parsley, mint, tomatoes, onion, bulgur, lemon juice and olive oil), cacik (chopped cucumber, fresh mint, dill, garlic, olive oil and yoghurt — my favorite!), sigara boregi (pastry filled with feta cheese, spinach with parsley and dill), falafel, halloumi (grilled cheese — the texture is a bit strange) and another salad of tomatoes, red onions, cucumber, parsley, peppers, pomegranate juice and walnuts. All served with a mountain of warm lavash.

I loved the food but was concerned the flavors were too monotonous for him. It doesn’t bother me because I can eat anything light from days on end, but I know the lack of flavor variations can bore others. Well, we ate almost the entire spread with bottles of wine.

We spent a week laughing. Eating. Drinking. Relaxing. Talking. Being ourselves and laughing some more. There was bowling and table hockey. A long walk on a crisp sunny London day. A lazy afternoon with hours of conversation. A bath. We even watched a movie (Kingsmen. It was pretty good.)

Every morning I would walk to the market and forage a spread to lay out on his counter. I found tons of fantastic fruits and nuts, chocolates and such. The produce in London is astonishingly high quality.

And of course, a lot of vegetarian food.

A few years ago I was seeing a vegan once. He is a platinum recording artist (that is a story for another day) whose diet was just… juice. I followed his diet a few days out of curiosity. After the third day I no longer craved a lot of fatty foods I carelessly put into my body. I recall thinking how incredibly adaptable the human body is. Admittedly, the liquid diet was short lived, just like my time with him. (I wasn’t down for his erratic schedule and how our time was centered around him.)

In short, eating – well, dining – is such a huge part of who I am. But life as a vegetarian wasn’t as awful as I thought it would be. Especially with excellent company.

Caciz (prounounce jaw-jeek), or Tzatziki as I know it
1/2 English Cucumber
2 cups of plain Greek yoghurt
4 cloves of pressed garlic
1/3 cup of chopped dill
1 1/2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt to taste
1/8 tsp freshly ground pepper

Peel the cucumber and spoon out the seeds. Finely dice. I take the diced cucumber and strain the juices with a cheese cloth to rid excess liquid — watery Tzatziki is the worst.

Combine the strained, chopped cucumber with the yoghurt, garlic, dill, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Mix everything together and chill for about an hour or so in the fridge.

Tzatziki is so versatile it can be used with anything. I love it so much, I eat it with falafel, pita chips, warm and toasty lavash. You can even use it as a sauce for lighter proteins such as chicken and white fish.

So easy and delicious!

 

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