When being a vegetarian was a curse

Being a vegetarian is the new ‘cool’, isn’t it? Apparently the phenomenon isn’t yet global – as seen during my recent trip to Singapore. Now, Singapore is an amazing place. I loved the landscapes, the organized neighborhoods and the amazing amalgamation of culture and technology. But, and this is a pretty heavy ‘but’ (soaked in the syrup of doubt, panic and survival instincts), if you are a vegetarian and want food after 10:30 in the night, you will have to suck it up and sleep on biscuits, my friend.

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Now, there are plenty of Indian restaurants in Singapore. I’m sure there are some that are open late in the night too. But it’s like trying to look for a needle in the haystack in the middle of the night. Forget Indian food, vegetarian food is like an endangered species on that island. I mean, you are visiting for a couple of days and are staying in a hotel. After fiddling around with your Singapore guide map for hours and trying your best to get a simple request across to the Singlish speaking staff in the hotel, you finally manage to find a vegetarian (and hopefully, Indian) restaurant somewhere, but by that time, you are so hungry and tired that the additional 1 hour journey seems like Dandi March in slow motion that just isn’t worth it.

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Key point here being – accessibility. Yes, Indian and vegetarian restaurants are scattered across the island, but they aren’t even 1% as accessible as the local hawker centres that are almost within a km of each other and are open till 3 am in the morning. They’re like chowpatties in Mumbai, minus the eatable food. What do they offer? Seafood and it’s pungent (=disgusting) smell that looms over double the radius of the actual centre. Crabs, prawns, fish, lobsters, shrimps, frogs (?!?!?!?!) are all fair game as far as food is concerned. Mind you, I don’t mean to offend any culture, I just find it hard to imagine for someone to be salivating over a crab or frog. FYI, frog porridge is a very famous delicacy of the streets of Singapore. [Insert poker face emoji]

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So having converted to vegetarianism a decade back, and lived in Delhi for almost 8 years now where my midnight cravings have always opened up a vista of possibilities, (=drawer full of home delivery menus) being a vegetarian and a midnight muncher in Singapore combined to put me through my worst nightmare.

The room service menu was extensive, the veg options however, were limited to an eggplant (baigan) sandwich and garden salad – for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Yes, true story. The only veg option the buffet had to offer was the smallest version of the Samosa that you could ever come across, presented on a table like it was some exotic delicacy. There was also pasta in white sauce, which the staff weren’t sure contained beef or not. Usually I love risks, but I abstained from this one.

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Thankfully though, Singapore has a lot of South Indians and consequently South Indian joints. We were lucky enough to be staying in a hotel right next to one. Thankfully for them the term ‘vegetarian’ didn’t also cover chicken and fish. The only minute problem with them was that they spoke only and only Malay, so communicating with them was as hard as watching a local wolfing down a huge crab. So finding another Indian joint elsewhere, without doing a 101 course in Malay first, was out of the question. So we travelled all the way from Changi to Downtown to Marina Bay to Singapore Zoo and then came back and had Masala Dosa at that South Indian joint at 2 in the morning.

And I simply could not understand their obsession with eggplant. Anything vegetarian had to have eggplant in it – eggplant in sandwiches, as pizza toppings, in pasta, heck even in the samosa filling! I have not had as much baigan as I did in these seven days in my entire life. Who the hell likes baigan anyway?

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Clearly, this part of Asia is still way behind on catching up on the vegetarian trend. While the ability to eat anything that moves on four legs is a handy survival instinct, I think in an apocalyptic situation, the thought of eating frog porridge will kill me before the actual apocalypse.

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