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A vegetarian traveller's travails – Part I
More than half of my working life was spent in a pre-globalised world. The things we take for granted today like mobile phones, to a certain extent existed only on the wrist of Captain Marvel, in the comics.

Direct flights to Europe or America were unknown. Planes had to land often on the way, for refuelling. Most people still sailed to Southampton and New York.

1959: At the airport, while weighing the baggage the passenger also had to stand on the weigh bridge. The fuel carrying capacity of the aircraft was low, so the captain had to know the total payload which the plane had to carry. When I took off on Air India's Constellation from Bombay for Munich, Germany the plane halted at Delhi. On board, breakfast was served. Next halt was Tehran for refuelling. Travelling with the sun at lower speeds, we again had the same breakfast between Delhi and Tehran. Wherever we were arriving, the sun had just risen. Between Tehran and Cairo, again the same Air India breakfast! From Cairo to Rome, the same story! Switching to AlItalia, from Rome to Munich again breakfast (this time with juice and pasta), for the sun had also just risen!

Arriving in Germany, life was unpalatable not only for a vegetarian like me, but for my Persian and Egyptian friends, also. Germany had not yet fully recovered from the ravages of World War II. Everything was scarce, including piped water. For a start, I lived on German black bread, potatoes, yoghurt and pastries. Vegetables, if at all available were costly as they came from warmer Italy and Spain. Muslim friends also had to contend with the same bland fare, as I did. Because for Germans, the staple food then was sausages and ham, all the way! Of course, eggs came in as a saviour for some vegetarians and non vegetarians.

A few weeks later we came to know, that very close to our hostel was a Chinese restaurant, across the bridge. It would be costly, but it was certain to have spicy Chinese vegetable fried rice or noodles, with chilli sauce in tow.  So we used to save all the week, to be able to have a square meal on the weekend – a spicy Chinese lunch!

When in Bombay, I had learnt to order food in Chinese, at Kamling restaurant, which was across the road from my office. On our first visit after ordering our meals, I asked the Chinese waiter for 'tung sui' (cold water). He promptly snapped back, 'Arrey, Hindi mein kyon nahin bolta hai'? 

Further conversation revealed that he had been working at the same Kamling restaurant in Bombay, and had remembered seeing me chat with the Chinese waiters there. A small world indeed!!!

Missing our spicy home food, often on weekends we used to drive over to Amsterdam. The Dutch had their colony, Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). Amsterdam was full of reasonably priced Indonesian restaurants and we could have our fill of rice preparations, with their very sharp sauce (sambal oelek). We would bring back a few bottles of sambal oelek, to pep up whatever bland stuff we had to eat in Germany.

With the eruption of Viet Nam war, Germany saw its own share of Vietnamese boat people, who sought asylum there. Soon the spirit of Asian enterprise was evident, with Viet Namese street food being sold on carts and some restaurants opened up, too. We learnt that in their menu in German, 'Buddhistische Gemuese' or Buddhist vegetables and 'pho' (mostly noodles in soup) was relishing.

Our choice of palatable and spicy vegetarian food was slowly growing. But other culinary adventures were to follow me in Scandinavia, Mexico and USA. These I will narrate in Part II.

(Photo: Street vendor selling sausages in Germany)

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