Black Friday (November 25) never beheld so prominent like this year; probably we missed the usual signs on a festival spell, which attracts huge crowds. This shopping holiday is the day following Thanksgiving and the beginning of Christmas shopping season, and has become such a popular outing in the US, Canada and the UK. It’s always a great sign of a sound economy to see people in the street, enjoy their shopping and gently stroll towards restaurants for an early dinner.
At the restaurant, people were queuing up for dinner. We noticed an Indian couple with shopping bags who appeared in a hurry to eat fast and get out. Their meal order was simple and precise, essentially individual choices, and included one veg and non-veg starter and main course. When the food arrived, it was clear to see a rift between them. They ate their own dishes like strangers, nothing abnormal until we observed a small dispute.
We are used to seeing arguments in restaurants, mostly waiters with chefs in the kitchen. Seldom couples take over the show, which invites attention from the service team. The problem here was the vegetarian wife looked uncomfortable with a heavily carnivore husband eating meat in front of her. Soon, the man’s voice bounced over
A R Rahman’s romantic melody playing above their table. We heard the husband say, “You are selfish, only thinking about your likes. Look around, everyone’s eating mixed meals and they all cope with what others eat.”
Whilst we served the main course, the lady looked at him as if she wanted to say, “Have I asked you not to eat what you like?” As her silence grew more intense, the man climbed on it rapidly with a series of complaints and accusations related to older stories and irrelevant subjects. In her eyes a flash of truth reflected, and she expressed her ability to endure the situation to avoid a much louder debate. We find similar discomfort with a lot of Indian couples, especially of the earlier generation, where the guys eat everything and women remain traditionally vegetarian. Most of the time they get used to it quietly; we hardly hear women complain in public like this.
At a comfy moment around dessert time, we discussed vegetarianism. She said politely that “choice of food is the right of every individual, but Indian vegetarians are comparatively fussier and uncomfortable eating in the presence of meat dishes, whereas non-vegetarians have no issue like that”. We had plenty of similar experiences at Rasa on Oxford Street. After introducing a new menu with fish and chicken dishes, we lost pretty much all the pure vegetarians. Luckily, we got them back once they knew that our veg kitchen is separated from the rest and we understood their concern.
In the recent past, many people from around the world changed to vegetarian and vegan lifestyles due to health issues or moral feelings. Nonetheless, it doesn’t come naturally as a habit once someone’s a born meat-eater. No wonder, many people don’t last longer this way, for they miss the chewy taste of meat. In any case when it comes to Indians, it’s a serious affair and a lifelong mission to remain vegetarian, if they have a meat-free upbringing.
Eating food is an ecstatic and beautiful experience, yet occasional ego problems get into this exuberant act. Remembering that lady’s perseverance and emotions, it may be a bit more serious than we think and we should respect everyone’s choice and celebrate our own.
The author is a London-based restaurateur, who owns the Rasa chain of restaurants