Thursday, 26 August 2010

The Captain's Table

The word “holiday” conjures up many images – sun, sea, sand, sunglasses, sandals and Sangria. In fact, anything beginning with the letter “S”. As all holidaymakers know, bad experiences are part and parcel of the package holiday, but being a veggie or vegan guarantees a story or two, three of holiday woe. What makes this so? Are our expectations too high? Do we fail to do our homework before booking our final destination? Or as portrayed, are we simply difficult to please? Over the years, a number of European cities have been crossed off my list. Paris,(and France in general), being one of them. Soul-less veggie food is my chief complaint and Paris at the time didn't impress. Am I being short-sighted? As vegetarianism grows countries change, but since I wear contact lenses I have a very good excuse. I know others who go further and choose to remain within the confines of their city walls rather than venture into the great culinary unknown. Should the mainstream perfect getaway be so difficult for us veggies to obtain?

My recent escapade at sea seemed the ideal diversion from modern life. I visualised bobbing about on open waters to distant and unexplored lands, whilst enjoying good food and entertainment. However, unlike the iceberg that sank the Titanic, this was an illusion all of my own making. A mini-cruise with Brittany Ferries is not a gourmet delight! I naively thought veggie needs are bound to be catered for. Canteen style and self-service stations there was, but a good hot veggie meal forget it! Am I fibbing? Okay, you caught me but it's as good as true. The veggie options either didn't appear or came with pasta, pesto and parmesan, which as we all know is not vegetarian! With everything plated as described, cobbling together a little of what you fancied was out of the question. I would have quite happily swiped some veg from under the chef's nose and penetrating gaze. The only redeeming feature in my view was the salad bar, where I unashamedly piled my bowl to my heart's content. After a few days at sea with not a bean, lentil or pulse in sight, I really did begin to feel like a rabbit. Thank god for my emergency rations. Oatcakes, dried fruit and vanilla soya desserts saved me from the tempting sight of fellow travellers uncovered arms and legs.

Imagine my astonishment on the return voyage when chef presented a vegetarian blackboard special. I literally danced my way to the dining deck. I suspect this surprise culinary delight had more to do with using up leftovers, but a hot meal it was and surprising to my senses too. Labelled Vegetable Curry, my first mouthful proved it was nothing of the sort. A strange, if rather tasty concoction of mashed artichokes, broad beans, courgette and white chunks, which I think were potato, accompanied with a rich “parmesany” tomato sauce and rice. To be honest, the veg and strong cheesy aroma were a bit of mystery, but by that point I was beyond caring. I was ecstatic just to see rice. I could have stowed away in the kitchen and eaten the lot.

Instead of returning relaxed and overflowing with jubilation, the only words I've uttered to well-intentioned enquiries has been “Never again!” The fantasy became a food obsessed reality, failing to fill even the least voracious veggie appetite. For veggie-tourists-to-be, the world as it stands is not yet our oyster.