Thursday, March 14, 2013

Down Memory Lane to a (short) vegan period of my life

A soupy Korean dish that mixes tofu 
with seafood and general spicy goodness
 A Cantonese dish whose main ingredients
are tofu stuffed with minced fish paste

As regular readers to this blog know, I'm a fan of various types of tofu. At the same time, I'm definitely not a vegetarian -- and it's also true enough that many of the dishes with tofu in it that I like combine tofu with non-vegetarian ingredients, including Yunnan ham or minced fish paste.  (More than incidentally, I'm writing this blog post just after having had a dinner made up of a delicious bowl of "cart noodles" whose ingredients consisted of oil noodles topped with water spinach, tofu cubes and cubes of -- the squeamish had better stop reading -- solidified pig's blood!)
While looking through my photo archive, I got to thinking about tofu often getting mixed together with seafood in many East Asian cuisines -- and remembering how my paternal grandmother didn't consider seafood to be meat, so, on the days when she would restrict herself to a diet she considered vegeterian, still would feel able to eat fish, prawns and other sea creatures!  

Because of my paternal grandmother, I grew up thinking that vegetarians could eat seafood.  And it was only after I left Malaysia that I encountered vegetarians who didn't eat seafood -- and, also, people who weren't only vegetarians who eschewed seafood but actual vegans!  
More specifically, the first vegan I ever knew was a Kenyan Indian schoolmate of mine at boarding school in England. Shivani was her name and the summer after we completed our A levels, my vegan friend invited me to go and spend a few weeks with her and her entirely vegan family in Nairobi.  
Suffice to say that I accepted and proceeded to have a great time visiting with Shivani and her family on my first ever trip to Africa.  More to the point for the purposes of this post, I got to thinking that Shivani's mother was one of the best cooks whose food I've ever had the privilege to eat.
I loved the chapatis this amazing woman made so much that I ended up eating -- no lie! -- 96 of them over the course of my approximately 3 week stay with Shivani's family.  And I had an incredible variety of dishes to eat all that chapati with.
How incredible can be seen by my not noticing and even forgetting that none of those dishes had any meat (and yes, that includes seafood!) in them; something that got underlined when, a couple of weeks into my stay, Shivani's family and I went on a day trip up the Rift Valley to Lake Naivasha.  
Upon stopping for lunch at a restaurant located on the banks of the lake, Shivani's family told me that the restaurant served barbecue (meat) and suggested that I order up some of it.  I said "okay" and asked if they wanted to have some too.  At which point they started laughing and Shivani said to me, "But we don't meat!"  And truly, only then did it dawn on me that since arriving in Kenya, I had not eaten a non-vegan meal up until that lunch (for yes, when given the opportunity, I did go ahead and have some meat to eat that day)!! ;b      


sarah bailey knight said...

hi ytsl,

Tasty looking dishes. I first had tofu in dishes prepared by Chinese friends. These dishes also included seafood so you can imagine my surprise when a fellow countrymen who is a vegetarian was surprised when I told her the ingredients in my friends dish. I don't think it occurred to her than tofu could be served with seafood, meat, etc....

The Fragrant Harbour said...

So did you lose or gain weight when you in Nairobi?!

YTSL said...

Hi sbk --

I wonder how your fellow countrywoman would react if she ever came across mapo tofu... ;b

Hi The Fragrant Harbour --

Those were the days when I could eat tons and still not gain weight. Ah... for those days when I had a high metabolic rate!! ;S

gsy said...

your title caught my eye..I did a double take when I saw the heading 'vegan period of my life', never knew you to go entirely vegan! ;-) Had to read the blog!

YTSL said...

Hi gsy --

Heheh... ya, I'm really more of an omnivore by nature! Even when I was living in vegans in Tanzania, I did end up eating meat. It helped that while the wife and elder daughter of the family were vegans, the husband and the younger child was not! ;b