Today I bought my first copy of Cook Vegetarian, and read an interview with the Hairy Bikers on their love of vegetarian food, when I came across a comment by Si (the Geordie one) about how vegetarian options in British restaurants are more of 'vegetarian excuses'.
I couldn't agree more.
I'm not a big fan of cheese, and avoid mushrooms where possible, so I'm constantly disappointed when dining out by the vegetarian options available, which seem to be either cheese or mushroom, or sometimes both. Or even worse, the 'vegetarian options' are not even vegetarian, it was only last year that I was in a pub and all their fish dishes were labelled as vegetarian and last weekend the vegetarian options at a Cafe included pasta with pesto (made with anchovies) and parmesan cheese (made with calf rennet). I ended up with a mozzarella sandwich, the other option was a cheese and egg sandwich.
It seems that the restaurant industry in the UK either doesn't care for it's vegetarian clientèle, and these offerings are mere 'token' gestures, or it assumes that all vegetarians like the same things. This just isn't true, vegetarians, like meat eaters have different tastes, so why should we put up with poor options?
The lack of knowledge of some restaurants scares me- not knowing what is vegetarian and what isn't? OK I can understand if most people do not know what pesto and parmesan contain, but these people work in the food industry, it's their responsibility to know.
Back to the article, which goes onto to say that the Bikers have found that the best vegetarian food is in Italy and India- a fact that I've found myself. When you go to Indian and Italian restaurants you can always find a great selection of vegetarian options. But why is this? What is it that Britain is getting wrong?
I think it has something to do with their attitude to vegetables and their ability to make it the star of the dish rather than the side kick. If you look at traditional British cuisine it centres around meat and two veg- even then the vegetables are boiled within an inch of their life and look unappetising. This is the main obstacle I had when I first experienced vegetarianism through knowing people who are vegetarians- I could get my head round what they ate for tea if they just had the two veg!
The inability for Britons to get over the meat and two veg concept is what makes many vegetarian dishes in restaurants so dull- you end up with 'cheese pie' or more often these days 'cheese tart' because the chief trying desperately to think of what will accompany the potatoes and peas instead of the meat. Whereas other cultures do this so much better, India has wonderful chickpea curries, Italy has refreshing pasta dishes, and many other cultures are just able to make vegetarian cuisine far more exciting.
Don't get me wrong, some places do make more of an effort and offer more choice to their vegetarian clients, but this should be the norm, not an exception to the rule.