The other day I attended a training workshop for work, which was really interesting, and surprisingly fun. Lots of brain work… By the time lunchtime came around, I was famished. I don’t know why, but I envisioned a self service table with meats, rice and yummy side dishes, like salads. Well, that didn’t happen. Lunch was a box of KFC. How nice – now I had to speak up about not eating meat and being vegetarian... sigh.
When you’re starving though, shyness takes a bit of a back seat.
So I promptly offered my chicken thighs to two hungry-looking guys and got another packet of chips to go with my single portion… whew, fooooooood. And then the dreaded questions came up: “How long have you been vegetarian?”, “Don’t you EVEN eat chicken?!!”
Sometimes I feel like personal food choices are right up there with political and religious choices. Sometimes…
It got me thinking about things – mostly, what it’s REALLY like being a vegetarian in South Africa today. Not in sunny California where there are veggie options for Africa (I was in 7th heaven last year – OMG, take me back!!), but here – in a meat-eating country, where ‘biltong’ and ‘braaing’ are almost like a 12th language, it takes a bit of creativity and brushing up on that vegetarian elevator speech.
Gone are the days of going to a nice-looking restaurant on the fly. Now (thank you internet), I need to go through restaurant menus online with a beady eye – which takes away some of the fun.
I’ve found that a number of wine farms don’t have proper vegetarian food options, which is really annoying considering where we live. I get that wine goes great with meat, but come on – where’s the creativity? Ever heard of tofu? What about “meaty” vegetables like portobello mushrooms and egg plant? And if I have to see mushroom risotto as a veggie option on one more restaurant menu, I am going to scream.
Yes, yes – Cape Town city central has a ton of cute little vegetarian cafes and restaurants, but there’s really not a hell of a lot in the winelands. Having said that, here are a few places that I love, that DO think about their vegetarian customers:
5 Ryneveld Restaurant in Stellenbosch – AMAZING vegetarian burgers!
George’s Greek Restaurant off the R44 – 10/10 food and service, love going here.
The Millhouse Kitchen at Lourensford in Somerset West – top class food, pizzas and wine.
Stables At Vergelegen in Somerset West – delicious veggie sandwich and lunch options.
Most pizza places, and Thai and sushi restaurants have a decent range of vegetarian dishes.
My favourites are Wang Thai for curries and wok dishes, Pomodoro for pizza and Asami for vegetarian sushi options.
I loathe going to shop for groceries over the weekend. I never used to, but I’m a VERY fussy eater and it just depresses me to see the lack of vegetarian options we have here. I want quick and convenient, budget-friendly and delicious – tall order to find all three in a single shop; it’s almost always one or the other.
But, it’s no use complaining the whole time, so here are a few things I’ve started doing lately:
- Stocking up on frozen veggies – they last longer and I hate throwing away fresh food. You can also add these to soups, stir-fries and stews which go a long way.
- Buying tofu – At over R50 for a little block, this isn’t the easiest buy. But then I remind myself about the cost of meat and chicken. If you’re clever and creative, a block of tofu can last about 3-4 meals.
- Choosing more ready-made meals – I try to only do this once or twice a week as it can get a little pricey. Woolworths has a great range of meat-free meals, salads and vegetable dishes.
- Limiting “meat-like” foods – I LOVE meat-free brands like Quorn and Fry’s; they really make amazing vegetarian burgers, hotdogs, nuggets, mince, ‘schnitzels’ and other “meaty” foods. The problem with these – as I soon came to realise after indulging in this new heavenly food every night, is that it’s processed food at the end of the day – no getting around that one. So it’s not exactly healthy to have every night, but I enjoy having my spaghetti “bolognese” or “chicken” stir-fry every now and then as a treat.
Buying weekly home cooked meals
This was SO convenient at the beginning of the year, because I finally found a company that cooked a range of vegetarian meals – HOORAY! (Most places don’t for some or other reason – especially the ones who design your weekly meal plan, then it’s all fish and chicken and meat. NO veggie options).
The problem with this is, there are only about eight veggie options and only four I liked, so that meant having the SAME food every week. I stopped buying these after two months and went back to super quick cooking at home.
But, if you’re keen to try ready-made wholesome and nutritious vegetarian meals that aren’t processed, I highly recommend FitChef.
This isn’t as hard as it used to be – well, eating with friends, isn’t.
I think I’ve mastered the art of going to braais and just make sure I bring along a nice big (filling) salad for the table, some or other vegetarian “meat”, and try to eat something before we go so that I don’t gorge myself full of chips while we wait for the fire (VERY hard).
When it comes to other social situations, like work, for example – this isn’t so easy. I feel SO awkward requesting a vegetarian option for staff meetings and things like that, so I usually just keep quiet and bring my own food to eat before or afterwards. (Interestingly, I’ve yet to meet another vegetarian in the six months I’ve been at my company).
I’m happy with the decision I made two years ago to go vegetarian. It makes me feel good on an emotional level, but more than that – I feel healthier than I have in years.
South Africa is SLOWLY starting to get on the bandwagon when it comes to providing meat-free food options, but I feel like we’ve got a bit of a way to go still…