Wednesday 29 January 2014

Ramblings from Australia: When in Rome, Eat as the Romans Do?

I was having a chat with my roommate, J, in the lobby when he stood up and asked if I’d like to have lunch. I was actually surprised by the question although it was already almost one in the afternoon at the time. Sensing my reluctance, he smiled and added, “Don’t worry, it’s free.”

That gave me a chuckle because we were just talking about, among others, how expensive Sydney is. 
I said to him, “It’s okay. Thanks for the offer though.” He asked again, “Are you sure? I’m going to cook some pasta.” Upon hearing the word 'pasta' and knowing that J is an Italian who has previously worked in a restaurant in London, I quickly asked him, “What pasta?” He replied, “Anything you like…” “Vegetarian?” I asked. “Yes, okay, vegetarian, I can make that.” “Are you sure?” “Yes, yes, no problem.”

And with that, off he went to the kitchen. 

We later sat down at the table where J had put two plates of pasta. His pasta was covered in grated cheese whereas mine wasn't. He said, “I’m not sure if the cheese is suitable for a vegetarian because in Italy we have some cheese that has some meat in it.” I duly checked the packaging and couldn't find any vegetarian logo so I said, “It’s okay, I can do pasta without the cheese.”

“Are you really a vegetarian though?” J suddenly asked me. “I was a vegetarian too before in Italy for about 4 months.” My jaw dropped. “What?? That must have been really hard, especially in Italy!” I exclaimed. He laughed and agreed. It turned out that the girl he was dating at the time is a vegetarian so he thought he should just give it a try. The trial period however ended when the relationship expired. 

In between mouthful of delicious pasta, I came clean to him. I said, “I’m actually not a vegetarian. As a Muslim, I can eat meat and stuff but I have to follow a certain dietary requirement, similar to perhaps the Jewish people and kosher food.” I continued, “But whenever I travel, sometimes it’s easier to just go for vegetarian option to avoid having to give a long explanation on why I can’t eat this or that. So earlier, I was just wondering if I could actually eat what you’re going to cook without me having to impose my requirement on you.” “I see…” J nodded. 

He laughed when I continued, "It’s definitely not because I was not sure if lunch was free or not, ha ha!"

- - - - -

As a Muslim, I eat only halal food. Luckily for me, I have had no problem finding halal food in cities and countries that I have been to so far, except for maybe Moscow. Unfortunately in the West, more often than not, halal food means Middle Eastern, Lebanese, Turkish or Indian food. These are normally sold in restaurants or food stalls that are run by immigrants or their offspring. And these are their specialty.

While I love all these food, as a traveller, it can be a bit frustrating at times when I can’t find any local specialty and/or traditional meals that are halal. I mean, I would love to try kangaroo pizza in Sydney, or haggis in Edinburgh for example. That would have been awesome. Food after all, I believe, should be part and parcel of any travel experience. Surely there's a demand and market for more than just Lebanese shawarmas, Turkish kebabs and Indian biryanis as halal options, no?

Anyways, I digress. Do you subscribe to any dietary requirement for whatever reason? How do you manage it when you travel to a foreign country that doesn't really offer much option based on your requirements? Do you still stick to it or do you just eat whatever is available? Or do you bring some food supply from home? Do you try to explain why you can't eat this or that?

Update Dec 2014: Halal haggis apparently is available in Edinburgh based on this online report by The Scotsman: Scots butcher creates halal haggis for Muslim clientele.

For other 'Ramblings' entries, click here.


Comments and feedback are always appreciated. So do leave one or two if you have the time. Thank you!

  1. Good write up. I feel you. Anyway, you can always find the halal kangaroo pizza or burger somewhere in Lakemba. Hehe. 40 minutes from CBD by car.

    1. Haha! I did try a halal kangaroo burger and kebab too when I was in Sydney. Just wanted to try the famous kangaroo pizza but there's no halal option at the restaurant.

  2. Yeah, agreed that halal food should be beyond all the Middle Eastern cuisines. When I was in Cambodia, I was glad that some of these immigrant-run businesses provide halal local cuisines as an option for the customers :)

    1. That's interesting! Immigrants selling local cuisine! But then I guess the same thing is happening in Malaysia too these days...

    2. Yeah, like last 2 days I went to, what is called as, one of the few original Johore-Malay eateries left in KL. Guess who's the cook?

  3. Hello uncle Jo ehh Pak Cik Tampan hahaha..
    it's always nice sitting here enjoying your articles :D mmm.. so far I have not visited non muslim country yet.. hopefully soon, so I can share my experiences about food as I am quite strict on choosing my halal food :D, I prefer to have fish menu :D

    1. Hello, auntie Ericka! Fish dish might not be halal too, you know... Hehe! Kalau di Australia, ada fish and chips yg digoreng guna beer :)

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