Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

A Vegetarian Parsi

By Rakshande Italia / Inside TORONTO

DESI DIALOGUES: Turning vegetarian leaves a pleasant taste on the palate

The past 15 days have been one of my most testing times. That’s because I decided to turn completely vegetarian. The reason – my Ayurvedic doctor suggested that the herbal medicine he gave me for my knee joints could work more effectively if I gave up non-vegetarian fare.

I know a large majority of South Asians are vegetarian and I have many friends who swear by it, but I am not one of them – not by a long shot.

Not that I dislike vegetarian food. Having lived in an all-Hindu tenant building in India I’ve grown up with my share of non-meat alternatives.

But to turn vegetarian here is no easy feat since my family does not favour green food.

The no veggie concept, right or wrong, also stems from my background.

My family is Zoroastrian (also called Parsis in India).

This community is notoriously famous for being extremely partial to meat. For instance, other communities in India will love to be a guest at a Parsi wedding. I’m told it’s due to the gastronomical meat delights served with much fanfare and gusto.

At the weddings there are several chicken, goat, liver and meat dishes. Even the rice is topped with spicy lamb meat.

In fact, the obsession with non-vegetarian food is so strong that many Parsis will even top vegetable dishes with meat. For instance okra has meat in it, cauliflower can have meat in it and if meat isn’t available, then we would throw in some eggs.

Now that you have a picture of my household, you can imagine how my parents reacted to what they call this sudden "green revolution". Despite not-so-supportive remarks from my husband, I decided to stick to my new meal plan.

The change has been refreshing to say the least. With so many tasty South Asian dishes that can be cooked sans meat, I have not had to worry about what to cook?

In fact I think that because of the high percentage of Hindus, Indian food is perhaps the only cuisine in the world that has so many vegetarian options.

As well, the fact that South Asian vegetarians make use of several lentils and tropical vegetables and prop them up with spicy masalas and condiments only brings zest to this cuisine. That can be borne out by hundreds of vegetarian restaurants in India, that now even adapt to other cuisines such as Chinese, Mexican and Korean to make their own concoctions of veggie fare.

But the biggest myth I seem to have broken, is that I can survive Canada’s cold weather – even if that means staying on vegetables. My concerned neighbours and friends were apprehensive initially and told me that with Canada’s chilly weather, the intake of meats providing high protein and iron content is mandatory, and that veggies and lentils alone may not suffice.

But I feel good after a fortnight, and most importantly have lost a ton of weight, which makes me feel 10-times better.

The only question for me now is: how long will the honeymoon last? As I continue to make non-vegetarian fare for my family and the party season sneaks up on us will I want to dig into those lovely pork and chicken dishes laid out at parties?

Or, will I call for another batch of herbal Ayurvedic medicine once the current batch runs out in the next two months to keep me on track?