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Rashmi Uday Singh's new book A Vegetarian in Paris sounds like a contradiction in terms. French food - and Paris is France's culinary as well as national capital - is known for meat not greens. But Singh's guide to vegetarian food in Paris suggests that the city has a surprising variety of vegetarian dining options. Singh ate at over 1000 restaurants specialising is various cuisines and in the book, she includes restaurant reviews, recipes and listings of markets and food stores. In an email interview, Singh tells TOI Crest that the future of food is vegetarian.
One doesn't associate Paris with vegetarian food. Why did you decide to write this book?
Paris, the world's most visited city, has also reigned as the gastronomic capital of the world for many centuries. A determinedly non-vegetarian one too. To bust that myth, to unearth and discover vegetarian eating was the first thing that got me excited. It's the thrill of going into uncharted territories, the excitement of discovery that was the primary reason. I was warned that Paris may be the 'City of Light', but when it comes to vegan or vegetarian living it's certainly not the 'City of Enlightenment'. I'm happy to report that it is.
Why is vegetarianism the future?
It certainly is. It's really not about religious, ethical, karmic or spiritual reasons but the more fundamental ones of environment, economy, physiology and health. Bird flu, swine flu, mad cow disease are drawing attention to it. For instance, did you know that producing one pound of meat requires over 16 pounds of grain and many multiple gallons of water? Or that the destruction of ancient rain forests, loss of top soils and the increase of water impurities have all been traced to the single fact of creating pasturelands for livestock being reared for meat?
How did you pick the restaurants?
It was a very long drawn out and painstaking process. I got the guidance of food writers, concierges, friends, chefs and my chauffeur Alexandre d Abboville who drove me around. We made arrondisement wise maps and drove around and I ate in each and every restaurant, short-listing only the ones which had a substantial number of vegetarian dishes.
Are there more vegetarian options in Paris now then there would have been five years ago?
I love Paris and have been going there regularly. There are certainly more vegetarian options and more vegetarian friendly restaurants than five years ago. (I even found a vegan Chinese and a vegan bed and breakfast place. ) The reasons are those of awareness of health mainly, not just within Paris but also globally.
How did the chefs you met react to the idea of a vegetarian guide to Paris?
The chefs were blown off their feet. Many were surprised that such a variety was available. It was great fun to see their reactions. I felt a bit like Columbus.
Rashmi Uday Singh picks six of Paris' most vegetarian-friendly restaurants
French gastronomique| L'Arpege
Alain Passard's Michelin-starred restaurant is as known for its vegetarian offerings as for its seafood.
Creperie| Breizh Cafê
Fantastic crepes and galletes with toppings such as gruyere, button and shiitake mushrooms, artichoke hearts, salted caramel and Grand Marnier.
Modern Japanese| Nanashi
Helmed by Kaori Endo, Nanashi has the best vegetarian bento box in Paris.
Vegan Chinese| Green Garden
Begin with dim sum of mock meat and proceed to the Eight Treasures tofu pot and perfectly fried noodles with textured soya on a bed of lettuce.
Expect perfectly cooked fava beans, smoky eggplant, spanakopita, vegetarian moussaka and peppers with feta at this family-owned joint.
Tacos and tostadas are the only items on the menu in this happy, youthful place.
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