It turns out that having a dietary restriction in Central Europe is far more convincing if you claim to be part of a cult, at least as far as the Slovaks are concerned.
At this point, I’ve mostly gotten used to the raised eyebrows I get from the kitchen staff of the school when our host teacher tells them I can’t eat anything with meat in it. But it still makes the whole prosepect of finding food in this country a bit daunting, especially as many cooks seem to consider bacon a vegetable.
But at least my diet remains fairly flexible. Though I try to stay vegetarian on the whole, I do still eat the occasional pescatarian meal (hello, lox bagels), and that, by itself, makes Fridays a bit easier. Still, my co-teachers delight in telling me about previous teachers’ adventures in diet restrictions, such as the Muslim guy who was told that ham wasn’t actually pork, because it was processed, and the Celiac girl who ended up having to cart around a tiny gas grill, so she could try to cook gluten-free meals on the hostel balconies (it’s rather astounding how few hostels have kitchen space here).
As for me, I’m pretty well fed at the moment, which is a bit unexpected, to be honest. Basically, the way it works with SIDAS is that teachers are encouraged to get meals from the school canteen, because it tends to be dirt cheap–around 1.50 euros or so, if not free. So, our host teacher supplies us with canteen coupons, which we stamp with our lunch choices for the next day. Already on Monday, we were seeing a problem:
Soup: Potato and Cheese
1. Roast chicken with potatoes and vegetables
2. Breaded fried pork with rice and salad
3. Pasta in sauce with chicken and vegetables
At least I could try to pretend that the soup was meatless. Pretty much the rest of the week’s menu was similar. So our host teacher ended up asking if they could make the pasta chicken-free, which meant I got a dish of noodles with the promised vegetables, as well as a generous puddle of sauce that turned out to be about 97% free of chicken. I’m actually pretty sure they just picked out the chicken chunks.
I’ve resolved to not ask questions.
Tuesday, I ended up with a plateful of fried garlic bread served with cheese, a small salad, and yogurt, but today was looking grim, with chicken and noodles as the designated soup, and the only meatless option among the entrees being a fruit salad. I may be fond of plant-based food, but I definitely cannot get through an entire day on just a fruit salad. So I decided to splurge on an omelette for breakfast: 3.50 euro for an egg pillow the size of a dinner plate, which I could only eat half of. I got to the school feeling pretty comfortable in my dietary choices.
But then our host teacher revealed she’d cooked for me: garlic pancakes made of potatoes and cereal, served with fresh cheese. Paired with my fruit salad, it was too much. So she let me take the leftovers home. Which means that I’m a happy vegetarian at the moment–I ate the rest of the pancakes for dinner, and I’ve still got half an omelette for dinner tomorrow. Pretty good, considering.