FRESH OFF THE PLANE: Newcomer bites into a new tradition
My family is originally from South India and as Brahmins, we are not supposed to eat meat. While my parents follow a strictly vegetarian diet, with friends from all cultures, I enjoy a wide variety of cuisine, meat dishes among them.
My parents are aware of this, but it’s not something I advertise, specially when my grandmother is visiting, to spare her feelings.
During one of her visits, a friend of mine came over to spend the day. Gemma knows we are vegetarian at home and is happy to try my mom’s cooking and often brings something her mom has baked.
“I brought you some mince pies!” she announced at the door on this particular day.
Now the only mince we know of is mince meat, and my grandmother, who happened to be in the living room at the time, shot up in shock.
“Mince pie?” she asked. “Mince meat pies?” I could see she was trying hard to maintain a calm tone.
“Yes!” said Gemma blithely. “It’s delicious! My mom always makes it for Christmas and thought you might enjoy some.”
She was holding the plate out for my grandmother to take. My grandmother, meanwhile, was shrinking back against the couch.
“Gemma, you know we don’t eat meat,” I hissed in panic. I was sure she was about to launch into a description of all the meat dishes I had enjoyed at her home.
“I know,” she said, looking puzzled. “This is not meat. These are mince pies.”
I grabbed the dish and moved towards the front door. “We can’t have them.”
Gemma, who was beginning to look distinctly uncomfortable, apologized profusely.
“I’m so sorry, I thought you might like it,” she said, looking at me reproachfully.
I hastened to make amends, explaining that bringing meat into the home would upset my grandmother.
“But it’s not meat, that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you,” she exclaimed. She looked like she was ready to cry.
Now it was my turn to apologize. But she brushed my apology away.
“Here, take a look at this,” she ordered, pulling up a recipe for mince pies on her phone.
And I read: Apple, raisins, sultanas, currants, candied, mixed peel, brown sugar, etc., in the list of ingredients. No mention of meat.
“I’ve no idea why it’s called mince pies, but there’s no meat in them, see?” said Gemma.
I dragged her back inside, promising to explain to my parents and grandmother.
– Nithya Iyer
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Posted: Dec 3, 2014