Hungry as I was, I walked through the street;

With the thought in my head, of not eating meat;

Would I have known, that it would be so hard;

I would have stayed home, that might have been smart.


Here we are, in the ‘Merdeka Walk’, looking for some good food in a street in the middle of Medan, the capital city of Sumatra and the third biggest city in Indonesia. The previous thoughts are the ones going through my head while sitting in a restaurant, trying to get a vegetarian meal. As I know by now, not so easy. So, let me explain my situation: The food is being served in the form of tapas, where you just grab the plate you like, while the waiters are passing by with different kinds of food. As my knowledge of the Indonesian language is somewhere between limited and very much non-existent, I feel safer asking about the ingredients and, very important, the level of spiciness. So, we are 4 people, including 2 vegetarians. How would you proceed in the Netherlands? You would say something like ‘Hoi, I am vegetarian, I do not eat meat.’ Seems clear? Well, here, this is kind of a different story.

The situation in Medan is the following: To me, vegetarians do not eat beef, pork, chicken or fish, and think I am safe with saying ‘I do not eat meat.’ So, what do they bring? Dumplings with crab, shrimps and chicken. After five minutes of questions like ‘no cow?’, followed by the alternative ‘no muh?’, they seem to understand what I am trying to explain, as they are not bringing any beef or pork anymore. Next step, they put some chicken feet on the table. Yes, nice that we can agree on the fact that chicken is definitely a top-runner in my category of vegetarian food! I think by now, You and I have realised that due to some degree of language barrier and some cultural differences, I am very much ready to find a compromise that suits both parties and decide to go with some seafood.

So, what happened here? I would probably describe it as two cultures, having two perspectives, trying to meet somewhere in the middle, or do I say, in the shrimp section?

Written by: Valérie Spaus