President Pratibha Patil, a vegetarian, has flown in her own cooks for her six-day China visit, fully aware that she would be visiting a nation known for a cuisine that is primarily non-vegetarian and where gourmet dishes are whipped out of many animal, bird and fish species.
In fact, the president, who attended a sumptuous state banquet on Thursday, given by her Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao at the Great Hall of People, bypassed the non-vegetarian dishes and tucked into a meal which included a special dish of white gourd.
Officials said Patil, who is staying in the majestic Hotel Raffles in Beijing, has a huge suite which has a big kitchen, with separate entry for staff members. Patil is in China on a six-day visit that is taking her to Beijing, Luoyang and Shanghai.
"She is a simple eater. And likes her dal, rice and one vegetable. Her chef knows her liking," an official told IANS, not wishing to be identified as he was not supposed to talk to the media.
The chefs, Laxman Rai and Dheeraj Mani Bhatt, are not only taking care of the president's needs, but also of those of her husband Devisingh Ramsingh Shekhawat, son-in-law Jayesh Rathore and grandson Dhruvesh Rathor, who are accompanying her in the visit.
As Chinese dining etiquettes demand that guests do not decline any food that is served to them, Chinese authorities were informed about the president's preferences in advance. "She was not offered any non-vegetarian fare (at the state banquet)," said the official.
A huge steel box labelled with bold letters "grocery" was flown to China. In fact, it was one of the few things that were loaded first in the special aircraft Air India One in which the president and her entourage travelled.
"We are carrying everything for the journey. We know her choices so we have packed everything. We wanted to be fully prepared," the official told IANS. Chinese banquets typically serve about ten courses that include food cooked from animal, fish or bird anatomy.