I’ve been a vegetarian for over ten years now, and navigated the strange new cuisines of 17 countries and counting. I’ve discovered insanely tasty veggie and vegan dishes everywhere from Buenos Aires to Budapest. But even after so many successful veggie adventures, every time I step into a new country there’s always that doubt that’s eating me from inside: is THAT meat-free?
I’ve learned a lot on my travel, so I’d like to share some tips and tricks that will help my fellow vegetarians travel around the world as happy as a clam (or should I say ‘yam’?). I don’t know about you, but for me being happy is closely related to eating well. When travelling some place new, most veggies search out the coolest veggie restaurants (more about how to do this later), but I’m passionate about being able to eat good food absolutely anywhere, not just in veggie restaurants. Read on for tips on how to eat where the locals eat as a veggie.
Vegetarian food on the plane? YES WE CAN!
Let’s start at the beginning: If your flight is only a couple of hours long, then I recommend bringing a snack for the plane and eating your meal at restaurant at the airport or in your destination – more choice, better taste.
For longer flights, you’ll want to customise your in-flight meal. Pretty much every airline will give you this option – just go to their website after you’ve booked your tickets and select from a variety of alternatives including vegetarian, to vegan and even gluten/nut/lactose free dishes. It won’t cost you a penny, and the best bit is that you’ll get your food first before anyone else on the plane. So by the time they finish serving all the other passengers, you could already be fast asleep.
Do you speak Vegetarian?
Besides learning the basics of a language such as ‘hello’, ‘please’, ‘excuse me’, and ‘thank you’, it’s essential to also learn how to say ‘vegetarian’. This way when you’re starving you don’t need to ask in perfect hungarian ‘Is this dish vegetarian?’, you can just point to something and say ‘vegetarian?’.
If you’re planning to spend a little more time in a destination (I usually spend at least a month in a new country) it’s worth learning some other basic keywords related to food. But don’t focus on the vegetables – there are too many – instead, try to learn the main words for meat. So when you find ‘csirke’ on a menu in Budapest, or ‘poulet’ in Paris, you’ll know that there’s chicken in it. This can be really useful if the person serving you doesn’t know that vegetarians don’t eat chicken or fish (and we know this is more common than not!).
This vocab will also help you out at the supermarket, when you’re looking for something tasty to impress your new friends in the hostel kitchen. Unlike in a restaurant, there’s often nobody around to ask for help so knowing the words for “chicken” or “beef” will be even more useful. Still not sure if there’s meat in something? Check the ingredients and, when in doubt, Google Translate!
Essential apps for globetrotting veggies
- One of the best known apps for veggies is Happy Cow. This app is great because it will recommend not only the best veggie and vegan places, but also the regular restaurants where you can find great vegetarian dishes.
- Foursquare which is pretty exhaustive and the reviews and pictures from real customers can help give you an unbiased view. Oh, and recently, something magical happened: Foursquare got an update that allows you to look for the opinion of other vegetarians after a place is flagged as vegetarian. It has changed my life. Now I can be sure that I will be able to eat something at a restaurant, if at least one vegetarian has enjoyed it. Thanks, Foursquare!
- Apps that allow you to view a restaurant’s menu are great, but they don’t exist for every city. (Eg. Zomato for Lisbon)
- Google Translate is amazing for helping decode menus anywhere in the world. I’ve lost count of how many times it saved me from pork knees, livers, and other meaty surprises!
Ask the veggie community
The apps mentioned above are great for spontaneous restaurant visits, but if you have a little more time, it pays to do some research online. There are lots of veggie bloggers out there, so whether they’re a travel blogger covering lots of different cities, or a local giving tips about their hometown, you’ll be able to pick up some amazing, off-the-beaten track tips.
You can also ask your friends, and not just the veggies – I have plenty of meat-eating friends who love a great veggie dish and have given me some good tips. And if you want something right on your doorstep, be sure to ask the staff and other travellers you meet at your hostel.
I already knew when I made the decision to live in southern Spain, that I would have trouble getting used to the Andalusian cuisine. Traditional restaurants are always a source of hassle for us vegetarians and it can be frustrating when there’s literally nothing you can order from the menu besides bread. But in a situation like this, the best strategy is to be nice. There’s no need to get mad because there’s beef even in the salad. It’s just a different culture. Try to find someone who speaks your language and ask them nicely about adapting one of the regular dishes. You’ll often be surprised by how creative the chef can be.
Don’t be a fussy eater
I pride myself on being able to eat anything and everything that isn’t meat. It’s important to open your taste buds to everything a destination can offer, helping you to get to know a country and its people more deeply.
Being a vegetarian does put limitations on you, but for me it’s worth it. To compensate, I just try to be as adventurous as possible. Vegetarian cuisine can be extremely varied, and our sense of taste changes all the time, so leave your limitations at home before going on a trip.
Cities are your friend
Don’t be discouraged by tales of eating nothing but plain pasta and bread for months on end. Sure, there are some places where being vegetarian is a challenge , but there are loads of places around the world, particularly big cities, where you can get the most amazing and varied vegetarian food.
I have travelled a lot around Germany, for example, and although most of the places I visited only served potato salad or some bland green salad, when I got to Berlin I was blown away by the vegetarian and vegan foodie scene. Barcelona and Madrid were also places that really surprised me with an increasingly vegetarian outlook. However, some cities such as Lisbon and Paris required a bit more research.
About the author
Two years ago, Debbie Corrano and Felipe Pacheco put their lives in a backpack, took their two dogs and went out to explore the world. As digital nomads, they’ve lived in more than five different countries, and have visited many more. Read more about their adventures on their blog: Pequenos Monstros.
Hopefully this blogpost has given you some useful tips and the confidence to get out there and meet the world as a veggie! Leave your experiences in the comments below for veggie karma points!
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