One of the things you most look forward to when you travel is tasting the delicacies from various countries, sampling new dishes and stuffing your face with delicious treats. After all, you are on vacation from your actual life and can forget about being on a diet or eating right for a little bit. It is time to indulge, enjoy and let go a little. For foodies, this adventure is the biggest part of why we travel. For others good food can be a good portion of their travel experience and for those that don’t care much about food beyond sustenance, you still gotta eat, right? What can possibly go wrong with this? For vegetarians and vegans, a lot can actually go wrong. I have been stared at like I was an alien by folks in many nations when it finally sunk in that I do not eat meat. I always have my chosen words in many languages as I go to order a meal: No chicken, no fish, no meat. In Sarajevo, as I placed an order for dinner and said these words I was jokingly told by the waiter, no chicken, no fish, no meat; ok ok no problem, so no dinner for you then 🙂
Getting it right!
Dietary restrictions aside, communicating them correctly and then getting food prepared appropriately can be a challenge. The same 6 words (No chicken, no fish, no meat), got me an amazing looking soup lovingly topped with chicharon. Loophole in my instructions, for I didn’t explicitly say anything about pork, I guess. Many places consider fish to be vegetarian, well at least folks like me must eat fish if we don’t eat meat or chicken. No such luck, sadly. To be honest, there are places where being vegan would be pretty impossible unless you prepare and carry your own food. In India, where ghee (clarified butter) is used in place of oil or in France or Italy where butter is liberally used being vegan isn’t an easy feat. I am of Indian origin and while going through a vegan phase and having informed my mother about my new diet I found myself tasting an incredible homemade Indian dish that undoubtedly had ghee in it. On confronting my mom, I was very politely told that she used very little ghee, just for taste and that my vegan phase had to end that day.
Stick to your POV
While I have been liberal with veganism, I have been very strict with being a vegetarian and have starved myself when no option was available. No, I shall not pick the pepperoni off my pizza and consider the rest as cheese pizza. Lessons like ordering special meals on long haul flights, taking extra snacks on hikes and day trips are just simple tips you rarely forget as a lifelong vegetarian. The reality is that most nations have a plethora of meat based options and their most celebrated dishes are rarely vegetarian and almost never vegan. Fear not my vegetarian friends, while it takes some work you can find delicious dishes and snack options in many places that you can enjoy. It is all about how you approach it.
Tips for mealtimes
- Breakfast is your BFF as a vegetarian, many baked goods are meat free. Get yourself a hearty meal of bake goodies, eggs, fruit and yogurt in the morning and you will be happy and full. Pastry dough filled sweet or savory rarely disappoints. I have enjoyed many a buttery croissants and cheese filled boreks in the AM hours. If in the Balkans or Eastern Europe try boreks or bureks. These are cheese or cheese and spinach filled baked goods that are simply delicious and very filling. Beware, they also come with meat fillings.
- Lunches and dinners are more creative pursuits. I have been to places that make meat delicacies but would be happy to substitute your dish with some potato or other vegetarian filling. I have made a lot of these attempts in South America, replace the meat with corn or potato and douse with the local hot sauce or salsa. Have you tried the big kernel Peruvian corn and their spicy sauce, aji amarillo? I can make a meal out of that. Almost every nation can make you a simple side salad and good ole fried potatoes. Don’t shy away from places that don’t seem vegetarian friendly. A smile and some curiosity can win you friends and favors as you travel. Any attempts to speak the local language also wins you points. So be nice and ask away, you will be glad you did. You don’t need to miss out when you travel, just being around people enjoying the meat versions of the dishes and still managing to get a substituted version is good enough.
- Don’t forget to try the exotic fruits and vegetables in various lands. If you are brave, try the durian or jackfruit in South Asia. There are fruits that I have only seen in South America and nowhere else. Load up on these and some dry fruits and nuts and you won’t get hangry on those long travel days. When in Morocco, Armenia or Turkey, don’t miss the pomegranate juice stands. Or tender coconut water in the Caribbean and South Asia. The street corners and carts is where the action is at. Corn in a cup or mango on a stick, be adventurous but not careless.
Don’t let a few misses with vegetarian food stop you from exploring and learning about a nation’s food history, produce and delicacies. It’s all a part of the travel experience, even if you don’t actually consume some of the famous dishes. If all else fails, there is always dessert and booze to keep the party going. That’s mostly vegetarian. Bacon topped dessert trend and the worm in the tequila, aside. Happy vegetarian eating and happy full belly travels 🙂