As I popped the last macorna almond and washed it down with some sherry in Seville and pondered – Is it really hard to stick to a vegetarian diet when traveling?! Friends always ask isn’t it hard to find vegan or vegetarian food in a meat predominant culture or offbeat places. My answer is Not if you do your research upfront and have a plan! So here are my tips to stick to a vegetarian or vegan diet when traveling…
I look down at our table, where there was some leftover paella with vegetables, another paella loaded with seafood, empty bowls of gazpacho, a few olives and a plate of berenjenas fritas con miel de caña which has been my favorite dish in Spain – fried eggplant drizzled with honey. I have seen my share of hanging Jamón Ibérico hams on this trip through Spain and tried some amazing vegetarian tapas including that eggplant drizzled with dark honey – which I have tried at every city we stopped in Andalusia. But haven’t gone hungry or without a meal – not one single day!
Vegetable paella (on the right) in Cordoba, Spain
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Tips to stick to a Vegetarian diet when Traveling
While it is easy eating a vegetarian or vegan diet when traveling to India, Italy or Indonesia – have you seen those Instagram worthy bowls of fruit and veggies from Bali?! – the rest of the world is still playing catch up. I grew up a vegetarian and got a little lost along the way and trying to get back to my vegetarian roots. The rest of my family eats everything that flies, crawls or even wiggles – ( hubby showed me a video of squirming shrimps on a bed of ice, headed just snapped off seconds before and told me they actually ate it raw on a recent trip to Asia. I had major goosebumps just thinking about it for the next few days! ) When traveling we try to find places to eat that has at least one or two vegetarian dishes – we don’t always restrict ourselves to just Vegan or Vegetarian establishments. So here are some of my tried and true tips to stick a vegetarian diet when traveling the world.
Do your research
You hear so much about the hot dogs and lamb soup in Iceland but if you know where to look you can find a tomato farm that serves a killer tortellini pasta, fresh tomato soup and a tangy cucumber salad. After hiking on a glacier near Skaftafell, we stopped at the visitor center for lunch knowing that they had some vegan options including vegan patties with salad, hummus wrap. We knew about both places because I had looked up online before the trip. I use HappyCow.net to find vegetarian-friendly and unique places to eat at home and while traveling. What started in 1999 as a primitive website, has grown to become the world’s top directory of vegan, vegetarian and veg-friendly restaurants around the world. You can use it for advance planning or while on the road. HappyCow’s mobile app helps you find the nearest options. HappyCow’s nearly 57,000 listings also include retreats and lodging, bakeries and farmer’s markets.
Tomato soup in Friðheimar, Iceland
Never skip breakfast
I confess to being somewhat of a hotel breakfast snob – I tend to judge a hotel by their breakfast spread more than anything else. We are a family that can skip our lunches but we love to start off the day with a nice sit-down breakfast that fuels the body and gets the day started right. Plan your plate well with proteins, grains and fresh fruits, you got enough energy for exploring a new place or trying a new adventure. I still remember the smell of freshly milled oats in a small luxury hotel in Tyrol, Austria when hostess in her drindl balancing a tray of fresh fruits showed me how to work the little mill to split the oats grain and use it make the freshest of fresh porridge I have ever had in my life. There is a reason breakfast is the most important meal of the day and it is more so when traveling. Even if you don’t find the perfect lunch spot, you can always refuel at a cafe and plan a good sit down dinner to enjoy some local dishes and elixirs.
A small oat mill at a breakfast buffet in Tyrol, Austria
Dig a little deeper
Texas is known for its BBQ but did you know we also have Vegan Markets, have a few Vegan restaurants in the area and loads of Indian restaurants and places like Flower Child and True food kitchen that have flavorful options for vegetarians. I’m have been on a hunt to find the best veggie burger in Dallas and the list seems to get bigger these days. Sometimes the local cuisine may not include great vegetarian dishes, you might have to dig a little deeper to find the vegetarian options in the country’s menus. Italy has some meat-heavy pasta dishes, plan a trip around the truffle harvest season and the chefs are generous with their truffle shavings. It was not difficult to find vegan tapas and vegetable paella in Spain but in France, which is known for its beef, foie gras and escargot it is another story. When vegetarian foods are not typically popular, it does not mean you can’t find them. Nice, France is known for Socca, a bread made from chickpea. Austria is famous for its frankfurter, goulash and wiener schnitzel but did you know they make schnitzel not only from veal or pork but chicken versions were available in most places and their Wiener Apfelstrudel or apple strudel was perfect with some Viennese coffee after some salad and mushroom soup.
Pasta with shaved black truffle in Verona, Italy
Spend the dough
Sometimes visiting local food markets is just that – a touristy visit, you might not find the best vegetarian or vegan options there. Planning a nice meal and spending the dough, so to speak gets you the best meal. It does not have to be a Michelin-starred menu, but check with the locals, ask the hotel concierge and plan at least one meal in the place you are visiting to make a culinary connection with your destination. If time permits try a food tour or cooking class to delve deeper but let the organizers know the dietary restrictions upfront so that they can plan accordingly. When the kids are younger you can’t really travel without their baby formulas and pureed veggies but as they grow and their tastes change – it is good to look beyond the kids menu to introduce them to local cuisines, fruits and vegetables. Traveling is a good time to expand their palettes, trust me they are more tempted to try new foods and flavors in exotic locations than at home on a very familiar dining table.
La Bouqueria, a food market in Barcelona where I found some fresh juice while trying to avoid eye contact with the hanging hams
While we were in Salzburg looking for a place to eat after walking around the Mirabell gardens, we stumbled upon this Vegan place called “The heart of Joy“. Though the place was not crowded or your typical brunch place, we ventured in and enjoyed a scrumptious meal of omelets, fruits and Gluten-free cakes with tree butter. They had organic fairtrade coffee, 50 kinds of teas and juice made with beets, orange, carrot, ginger and apple – a truly memorable meal. We were looking for one of the popular cafe’s in town but happened upon this joyful find. Sometimes we luck out like that and there are times we end up at a place where there is nothing appetizing on the menu that I have the rest of the family eat and stop at a grocery store nearby to pick up some basic supplies to make a sandwich. It rarely happens, but the key is to be flexible.
A joyful find in Salzburg – The heart of Joy
Bring your own
If all else fails, bring your own meal! It is rude and inappropriate to bring your own meal to a restaurant but you can pack a picnic with breads, cheese, spreads, fruits and some wine or smoothies for a relaxing stop en-route. If you spent the dough the previous night on dinner and there were leftovers, ask for them to be packed and store in the hotel fridge. Makes for a quick cold yet better than your average store-bought cheese sandwich.
A picnic in Vail, Colorado that Manor Vail lodge packed for us
Eat around the sides
I tell my daughter who has been toying with the idea of turning into a vegetarian that you need to really love your veggies to be a vegetarian! There is no “I don’t like cauliflower or eggplant is too mushy”, because sometimes that is all you are eating when traveling. When cauliflower steak or a nice quinoa dish is not an option for the main course, you have to be flexible and put together a couple of sides like green beans, mushrooms and whatever is the special vegetable dish of the location to make your own entree. Most chefs are happy to do that if you ask nicely! When you have to eat around the sides, have an open mind and most of all love your fruits and vegetables.
Plates of shrimp, calamari and eggplant in Diamantes, Granada
Learn a few phrases in the local language
Asking nicely always helps, and if you learn to ask in the local language even better. Even if your accent doesn’t sound perfect they will appreciate the effort, so learn a few phrases in the different languages. Asking a server or chef might lead to a custom dish made especially for you, they might be able to alter an existing dish to suit your diet. Learn them or travel with a cheat sheet of local phrases, so you can intelligently ask for vegetarian food.
Kids enjoying some pastries in the square at St.Moritz
|Do you have vegetarian food?||Is this vegetarian?|
|German||Haben Sie vegetarisches Essen?||Ist dieser Vegetarier?|
|Italian||Avete/Servite cibo vegetariano?||Questo è vegetariano?|
|Spanish||¿Teneís comida vegetariana?||¿Esto es vegetariano?|
So there you have it – my tips to stick to a vegetarian diet when traveling…
Do you have others that need to be on the list and please help me expand this list of language phrases and comment below if you know these phrases in other languages. HappyCow recently released its first Top-10 list of vegan-friendly cities worldwide determined by the number of offerings, population density and “overall vegan-friendliness” of the city. Winners were: Berlin, Los Angeles, Warsaw, Poland, Taipei, Taiwan, New York City, Singapore, London; Tel Aviv, Israel, Portland, Oregon; and San Francisco. But you don’t have to limit yourself to just these places when traveling – plan ahead and follow these tips and explore the world!
I’m hoping to try some feta cheese and Loukoumades in Greece soon, may even take some pictures of those octopuses that are hung to dry against the picturesque blue domes – where are your travels taking you next? Is there a particular dish drawing you there?? Do you have other tips to stick to a vegetarian diet when traveling?
This post was featured at Lonely Planet, you can see it here.
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