Travelling as a vegetarian around the world brings with it the familiar challenge – how do you eat well, for a good price and get a variety of choices? While my meat-eating friends can’t stop raving about wurst in Germany, babi guling in Bali and kebaps in Turkey, I’m usually scouring through Happycow before my trips to figure out how to keep myself well-fed. A hungry traveller is not a happy traveller.
Here’s a list of the best countries for vegetarians that I’ve been to:
- India – Okay, this is no surprise. Nearly half the population of the country is vegetarian (In India, this usually means no eggs too) and in some regions like the West and the South, you might have a tough time finding a restaurant that’s not ‘Pure Veg’. Almost every regional cuisine in the country comes with vegetarian and meat-based options for almost every dish. Hell, even a popular chain of ‘Fried Chicken’ advertises itself as ‘So Veg, So Good’! Vegetarians might want to pack clothes a couple of sizes larger if they plan to stay here for a couple of weeks.
- Italy – Of course. Italians, especially in smaller towns have a hard time wrapping their heads around the ‘vegetarian’ concept but ‘senza carne’ seems to get the message across. Other than the ubiquitous ‘vegetariano / margherita‘ pizza and cheese-tomato-lettuce panini (sandwich), you’ll find a number of options in antipasti and primi piatti (that’s appetizers and first course, respectively) – grilled vegetables, focaccia, ravioli, gnocchi, cannelloni and other pasta with vegetables. Vegetarian lasagna, alas, is not to be found on too many menus. Beware that a lot of Italians consider tuna to be vegetarian.
- Turkey – Apparently, meat was prohibitively expensive at one point in the past in Turkey, so they’ve learnt to innovate with vegetables and lentils. Add to it the beautiful local produce – it’d be tough to go wrong with that. Turkish breakfasts are feasts for vegetarians – cheeses, olives, eggs, fresh bread, marmalade, cucumber and tomato slices, homemade yogurt and fresh fruit juice. Meat-lovers need not fret – the spread also includes sausages. Local lunch /dinner/snack options without meat include gozleme and borek (both pastries with different fillings), pide (closed pizza), lentil soup, stuffed grape leaves (these come in both vegetarian and meat options), kumpir (stuffed baked potatoes) and the very interesting vegetarian testi (pottery) kebab that comes in a pot that you can crack open.
- UK – Umm, wondering if you read that right? The home of ‘fish & chips’ is also home to a sizeable number of vegetarians and a large international population. Therefore, vegetarian burgers, burritos, wraps, curries are easy to find, especially in tourist-frequented places like London, Bath etc.
Other places that I found to be easy for vegetarians –
- Sri Lanka – curries, rice and roti; South Indian vegetarian food is available in Colombo too.
- Thailand – It may have been because I stayed at resorts / hotels – these usually have large spreads for vegetarians too. Be careful about the generous use of fish sauce even in ‘vegetarian’ cooking.
- Munich, Germany – In the heart of wurst-loving Bavaria, you ask? Germany actually has a rapidly growing vegetarian population and restaurants have a couple of vegetarian dishes to accommodate their preferences. Even the Oktoberfest menu now has two vegetarian dishes. And the Turkish Doner shops / stalls serving falafel are everywhere.
- Ubud, Bali – Ubud is a popular meditation and yoga centre, therefore, has a number of restaurants with only vegetarian or vegan menus.
And the misses:
- Spain and Portugal – only Spanish potato omelettes, patatas bravas and vegetarian paella (sometimes) in Spain.
- Norway and Denmark – times when I’ve survived on cheese slice-and-mustard sandwiches; their neighbour, Sweden, is more pro-vegetarian, surprisingly.
- Croatia – even with all that lovely local produce – your options are limited to vegetarian salad and spinach-and-cheese burek. Breaks my heart when people don’t know what to do with all those fresh vegetables. *sigh*
- France – French cuisine does not acknowledge the existence of vegetarians – try the quiches, maybe.
Other expected challenges on my still-to-visit list – China, South America, Japan, Russia, Philippines, Africa, Iceland. I’d be very happy to know if I’m wrong about one or more of these places.
Share your recommendations, experiences and warnings for meat-free eating around the world – where have you feasted and where have you starved?