The Hungry Vegetarian – 4 Countries where you can eat your (vegetarian) hearts out

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:

  1. 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.

    If curries and more curries have numbed your taste buds, India also offers most international cuisines 'vegetarian-ised' Photo source: Pixabay
    If curries and more curries have numbed your taste buds, India also offers most international cuisines ‘vegetarian-ised’
    Photo source: Pixabay
  2. 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.
    In Italy, when all else fails, look around for the ubiquitous pizzeria - margherita, funghi, formaggio, vegetale - your options will usually be more than one
    In Italy, when all else fails, look around for the ubiquitous pizzeria – margherita, funghi, formaggio, vegetale – your meat-free options will usually be more than one. Photo by Shoebill2 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
  3. 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.

    Pide (stuffed bread), Lentil Soup and Complimentary fresh bread - Thou shalt not starve in Turkiye
    Pide (stuffed bread), Lentil Soup and Complimentary fresh bread – Thou shalt not starve in Turkiye
  4. 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?

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13 thoughts on “The Hungry Vegetarian – 4 Countries where you can eat your (vegetarian) hearts out”

  1. nailed it! my biggest shock was spain which I thought would have loads of veg options little knowing that meat was their staple! intact another decent veg country is greece – they do love their meat but also make some wonderful veg dishes!

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    1. Ah, Greece. Yeah, that should be a good one. It’s been on my ‘to-visit’ list forever but just fails to make the final cut – I think I get put off by mental images of hundreds of honeymooners! 😉
      And thanks for following the blog!

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  2. Great advice – didn’t know that about Turkey! A surprising one for us was Israel – we didn’t expect much there food wise, but it is just amazing for vegetarians. Hummus, falafels, olives, cheeses, fresh vegetables and produce, flat breads, loaf breads, shakshuka and dips. We ate so well in Israel. Unbelievably good. Now if only it was safe to travel there again…

    In South America it’s pretty hilarious – you might try to ask ‘sin carne’, but even then you could receive chicken because ‘carne’ in certain places just denotes red meat.

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    1. Wow, Israeli cuisine sounds very similar to Turkish (shouldn’t be surprising considering their locations on a map). And you just confirmed my worst fears about South America – I want to visit for sure and it sounds like I’ll probably need to do a LOT of research to ensure I don’t stay hungry!

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  3. Oh thank you for the happycow page!! I never knew it existed and after just 2 minutes on it I already love it!!! ok, so I’m no longer 100% vegetarian (I recently added sea food to my diet) but after being a full vegetarian since 1999 I can add a few countries to your list. on the positive side, if you forget the fish sauce then China is also a great place for vegetarians. and you weren’t wrong about Thailand. As for a place no Vegatarian should go is Argentina!! The only reason I’ve survived both times I went is because they also love italian food so pizza’s and pastas were my staple while I was there…

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    1. Happycow is a lifesaver sometimes. I’m quite surprised about China actually – and I just found your post on food there, I’m going to check that out very soon! The pizzas and pastas get too dull after a few days of repetition, don’t they?

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      1. The thing with China is that besides having a lot of veggie platters they also have this awesome “choose your own ingredients” style of restaurants were you are handed a basket and showed to a ton of glass door fridges were you pick and choose what you want, place it on your basket and hand it over for the to prepare for you!!! so its up to you if want only veggies or not on your meal. needless to say this was probably my favourite option in China. 🙂

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  4. I recently visited Japan and it was quite challenging though not impossible to get veggie food- incidentally we landed up eating mostly at Italian and Turkish restaurants. I’m from South India and vegetarian so we’ve never had problems here. I think the big American cities are also very veggie and vegan friendly- never had a problem eating there.

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