It can arrive as a surprise that being a vegetarian isn’t a globally understood concept. Animal products often form the foundation of foreign cuisine – and whilst we may not agree with that, it is unfortunately fact, and can make eating whilst travelling a difficult road to navigate.
Vegetarianism as a lifestyle choice (though it’s understood that for many, it’s not a freely made decision) is a luxury in many countries, and the label ‘vegetarian’ can inevitably get lost in translation. This does not mean to say that eating from a menu is truly prohibitive though – all you need is to prepare a little in advance, familiarise yourself with the culture and typical dishes before venturing out.
Travelling is about experiencing new places, about witnessing new things – and that isn’t restricted to tastes. Though local cuisine is important in learning somewhere new, it’s not fundamental. Eating abroad doesn’t have to be a complicated situation – here are some tips to make sure it’s as pain-free as possible. You might even get to taste the culture from a meat-free perspective along the way…
As previously mentioned, not all places understand the term vegetarian. It can mean any number of things, from simple, plain food that just doesn’t contain meat (or any substance or flavour for that matter) to a skewed understanding of the term (chicken and fish are occasionally not classed in the same category as red meat).
Plainly asking for vegetarian food won’t work in these circumstances, and will usually hinder the situation rather than help – not ideal when your stomach is rumbling, and hungry irritation is taking hold.
This is why it’s important to learn foodie phrases. Being able to ask for something that doesn’t contain meat, chicken or fish in your location’s native language can only ever be of a benefit to you. It’s essential to be clear in your questions, and avoid getting into a discussion about vegetarian suitability – keep it simple, and be truly transparent about your dietary requirements.
Whether you’re in a Greek taverna or on Vietnamese streets, considering the street food options before you, any menu can be adjusted to suit dietary needs – provided you can make yourself understood, of course. It’s worth remembering that menus can be flexible. Though it will depend on the venue, options can always be requested.
This is a great way of still ensuring you get to sample local cuisine. By selecting a dish and asking for it to be cooked without any meat products, and substituted with vegetables, you get the best of both worlds.
As the average weight of a nation slowly rises, the more frequently you’ll find healthy options appearing on the menu. This is something that’s increasingly popular globally, with South America and some parts of Asia widely offering a selection of healthier alternatives to the usual menu.
Here, you can usually find some already meat-free options that are intentionally made to be tasty and healthy – a travelling vegetarian’s dream. As such, these options are often much cheaper too.
Trying to explain your diet in another language can be incredibly frustrating, especially when the person you’re talking to just doesn’t understand what you’re after. Maintaining a positive approach will only help these situations, and remember – the concept of vegetarianism will be baffling to some.
Whilst you’ll be fine to eat in restaurants across the world, if you fancy a day away from explaining, again, then consider a visit to a local market. Take the opportunity to stock up on veggie friendly foods for the rest of your trip while you’re here.
If possible, connect with other vegetarians or vegans in the area that you’re travelling to. Local people are always the best source for a recommendation, but depending on your destination this may obviously be more difficult. Else, do your research on restaurants before you depart – many have online menus to peruse that can aid in decision making.
All that’s left is to decide where to go!
Visiting and experiencing new places should not be a nightmare for vegetarians and vegans. The right to travel and enjoy eating is still yours – you just might have to do a little more research and learn some foreign phrases before you depart.