Travelling the world as a vegetarian is a minefield ripe for misunderstanding. While some countries excel in veggie cuisine, others struggle with it. It’s all too easy to be placated with the phrase “Yes! yes! No meat!” – only to find your dish riddled with chunks of pork, beef or other miscellaneous morsels. Here, Flash Pack’s resident herbivore, events director Jenni Shaw, shares the hard-earned lessons she’s learnt as globe-trotting veggie…
As long-time vegetarians, myself and our lovely content writer Anna are well-versed in the gastro-pub staple of mushroom risotto and have had long chats about the challenges of childhood holidays in meat-loving France.
The world is definitely becoming far more accepting of a vegetarian diet these days, and the old times of having to carry an emergency tin of spaghetti hoops with you abroad are thankfully over (yes this was actually a thing!).
However, it still pays to take your vegetarianism into account when planning a trip abroad, especially if you’re heading somewhere not famed for its veggie fare (say, Brazil). Here are the golden rules I swear by as a travelling veggie, to ensure a delicious and drama-free escape…
1) It sounds really obvious but I can’t count the number of times I have forgotten to do this: learn how to say, “I am a vegetarian!” This should be one of your stock phrases (along with “beer please”, “thank you” and “where’s the loo?”)
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2) Google local veggie dishes and find a couple that you like the sound of. It’s good to learn the names for these in the local language so you can always ask if restaurants have them on the menu. Some places might also be able to whip you up something bespoke if you know what to ask for.
3) In the absence of any actual meals, learn the names for some staple vegetables that you think will be available in the country you are going to. Like the above point, this means that you can at least ask for some steamed or stir-fried veggies.
4) Think outside the box. Often, if you study the menu properly, it might be that there are quite a few vegetarian side dishes that you could combine to make a full meal. There might also be some meat dishes with accompaniments which could be served as a veggie option. It’s slightly harder work than ordering straight from the menu but also a clever hack: often, this strategy can actually create the best dish of all.
5) Do some research. This one is not always easy, as often you won’t know exactly where you will be and you probably don’t want to have your trip planned down to the second in any case But if you have the time, it’s a good idea to read up on the local area and find blogs with vegetarian restaurant recommendations. You may not use them but it’s always good to have them up your sleeve if the right opportunity presents itself.
6) It’s important to be realistic about the situation and (destination dependent!) accept that there are times where you may not have much choice in what you eat. It may well be pretty plain and boring. I therefore always make sure I pack some tasty snacks that travel well. There are so many different bars and flapjacks on the market these days that you can easily pick up a good few options to have stashed away for plain rice emergencies.
7) On the topic of rice: this is the go-to veggie option in many countries, from South-East Asia to South America. So I highly recommend that you give yourself a rice break before you go. Ease off the stuff for a few weeks before your trip and it will seem all the more appealing when you are eating it for the 11th day in a row!
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8) Why not order dessert for lunch? I was recently in a traditional restaurant in the remote lake area of Bedugul, Bali. The main course option would have been a plain bowl of rice but the dessert menu included a variety of exciting options such as sumptuous fruit salads and smoothie bowls. Not an approach that would work for everyday life but hey! You’re on holiday. A few dessert-based meals aren’t going to hurt you too much.
9) Be prepared for some potential awkwardness on occasion. Many countries are still not completely on board with the whole vegetarian thing and trying to explain may become slightly difficult at times. Just prepare yourself for this and you will be totally fine.
10) A controversial one, but maybe try relaxing your usual vegetarian rules? This is tricky, as you really need to ask yourself what your reasons are for being a vegetarian in the first place, and that will determine whether or not you want to do this. I am just talking things like allowing the stock in your Vietnamese phở to be beef-based, or eating fish for the trip to broaden your options. As I say, a divisive idea and not something that I would do myself. But if your beliefs and taste buds allow, it’s always worth considering.
Images: Jenni Shaw and Shutterstock