practice of abstaining from the consumption of meat
Travel topics > Food and drink > Travel as a vegetarian

Vegetarians and vegans can eat quite well in most countries. While the traditional cuisine and style of eating in many countries can make it a bit difficult for vegetarians or vegans to find food without animal products in it, most cultures have at least a few vegetarian dishes, and restaurants are often willing to leave out or substitute animal ingredients. Although plant-based diets are increasingly common, several locations lack a strong cultural basis for vegetarian eating or understand "vegetarianism" differently. Being informed before you go abroad is necessary to maintain an animal-free diet.

Planning edit

 
India is a paradise for vegetarians (particularly lacto vegetarians); see South Asian cuisine. Pictured: Aloo tikki (potato/spice fritter) with mint chutney, tamarind chutney and yogurt sauce.
 
Turkish vegetarian meze platter with pide bread

If your diet is important to you then it is imperative to take it into consideration when planning your trip. As a conscientious traveler, it's much better to put the work in beforehand to avoid stressing yourself trying to find food while traveling, as well as avoiding placing the burden of feeding you on a people and culture that may not know how to accommodate you. Where will you be going? There will be a greater variety of food available in big urban centers than there will be in rural areas. If you want to visit a tiny village in rural Brazil, fine, but expect that it may greatly limit your diet.

Research the cuisine for the places where you are going. There will be a couple of vegetable/grain dishes almost everywhere, so you'll have something to order in restaurants. This will also give you an idea of local cooking techniques; oftentimes, innocent-looking vegetable dishes will be cooked in a meat stock, or contain fish sauce (see "Non-vegetarian items in vegetable dishes" below).

Look up lists of vegetarian restaurants and grocery stores in the area where you'll be staying and check their Wikivoyage destination guides for information. Also look for local vegetarian organizations there.

It's wise to bring some emergency snacks with you in case you find yourself in a situation with no vegetarian food available. This is especially likely to happen when you're in transit, for instance at a bus station or on a long train ride. Pick something non-perishable, filling, and easy to transport. Clif bars or Luna bars are a good choice—they're calorie-dense and full of nutrients, and most are vegan.

In the West edit

 
Vegan interpretation of a full Scottish breakfast, served in Drumnadrochit near Loch Ness

Among countries in which vegetarianism and veganism is not the norm, those in the West tend to be the most accommodating, and even non-veg restaurants, particularly in the Netherlands, Denmark, the US, Canada and the UK, generally offer several vegetarian options and the staff are likely to be better prepared to answer questions regarding what dishes are vegetarian-friendly. Mediterranean countries such as France, Italy and Greece are known for making delicious composed salads. Some of them have ham or anchovies in them, but many do not. Vegetable side dishes (contorni) in Italy are usually vegan and can make a very satisfying meal. Ratatouille and lentil stews in France are often vegan, although you will have to ask each time, and France overall is quite vegetarian-, and moreso vegan-unfriendly by Western standards.

Regardless of where exactly you are in the West, you'll generally find far better options the more urban you go. A country pub in the United Kingdom will usually have little more to offer to vegetarians than a bowl of chips (but even then, be careful to make sure they were not fried in animal fats), whereas dining districts in London will have whole restaurants dedicated to vegetarian and vegan cuisine. However, some rural locations (and some small cities dominated by a college or university) may have a significant community with an "alternative" lifestyle that includes veganism, and restaurants catering to their preferences.

In Romania and other places where the Orthodox Church is strong, a "fasting" or "Lenten" diet is generally vegan and alcohol-free, although in some countries, such as Serbia, the diet may be interpreted as including fish or shellfish and beer (but never meat, eggs, or milk).

Middle East edit

In the Eastern Mediterranean, North Africa, and places like Yemen, you can easily make a satisfying meal out of mezes (mezedes in Greek)—small plates and spreads such as falafel; tabbouleh; baba ghanouj; ezme; pickled turnips; hummus; spicy carrots; Arab, Greek, Turkish, Israeli, or Moroccan salad; foul (fava bean paste); etc.

Israel has a pretty high share of the population who are vegetarian or vegan, which may in part be due to the limits on meat consumption imposed by kashrut and the rules of halal food - and most Israelis are (culturally at least) Muslims or Jews. In general you'll be spoiled for choice in places like Tel Aviv, but there is still a good selection in other parts of the country.

Asian options edit

 
Vegetarian food in Bali, Indonesia

India has a long tradition of vegetarianism among Jains and some Hindu sects, so finding vegetarian meals will not be a problem. However, veganism is not widely understood, and Indian vegetarian food makes extensive use of dairy products, so finding food that is suitable for vegans is going to be a challenge.

In mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau, seek out Buddhist vegetarian restaurants, including those that are attached to Buddhist temples. Some Buddhist temples may also serve free vegetarian food in their dining hall to feed the poor. You can partake as a tourist and won't be turned away, but it is considered polite to donate an appropriate amount of money to the temple if you can afford to do so. Buddhist vegetarian food has a long history in China, and is known for its creative ways of imitating meat using only vegetarian ingredients like tofu, mushrooms and gluten, making it worth trying even if you are not a vegetarian. However, don't assume that a vegetable dish at ordinary restaurants will not include non-vegetarian ingredients like oyster sauce, pork, lard, or dried shrimps (see below). Also be careful about soup dishes as even vegetable soups can be made with meat stocks.

Similarly, due to a long history of Mahayana Buddhist influences in Japan, South Korea and Vietnam, there are vegetarian restaurants to cater to more devout Buddhists. In the rural parts of Vietnam, the nearest Buddhist temple will generally be your best bet in seeking vegetarian food. In Japan and South Korea, Buddhist vegetarian food is considered to be a form of fine dining, meaning that it is mostly very expensive. Temple stay programmes in Japan and South Korea usually include vegetarian meals as part of the package. However, don't assume that all food served at temples in Japan is vegetarian: vegetarianism was largely abolished for Buddhist monks in Japan following the Meiji Restoration, and today, the vegetarian tradition is mainly preserved as a homage to the past, rather than as a regular diet for monks.

In East Asian cuisines (except for those of some ethnic minorities), dairy is traditionally not used. Thus most non-dessert Buddhist vegetarian food is essentially vegan, but make sure your dish does not contain eggs or honey. Veganism per se is not widely understood.

In most of Southeast Asia, your best bet at finding vegetarian food is generally among the ethnic Chinese or Indian communities. For vegans, Chinese Buddhist vegetarian restaurants are generally the safest bet.

In Oceania edit

 
A vegan breakfast in Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia

In most places in Australia, restaurants provide few if any options apart from a bowl of chips. Sydney, Melbourne, and the regions surrounding both cities have good vegetarian and vegan options, and other major cities like Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Canberra and Hobart have a decent bit to offer. Outside of major cities, options are more limited, though the fast food chain Hungry Jacks (Burger King) has vegan burgers.

In Auckland, vegan options aren't hard to find, but outside of major cities, options in New Zealand are very limited. The same is true to a greater degree in New Caledonia.

In Fiji, with its very large Indian community, you won't have a problem finding vegetarian food most of the time.

For other countries in the Pacific, there's little to offer since vegetarianism and veganism is not the norm, and if you're a vegetarian, you might find it really hard to find a proper meal here.

Non-vegetarian items in vegetable dishes edit

 
The Chinese character (zhāi), commonly used to identify vegetarian restaurants in Southeast Asia and Taiwan

In many countries, seemingly vegetarian dishes can actually contain meat, in the form of sauces, seasonings, broths, lard and even just pieces of meat mixed in to add flavor. Don't assume that a dish doesn't have meat just because the menu doesn't mention it. Something innocuous-looking like sauteed vegetables or even bread may have meat added in some parts of the world, and it's hard to tell if a soup has meat broth without asking. Learn what types of hidden animal products are common in the country you're visiting, and if in doubt, ask before ordering.

In parts of Southeast Asia, it can be challenging to find completely vegetarian food. Belacan—shrimp paste—is generally an ingredient in the rempah (spice paste) of Malaysian dishes, even when you can't taste it separately. Similarly, in Thailand and Vietnam, there is very often some fish sauce in an otherwise vegetable dish. In those countries and also Indonesia, it is common for little dried shrimp to also show up in vegetable dishes (these are common in some regional Chinese cuisines, too). So finding strictly vegetarian food in these countries may require extra effort, and where you can find South Indian vegetarian or Chinese Mahayana Buddhist vegetarian food, you may want to avail yourself of the opportunity.

In China, where tofu was invented, it is not considered only as a meat substitute, but can share a dish with meat, so don't assume a tofu dish will be vegetarian. Be particularly wary of the popular dish mapo tofu which usually uses a little pork. Just as Tex-Mex cuisine mixes meat and beans, so too does Chinese food mix meat and bean curd.

Japanese food often uses dashi, a stock which is commonly made from bonito flakes but can be made from kombu (kelp). Sometimes, sardines or mushrooms are used, instead. If you are not a pescetarian, try to determine to your satisfaction whether exclusively vegetable ingredients were used to make the dashi.

In Korea, the basically vegetable staple kimchi usually uses dried shrimp in its preparation, and may use other non-vegetable ingredients, depending on regional traditions within Korea. It is possible to find kimchi that is strictly vegetarian (e.g. at restaurants serving Buddhist temple cuisine), but do not assume the kimchi that is put in front of you is truly vegetarian unless you have done due diligence.

In Europe—France and Spain especially—make sure when you order composed salads that you know whether they include ham, bacon/lardons, salami/mortadella, anchovies, and also eggs or/and cheese if you are a strict vegan.

In the United States, especially the South, cooked vegetables are often made with lard or butter. French fries are often deep fried in animal fat.

Language and cultural issues edit

 
Vegetarian braised mock meat (lou mei) on a bowl of rice in Hong Kong. Several types of regional Chinese cuisines are known for their delicious vegetarian mock-meat dishes, which are commonly ordered by non-vegetarians as well as vegetarians.

In some countries and cultures (especially developing countries) vegetarianism/veganism is rare or even nonexistent.

Food culture is very important in many countries, and refusal to participate fully in the meal may make you appear culturally insensitive and snobbish. In any country, it's possible that you will insult your hosts when you turn down their food, especially if it was prepared specially for you. If you know you will be received as a guest somewhere, make your diet known to your hosts in advance. If you know of any local dishes that you can eat, it may be helpful to name them as examples.

In many places the word "vegetarian" (let alone "vegan") is not known or commonly used and thus you will have to use different expressions. You may also run into a language barrier, as sometimes the word you think means "meat" does not mean "all edible things derived from dead animals". E.g. the English word "meat" is usually understood to exclude (nearly) all seafood and some varieties of Spanish don't include chicken in the word "carne", either, your dictionary saying "carne" means "meat" notwithstanding. It may be less ambiguous to (if you are able to) say you don't eat animals or use one of the local cultural equivalents (i.e. "Buddhist diet") to say what you want to say. If you don't eat eggs, you should mention this specifically – in most countries, unfertilized eggs are considered vegetarian. In India, "vegetarian" is generally understood to exclude eggs, but typically makes extensive use of dairy products, as cow's milk is sacred in Hinduism.

The International Vegetarian Union has very brief listings of what vegans eat and don't eat, in many different languages. All you have to do is to show the right page to the restaurant staff.

Still, sometimes things happen that you cannot anticipate or in spite of your efforts to make your restrictions known, what is prepared is not vegetarian-friendly. Have an explanation with you and be prepared to repeat it. If you did mention your diet ahead of time, politely referring back to it can at least assure your hosts that you are not refusing because of the way the food looks, smells, etc. Be polite and apologetic as you would anywhere, but also be prepared to accept that your host may still be offended or hurt.

If you're a vegetarian for non-religious ethical reasons, in places with a language barrier or strong food or host tradition it's usually best to refrain from explaining out your beliefs and go with something inarguable (medical reasons, something vaguely religious or cultural). Be very careful with making up fake reasons if you know you will or hope to see your hosts much in the future. In some cultures, there may be a vegetarian tradition of some kind that you can compare your diet to. In countries with Mahayana Buddhist sub-populations, some vegetarian travellers find that calling their diet "Buddhist" is the simplest way to explain it.

 
In India, vegetarian food is marked with the green dot and non-vegetarian food with the dark red. The distinction may be difficult to perceive for the color blind.

Be as considerate as you are in your home country. Language and cultural barriers can turn what is a "simple request" in your home country into a big (or even impossible) ask in your host country. If a restaurant does not have any vegetarian dishes or you realize that your attempts to explain are simply not getting anywhere, kindly apologize for taking up their time and move on. Your diet is your own responsibility, and acting upset would just reinforce the stereotype of the angry vegetarian (or the troublesome tourist).

When all else fails, find a grocery store or local vegetable market. You can make a meal yourself with a camping stove or kitchen.

Also be careful if you want to invite local vegetarian friends out for a meal. For instance, vegetarianism in Mahayana Buddhism does not only exclude meat and seafood, but also the "five fetid vegetables", namely garlic, onion (including closely-related vegetables such as shallots), leeks, chives and spring onions, as they are believe to have aphrodisiac effects and hence, inhibit one's ability to meditate and think clearly. Thus, even food that is suitable for Western vegans may not be suitable for Mahayana Buddhist vegetarians.

Making concessions edit

Some vegetarians make the decision to "leave their diet at home", meaning they make concessions while traveling. These may range from permitting a single dish just to get by to a complete vacation from one's usual diet. There are a variety of reasons for making this choice. In social situations and especially when you are being hosted, you can make a very bad impression (as outlined above) by refusing food. If you are trying to make the world a better place, offending people is seldom effective. Even if you are alone, some vegetarians prefer to forego their diet while traveling so that they can fully immerse themselves in the culture, including food culture, or simply because they want to try famous dishes, which will often contain meat.

There are many different levels of concessions. Some vegetarians stick with their diet when traveling, but in a more easygoing way than usual. At restaurants on the road, you might consider going "don't ask, don't tell" about ingredients like fish sauce and lard, even if you would always check back home. This can ease a lot of practicalities, especially if there's a language barrier.

If you follow a plant-based diet in your home country partly due to opposition to factory farming or excess meat consumption, you may find that these issues are less severe in your destination. In some parts of the world, people still breed and raise animals in a pre-industrial fashion, without genetic modifications, feeding them steroids, penning them up in small quarters, etc. While in the end the animals are unwillingly killed anyway, it may be that locals depend on eating animals for survival, so it can be unwise to judge people.

While a hiatus from your diet is something to think about, it is certainly not for everyone. There are a wide variety of reasons to be vegetarian, some of which permit this sort of thing and others that do not. Consider your own reasons and weigh them against your travel wishes to reach your own decision regarding whether this option may be viable for you.

Air travel edit

 
Vegetarian salad, Palermo, Sicily. Delicious vegetable dishes without meat products can be easily found in Mediterranean countries, and not only in the form of salads

Most full service airlines that serve meals on-board offer a vegetarian choice. You should request the vegetarian meal at the time of your reservation, and to be sure reconfirm with the airline 72 hours before departure. If you book online and there is no option to select your meal, you should call the airline. If you forget at the time of booking, there is little prospect of requesting one at check-in; however, it always pays to ask on the plane, as often there can be a spare meal that meets your requirements. If not, the meal without the heated component can often be vegetarian. Be warned that in economy class, vegetarian meals served on airplanes are often nothing but overcooked steamed or boiled vegetables without seasoning.

Full service airlines use codes internally with their caterers to select meal types. The codes applicable to vegetarians and vegans are:

  • VGML – Strict/Pure Vegetarian (Vegan) – Usually the default vegetarian special meal.
  • VLML – Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian / Western Vegetarian
  • AVML – Asian Vegetarian – Spicy Indian food
  • VJML – Vegetarian Jain Meal (no eggs, mushrooms or root vegetables, but may contain dairy)
  • VOML – Chinese Vegetarian (Vegan)
  • RVWL – Raw Vegetarian (Vegan)
  • FPML – Fruit Platter (Vegan).

At airports removed from the airline's home ports, the food can depend more on the catering available at the remote airport than the airline. Sometimes the different vegetarian styles will give different meals, but it is quite common for a VGML to be served, even if you order a VLML.

Discount airlines, and some full service airlines on short sectors do not serve food or have food sold from a trolley. Usually there is a vegetarian option, but you can usually check the inflight menu in advance on the website, or third party sites that have meal information.

It is an unfortunate fact of flying that sometimes the full service airline loses a meal order, or the salad sandwich on the discount airline is sold out, or not available on a flight. It's always a good idea to take snacks on board just in case.

Other information edit

There are a few cities in the world that are completely vegetarian, including the Indian holy cities of Haridwar and Rishikesh. Non-vegetarian food is prohibited in those places, but sometimes eggs and products containing eggs can be sold in the outskirts. As well, if you buy cheese, it may contain rennet, and some beverages/yogurts/ice creams may contain coloring agents from insects. Cosmetics and similar products may be tested on animals while clothing and footwear made from leather are commonly sold, too.

Some apps and websites such as HappyCow and VeggieKarte can also be helpful when finding vegan and vegetarian restaurants where you go. In Japan, Vegewel is also a valuable resource.

See also edit

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