Travels of a Vegetarian

No matter where I’ve been I have never had a problem being a vegetarian. I will admit that I have never been to the Mongolian steppes or a small village in Africa, but in my experience being a vegetarian abroad is easy. Yes, the waiter at a café I went to in Montmartre in Paris didn’t quite understand that vegetarians do not eat ham as a general rule, but these sorts of linguistic and cultural differences are bound to happen, especially when one person speaks only a sort of garbled Franglais that’s the sad result of two years of French classes. That aside, I’ve always quite enjoyed being a vegetarian abroad, as it forces me to go on hunts for nice cafes and cosy, local restaurants. Plus, I invariably have seen more of a city in my wanderings, even if that has meant that by the time I’ve reached a nice café I am so exhausted I have flopped into a chair like a rag doll for two hours.

Restaurants are comfortable and good for people-watching, but something that vegetarians should remember when travelling is that street food is nothing to run away from. Yes, it will often be big hunks of meat grilling on a spit, but just as often it will be little pastries, wholesome soup or yummy wraps. I’m such a fan of street food, in fact, that I own Lonely Planet’s Guide to Street Food, and have the quiet ambition to one day sample every single vegetarian street food detailed in the tome. Like, for instance, red red, a Ghanaian dish with plantains, chillies, and palm oil, or (closer to home) pierogi, a Polish version of a Chinese dumpling (a nice accompaniment to a tankard of beer).

One of the key things vegetarians should always remember is to practise flexibility. When that nice waiter in Montmartre brought me my ham salad, I just picked around the ham and had what was, at its heart, a very pleasant salad. I never understand those vegetarians who have a sort of hostility to the food world and to food while travelling abroad – I’ve had (bad) vegetarians actually boast to me about surviving only on lettuce while in a perfectly cosmopolitan city such as Munich. I’ve been to Munich, and I can guarantee that those vegetarians who wasted away on greens were doing their best to avoid good vegetarian food. Though, I will admit that in Munich I did eat pretzels for nearly every meal… but that’s due more to a weakness for lovely, bready things and, of course, street food in the form of pretzels with butter inside…. divine!

The point of all this rambling is that there is no such thing as a city that doesn’t have good vegetarian food. Vegetarianism, luckily, is trendy, so straying off the beaten path and into more artistic, alternative neighbourhoods will nearly always result in good vegetarian food (and isn’t exploration a must for every traveller?). And, even within city hubs the global melting pot within every big city will ensure that good vegetarian food can be found.

Top 3 Vegetarian Cities

 San Diego A cultural melting pot with strong Asian, Mexican, and European influences, San Diego is one of the few cities I can think of where you can get vegan orange chicken, a vegan chorizo burrito, and a vegan hamburger if you wish. Not to be missed –  the divine and sumptuous vegan cupcakes sold practically everywhere.

Don’t miss Pokez – a great restaurant with a cool SoCal vibe in downtown San Diego, with the afore-mentioned vegan chorizo burrito.

 Amsterdam – Surprising, but true. The Dutch have a reputation for bland food, but there are a number of cafes scattered throughout Amsterdam that serve locally sourced, delicious brown bread paired with locally sourced goat’s cheese, pears, and honey. Goat’s cheese is preeminent as vegetarian food in Amsterdam- which is fine because it is always delicious, filling, and lush.

 Paris – Again, a surprise, and again quite true. The French have a way with vegetables, but even straight vegetables aside the crêperies scattered throughout Paris always have delicious vegetarian crêpes. One of the most superb restaurants I have ever been to was a divine (and cheap!) crêperie in the Latin Quarter. And of course, the cheap and wonderful falafels found in the Jewish district of Paris…


Title illustration by Anke van der Meer. Other images courtesy of Ding Yi and Aurora Lu Yang.