We all love travelling but no one likes walking endlessly in search of a vegetarian friendly restaurant, especially in a foreign place where you don’t speak the language! While I’m not a vegetarian, my significant other is, and I can’t begin to tell you how frustrating it became when after a long day spent hiking in the Korean countryside, we returned to town, unable to find anything he was able to eat without compromising his 4 year long commitment to himself (and the animals).
I guess we should have figured that the place that brought us Korean BBQ might not be big on the soy and broccoli scene. But for travelling vegetarians like my boyfriend Zach, the world doesn’t have to be full of temptation and devoid of satisfaction. Read the list that we wished we had had when planning our travels abroad and never let the veggies among you go hungry again!
So at surface level it wasn’t that easy to find vegetarian restaurants in Japan, at least anymore than it was to find them in Korea. But after the first three days we started to do some basic research and realized that there were plenty of options — as long as you knew where to look! The biggest obstacle in our way was not speaking Japanese as you’ll discover that very few locals speak English. To save yourself from making wild gestures that cause onlookers to stare, commit this simple phrase to memory:
watashi wa niku toh sakana wo taberarimasen
This statement literally translates to “I don’t eat meat or fish.” It’s a much clearer way of saying you’re a vegetarian than actually saying those words literally. Even if the dishes you order don’t contain pieces of meat and fish it’s likely that the soup stock (found in many “veggie” noodle meals) is made from fish or meat so my best suggestion is to be flexible. To avoid this internal debate altogether, just google “vegetarian restaurants” beforehand because you can be sure they will be animal free! The top city for worry-free feasting is definitely Kyoto. Of course drinking your way through Tokyo is another animal free option as well!
Your go-tos: Okonomiyaki, miso soup, soba and udon noodles, tempura, onigiri (gari, umeboshi, sekihan, etc)
I know what you’re thinking, “But Jackie, this is a country made famous for its schnitzel! Are you seriously saying it’s safe for vegetarians like me?” Yes, mystery reader, I am! You’ll find some amazing cruelty-free dishes just beyond the bratwurst! Breakfast will be a breeze as it’s a very carb heavy affair, meaning that it’s full of good things like bread rolls, cereals, and cheeses! When it comes to lunch you only have to step into one of the countless cafes on every street corner to enjoy a cup of coffee and a piece of cake. You can also feast on cous cous, cheese baguettes, falafel, salads and of course, the famous soft pretzel! But now we get to the hard part…dinner. I hope you like lentils because you might often find this as your only choice. Lentil soups are very popular in German restaurants but you can also enjoy tomato soups, potato salads and breaded cheeses. Just be careful because while you may think you’re just ordering a baked cheese dish you may be in for a surprise when it arrives on your table with a ton of sausage baked right inside. Always ask! You can let your server know you’re a vegetarian by saying:
ich bin vegetariër
Your go-tos: pretzels, assorted cheeses, brötchen, käsespätzle, rösti, flammkuchen (but ask them to hold the bacon)
Are you a lover of fresh fruit? Then Thailand is the place for you! Fresh fruits and vegetables can be found pretty much anywhere and in major cities like Chiang Mai you can even stroll through farmer’s markets every weekend to munch on mangoes, lychees, papaya and more! But seriously, don’t miss out on the mangoes — they’re a reason to visit Thailand all in their own. You will also find yourself surrounded by plenty of vegetarian-friendly restaurants pretty much anywhere you go, especially throughout major cities like Bangkok. If you aren’t sure if what you’re ordering has meat in it just say:
mai kin neua, mai kin pla
The above simply means, “I don’t eat beef, I don’t eat fish.” Once again I will tentatively encourage you to consider being a little flexible when it comes to how strict you’re going to be. If you decide to spend enjoy meals alongside befriended locals, you may want to forgo the hassle of communicating your vegetarianism and just enjoy the dish as is while eating around the meat. Should you open yourself up to enjoying some seafood you’ll experience a whole new world of possibilities and flavours! Of course you don’t have to — there’s almost always a veggie option available. To be 100% safe, just plan your trip during the Phuket Vegetarian Festival that happens around the end of September, early October — depending on the position of the moon.
Your go-tos: fruits, phad thai phak (fried noodles with vegetables), phad see euw (fried wide noodles), khao phat pak (fried rice with vegetables), pa pia sot (fresh spring rolls that are transparent so you’re usually able to tell if there’s shrimp tucked away), spicy papaya salad (ask them to hold the shrimp)
You can relax a little if you’re visiting Ethiopia, they understand the concept of vegetarianism. The reason it’s so easy to be vegetarian in Ethiopia is because the majority of locals are Orthodox which restricts them from eating animal products on Wednesdays and Fridays. Your heart will also thank you for visiting this part of East Africa since the cuisine is very low in salt.
What can you expect when you’re on the prowl for some delicious eats? Injera, injera, injera and then…more injera? Yup! What is injera exactly? Think of it like an edible spoon and fork; it’s a sourdough flatbread made of teff flour that is traditionally used to pick up food from the plate. In Ethiopia you won’t find yourself with standard cutlery to work with, so do your part to keep your hands clean because that’s what you’ll be relying on to eat. Injera helps you adjust to this new style of eating by making your “tools” tasty as hell!
Should you somehow stumble into a situation where the vegetarian options are not in plain sight you can just say,
This translates to “I don’t eat meat.”
Your go-tos: injera, bayenetu (collection of meat-free dishes served ontop of a large injera), shiro (pureed chickpeas in sauce), spaghetti with tomato sauce, avocado, mango, strawberry and guava juice
I encourage you to take a deep sign of relief if you’re heading to India. A study done in 2007 by the Food and Agriculture Organizations of the United Nations ranked India as the lowest consumer of meat in the world. Nearly half of the country’s population identifies as vegetarian — that translates to over 500 million people. You’ll be in luck pretty much anywhere you turn, even store-bought packaged foods will have a green circle if they’re meat-free and a brown circle if they’re not. If you visit Sikh Gurdwaras (places of worship) the food is almost 100% guaranteed to be vegetarian as the hosting Sikhs work hard to be as accommodating as possible to all visitors. The incredibly diverse and unique spices will make even the most enthusiastic meat eater cry out with culinary delight.
I can almost assure you that you’ll never have to utter the following,
main maans nahin khaate
The above translates directly to “I don’t eat meat” but don’t bother practicing too much…you won’t need it!
Your go-tos: vegetable biryani, aloo gobi (potato cauliflower), aloo puri (puffed bread), masala dosa (thin, savory pancake), pakoras (deep-fried mixed vegetables and bread)
Hummus lovers rejoice! We’ve found your paradise! Zach and I were in Israel not too long ago and were able to walk around pretty much unimpeded by his sometimes…frustrating lifestyle choice. While in other countries you might have to question whether your veggie dish was cooked on the same surface as your carnivore companion’s, the Jewish dietary law (kashrut) in Israel is very strict and meat products must be kept separate no matter what. Even the Airbnb we stayed in requested that we keep meat out of the apartment entirely — and this is not unusual condition!
Something interesting to note is that kashrut does not consider fish to fall under the “meat product” category so if that’s on your “no-fly list” just be sure to keep an eye out for it on the menu. You don’t have to avoid kosher meat restaurants because many of the side dishes are delicious vegetarian options waiting to be transformed into one big meat-free meal. Tel Aviv will make it easy for you to find the vegetarian options you’re craving as they have countless vegan and vegetarian restaurants where every menu item can be enjoyed, worry-free. If you do find yourself needing to inquire about a particular food item just say:
Anee tzimchoneet (female)
Anee tzimchonee (male)
Both translate to, “I am vegetarian.”
I don’t think there was ever a point during our trip that we experienced any delays or difficulties when it came to sitting down for a veggie-friendly meal. Israel’s great because it’s such a complex melting pot of Middle Eastern cuisine that celebrates both meat and vegetables equally, making it an ideal destination for mixed-diet couples like Zach and I!
Your go-tos: falafel, hummus, shakshuka (poached eggs in a sauce of tomatoes, chilli pepers, onions and cumin), sambusak (samosas filled with chickpeas and spices), lentil soup, pita bread, challah bread, stuffed vine leaves
Let me know where you’ve found your own vegetarian paradises throughout the world in the comments! Bon appetite!
Featured image by: Jade Luzardo