Vegetarian and vegan food
This article is a travel topic
Vegetarians and vegans can eat quite well in most countries. The traditional cuisine and the style of eating in many countries can make it a bit difficult for vegetarians or vegans to find food without animal products in it. However, most cultures have a at least a few vegetarian dishes, and many, if not most restaurants are willing to leave out or substitute animal ingredients.
Take your diet into consideration when planning your trip. Where will you be going? There will be a greater variety of food available in big urban centers then there will be in rural areas. If you want to visit a tiny village in rural Vietnam, fine, but be prepared that you may have to limit the variety in your diet, or work with restaurants or others feeding you to come up with food to your liking.
Research the cuisine for the place you are going. There will be a couple of vegetable/grain dishes everywhere so you'll have something to order in restaurants. This will also give you an idea of local cooking techniques; often times innocent looking vegetable dishes will be cooked in a meat stock, or contain fish sauce.
Look up lists of vegetarian restaurants and grocery stores in the area you'll be staying, check the destination guides for the area you will be visiting for information. Try local vegetarian groups in the area you'll be visiting.
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 and the UK, generally offer several vegetarian options.
Language and cultural issues
In some countries and cultures (especially developing countries where focus is often on getting any sort of food) vegetarianism/veganism is rare. People may feel insulted when you turn down the meat dish they have prepared for you. Come up with a short explanation and be prepared to repeat it. If you're vegetarian/vegan for non-religious ethical reasons, in places with a language barrier or strong food/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 polite and apologetic as you would anywhere.
The tiny book Vegan Passport (ISBN 0907337309) contains a short explanation of what vegans eat, don't eat, and why. This is explained in about 40 languages, one page per language, and all you have to do is to show the right page to the restaurant staff. Another source of very brief listings of what vegans eat/don't eat, in many different languages, is available from the International Vegetarian Union's .
In some cultures, there may be an vegetarian tradition of some kind that you can compare your diet to. In countries with Buddhist sub-populations, some vegetarian travellers find that calling their diet "Buddhist" is the simplest way to explain it.
Be as considerate as you are in your home country. If you are staying long term with someone or eating dinner at their house, let them know about your diet. Ask if you can bring food, give them examples of common local vegetarian dishes. Let them know that you don't mind them eating meat/milk/eggs/cheese.
When all else fails, find a grocery store or local vegetable market. You can make a meal yourself, together with a camping stove or kitchen.
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.
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 (Vegan)
- 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.
Best and worst regions
While it is possible to some extent to survive as a vegetarian or vegan anywhere on Earth, some countries' cultures make this easier than others'. Generally, Western, Northern, and Southern Europe, Australia, New Zealand, India, the United States, and Canada are among the best in this regard, while Central Asia, East Asia, Eastern Europe, and rural Africa and Latin America are among the worst.
There are some cities in the world that are completely vegetarian. Examples are: Haridwar, Rishikesh, (complete, please). Non-vegetarian food is prohibited in those places, alas sometimes eggs and products containing eggs can be sold in the outskirts. As well, if you buy cheese, it can contain rennet, some beverages/yoghurts/icecreams etc. can contain coloring agents from insects (as everywhere in the world) and cosmetics etc. can be tested on animals. Clothes/footwear from leather can as well be sold.