Traveling Vegetarian

Being a vegetarian traveler can, at times, be difficult. There are many countries in which it?s not advised to eat raw fruits and vegetables, which leaves out salads, most fresh fruits, cold sandwiches and other staples of the vegetarian diet. In addition, many countries cook primarily only what?s in season, and during late fall and winter months, this could include a very small variety of vegetables. I spent one 10-day trip through Italy eating nothing but various types of eggplant dishes ? and I don?t even like eggplant!

The point is, though for most of us it?s a ?choice?, being vegetarian is an important part of our lifestyle and we want to honor that while we travel. At the same time, we want to try to assimilate into the local culture without our digestive tracks being torn apart from some bacteria that we?re not used to.

Here are a few tricks I?ve accumulated over the years to help myself enjoy the gastronomic culture when traveling while still being safe.

1. Scope out the food scene before you go. Talk to others who have been there and ask them about the vegetarian options. Specify what you do/don?t eat, as vegetarian has different meanings to different people. Social media makes this increasingly easy to do.

2. Learn the rules about what you can/can?t eat before you go. It?s important to know if it?s recommended to drink the water or eat raw fruits and vegetables. If not you have two choices ? work around it, or do it and deal with the results. I always choose the former, as my already sensitive stomach doesn?t need any additional aggravation.

3. Bring a few non-perishable snacks such as cereal/protein bars, trail mix, or crackers. These might not be part of the local culture, but in a pinch it will at least hold you over while you search around for a vegetarian friendly restaurant. This is especially important if you have any blood sugar issues or take any medications that must be taken with food.

4. Eat frequently. If you are relying on a couple of big meals per day and you can?t find anything suitable to your diet, you?re going to be really hungry (and possibly cranky due to low blood sugar, which is no fun for anyone). If you eat something small each time you have the opportunity, you?re less reliant on certain meals so that if you absolutely can?t find something to eat at your standard meal, at least you have some food in your stomach. It doesn?t need to be full meals each time, but smaller meals or snacks work well.

5. Be cautious of certain foods. Soups (broths) and sauces are big culprits of sneaking in meat and fish products, so if you?d rather be safe than sorry it might be best to avoid these all together, unless you?re 100 percent certain it contains no meat products.

6. Foreign menus aren?t always as descriptive as those we?re used to at home. It might just have the name of the dish or a list of the main components, but not include every detail. Ask right out if it contains any products you?d rather not have (as best you can if you don?t speak the language).

7. Talk to your hotel concierge. They may have a better idea of where you can find vegetarian options, and also be more able to communicate in English so that you can give a more detailed request. Still, make sure they know what you mean by vegetarian.

8. Learn how to say ?no meat? and/or ?vegetarian? in your destination?s language if you can. At least this way, if nothing else, you can attempt to determine what is/isn?t in a dish.

9. Do the best you can. I?m quite a strict vegetarian and I always specify very clearly at home what I do/don?t eat. I know which foods have meat products in them that people don?t realize (ie Caesar dressing, Worchester sauce), and I make sure my food is absolutely vegetarian. When traveling, I do my best. If it looks vegetarian, and they ensure me it is, that there is no meat or fish in any form in it, I say to myself ?well, I guess it?s vegetarian? and feel I can eat it in good conscience. I realize this doesn?t hold for everyone ? especially if your diet is based on religious beliefs. For me, though, I don?t beat myself up or starve myself because I haven’t confirmed every single detail of every single ingredient (ie whether or not the cheese has rennet in it – I don’t even attempt to ask this one). I do the best I can, eat vegetarian to the best of my knowledge, and feel satisfied with myself.


  1. Juls Said,

    I think #8 is very important. And in #7, “make sure they know what you mean by vegetarian.” In Japan, we learned how to say ‘no meat’, but found that lots of people didn’t consider bacon as meat! Thanks for this veggie post!

  2. chimeratravel Said,

    You’re welcome! And so true on the bacon. I once had someone go through an entire list of ingredients in a dish that looked vegetarian one by one – no chicken stock, no beef stock, no this, no that. I finally was satisfied and ordered it and she said “oh but it has pork in it!” (It wasn’t on the ingredients list on the menu so I had no way of knowing). I said “well you could have just stopped me with that up front!”.

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