Assamese cuisine in northeast India - delicious!
For 30 years now, I have been a vegetarian, which, without getting into rigid labels, I simply define as someone who does not eat meat. I'm often asked how I manage when travelling around the world. For the most part, I usually do not have any problems, or I find a way to get by.
Some destinations are heavy meat-eating cultures and that means eating in a restaurant can be tricky. In Canada, where four per cent of the population is vegetarian/vegan, you do not have to look any further than our own backyard of beef-province, Alberta (where my family lives) and its influence on menu items. Or Texas in the United States.
Internationally, India is a paradise for vegetarians. Having travelled there twice last year, I had no issues finding vegetarian fare, mostly because a good portion (30 to 40 per cent) of the country is vegetarian due to cultural and religious traditions. If you ask me, Indian food is the most flavorful food on the planet. And restaurants and hotels have terrific buffets with many food options.
A special vegetarian meal courtesy of the Taj Mahal Restaurant in Agra
But not all nations are so accommodating to non-meat eaters. Some years ago, I visited Prague and, at the time, finding fresh vegetables and salads proved to be a challenge (the Czech Republic has one of the lowest percentages of vegetarians at 1.5 per cent of the population). The solution to my problem was a Chinese food restaurant, which made a delicious stir-fry that I ate several nights in a row (hey, you do what you need to do).
In Morocco, the cuisine is heavily meat-based, but I discovered tasty alternatives. In Thailand, the chicken never looked like chicken, so thankfully I was able to give it a pass.
In some cultures, some amount of meat is tossed into most dishes, such as Italian pasta sauces. Or vegetables are generally cooked in meat or fish broth, like in parts of Asia. And in other countries, meat and seafood is a separate dish from vegetables and grains. In Switzerland, I found it impossible to go without trying the cheeses, simply because they are Swiss.
Geneva, Switzerland is known for its refined, international cuisine. This was a delicious vegetarian appetizer made for me at La Cigogne.
Here are five tips for vegetarians (and vegans) when on the road:
1. Start with good communication: Learn to say "I am a vegetarian" or "I do not eat meat" in the language of the country you are visiting. This helps the wait staff understand what your requirements are, so you don't mistakenly order a dish that could have meat in it. Not only does it facilitate understanding, it is being respectful of the staff.
2. Research and plan in advance: You can always research local restaurants that cater to vegetarians or at least have some meatless dishes. A quick Google search ought to do the trick. There are also some apps that might be useful, such as FoodSpotting.
3. Pack protein snacks in your bag: As a vegetarian on the road, eliminating meat is one thing, but finding protein substitutions can sometimes be even more challenging. Pack nuts, and protein bars and powders, into your day bag to ensure you have enough protein in your diet while away.
4. Stay in a self-catering place: Having your own kitchen away from home helps you better control what you are eating. And it does not matter what your diet restrictions or preferences are, whether you are vegan, gluten-free, have food allergies, or a health nut.
5. Pre-arrange meals or take a packed lunch: If you are on a road trip, or taking daily excursions, pick up pre-packed foods and pack a lunch. Also ask your hotel's restaurant the night before your day excursions if you can pre-arrange a packed lunch.
If you are a vegetarian or vegan who travels the world, I would love to hear what your tips are. Tweet to me at @Shannon_Skinner or leave a comment below.