It is estimated that 21.8% of the world’s population is vegetarian or vegan, which amounts to roughly 1.5 billion people worldwide. Whether it’s for ethical reasons, environmental reasons, health reasons or any of the other reasons why people adopt an animal-free diet, vegetarianism and veganism are prevalent all over the world.
Although going veggie and vegan is becoming more popular it can still be a challenge to go to a new place not knowing what to expect from the local cuisine, and this can become even more difficult when you take in factors like a language barrier. In this article we will go through some of the best places for vegetarians or vegans to visit for the ultimate foodie adventure, along with some top tips to help you along the way.
India is first on our list for many reasons, but mainly because it is estimated to have the highest percentage of vegetarians and vegans living in any country with somewhere around 30% of the population being veggie or vegan. The high number of people eating a plant-based diet in India is reflected in its local dishes and cuisine. This means on your travels to India you will not need to forgo traditional dishes and restaurants, as vegan and vegetarian dishes are at home on menus all around the country.
Sanna Burns, known as the Vegan Cruiser, is an expert in vegan cruise travel. Here are her tips on vegetarian dining in India: “Vegetarian dining in India proposes no problems, as around 30% of Indians are vegetarian themselves. There will be various vegetable dishes available, many of which are familiar to us in the UK. For vegans and those needing dairy-free options the use of clarified butter in cooking, known as ghee, can be a hassle but can be avoided if you ask if the venue uses it and can they omit it.”
When people think of Italian food they often think of dishes full of meat and dairy, but Italy has a very understanding and diverse palette that makes it easy for vegetarians and vegans to move freely around the country on their food quests. The two main dishes of Italy, pasta and pizza, can easily be made vegetarian or vegan by asking to omit cheese (which is fairly normal practice in the country) or asking for dried pasta as opposed to fresh (which is made with eggs.) Italian cuisine boasts many plant-based options and you will not have to take to the back streets to find menus with food options for you.
We spoke to Wendy, creator of The Nomadic Vegan about her Italian experience: “Most people outside Italy tend to think that Italian cuisine is all about meat and cheese, but the authentic Italian cuisine is very different from the version that's been exported to the UK and other countries. And that authentic Italian cuisine is actually largely plant-based!”
“There are dozens of vegan Italian dishes that you've probably never heard of, such as fave e cicorie, ciceri e tria, and ceca mariti. While these particular dishes are all regional specialties that you're more likely to find in the south of Italy, there are also plenty of vegan dishes that are commonly found in restaurants throughout the country. A few examples are bruschetta con pomodoro (toasted garlic bread with diced tomatoes), penne all'arrabbiata (penne pasta in a spicy tomato sauce), and pasta e fagioli (a hearty stew of pasta and beans, shown below).”
“Even one of the most popular types of pizza in Italy is completely vegan! Pizza marinara is the original pizza- the very first type of pizza invented in Naples back in the eighteenth century- and it's topped with nothing but tomato sauce, garlic and oregano, and perhaps a few fresh basil leaves.”
You don’t need to pass up the dessert either. Chris, author and creator of Lessons Learned Abroad spoke to us about diary-free desserts in Italy: “Passing up on dessert is an unfortunate occurrence many vegans will be familiar with. Fortunately, most gelaterias in Italy will have dairy-free options available so be prepared to enjoy some extra scoops during your visit! (These will usually be the plain fruit flavours, but always ask to be sure!)”
Japanese cuisine is complex, and this can in part be down to the rich history of religion in the country. The island nation is famous for embracing seafood, but it also has a large influence of Buddhism with many monks still practising vegetarianism and veganism.
Japan is known for being progressive, and this means that its approach to food is different to a lot of countries. They champion health as well as animal welfare and ecological arguments. If you pair this with their penchant for innovation, you’ll find one of the world’s most varied and interesting food adventures.
You won’t need to steer clear of the nation’s favourites like sushi and ramen completely, although it is worth doing some planning before you head to Japan. Unlike in western culture it is more frowned upon to ask the chef for amendments, and with the language barrier this can be quite a challenge as it is. It is worth doing some research before you go and knowing some of the best vegan/veggie friendly spots you would like to visit.
A few accidentally vegetarian and vegan Japanese dishes are: kappa maki (cucumber sushi roll), oshinko (pickled daikon sushi), inarizushi (sushi rice in fried tofu), nato (fermented soybean, which can come in many foods) and mochi (a popular Japanese dessert which is almost always vegan.)
Singapore’s thriving food scene is not let down by its embrace of vegetarian and vegan dishes. Singapore can give diners everything from cheap quick treats to fine-dining and artisanal dishes, all whilst making sure you can continue to be animal-free.
Singapore is home to VeganBurg, the world’s first plant-based fast food burger joint. Currently with locations in Singapore and San Francisco, VeganBurg offers guilt-filled but guilt-free burger options that look just as decadent as the real deal.
We spoke to the team at VeganBurg who told us a bit of the history behind the chain: “The Founder, Alex Tan, was inspired to create VeganBurg after reading about the environmental impacts of livestock in a 2009 article from the Livestock’s Long Shadow. After much research, he realised that the fast food industry is the major contributor to the world’s greenhouse gases. However, he believes that there is nothing wrong with consuming fast food and that the fast food system will serve our growing population. Alex then realised that we could not change the fast food system, but we can change what goes into it, making the patty vegan.
“VeganBurg was also created and inspired by Alex’s daughters. After all, they’re part of the new generation. Both his daughters are the youngest warriors who are actively involved in the mission. To date, VeganBurg is 100% family-owned and operated and will continue to be. Alex works hand in hand with his family to constantly develop the menu and its in-house recipes. His vision for VeganBurg is to be the burger of the new generation, with a mission to inspire and excite the world to choose a plant-based burger as a form of sustainable living. The way to do it is to make veganism mainstream, to break the stereotype of veganism by making it hip, fun and most importantly tasty.”
The team at VeganBurg told us why they think Singapore is such a good destination for vegetarians and vegans: “Singapore is not only a melting pot of culinary culture exchange but is also rated the 2nd most vegan-friendly city in Asia by Peta! It boasts an incredible variety of vegan and vegetarian restaurants, from hawker centres to food courts, and from fast-casual to fine-dining restaurants. You can nearly find a plant-based option anywhere you go!”
HappyCow, a vegetarian and vegan resource website featured Singapore in its top vegan friendly cities list, here is what they had to say: “Singapore is one of the most veg-friendly cities on HappyCow, with 590 veg-friendly listings (40 of which are fully-vegan restaurants) packed onto this tiny island. Even Singapore Changi Airport has more vegan options than some major cities in the world. Locally popular Fortune Centre is a haven for vegetarians. Almost all the eateries (restaurants and cafes) in this 4-level building offer vegetarian food, and a few of them are vegan.”
Vegan Food Quest is a travel and food blog run by Paul and Caryl and it focuses on their culinary adventures around South East Asia. Paul told us about their food experiences in Singapore: “Singapore is a great location for vegan travel with some of the finest luxury hotels and resorts offering delicious plant based cuisine, we’ve enjoyed incredible vegan meals at a number of hotels including Four Seasons Singapore, Regent Singapore and Westin Singapore, as with any restaurant reservation as a vegan we would always recommend calling ahead and requesting a vegan menu or vegan options as this ensures you will receive the best service possible and not be limited on your choices.”
Paul and Caryl also had to shout about VeganBurg: “No trip to Singapore is complete without a visit to the incredible VeganBurg the all vegan burger fast food joint which is a must visit for any vegan planning to visit Singapore, another option is to jump on the MRT and head to Little India which is also a good location to find a wide range of vegan options and a cultural experience at the same time.”
Although commonly thought of a very meat-orientated county, Brazil is becoming increasingly good at catering to travellers with prohibiting diets. The language barrier in Brazil can be another challenge as they speak Brazilian Portuguese, so it is worth knowing a little before you land, or at least writing down the key phrases you may need.
Por Kilo restaurants are very common in Brazil and you can find them basically everywhere. They are self-service restaurants where you pay by the weight of your plate. Self-service restaurants like this are a valuable find for all veggie and vegan travellers as it means you don’t only have control over what you choose to eat, but even what goes on your plate. The spreads available here will vary from place to place, but most offer great salads, vegetables, rice and pasta dishes on top of a lot more.
Another great thing about Brazil is the ample fresh fruit. The country’s climate makes for growing incredible fruit and vegetables, and these are readily available wherever you travel. As well as this you can get fresh juices or smoothies on the go.
Although Morocco doesn’t have as many vegan and vegetarian friendly local dishes as some of the other countries on this list, the vast amount of fresh fruit, vegan snacks and local markets mean that it is a fantastic destination for any kind of traveller.
Moroccans may not understand veganism like other countries due to their approach on animal welfare, with mainly small farmers raising animals to eat instead of large business which no focus on animal welfare. This means that a lot of the meat being eaten in Morocco is viewed to have being raised more ethically than a lot of places around the world.
Arguably the best way to eat in Morocco is to pick up fresh food at the local markets dotted all around the country. At these markets you’ll be able to pick up plenty of vegan and vegetarian snacks. The team at World Accent, a translation agency in London, spoke to us about eating eat in Morocco: “With Morocco and other Arab countries, one thing you can do is focus on the 'sides' section, rather than the main meals, and compose your meal out of that. For example, you could order 3 sides: chips, hummus and a salad.”
Dried fruit will be available at many stalls, as well as fresh Moroccan olives, and nuts. Most Moroccan bread is vegan and served at almost every meal. It is usually not cooked with milk or eggs; however, it can still be wise to ask if you want to ensure the ingredients meet your requirements. You can scoop up some local bread and grab some ingredients to create a vegan/vegetarian sandwich at these local markets for very little money.
Do some research and find your local plant-loving spots
HappyCow is a fantastic resource for vegans and vegetarians alike, and if you didn’t know about it before you’ll be glad you do now. It will find all vegan and vegetarian restaurants near your chosen destination and give customer reviews and feedback from fellow vegans and veggies (who will be labelled with their dietary preferences, so you know they went in there looking for the same thing as you). It labels restaurants as vegan, vegetarian or veg-options for those that serve some decent vegetarian dishes. As well as this function, they also have some great resources on all things plant-based, so it is a brilliant tool for everyone looking to eat less animal products.
Natalie, creator of The Tofu Diaries, spoke to us about the importance of research: “Do as much research beforehand as you can: find out what local foods are accidentally vegan, make a list of as many veggie or veggie-friendly restaurants as you can, get in touch with any local vegan/vegetarian bloggers where you're going to get their tips. Knowledge is your best friend!
“It's a good idea to think about any essentials you might need and take those with you. For example, I always take a stash of healthy vegan snack bars with me to make sure I never get caught out.”
Make some travel cards
Travel cards are a great thing for anyone with dietary requirements or preferences when they travel to somewhere with a language barrier. They are simply small cards that have pre-translated messages written on them to help you convey your requirements to your server, wherever you are. You can include being vegetarian or vegan, and even more specific allergies or food preferences.
It’s up to you exactly what you put on the cards: Just Hungry have created cards that translate detailed preferences into Japanese, World Accent have created cards with a basic translation of vegan/vegetarian for 9 languages and The Vegan Society have created The Vegan Passport, available in physical form or as an app full of translations and images.
Sanna Burns of the Vegan Cruiser spoke to us about The Vegan Passport: “A helpful smartphone app, or a printed booklet if you so prefer, is the Vegan Society, Vegan Passport. It has a page each for 79 languages detailing what vegans don't eat, what we eat and helpful tips on how to ‘veganise' a dish with substitutes like using vegetable oil instead of butter. Handy if you travel in areas where you have no shared language, but you can show them the required in writing.”
If want to ensure the translation is exact, or you have very specific food needs that none of these covers you can also hire a translator to help you create your own personal cards.
Vegetarian doesn't mean the same thing to everyone
Just because you know what vegetarian/vegan means, does not mean your server does. As mentioned in this article some places are less familiar with the concept of vegetarianism or veganism, and some may not understand it at all. If you fear this may be the case it is better for you to specify ‘no meat’ and ‘no animal products’ rather than just vegetarian and vegan.
The team at World Accent spoke to us about this: “'Vegetarian' can be loosely interpreted in different countries, so you should always elaborate where possible. Always specify that no meat includes no chicken, and that you don't want any meat at all, not just less meat.”
On board your ship
When on board your ship you won’t need to worry about dietary requirements, the team aboard the cruise liner will ensure your meals are not only mindful of your dietary preferences but are still up to the high standards you’d expect. If you’re planning a trip with Cruise & Maritime, know that everything you need will be on board.
Sanna of The Vegan Cruiser spoke to us about her vegan cruising experience: “Cruise ships are used to looking after people with various requirements. They cater for those with ethical dining needs such as kosher or vegan, or vegetarian meals. Health-related diets are also widely available, such as plant-based, gluten-free for coeliac disease or low-sugar meals for diabetes. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend cruising to anyone after many years of cruising dairy-free and recently as a vegan.
“Do remember to notify your cruise line in advance of any diet you follow. You can even query what options are available to allow you to plan what to pack with you. I have been known to take my own dairy-free vegan spread and cheese with me, to keep in my cabin for breakfast use. Vegan snack/cereal bars are fab to have at hand, especially to take to excursion where you may want some quick energy but no easy vegan snacks are available.”
Dashi, and hidden fish can be one of the hardest things to detect when travelling, especially in Asia. Seafood, and especially non-visible seafood like fish stocks (known as dashi in Japan) are often in dishes that appear to contain no meat at all.
Chris of Lessons Learned Abroad, spoke more about the use of fish in Japanese cuisine: “Many vegetarian dishes in Japan may actually have fish sauce or fish flakes included. Make sure to ask specifically if a dish is fish-free if you are vegan or vegetarian (many Japanese won’t consider ‘meat’ the same thing as ‘fish’ so you’ll want to double check!).”
Pack some snacks
If all else fails, bring some snacks along with you. In most cases you know you’ll only be on shore for a day, and if you don’t want to risk anything, or would just prefer the comfort of your own food you can also bring your own food off of the ship with you. The brilliant thing about cruises is knowing you have everything you need on the ship.
Image Credit: The Nomadic Vegan, VeganBurg, Vegan Food Quest.