Keeping a Vegetarian Diet Abroad

Posted on Friday, September 14, 2018

I didn’t even really think that vegetarianism could be considered a cultural aspect until I studied in France and virtually nothing was vegetarian-friendly. People looked at me sideways when I told them I didn’t eat meat, like it was outside of their comprehension. But I’ve turned my struggle and my persistence to keep a vegetarian diet into this handy guide.

Research Ahead of Time

All it takes is a simple Google search. “Vegetarian in [country/city].” If you haven’t heard about the food culture of your destination yet, this would be a good time to feel out whether or not a place has vegetarian options readily available. You can also post on a forum like TripAdvisor or Lonely Planet to get some personal feedback on how easy it is to find food options. Say you’re going to someplace like Sweden or Italy and you should be good to go. However if you’re going someplace like the aforementioned France or Japan, you may need to put a bit more effort to make sure you can actually eat at a restaurant while you’re away.

Norman Crepe
Going out to dinner like, “I’ll have the only vegetarian option on the menu… which is actually just a sugar crêpe.”

In specific areas, certain blogs and even online reviews (especially those on TripAdvisor) will have lists or recommendations for vegetarian-friendly restaurants. To save yourself time while you’re away, you can write down the names and addresses of these restaurants ahead of time so you’ll have a good meal planned out. I like to pin mine on a map before I go.

Ask for “no chicken/fish/beef”

A lot of language books will have a word for “vegetarian” and “vegan” but pro tip: nobody in those cultures actually uses them. For example, I had to explain the French word “végétarienne” to French people when I was abroad. Instead, say “I don’t eat [meat] [fish] [chicken] [pork],” etc. Also consider saying “No [meat] [fish],” etc. You may need to know a few words in the local language or write it down and show people so that you can get your message across.

My Advice: Even though I’m a strict vegetarian in English and French speaking countries, it’s because I can talk to the locals about where my food comes from. In my opinion, it’s not worth finding out if there’s animal rennet or any other animal products in your food if you can’t really speak the language. It takes up too much time and at the end of the day, you need to eat! However that’s just how I roll.

Create Your Own Meal

Instead of dining out or cooking, consider getting some ready-to-eat snacks from the supermarket and just making your own meal. Consider an array or fruit and crackers for your lunch or maybe an assortment of nuts and dried fruits. Certain locations might have ready-made sandwiches and the like so keep an eye out for those, as well.
Pastries and dessert treats are usually available wherever you go but remember that you need your protein and vitamins.

Also make sure you have napkins and eating utensils available for this option and can also find a place to eat it. Your hotel may work but on a nice day, I personally like a picnic!

Consider Cooking

If you plan on cooking, make sure your hostel or other accommodation has a kitchen so you can do so. You don’t even need to be super fancy, but cooking yourself can be a great way to actually work with and eat local ingredients and you can get a more fulfilling meal than what you’d get ready-to-eat at a supermarket.

Veggie burger made from scratch
My first veggie burger from scratch was made in France.

Being a vegetarian abroad can be so hard sometimes but it’s all about planning and perseverance. Make sure that you’re taking care of yourself and eating, and know that you can always do so while keeping it meatless.

Have you had any culture shocks about vegetarianism?

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