Ankur and I are vegetarians. Ankur gave up eating non vegetarian food when he was ten years old while I migrated to the green world when I was four years old. We have maintained our food preferences in the same fashion ever since. We are vegetarians not because religion says so, or family has anything to do with it. We are vegetarians by choice. And oh, we believe that the eggs that are freely available are unfertilized and fall into the vegetarian bucket! We are not vegans and I would not be the right person to give any tips on that subject. While we are vegetarians, I am a foodie. I live to eat. Au contraire, Ankur eats to live but gives me company in all my crazy culinary jaunts. A few years ago, as newbie travelers, lack of vegetarian food in any foreign land was a concern for us. We would spend quite some time during our vacation cribbing and being upset on the paucity of vegetarian food outside India. Richer in experience now, after having travelled over a dozen countries more, here are few ways that have helped us survive happily and have even let the foodie in me grow!
Staying in hostels/apartments
If you are really picky in what you like to eat and what you don’t, its best to have the kitchen at your disposal. The best way to ensure that this happens is by staying in a hostel or renting an apartment which is equipped with a stove and some pots and pans. If you are fussy about the spices that you use, you may want carry them from your home country. For us, buying a packet of pasta and tossing it in pasta sauce from a bottle works fine. Obviously, we ensure that we do have some white wine to go along!
Ready to eat food
Carry a few packs of ready to eat food with you. They always come in handy. Dunk the sealed packet of gravy in hot water, order some garlic bread and you are good to go. A good meal that reminds you of your Mom’s cooking might help you get over your food related home sickness!
Do some research before you land in a new country
Every cuisine has a few vegetarian dishes. So long as you know what they are, you can order them at a local restaurant and you will surely be able to manage a decent dinner with some warm gravy and bread. The challenge is when people land in a new country, where language may be a barrier and try asking the restaurant staff details of each dish on the menu!
Read up a little on the internet about the local cuisine and write down the names of a few vegetarian dishes. That’s the suggested home work for any vegetarian! Learn the local language for ‘I do not eat meat or fish’ – at a lot of places, fish is assumed to be a vegetarian compliant product.
Indians and Italians to the rescue
If you have found an Indian restaurant, you will surely find a few vegetarian dishes on the menu. After all, 40% of us Indians are vegetarians and 40% of 1 billion is a sizeable number!
Another cuisine that easily adapts itself to help us vegetarians is Italian. A simple pizza, topped with vegetables and fresh from the wood fired oven… or a simple pasta tossed in a creamy sauce with some mushrooms and thyme….I am drooling!
Desserts – Sinful, yummy and filling
Well, this is not really a recommended option, but indulging sometimes is acceptable, isn’t it? I don’t mind a triple sundae with vanilla, strawberry and coffee ice cream. Oh! Please add some chocolate sauce and hazelnuts… and don’t forget the whipped cream! Yeah yeah… its sinful… I will have only fruits in my next meal and I promise that I will do 150 squats in the evening to burn the calories! A large portion of dessert keeps my tummy full for quite a while.
Coffee Shops – Anytime is coffee time
In all countries that we have been to, the well known coffee shop chains always have at least one vegetarian sandwich, which along with a coffee makes a light meal or a mid day snack. Its light on the pocket too – better than spending on a buffet and realizing that you have paid USD 20 for a buffet that has only two vegetarian items, one of them being white rice!
Join a cookery class
Ever watched the animation movie ‘Ratatouille’? Anyone can cook! Most popular tourist locations have a few cookery courses. Email the organisers a few days in advance and check if they can have some vegetarian dishes on the menu. Learn the local flavours and feast on the food that you make. Come home with a few new recipes so that you can recreate the magic in your own kitchen.
Cold cuts… of fruits, vegetables and bread
Find the closest grocery store. Buy some fruits, vegetable, cheese, bread and biscuits. Make yourself a sandwich – simple, healthy vegetarian food! I guess by proposing this as an option, I am washing myself off the sin of proposing dessert as a meal. Pardon me… I have a sweet tooth!
We have had some interesting experiences trying to get vegetarian food – I have had mouthfuls of prawn canapés – I thought they were ‘corn’ canapés! Ankur has had a bites of kebabs that the waiter got the platter as a complimentary dish along with our vegetarian meal – we assumed he understood what we wanted! There have been numerous such experiences that have added colour to our travel memories …hope to have many more as we trot from one nation to the other!
Let the traveller’s tribe grow!