TORONTO: As a vegetarian, I am often asked how I manage when travelling the world. Usually I do not have problems, but sometimes creative solutions are required.
Some destinations are heavy meat-eating cultures, which means eating in restaurants can be tricky. In Canada, where 4 per cent of the population is vegetarian/vegan, you do not have to look any further than our own backyard of beef-province Alberta and its influence on menu items. Or Texas in the United States.
India is a paradise for vegetarians. Having visited twice, I had no issues finding vegetarian fare, mostly because a good portion (30-40 per cent) of the country is vegetarian due to cultural and religious traditions. To me, Indian food is the planet’s most flavorful.
Recently, I visited the Portuguese archipelagoes of the Azores and Madeira, havens for seafood lovers. While there were vegetarian options on menus, I discovered that they love to add cooked egg in, or on top of, dishes, so I learned to enquire in advance.
Not all nations are accommodating to non-meat eaters, though. I once visited Prague, where fresh vegetables/salads proved challenging (Czech Republic has a low percentage of vegetarians at 1.5 per cent of population). My solution was a Chinese food restaurant that made me stir-fry.
In Morocco, which is heavily meat-based, I found tasty alternatives. In some cultures, like Italy, meat is tossed into most dishes (pasta sauces). Or vegetables are cooked in meat or fish broth, like Korea. In other countries, meat/seafood is a separate dish from vegetables and grains. In Switzerland, I found it impossible to go without eating cheese.
Here are 5 tips for vegetarians when travelling:
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 research local restaurants that cater to vegetarians or at least have meatless dishes. A quick Google should do the trick. There are also apps/websites that might be useful, such as OpenTable.
3. Pack protein snacks in your bag: As a vegetarian on the road, eliminating meat is one thing, but finding protein substitutions can be challenging. Pack nuts and protein bars into your day bag to ensure you have enough protein in your diet.
4. Stay in a self-catering place: Having your own kitchen away from home helps you better control what you are eating. It does not matter what your diet restrictions or preferences are, whether you are vegan, gluten-free, have 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, get pre-packed foods and pack a lunch. Ask your hotel’s restaurant the night before your day excursions if you can pre-arrange a packed lunch.
(Shannon Skinner is a Toronto-based, award-winning creator/host of ExtrarodinaryWomenTV.com, radio host, international speaker, author and travel writer. Enquire about her speaking engagements: ShannonSkinner.com. Tweet to her at @Shannon_Skinner)