Taiwan, Lebanon, Italy – they’re all amazing for vegetarian food and every dish is fantastic
Travel is all about gaining new experiences and much of that new experience is flavour, after all you must eat foods that aren’t normally available in the supermarket. For people who do not eat meat these culinary encounters are slightly more difficult because meat diets are entrenched in many countries across the world. In the UK, it is currently National Vegetarian Week, but it’s already a country where it’s easy to find a vegetable dish on the menu. Vegetarians need not worry.
But anyone who has spent a day crammed like a sheep being transported for a horrific slaughter on a bus bouncing through the empty steppe will know just how hungry they are afterwards. Try that when you know you have to struggle to find food you can eat once you reach your destination.
In some places people can be quite rude when you ask for vegetarian food. Once, in a cafe in Kazakhstan, where the national dish is horse, my girlfriend and I were given a curt “no”, and shown the door – it is a country were you must survive on bread and mashed potato. In others, people misunderstand the meaning of: “No meat, please,” and offer chicken and fish instead.
But there are many, many countries were you may surround yourself with a smorgasbord of herbivorous delights. Here’s a list of some of our favourites:
Obviously, the home of fattoush, falafel and hummus must come first. And it would take a brave person to deny Lebanese food the title of best in the world. Little falafel shops sit on the corner of every street in Beirut, and you can buy an amazing wrap with hummus and salad for pennies. But that’s not all there is to their vegetarian food – most Lebanese only eat meat a few times a week – there’s baba ganoush, mutabbel, batata harra and tabouleh, and these are just the dishes that Lebanese restaurants have made famous. A vegetarian will never go hungry in the beautifully anarchic land of Lebanon.
For a country with such an agricultural economy, it’s a bit shocking that Ireland has a good reputation for vegetarian food – my grandmother would be appalled. But once you take the meat off a typical plate you’re still left with three different types of potato (mashed, roasted and boiled), cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, peas and cheese sauce. It would be rare for a restaurant to not have a meat-free section on the menu and in the cities there’s plenty of places to eat for people who do not eat meat.
It’s a country more famous for its coffee than its food, but Ethiopia has a strict culture of religious fasting. This means that for much of the year there’s no meat on the table. Injera is a sourdough flatbread that’s naturally vegan. Use it to spoon the many different types of shiro, atkilt wot and azifa into your mouth.
India is the spiritual home of vegetarianism – more people live there who don’t eat meat than from the rest of the world put together. And that’s despite the fact that two thirds of Indians eat meat. Truly, there is nothing quite like dal for breakfast and curried potatoes and cauliflower, a dish named aloo gobi, for dinner. Or maybe you fancy palak, pakora and paneer covered in pickle?
Possibly the best thing to do in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, is wander through the night markets searching for street food. The streets are bustling and full to the brim with people sitting on the kerbs and filling their faces. It’s also one of the best countries in Asia for vegetarian food because of the numbers of practicing Buddhists – and the food is amazing. Try the dumplings, rice and chilli tofu with a chilled oolong tea and you’ll never want to leave.
You’ve got to be careful in Vietnam because a lot of places cook everything in fish sauce. But it’s not hard to find restaurants and cafés that don’t – if you can’t then you’re doing something wrong. Like Taiwan, there’s plenty of tofu to be found, but really it’s all about the bún chay, a noodle salad, phở chay, the soup, and bánh cuốn chay, which are stuffed rolls. Note the “chay” – this is how you know something is vegetarian.
Greece is a country where people have two options; an incredibly stodgy, heavy meat dish or some of the lightest, most delicious salad you’ll ever have the pleasure of trying. It’s no wonder that the simple Greek salad is famous all over the world. The tomatoes, feta, onion, olives and cucumber, all slathered in olive oil and served in the shade of a side street in Athens is to die for. Spanakopita is a spinach pie, and of course there’s tonnes of tzatziki and halloumi everywhere.
Caribbean countries are usually known for their chicken and fish. They’re usually difficult places to find anything vegetarian unless you’re happy to eat plain rice. Jamaica is different. Rastafarianism asks its followers to eat natural and clean, and that means most don’t eat meat. The island is full of vegetarian restaurants, and you can get everything with jerk sauce.
Italy is the best place in Europe for people who do not eat meat and it’s obvious why – who needs meat when you’re slurping spaghetti al olio or or munching on a freshly baked Margherita? There’s bruschetta, mushroom risotto, gnocchi, tomato and mozzarella salad. Could there be anything better than the Mediterranean diet?