Surviving as a Vegetarian While Traveling Internationally

In California, we are spoiled with freshly picked produce year-round, an abundance of vegetarian-friendly restaurants, and an ability to read menus in our native language. However, it’s a completely different story when going abroad! In many other cultures, meat plays a larger role in the diet than it does in the US, and the word “vegetarian” doesn’t always translate very well.  As a long-time vegetarian, I would like to offer some tips that I’ve found useful through my international travels and also share some of my favorite vegetarian-friendly restaurants throughout the world!

Tips:

  • If you are traveling on an Ahlers Center study abroad program, please remember to indicate your dietary restrictions on your application. We typically have several group dinners throughout our programs, and work very hard to accommodate whatever dietary restrictions we have.
  • Pack protein bars or protein powder along with plenty of vitamins! It’s oftentimes a bit more difficult to find quality sources of protein while abroad so I always keep extra protein bars/powder on hand. Also, days can get very long with city tours, company visits and classroom sessions so even non-vegetarians may want to pack some protein bars to keep your body and brain fueled. Along those same lines, your immune system can be compromised while traveling, and you may not always have access to as many fruits and vegetables as you are used to, so bring vitamins while you’re at it too!
  • If you do not speak the native language, translate and carry a card that says  “I am a vegetarian. I do not eat any meat, chicken or fish”. It is important to outline exactly what you do not eat since vegetarianism can mean different things in other parts of the globe.
  • Research vegetarian-friendly restaurants prior to departure. A quick search on happycow.net, Tripadvisor or Yelp should give you plenty of restaurants to explore throughout your journey! You may even want to add the restaurants you find to a Google map to keep organized and make sure you hit up all the best spots!
  • If you rent an apartment or have a kitchenette in your hotel room, be sure to visit the local farmers’ market and cook for yourself! Some of the best produce I’ve ever had came from local markets while traveling abroad, like these asparagus from Aix-en-Provence, which were bigger than my hand!
Cooking up asparagus with olive oil, garlic and herbes de provence….so simple yet so tasty!

Cooking up asparagus with olive oil, garlic and herbes de provence….so simple yet so tasty!

Favorite Restaurants:

While it’s usually easy enough to find cheese pizzas and sandwiches, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be craving more creative plant-based dishes in no time. Here are my favorite vegetarian (or vegetarian-friendly) restaurants in various parts of the world.

  • Istanbul-Istanbul has excellent food, with many vegetarian-friendly options. I stumbled upon Karakoy Lokantasi while exploring the city and knew I had to check it out since it was packed with locals and very cute inside. Vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike will find something to eat on the menu, but my suggestion is to simply make your meal out of a bunch of their mezes, or appetizers!  Everything I ordered was fresh and delicious. Be sure to try their muhammara!
  • Paris (Yes, you can survive as a vegetarian even in Paris!) – Le Potager du Marais is a cute and cozy vegan restaurant in a great part of town. They replicate several classic French dishes like soupe a l’oignon and boeuf bourguignon using plant-based substitutes. Great people watching too if you sit on the patio!
Enjoying people watching and plant-based cuisine on the streets of Paris!

Enjoying people watching and plant-based cuisine on the streets of Paris

  • Rome – If ever in Rome, be sure to sample the city’s famous pasta dish, cacio and pepe, a pasta with a cheese and pepper sauce. Anthony Bourdain and I both highly recommend trying it at Roma Sparita in particular, as they serve their pasta dish in a crispy parmesan cheese bowl and it is delicious! Make a reservation or get there early as this place fills up fast!
  • Rio – It seems as though Rio has a juice bar on every corner, so it’s possible to get almost any type of fruit juice and an acai bowl at any hour! However, I’ve found it a bit more difficult to find fresh vegetables in restaurants, as meat is a huge part of the Brazilian culture. Never fear though! There are plenty of vegetarian restaurants in Rio including two of my favorites: Universo Organico in Leblon and Biocarioca in Copacabana.
  • Madrid – Spaniards love their pork and patatas bravas. If you would like something a bit healthier, go no further than Yerba Buena. I recommend stopping by for their three course lunch special…but be warned, you won’t need to eat for the rest of the day…they serve insanely large dishes and all for a great price!
Course number two at Yerba Buena. You’ll definitely leave there stuffed!

Course number two at Yerba Buena. You’ll definitely leave there stuffed!

Overall, with a little forethought and a bit of research, it is absolutely possible to travel abroad while sticking to your normal dietary choices. Now, tell us about your favorite restaurants below. If you have dietary restrictions, what do you do differently while traveling?

Bon voyage et bon appétit!

– Danielle

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