Traveling as a vegetarian around the world has its ups and downs – but that’s half of the fun really. There are the fun and often ridiculous conversations as you try to communicate the delicate specifications of your diet without insulting the other parties involved, their quizzical looks, and then the food you are ultimately served…sometimes meaty-tastic despite your best efforts.
Though there are challenges, it’s also possible to eat some of the tastiest food of your life traveling. Dishes you could never conceive of, others you may already love but you’ve never had it quite like this.
So travel around the world with me as we look at five delicious vegetarian dishes even the meat-eaters will love.
Indonesia: Nasi Campur
Nasi campur is a rice based dish throughout Indonesia and even into Malaysia, Singapore, and other nearby regions. This is not an inherently vegetarian dish in all of these regions – the components of nasi campur vary widely.
The Balinese version I recommend for vegetarians can be found throughout Bali and consists of a skewered tempeh, tofu, a light tomato sauce and some flash-fried greens – all served over a fluffy bed of white rice. It’s so good I ate it nearly everyday – sometimes twice in a day!
India: Thali Sampler Platter
The Indian thali is as diverse and varied as India itself and every version is worth a taste! The thali is like a sample platter of the best dishes from that region; you traditionally get small ramekins filled with little tastes of a curry dish, a dahl or two, some veggies, something spicy, and coconut paste (to cut the spice!). Add in a pile of rice, a chapatti, and a lime wedge and you’re all set for a filling meal.
Filling you may ask? Oh yes, the little dishes are a decoy– after you order the thali servers patrol the room with huge vats and offer unlimited refills! India is a mostly vegetarian country and that means the thali is inherently vegetarian unless you’re in the far northern areas of India.
China: Delicious Dumplings
China is a difficult country as a vegetarian because the country really embraces a diversity of meats and thinks of some more as a seasoning than an actual animal product. That being said, it is possible to eat well in China and dumplings are the answer to your prayers.
Vegetable Chinese dumplings are stuffed with minced vegetables and garlic, steamed in wooden boxes, and served to your table piping hot – soy sauce optional since they’re normally well seasoned and tasty enough to eat without adornment! Make sure you know how to order vegetarian food, better yet, have your hotel right it down in Chinese characters, and you’ll be all set to enjoy some delicious dumplings in China.
Bosnia: Spinach Burek and Yogurt
The Balkans are not a particularly vegetarian-friendly region so this spinach burek is a tasty and timely option for vegetarians traveling through the region. The philo dough is light and crispy, the spinach insides seasoned and spread liberally throughout. The dish is a cousin to the Greek spanakopita but a lighter option.
Throughout Bosnia you’ll have the option of purchasing a small cup of plain yogurt to accompany the burek – do it! The tart yogurt flavor sets off the flavors inside the spinach burek and takes what could be a forgettable snack and transforms it into a tasty street eat you shouldn’t miss if you find yourself in the region.
Thailand: Pad See Ew
Pad see ew ranks in my top three favorite Thai dishes – and the good news is that it’s easy to make as a vegetarian staple while you travel through Thailand. The dish, which literally translates as stir-fried with soy sauce, features the wide fat Thai rice noodles and Chinese broccoli. Those are the basic ingredients and if you’re an egg-eating vegetarian they’ll add that in for a nice dose of protein and flavor.
A lot of Thai dishes can be made vegetarian as long as you can communicate that to the restaurant. If you’re traveling off the beaten path in Thailand make sure you have memorize some basic food words!
Traveling as a Vegetarian
These five dishes comprise some of my favorite memories from my foodie travels around the world. Being vegetarian is one of those things I have embraced as a way to enhance my travels – I often try out some dishes meat-eaters overlook and in a pinch I use my phrase-book to have the cook create something special out of his imagination – always something new and different.
Sometimes clear communication is simply impossible though, and if you’re hitting the road I recommend flexibility and a smile as your traveling companions as you sample these and the many other tasty vegetarian dishes the world has to offer.