Last year I was visiting Beijing. For my last dinner before an early train trip to Mongolia in the morning I went out to small restaurant around the corner from my hotel. Chinese food is amazing, in no small part because of the creative titles given to their dishes. There was pimple soup, wonderous pork belly and explosion of tofu & spices to name a few. As a vegetarian, I opted for the later.
“I’ll just have the ‘explosion of tofu & spices’, there’s no meat in that dish is there?”
“No meat. Only tofu. You do not eat meat?”
“No, I don’t. I’m a vegetarian.”
“But you are a man!”
Turns out there was meat in the dish, but perhaps it isn’t counted as meat in China – it was only some mince in the sauce. Maybe he thought my sick and ghastly appearance was not due to my flue, but lack of iron – so he thought he was doing me a favour. Either way it was a conversation I often have when in Asia, South America or Europe. Especially Europe.
Sometimes it can be hard travelling as a vego. In a lot of countries meat features predominately in most meals, which often leaves you with a very uninspired plate of lentils or salad. There can also be a culturing difference where meat eating is seen as masculine, and when you request a veggie dish you’re met with a quizzical glance or at worse stubborn ingination and a plate of chicken for your troubles. But it’s all part of travelling.
Most tourist hotspots cater to vegetarians now, Thailand is a great place to travel as a herbivore – there’s nothing bland about a veggie green curry. Bigger cities in South America are pretty good too, lots of beautiful salads, and if you’re an aquatarian (or a fishocrite might be more apt) you’ll always find something to eat on the coast. But if you are inland or visiting a less touristed town here’s a few tips.
- Don’t be that guy that refuses to eat anything that might have once shared fridge shelf space with some steak. Your fussiness isn’t going to win anyone over. If your meal comes con carne sure, don’t eat the meat but just pick it out. If I order a meal that comes with a bit of chicken or beef I put it in a napkin and save it for a stray dog – you’re guaranteed a new friend for the day.
- Hot sauce. I love me some hot sauce (as you would expect from someone who writes for sanchezjalapeno.com) – I always carry a bottle with me. Sometimes rice and beans for the 5th meal straight can be a little uninspired. Add a little hot sauce and you’re set.
- Be careful with the salads and fruit, especially in SE Asia or South America. My girlfriend ended up hospitalised with Salmonella poisoning in a small town in Peru, all from eating a salad that wasn’t washed with purified water. Most tourist restaurants in SE Asia note on the menu that they wash all their veggies with bottled water but still it pays to take notice of the cleanliness of the establishment before chowing down. Rule of thumb with fruit is if you can peel it, you can eat it.
I tend to subscribe to the ‘When in Rome’ Policy. While I don’t eat meat as a rule, I will try anything once. I had a taste of some marvellous pancetta on a farm in Tuscany where the meat was raised, culled and cured all onsite. It was much tastier than anything pre-packed at the supermarket and I got an understanding of how much love and work goes into farming animals in a small village. I suppose veggie purists would not be happy with me, but I feel we travel to experience the world and a big part of that is participating in experiences that we normally wouldn’t do.
If you’re a vegetarian, how do you get by when you travel? If you have any veggie disaster stories, share them in the comments below