This week we bring you a special vegetarian travel feature to coincide with World Vegetarian Week 19-26 May. Our in house vegetarian Brooke shares with us her experiences of travelling as a vegetarian in South America and recommends her top five vego-awesome countries.
Travelling as a vegetarian can be challenging at times... and this became quite apparent to me during my 14 month ‘sabbatical’ spent roaming the meat-loving continents of South and Central America two years ago.
There were definitely some dubious options on offer:
“No thank you Señor Street Vendor Dude. In my country guinea pigs are our pets… not fried and served on a stick”
“Looks appetising Señora, but I might pass on a big bag of cooked, salted ants, thank you for asking”
Being vegetarian meant having to explain, in limited Spanish, to my new dinner host that I don’t eat meat (or chicken or fish); being forced to pick meat off items of food before consumption; discovering bones in my assuredly ‘vegetarian soup’, and being limited to such unhealthy food options at times that I managed to gain 12 kg in 14 months.
Whilst some of my friends ate their way through our backyard pets in a delightfully grossed out way, I started investigating online travel forums and consequently stumbled across some amazing vegetarian restaurants in the most unlikely places. Like in Curitiba, Brazil, where we found an incredible all-you-can eat vegetarian buffet, with all produce exclusively grown in the chef’s (very large) backyard. Or in Cartagena, where a quaint second floor restaurant served a delicious 3 course set menu every day for approximately $3.
So whilst vegetarian options can be found by those who seek them, the question begs: Which countries are the best in terms of vegetarian offerings? I did a bit of research, and mixed with my own experience, here is what emerged as my top 5 vego-awesome countries:
I have never been to Ethiopia, but my partner Daniel spent quite some time there a few years back. Vegetarian is widely available, mainly due to religious fasting involving no animal products by Orthodox Ethiopians on Wednesdays and Fridays. Recently Daniel and I were in Melbourne, so headed out to Footscray one night to sample the flavours at an authentic Ethiopian restaurant. I was impressed! Cutlery is out; instead a large sourdough flatbread called an Injera is used as a spoon to scoop up the different variety of stew-like vegetables and lentils. The spices are delicate but delicious. By the end of the evening, Ethiopia has been firmly cemented near the top of my ‘must visit’ list.
India is like heaven to a vegetarian (if you like Indian food). With approximately 30% of Indians vegetarian, you will never be short of options. The menus also have dedicated sections to “Vegetarian” and “Non-Vegetarian” which makes it easy to be certain of what you are eating. Cows are scared in India, so even McDonald’s doesn’t serve beef!
Kosher laws in Israel mean vegetarian food is plentiful. My main experience of the food came whilst travelling with a bunch of Israelis throughout Colombia. I love Hummus, and any Israeli will tell you they do the best Hummus and Falafel in the world. Shakshuka was served up a lot on the trip – an easy to make dish consisting of an egg poached in a tomato sauce with spices and served with pita bread.
Thai food is easily adaptable to vegetarians. A classic Pad Thai on the street is a cheap and tasty staple, and stir fries can be easily created without meat. Just be careful if they offer you ‘happy’ mushrooms though… that might end your night a tad earlier than planned!
Mexicans eat a lot of meat, but they also eat a lot of beans, so vego options are always available. In the touristy areas of the Yucatan peninsula, you can find anything you want. But elsewhere in Mexico, a little bit of Spanish is all you need to communicate what you can eat.
So that’s my top 5. No matter where you travel, there will always be a meat-free option. The locals may have raised an eyebrow, shook their head or even laughed at me, but hospitality always won out in the end. And guess what? Arguably the most astonishing of all my travel stories, I managed to survive 14 months in South America with not even one small bout of gastro. I am sure my fellow travellers will agree, that’s pretty amazing.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by the authors and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect those of Cover-More Insurance.