If you're a vegetarian traveling abroad, you might have a rough go of it in these countries.
The last time I tried vegetarianism, I was living in a town in middle Tennessee, which left me with diverse dining options such as the Taco Bell dollar menu, salads purchased at gas stations, and a staggering amount of Waffle House hash browns. (The phrase “cheesy roll-up” is still enough to make me wake up in a cold sweat.) If you should find yourself traveling abroad as a vegetarian and needing to eat, as I’m reliably informed is the case for most mammals, here are some countries to avoid unless you’ve committed to an ascetic traveling life featuring a backpack full of Luna bars.
Finding a bite to eat in Portugal if you’re a vegetarian is no mean feat – the country is renowned for its love affair with meat, and an impressive number of its national dishes feature generous cuts of pork and beef. If you find yourself in Lisbon and needing to eat something that wasn’t breathing at some point, hit up The Food Temple, which also features cooking workshops by acclaimed chef Alice Ming.
Here’s the thing: Japan really likes fish. Dashi is fish stock that happens to be the basis of many, many dishes that are ostensibly vegetarian, and when you specify to restaurants that you can’t consume any meat, it’s important to stress that you can’t eat anything with dashi in it. Same goes for katsuobushi, or bonito flakes, which is dried skipjack tuna and ends up on everything. The Japanese countryside is a little more hospitable to vegetarians due to the greater availability of Buddhist vegetarian food, but generally get ready to get at eye-level with your meal to make sure.
Great googly-moogly, the ham levels in Cuba. The streets flow freely with pig products, and now that the United States’ travel ban to the island nation has been lifted (well, sort of), American travelers can experience for themselves the joys of finding new and exciting ways to eat the same vegetarian dishes over and over again. There’s an increasing number of vegetarian options in the country in recent years, but it’s still pretty rough going–make friends with rice and beans and rum.
It’s a little easier the closer you get to Ulaanbataar, the nation’s capital, but it’s important to keep in mind that meat comprises a large staple of the Mongolian diet. In recent days, the popularity of vegetarianism among the youth of Mongolia has led to a rise in vegetarian options at restaurants, but it’s still pretty rough-going for people who don’t eat meat. Hit up restaurants in Ulaanbataar like Loving Hut and Luna Blanca, the latter of which features several vegetarian interpretations of traditional Mongolian dishes, but otherwise it’s you and potatoes and positive thinking.
If you’re specifically vegan, dining out in France is like attempting to build a garden shed out of Play-Doh–technically possible, but logistically problematic. Even for a garden-variety vegetarian, the task can be daunting unless you’re willing to eat so many pastries that your blood sugar could get a hummingbird drunk. It’s easier to find vegetarian cuisine the closer you stay to Paris, and in recent years a wider variety of veggie-friendly restaurants have popped up; in particular, Le Café Le Cordon Bleu and the three-Michelin-starred L’Arpège have begun offering some truly exceptional vegetarian dishes for the discerning diner.
Good gravy, Spain likes meat. Apparently, for a long time, vegetarianism was seen by many in the country as a weak, morbid Leftist dietary habit due to the hardline Franco government regime, and it’s been slow-going since the mid-1970s. An increasing number of places offer vegetarian meals, especially in major Spanish cities, but if the sight of meat hanging from windows grosses you out, you’re going to want to make it a habit to stare at your shoes.
The national dish of Denmark is Frikadeller, which I can only assume is Danish for “spherical animal bits,” and a large number of Danish dishes feature varying combinations of meat and potatoes. This is a country that gets a lot of mileage out of pickled herring, so vegetarians traveling to the country will have their work cut out for them. You’re going to want to eat big breakfasts, a lot of which includes fruit and yogurt and pastries. Oddly enough, pizza is pretty big in Denmark, and it’s not hard to find it sans meat.
Eastern Europe in general can be difficult to navigate if you’re trying to avoid any animal products, and Lithuania, in particular, has a serious lack of vegetarian options for travelers. It has gotten easier to find good veggie options in recent years due to an increase of tourism, but you’re going to have to get creative with carrots, and no, that’s not euphemism. At least Vilnius, the nation’s capital, features Alive, an all-vegan establishment with an outstanding dessert menu
Known worldwide for steak and steak paraphernalia, Argentina can be a pretty tough country to visit if you don’t stick close to Buenos Aires. If you visit, prepare to eat a lot of croissants, empanadas, and pizzas–almost all of which comes with cheese, so if you’re vegan, you’re going to want to make do with the country’s plentiful produce. Get ready to have pasta and quinoa falling out of your ears by the time you leave.
Paraguay is somehow more intense about meat than Argentina, and without the ready availability of pizza to offer some relief. You’ll want to stick close to Asuncion, the nation’s capital, where you can at least find stuff like vegetarian paella, but be prepared to order vegetarian food and subsequently pick out little bits of meat from your dish. Even the napkins and water probably have meat in them. I cannot overstate the amount of meat in Paraguayan food.