Some argue that we, vegetarian travelers, lose on significant cultural opportunities by often refusing to eat the traditional foods of the countries we are visiting. Others go as far as calling us bad travelers for not blending in and risking to offend locals by being “finicky”. As if pleasing others was more important than sticking to deep-rooted beliefs. As if we made the decision to be vegetarians out of sheer arrogance and petulance.
The following list is not intended to act as a deterrent for vegetarians, it is meant to bring awareness and preparedness to those who are not ready to compromise on their ethics, but still wish to experience what these countries have to offer.
You can trust me on that one, I’ve got years of experience to prove my point. Eating out as a vegetarian in France is an ordeal. There is likely only one suitable option for you on the menu of any given restaurant in France and I bet you it’s a goat cheese salad — vegans don’t stand a chance over there. In large cities such as Paris and Lyon you won’t have too much trouble to find a veggie spot, but most of France is sadly not adapting fast to the rising number of vegetarians (meat consumption has dropped 15% in France between 2003 and 2010). Make sure to check out Happy Cow before heading out for a meal or you might just not be able to feed on anything else but bread, wine, and dessert — which, when you think about it, will provide you with a genuine French experience and taste pretty darn good!
Although Argentina is only the 17th highest meat consumer in the world (out of 177 countries) with 91.7 kg of meat per person per year, most of Argentinean cuisine centers around la parrilla, and the different cuts of meat grilled over the the fire. Buenos Aires may have plenty of vegetarian options, but the rest of the country does not follow suit and the words “soy vegetariana/o” will certainly bring concerned comments about your health. Basically you have to just fill up on medialunas, empanadas de queso, humitas, and, last but not least, spoonfuls of dulce de leche (do it!) when you’re out of the city.
You might think that a bowl of ramen noodles or miso soup would be the perfect vegetarian meal, but every traditional Japanese broth and seasoning is fish-based — even the soya sauce. Also the ubiquitous avocado roll, the go-to dish for any sushi-loving vegetarian, despite being invented by a Japanese chef in the US, is nowhere to be found in the country. One important part of traveling as a vegetarian in Japan is to learn a few key words to express the fact that you cannot consume fish — watashi wa bejitarian des[u]. Although it is difficult, it is not impossible and when in the countryside look for temples serving shōjin ryōri, Buddhist vegetarian cuisine.
Spanish cuisine presents a serious challenge even to the craftiest vegetarians. A quick look at one of Spain’s most famous dishes, paella, will give you an idea of the struggle to be expected: cured pork, chicken and/or rabbit in one large pan. The Spanish are diehard meat-eaters and even when you think that you’ve ordered what seemed like an innocuous vegetarian dish, you might end up with a lovely salad covered with tuna or a bocadillo vegetal with a slice of ham in it! Although it might be time-consuming, the best way to avoid having to pick away the dead animals from your place is to ask for the ingredients before ordering — ¿Cuáles son les ingredientes en este plato? Do not despair, tortilla de patatas makes an excellent meal and croquetas de espinacas, patatas bravas, and gazpacho are easily-found and delicious tapa options.
Travelers to Cuba are unanimous: vegetarian options are rare and the ones available lack in variety and flavours. Cubans seem to live on fried rice and meat, ham sandwiches, and hot dogs. Buying fresh seasonal fruit and vegetables from street vendors and other vegetarian products from markets and grocery stores is an easy task, but that means you’ll have to prepare it yourself and casa particulars (private houses where you can rent rooms) don’t usually allow their guests to use the kitchen. Happy Cow only lists 5 vegetarian restaurant options on the island, so if you really want to eat out, you’ll likely have to make do with beans and rice — and rum and coffee, of course.