This week we’ve asked Leah of The Vegetarian Traveller for her perspective on how she deals with the occasional problems that travelling as a vegetarian can create and how she works around them to still eat great food
Eating on the road isn’t always glamorous: you take what you can get, when you get it, and try not to internally complain. Sometimes you get lucky and score, but usually you have to settle for highway rest stops or corner shops (depending on how you choose to travel). Add being a vegetarian on top of that and it seems like you’d have the ultimate recipe for an unpleasant time, right? Wrong. After nearly two years of traveling, I can still say that I haven’t struggled much with eating as a vegetarian.
The main challenge that I’ve faced with regards to eating is the omnipresent language barrier. In Europe, I found it fairly simple to eat and genuinely enjoyed nearly every meal and snack that I found. This was made possible because of two factors, the first being the abundance of English speakers. Throughout the continent, I was usually able to communicate, even if only on a very basic level; if you can speak Russian or German, it will be even easier for you. The second reason that Europe is great for vegetarians is simple: what you see is what you get (almost every time). When looking at a dish, it is pretty easy to discern whether it contains meat. This is not the case in Asia, however.
Communication is infinitely more difficult if you do not speak the language, as the concept of vegetarianism doesn’t even exist in many cultures. On top of this, many Asian cuisines are characterized by cheeky little bits of fish and other animal parts that you would neither see nor assume would be present. On several occasions, I ordered a dish without meat, double checking that the waiter understood, only to be served a dish covered in chunks of beef. “Oh, just a little meat”. No, thank you.
I’ve found two solutions to the Asian eating dilemma: find a place that serves Buddhist temple food (as Buddhists are vegetarians by definition) or claim to have an allergy. No waiter or chef wants to be responsible for a dead foreigner in their restaurant.
While cycling and rafting, my companions and I made porridge for breakfast each morning. As long as you have some type of stove – I crafted one from a used beer can – or can make an open fire, you’re able to make something tasty that won’t leave you hungry after a few hours on the road. Lunch is usually the easiest meal to find, especially if you aren’t picky and unless you’re completely in the countryside or forest, you’ll be able to find some local restaurant or cafe, otherwise, you need to be prepared to stop and cook a meal for yourself.
While cycling, I typically carried a can of beans to amp up any lunch. Lettuce wraps made up my main go-to meal during that time, as you can stuff anything into the leaf before wrapping and munching away. Also, I’d go skipping in the bins each day and would frequently find things to use, ranging from fruit and vegetables to bread and tortilla wraps. Freeganism is only really applicable in Europe, as the rest of the world doesn’t seem to waste nearly as much.
When you decide to turn in for the night, whether camping, Couchsurfing, or falling asleep at a bus stop, you have the opportunity to dedicate some time to cooking your meals. No one ever wants to overpack when you’re lugging all of your worldly possessions on your back, but a small pot, cutlery, and a few packets of spices go a long way. These are definitely essentials for me, as they allow you to stray away from the packaged and processed snacks from corner shops.
Throughout this crazy ride across the globe, my hosts, drivers, and acquaintances have all pressed the same question: “How do you live without eating meat? It is impossible!”. Many meat-eaters are surprised to hear about all of the vegetarian and vegan-friendly dishes that their respective countries have to offer I haven’t been dissuaded yet, and my traveling has only been enriched by the fantastic traditional dishes I’ve tried. Until I meet my match, I’ll continue to explore this great big world, one meatless bite at a time.
Both Franca and I would love to send our thanks to Leah for this great article and we hope that you’ve been inspired to try something different, and maybe something like Freeganism could be for you?