When we took our first trip away from the familiar territory of Italy, taking the ferry from the nearest port of Bari to tackle the city walls of Dubrovnik in September of 2012 we were run-of-the-mill, plain as you like meat eaters. We ate pork, lamb, beef, fish and on a few occasions we even tried horse (where in Italy horse meat is still eaten as a delicacy).
No meat was or had ever been out of the question, the only questions that we sometimes pondered over were the treatment and the slaughter of the animals, but (speaking for myself having seen footage of the slaughter of cows) it had done nothing to persuade me to stop.
Up until my late teens I’d never been much of a meat eater, in fact my mother considered herself partly vegetarian and used to prepare foods using a meat substitute found in the UK called Quorn – incredibly delicious – however, when I came to find myself working for one of the worlds largest fast food services, it wasn’t long before the smells and daily handling of chicken, beef and fish that I came round to trying more meats and in the end eating pretty much any that came my way.
Fast forward to March of this year and both Franca and I are volunteering at the Elephant Nature Park Dog Shelter where the food on offer during our month-long duration is nothing but vegetarian and vegan food – that’s about thirty days meat free.
After The Elephants
When the time came for us to pack our bags and leave all the dogs & elephants behind us, we ventured back to the closest city of Chiang Mai for the third time in as many months.
On the first night we were there we locked up our hostel room door and made our way to Moon Muang Soi 6 where our favorite meal is being prepared. Khao Soi Chicken.
It’s a delicious soup dish with a fantastic taste that isn’t too spicy, it comes with a dash of lime with onions, other vegetables and crispy noodles to top it off. The chicken just pulls away from the bone and pretty much melts in your mouth – it made us both feel sick.
30 Days Meat Free
Stomaching it wasn’t so much of a problem, we had heard from our new vegan friends Giselle & Cody that the sudden eating of meat after such a long time can make you feel physically sick, but it wasn’t that. It was more of a mental thought, the thought that after our experiences dealing with animals recently it just didn’t feel right.
“Okay,” we thought, “maybe we need to rethink this?”.
As we walked away from our favourite food stall we both discussed what had just happened, how we were both thinking and just what we were going to do about it.
“Let’s try thirty days of vegetarianism and see how we feel”.
Thirty days should be enough for us to see how easy or hard it was going to be to travel whilst on a whole new and more restricted diet, to see if vegetarianism is really for us and just how possibly it is, easy or not..
Walking The Meat Streets
After a week we left for Bangkok arriving into the city to stay with a friend briefly before spending the remainder of our days at the art-deco Shanghai Mansion right in the middle Bangkok’s Chinatown district.
Knowing how highly people talk about the rows and rows of plastic seats and benches that line the streets with steam billowing over everything from the food stalls dotted all along the main road, we didn’t hesitate to get out in the action.
Everywhere we turned we were surrounded by boiled ducks, pigs heads, shark fin soup, roasted this meat and roasted that – it all felt a bit much for the stomach.
Our hearts were heavy for everything we were seeing around us, all those shops selling cooked meats in more forms that our imaginations could render just made our current eating situation something we felt much stronger about.
Meat, Meat Everywhere
In the end we’d give-up on walking around the streets trying to find something vegetable based or laden with tofu, for the most part the street food is almost always going to have meat as part of the meal or at times just be meat entirely on it’s own.
Eventually we’d settle for a combination of steamed rice we could purchase on it’s own from some stands to mix with some ingredients of our own, but whilst we sat down to eat we thought more about the meat we’d seen during our walk about, but also about all the meats we’ve seen to date on our travels.
There’s all the varieties of meat in one of the side-street markets we found in Tainan.
There’s the chickens turned black by who knows what.
Also, there’s the fish lying in the sun surrounded by flies for hours and hours in Chiang Rai
Remembering The Meat Sweats
And just like everyone else who’s been buying all of the meat we’ve seen to date, we’re no hypocrites and remember just how much meat we’ve eaten on the road too, and honestly, most of that was delicious.
Grilling freshly cut meat in front of us during our time in South Korean city Busan was fun to watch and just as fun to eat
This sausage certainly had me excited in Hualien, Taiwan
And that’s not forgetting the curious things like bugs that I’ve eaten during our trip, not forgetting this ‘Pigs Blood on a Stick’ I ate in one of Taipei’s many street food markets.
Then It Hits Us
Long before our thirty day challenge had even begun both Franca and I had been choosing the vegetarian option when we took a moment to grab a bite to eat. Franca really likes how creative chefs tend to get when restrictions such as Vegetarianism or Veganism are required. The flavours are different to those you might get in a normal dish and another massive bonus for her is that she’s a huge fan of eating veg anyway.
So we cast our minds back to the great vegetarian food we’ve eaten.
We had some of the best food of our travels at the Sikh gurdwara in Malacca, Malaysia
The time our jimjilbang owner in South Korea took us for some bibimbap
In Chiang Rai we found an incredible Taiwanese vegetarian buffet that was incredibly cheap and tasty
And the time our Couchsurfing host took us to the best veggie restaurant we’d ever been to with some incredible meat substitutes
Thirty Days? What Thirty Days?
Before even 10 days had passed since we’d made our decision we figured that with all the fantastic veggie food we’d had along the way through Malaysia and Thailand, what was the point in just denying what had pretty much already been decided?
Our decision had already been made probably the day we left Elephant Nature Park Dogs after all the conversations about vegetarianism and veganism with our new found friends at the park, and this is no fad for us.
Neither one of us wants to be a part of the mistreatment that happens to animals all around the world for the sake of human consumption, plus, being vegetarian we also get to have the delights of great fruit salads all the time and extraordinary tofu dishes that we may have passed over before in favour of something a little more gamey.
This Is Not A Promotion
People might be reading this thinking that we’re trying to convert them. We’re not. We just wanted to explain to our friends back home and the many new friends we’ve made online via this website just why we’ve made this decision.
As I’ve already said, we were big meat eaters too, and if that’s something you’re happy with doing – something you enjoy doing after hearing all the facts about how animals are really treated – then myself and Franca both respect your decision. Who are we to dictate to anyone?
How To Travel As A Vegetarian
As of right now it’s been about two months since we’ve declared ourselves meat free and happy, but the question still remains as to how we’re going to progress during our travels on a more restricted diet and fewer items on the menu to choose from in some countries where meat is king.
One great tip we had from Giselle was that “you can find rice and vegetables pretty much anywhere” and in our experience so far she’s been pretty much 100% right on the money.
Ask The Professionals
I’d also highly recommend a recent guest post on Travels4Yum entitled 7 Tips For Finding Street Food For Vegetarians.