It’s no secret that being a vegan makes things slightly complicated when it comes to food. In the UK, we’re lucky enough to have plenty of options and it’s getting easier every day, but things aren’t always so simple when travelling abroad. Depending on the local culture, finding vegan options may be slightly challenging or next to impossible. I’ve been vegan for over two and a half years now. During that time, I’ve been to six foreign countries across three continents and each place was a different story when it came to finding food.
Rome, Italy (2014)
Given that 78% of Italians are lactose intolerant, asking for meals without cheese is fairly normal and cheese-less pizzas are often on the menu. Though I don’t speak Italian, I found it easy to communicate what I could and couldn’t eat, having memorised simple words and phrases, which enabled me to order a customised panini when there was nothing suitable readily available. And don’t worry about missing out on Italian gelato – dark chocolate and fruit flavours are all dairy-free.
Andalusia, Spain (2014)
Spanish cuisine relies heavily on meat and seafood, and in a remote, rural location, being vegan is very difficult. In the only nearby place to eat, I told the waiter in broken Spanish what I wouldn’t eat and he laughed incredulously. As it turned out, a traditional Spanish dish, espinacas con garbanzos (spinach with chickpeas), is vegan. It was lovely, until I found something floating around in my bowl that looked suspiciously like chicken… In Seville, a Spanish friend ordered vegetable paella for me and verified that it was vegan, despite not understanding why, or how, I don’t eat animal products.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates (2016)
I knew nothing about Middle Eastern cuisine before going to Dubai, and I soon found out that it is very meat-oriented, despite the absence of pork. The waiters in the hotel had never heard of veganism until I explained, and there was actually a surprising amount of plant-based options for breakfast, including fruit, cereal, beans, potatoes and curry (yes, for breakfast). For dinner, there was a vegetable stir fry. In the American-style shopping centre food courts, choices were much the same as in the UK or the US – I had a bean burrito with some tortilla chips and salsa dip from a Mexican fast-food restaurant.
New Zealand (2016)
I was expecting New Zealand to be like Australia, full of vegans and with plenty of options, but that really wasn’t the case. Travelling both islands, I only went to one vegan restaurant, Aunty Mena’s, a Chinese restaurant in Wellington. In most areas, there weren’t even any vegetarian options on the menus of regular restaurants, since seafood is very popular. I was surprised to find a pizzeria in Christchurch that offered vegan cheese – it was one of the worst vegan cheeses I’ve ever tasted, but props to Hell Pizza for being probably the first New Zealand chain to cater for vegans.
Despite encountering some difficulties on my travels, I’ve never faced the choice between non-vegan food and starvation. If it were really impossible to find vegan food somewhere, I would consider eating vegetarian food, but I would never choose to go hungry and eating meat is out of the question. My advice for vegan travellers would be to learn a few words in the local language (if possible), to check HappyCow.net to explore options, and not to worry. Potatoes, rice and beans are available all over the world so you’ll always find a way to make it work!