The Relationship Between Food, Culture and Travel
A blog about the links between food, culture and travel, written by Emma Pietropaolo based on her firsthand experiences.
October 15th 2019
When traveling to countries where English is not the predominant language, many vegetarian tourists become anxious at the thought of navigating menus for plant-based options. Fortunately, with a small bit of research beforehand, there’s no reason to worry. Armed with a working knowledge of vegetarian phrases along with a basic understanding of the local cuisine, plant-based options are aplenty if one only knows where to look.
In both Spain and Italy, the word for vegetarian is vegetariano. Though heavy on meat and seafood, Spanish cuisine offers plenty of meat-free options, including paella de verduras, goat’s cheese salad and potato omelettes. A variety of tapas can be ordered as well, such as vegetarian croquettes and patatas bravas. When dining out in Italy, traditional favourites can usually be found in vegetarian form, such as pizza, pasta and bruschetta.
A country known for its ancient traditions, Greece has a unique cuisine heavy on vegetables, olive oil, cheese, fish, wine, and meat. Vegetarians need not despair though! Meat-free favourites in Greece include spanakopita, briam (vegetables, tomato sauce and olive oil baked in an oven), greek salad, vegetable patties or fritters and baked beans. Vegetarian is pronounced chortofágos, which also means herbivore.
In India, “shaakaahaaree” is the word for vegetarian and there is no shortage of meat-free food available. This is of course in part due to religious and cultural traditions that promote a vegetarian lifestyle. Common plant-based Indian dishes include vegetable biryani, aloo gobi, pakoras and chana masala.
With origins ranging from Chinese to Portuguese, Thai cuisine is an eclectic mix of Eastern and Western traditions. Vegetarian food is easy to order once you know how to tell the server that you are meat-free (ben mang sa wirat) – however this can be interpreted as no visible meat, so travelers may have to take a “don’t ask don’t tell” approach. Vegetarians in Thailand can partake in common meat-free dishes such as gaeng om stew, a mushroom dish called pad gra pao het jay and of course, vegetarian pad thai.
Cambodian food is largely rice-based and artfully mixes texture, temperature and flavour. In the official Cambodian language of Khmer, the word vegetarian is pronounced banle and “without meat” is aht saight. Cambodian dishes suitable for vegetarians include a hearty porridge called “bor bor”, noodle dishes such as mee cha or num bahn chuk and chaa bon lie, among many other delicious options.
Heavy on the rice and beans, vegetarians are well-fed in Costa Rica. These ingredients come as breakfast (gallo pinto) and are often served for lunch or dinner as well, a great example of which is vegetarian casado. Other plant-based options include corn pancakes known as chorreadas, vegetarian pizzas, vegetarian sandwiches or black bean soup. As mentioned above, the Spanish word for vegetarian is simply “vegetariano”.
Chock full of spices and reflective of both Indigenous and European culture, Peruvian food is very delicious but often includes meat. However, like any other country, eating vegetarian is possible with a little preparation. Rocoto relleno vegetariano (stuffed peppers) are a great option, as well as potato dishes such as papa a la ocopa and causa.
Africa is one of the more difficult project locations for vegetarians, as many countries’ cuisines are heavy on meat and traditional meals reflect this. However, things are looking up for vegetarians and vegans in South Africa, as plant-based restaurants are springing up in the country’s more populated cities. While these restaurants tend to take a fresh, modern spin on the vegetarian diet, it’s worth trying traditional favourites include chakalaka, a dish similar to chili, as well as the South African spin on the traditional Indian rice dish vegetable biryani.
Namibia is not as veggie friendly as South Africa, however local supermarkets will usually offer a veggie burger or sometimes even tofu. Otherwise, one vegetarian option is usually available at most restaurants, though you should prepare to be eating a fair amount of side dishes such as potatoes. Fortunately, both of these countries are largely English-speaking, so navigating their menus is easy.
It goes without saying that vegans are likely to have an even more difficult time than vegetarians and would do best by sticking to local markets for products free of animal ingredients. While eating out, one looking to maintain a vegan diet should ensure that they have a grasp on the terms for “vegan” “no animal products” and all of the words for meat, fish, dairy and eggs.
– By WorkingAbroad Blogger Tess Morgan
All photos taken from Wikimedia Commons