Today is Earth Day. One way to lessen your load on the earth is to be a vegetarian, or to cut down on your consumption of meat. I have been a vegetarian for over 25 years. I don’t eat the best possible diet – ice cream and chocolate have been known to pass my lips and I have coffee every morning - but I eat a diet based on vegetables and grains and try for organic and locally grown when possible.
I am also a traveler. Sometimes the two – vegetarian and traveler – are difficult to be together. Twenty years ago, when we discovered vacation rentals in Europe, my travel life changed. Now I could go where I wanted and not have to eat in restaurants all the time. I travel with a small stainless steel pot with a tight lid for cooking brown rice, some high quality sea salt and my good vegetable knife so I can easily create a vegetarian meal in my “home away from home”.
We usually eat some meals out but we like to do most of our own cooking. This means that we don’t end up immersing ourselves in the local cuisine, but to me local cuisine is usually different ways of cooking dead pigs, so I don’t feel that I am missing much. (And to complete the picture – we don’t drink much wine either.)
In most European countries you can find vegetarian items on menus. Travel is easier for the lacto-vegetarian (who eats dairy products like butter, cheese and eggs) and more difficult for the vegan (no dairy). Many people who do not understand vegetarians expect us to eat salad at every meal. Now I like a salad, but in the middle of winter after a long hike, it is not a substantial food for me. I like pasta, cooked grains, bread and vegetables.
Vegetarian Expectations in Different European Countries
- England is the best country for traveling vegetarians. There are many vegetarians in England and if the server at the restaurant is not one, most likely they know one, so you are not treated like an idiot. They frequently ask if you are vegan. You will find vegetarian options in pubs and tea rooms, and most good restaurants have a few vegetarian options. The Indian restaurants throughout England are a good option.
- Switzerland is also good. Every restaurant offers a “gemuse teller” (vegetable plate) and there are usually other things to choose from, usually involving cheese. Their bread is such good quality that it is a meal in itself.
- Italy is good because of the way their menus are organized. You usually find vegetarian pastas and contorni (vegetable side dishes). Only once in Italy did they refuse to seat us when we told them I was a vegetarian. In some seaside places every dish has seafood, but you can ask for spaghetti with tomato sauce. In Tuscany I find a big selection, but in most other regions I end up eating the same thing for every meal (in Liguria I eat spaghetti with pesto, in Umbria spaghetti with truffles – good on the first and second nights, boring by the third).
- Franceis not easy but most good sized towns have a vegetarian restaurant. I have had some of the best meals of my life in vegetarian restaurants in France. In other countries vegetarian restaurants can feature undercooked rice and many old hippies, but in France the food is good quality and innovative and even the old hippies are fashionable. In “normal” restaurants I end up eating omelets.
- Germany is difficult. They like their meat and I end up eating salad or just potatoes.
I have not been to Spain in 30 years, but I hear it is difficult for vegetarians. The same with eastern Europe.
Thank You to the Chinese Immigrant Communities
Twenty years ago, when we finished our year of travel in Europe, I wanted to write to China thanking them for their immigrants (or is it emigrants? the people who left). It was the Chinese restaurants across Europe that made it possible for us to eat many days.
I remember a wonderful Chinese restaurant in Vienna where we were staying in a hotel so had no kitchen. We ate there every night for a week. We have eaten in Chinese restaurants in England, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Italy – and Lichtenstein! In the Netherlands we eat in Indonesian restaurants.
You would think with this way of eating we would want to travel in Asia? But we don’t. Our hearts are in Europe but our stomachs are in the far east.