Being a vegan/vegetarian is hard, trust me I've been there. Not only does it make your social life awkward, but it also makes eating out difficult. When making such a large and selfless decision it's easy to stick to what you know and stay in your comfort zone. Moving abroad and travelling just makes it even more complicated, but that doesn't mean that you have to compromise.
Obviously, everything changes based on which parts of the country you visit, but it's no lie that it is harder in some countries than it is in others. Don't worry, the following points provide a brief introduction to how vegan/vegetarian friendly some of Europe's top destination are, along with some additional, useful tips.
Interestingly enough Italy is one of the best places to be a vegetarian. With studies showing that in fact a whole 10% of the population has opted to ditch meat.
Veganism on the other hand... no so much. Lots of Italian cuisine relies very heavily on eggs and cheese, but if you have your wits about you, you can really make it work.
Dishes to opt for:
- Pizza- Lucky for you, just because your vegan doesn't mean you can't make the most out of the Italian cuisine. Just be sure to ask for no cheese.
- Pasta- Make sure that you ask for dry pasta in order to avoid the default option (fresh egg pasta). So, you can still get a taste of Italy.
- Bruschetta- Another staple Italian dish that is vegan friendly. Toasted bread with tomato and oil, this is a simple but classic dish.
Still not convinced? If there is nothing that takes your fancy, speak to the staff and I'm sure they'll be more than happy to whip something up and vary it to your dietary needs.
Difficulty rating: 1/5 - EASY PEASY
Overall, the Italian way of life is relatively accommodating for vegetarians and if you know what to ask for, being a vegan shouldn't be a problem either.
Although the UK is home to a lot less vegetarians and vegans, it's still a paradise for those who opt for a meat-free lifestyle. Obviously the classics normally involve animal products such as fish and chips, meat pies and large meat-centric dinners, but in most places it is the norm to have (at least one) vegetarian option. The UK adapts a lot of its classics to cater to veggies and vegans, so you don't have to miss out on the good grub or compromise your morals.
Why not dig into?:
- A meat-free roast dinner- Vegetarianism is so prominent that even the carveries and pubs are taking note. The options can include anything from nut roasts to vegetarian sausages, so why not dig in?
- Veggie or Vegan full English- Yes... this exists and is actually really common in most cafés and pubs in the UK. Not on the menu? Don't worry, at most outlets normally you can ask and find an alternative.
- Vegan pies- You can still have all the delight of pie but with more interesting flavours, the Brits really know what they are doing here.
Difficulty rating: 1/5 - A piece of (vegan) cake
I know... Germany just brings to mind meat; Currywurst, Schnitzel and all meat. However, the great thing about Germany, like the UK, is that not only is veganism and vegetarianism on the rise, but actually a lot of the traditional/veggie no-go foods are offered in vegetarian and vegan form. So, out of all places, this is one where you really won't have to compromise.
- Käsespätzle- If you're veggie, this is for you. Dig into a warm cheesy pasta and you'll forget all about the inconveniences.
- Vegetarian/Vegan schnitzel- Yes... this is a thing that is actually taking flight in Germany, so you can have all the fun and none of the guilt.
- Rösti- I mean, who can resist a good potato? A typical Swiss dish that is very popular in Germany, it is an absolute must try.
Difficulty rating: 2/5 - Only a challenge if you make it one!
Belgium is home to Ghent, the Vegetarian capital of Europe, and highly promotes a meat-free lifestyle.
However, don't let that fool you too much. A lot of traditional Belgian food is also meat-centric and after all, it is the home of some of the world's finest chocolate... yummy. It's still worth examining the menu before commiting to a restaurant, but there is normally a vegan and a vegetarian option or something that be altered to be so.
Don't mind if I do:
- Chocolate- Most of the dark chocolate made in Belgium is dairy-free (ask still). So, you don't have to miss out on arguably one of the best parts of the country.
- French fries- Legend has it that French fries as we know them are a Belgian invention. The term French fries was merely coined in the US. So, why not tuck in indeed to one of the simpler but authentic snacks going? Just make sure you ask what type of fat they're frying them in!
- Beer- Honestly, who cares about food when you're in the beer capital of Europe... not me for sure!
Difficulty rating: 2/5 - Very do-able.
Spain on the other hand... a bit more challenging. A lot of Spanish cuisine is based on egg, meat and fish. The definition of vegetarianism and veganism is also widely misinterpreted in Spain, and although more and more Spaniards are opting for a meat-free lifestyle, it's not a familiar concept to all. At this point, you need to be prepared to explain exactly what is it you can't eat, as it's not unusual to come across restaurants in Spain that don't have options for vegetarians or vegans.
Dishes to give a go:
- Gazpacho/ Salmorejo - Generally this is a vegan dish. Be careful though: various variations of the recipe contain egg or jamón, so make sure you ask.
- Tortilla (if you're vegetarian) - One of the best yet simpler dishes going. Veggies dig in!
- Pimientos de Padrón - A nice, spicy and seasonal tapa suitable for everyone (again, just make sure you ask what fat they fry in!).
- Patatas Bravas - Literally "brave it". The best of the best; you can't really go wrong with a classic, spicy tomato sauce and potatoes.
Difficulty rating: 4/5 - CHALLENGING
Again, France is reowned for many dishes, most of which are cheese, butter and meat based. If you're a vegetarian and a cheese lover (or are just alive), you'll be in your element.
Being vegan is a bit more of a challenge unfortunately. However, one thing is for sure, you won't be missing out on any hearty fresh, French bread.
Polish your palate with:
- Ratatouille- A classic French specialty that you really can't miss, one for everyone and anyone.
- Cheese- Sorry vegans (I'm obsessed), but for veggies, you will have a lot more choice just due to this.
- Soup and baguette- Now this is something the French are very good at. Tasty, warming and filling, it may be simple... but simple has never tasted so good. Be wary and remember to ask where you can though.
Difficulty rating: 3.5/5 - Not a paradise for Vegans
Although Poland's typical and traditional dishes may not be the most meat-free, you won't have to go far to find a vegan or vegetarian restaurant or café. When in doubt though, the Polish do have variations of their traditional cuisine that make it easier to ditch the meat and dairy.
Why not order?
- Placki ziemniaczane- Potato pancakes. A yummy delicacy that means vegetarians won't be missing out too much.
- Pierogi ruskie- A standard portion of little Polish dumplings. You can find these in almost any restaurant and are filled with all sorts of wonders. Look out for the vegan and vegetarian friendly options.
- Barszcz- A tasty vegetarian spin on a classic Polish borscht. A feast of red beetroot, onions, garlic, and other root vegetables, not only is it vegetarian/vegan, but it's also healthy.
Difficulty rating: 3/5 - You can really make this work.
The home of the best of the rural and the urban, Ireland sure has a bit of a way to go in conquering veganism. Having said that, interest in the vegetarianism is growing, and the Happy Pear franchise is actually from Ireland. So if you end up in one of their locations... it is definitely worth checking out.
However, don't worry too much, the staple ingredient of any Irish person's diet... you guessed it... the potato (I know you just said that in an Irish accent). When in Ireland the potato will become your best friend.
Warm your tummy with:
- Champ- (Not one for vegans) If you are vegetarian, then you MUST TRY. Creamy mashed potatoes pushed to a new extreme.
- Farl- Yep, you guessed it more potatoes. Farl is a mixture of 2 of the world's best carbs... bread and potato. (Although occasionally made with butter, if made without this can also be an ideal vegan treat.)
- Guinness- Even though this isn't technically food, vegans and vegetarians can now sigh in relief, as the traditional Irish beverage is now vegan! So stop worrying and get yourself down the pub for a pint of pure Irish joy!
Difficulty rating: 3.5/5 - Not idyllic, but managable.
Look up the dishes
This may seem so simple, but you could really save your skin here (and that of a few animals). If you familiarise yourself with the key dishes of the country and their ingredients, you might be able to get the chef to take it out. This is probably the most ideal if you still really want to make the most of the foreign cuisine and not compromise.
Still not 100% convinced or really don't want to risk it? Don't worry, Happy cow will become your new best friend. Up and functioning in most of Europe, you can easily join the community and see and share thoughts with fellow vegans/veggies.
Take your own snacks
If you are militant with your regime, be prepared. Walking around in the hot sun in an unfamiliar environment does burn a hell of a lot of calories. Be sure to pack your own snacks so that you don't end up getting hangry and starving yourself.
Brush up on your vocab
Again really obvious, but not everyone will be fluent or familiar with your mother tongue and it's not something you really want to be messing around with.
Stick to what you know
Unfortunately not every country is very advanced when it comes to vegetarianism and veganism. So you may have to search a bit harder or opt for a more vegan/ vegetarian friendly familiar cuisine. If you're in accommodation with access to a kitchen, there's no harm in making a spin at a vegan friendly version... I mean, more money for wine.
Although remember that everything changes city to city, you really can experience some great vegan and vegetarian culture all over Europe, or you know... just get by. So really, there is no excuse to not travel and really make the most out of your time aboard.
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