Just because someone enjoys a meat-free diet, doesn’t mean they can’t indulge in local delicacies while on the road. In some countries vegetarian or veg-friendly eating has been historically en vogue. Thus, a delicious tradition of meat-free cuisine exists around the globe for vegetarian foodies to enjoy.
In places like India and Ethiopia, religious traditions that shun animal consumption required people to get creative with meatless dishes. And, in countries around the Mediterranean, a rich produce harvest lent itself to centuries of high veggie consumption.
Look for places with a lot of beans, rice and vegetables in their diets, recommends Andrea Giancoli, a registered dietitian and American Dietetic Association spokesperson. Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines are rich in this area, she said — think things like falafel, baba ganoush, hummus and grains like bulgur and faro.
Whether it comes to traveling abroad or stateside, Giancoli warns vegetarians not to fall into unhealthy habits. “You still have to be conscious of getting a balanced diet [when traveling,]” she said. “It’s easy to get caught up eating nothing but tortillas, pasta and cheese.”
Look to the soup, salad and sides sections on a menu to find vegetables. She also recommends scanning the entrée section for vegetarian sides that might not be listed elsewhere.
If all else fails, take a stroll through the local market to put together a meal heavy on produce.
Read on to learn about countries with historically vegetarian or veg-friendly cuisines. For this list we use a lacto-ovo vegetarian approach, but there are nods to vegans as well.
Indian cuisine is notoriously vegetarian friendly owing to widely-held religious beliefs that advocate non-violence and view cows as sacred, so killing animals is a no-no. Curries make heavy use of spices for seasoning, and can prominently feature ingredients like chickpeas, potatoes, spinach and paneer cheese and are extra hearty when paired with basmati rice. Add some yogurt-based raita sauce if the spices are too much. Dosas, a sort of Indian crepe, are portable options sometimes stuffed with veggies or served with chutney. Even McDonalds caters to vegetarians in India. As CBS News points out, India is the only country where McDonalds doesn't offer beef or pork (but chicken is available.) To satisfy a fast-food craving, sample a McSpicy Paneer (a breaded, fried paneer cheese sandwich) or a McVeggie (a spiced "burger" made of potato, peas and carrots.) Vegans should note that ghee, or clarified butter, is present in many foods that might otherwise seem animal-free. If they're cooked with plant oils, you're in the clear. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Kosher laws observed by Jews in Israel eliminate pork and shellfish right off the bat. And, because meat and dairy are not allowed to be combined, there's no worry of finding any meat in creamy preparations. Enjoy dishes like vegetable salads (a combination of tomatoes and cucumbers with olive oil and lemon is common,) hummus, baba ghanoush, falafel and sabich (a pita stuffed with fried eggplant, hummus and hard-boiled egg.) Shakshouka, a popular dish with North-African origins, is popular and consists of an egg cooked in tomato sauce and served in a pita. Similar dishes are also popular in nearby countries like Lebanon and Turkey. Photo: Getty Images
Thailand offers many vegetarian options. Historically, Asian food has made very light use of dairy, so that's not a worry, but Thai food makes up for that with coconut milk as a base for creamy soups and curries. Tofu and vegetables easily take the place of meat in curries or rice or noodle dishes. Vegans might find navigating Thai cuisine a little harder because of the fish sauce that's often used to flavor dishes. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Like in Israel, religious practices have an influence on local foodways. For members of the Coptic Church, constant fasting days necessitate meat-free meal options. Wats (stews) and tibs (sautees) are common food preparations, and vegetarians can indulge in those made from plants like peas, collard greens, potatoes, lentils and chickpeas. Since Ethiopian cuisine is eaten with the hands, these dishes are served atop injera, a sourdough flatbread that aids in the scooping. Vegans, watch out for niter kibbeh (spiced, clarified butter) in dishes. If vegetable oil is used, go ahead and feast. Photo: brownpau/Flickr
The food of Greece makes heavy use of vegetarian staples -- there's a religious fasting element here too, plus the bounty of the Mediterranean climate. When hitting the local tavernas, sample specialties like dolmades (grape leaves stuffed with rice and herbs), spanikopita (spinach and feta in phylo), cooked greens, gemista (baked vegetables stuffed with rice), briam (like ratatouille), fasolada (bean soup), chaniotiko boureki (Cretian phylo filled with potatoes, zucchini and cheese), and horiatiki (Greek salad.) Photo: Getty Images
In Egypt, a cuisine that's heavy on plant-based foods developed due to their inexpensive nature. Many offerings are similar to those that might be found in Israel and other parts of the Middle East. Uniquely Egyptian favorites include ful medames (mashed fava beans with garlic, olive oil and seasonings), koshary (a mixed dish of macaroni, chickpeas, lentils and rice topped with garlic sauce, tomato sauce and fried onions), and molokhia (a soup made from jute leaves). Photo: jeminichronicles/Flickr
Mexican dishes do contain a lot of meat, but vegetarian swap outs are fairly easy. Enchiladas, tacos, tostadas, quesadillas, tamales, chalupas, gorditas (yes, they exist outside of Taco Bell) and the like can be stuffed with beans, vegetables, cheese or potatoes. Cemita or torta sandwiches can be eaten sans meat. Also check out chilaquiles (fried tortilla strips smothered in red or green salsa and cheese, sometimes with an egg), molletes (bolillo rolls sliced and topped with beans and cheese), and tlayudas (crisp tortillas topped pizza-style with things like beans, avocado, cabbage, cheese and salsa.) And, don't forget guacamole. Just make sure to ask if dishes — especially refried beans — are prepared with lard. Photo: AFP/Getty Images