The best countries for travelling vegetarians

The best countries for travelling vegetarians

A few decades back, travelling as a vegetarian was a little frustrating. Not any more. With more and more people opting for plant-based diets now, vegetarians are no longer faced with a restrictive diet while travelling. Yes, there are some countries where food choices are still limited for vegetarians but overall things have improved a lot.

Some of my fellow bloggers have helped me put together this list of vegetarian-friendly countries for travellers. Take a look. It features some really mouth-watering delicious local vegetarian dishes and could help you choose your next vacation destination.


Colombia


By Emily from Wander-Lush

Like many other Latin American nations, Colombian cuisine is usually associated with steak, BBQ, and other meat-heavy dishes. However, you’d be surprised just how excellent a destination Colombia is for travelling vegetarians.

Meat-free delicacies can be found all over Colombia, including at speciality cafes that cater to vegetarians and vegans with special menu del dia (menu of the day). Medellin, the country’s second-biggest city, has a particularly vibrant vegetarian and vegan food scene – largely thanks to the region’s microclimate that makes it perfect for growing exotic fruit and veg.

Many of Colombia’s national dishes are naturally vegetarian or vegan. Two must-trys are patacones and arepas – both deceptively simple but oh-so-delicious. Patacones are fritters or chips made from plantains (cooking bananas) that are fried, crushed, and then fried again until crisp. They're served with fresh guacamole and hogao, tomato and onion salsa that’s a national treasure and eaten with everything. Restaurant Hacienda in Medellin serves particularly moreish patacones.

Vegetarian food in Colombia

Arepas, fried ‘patties’ made from ground maize dough, are another ubiquitous staple dish that you can get anywhere and everywhere. Some are stuffed with meat but many variations are vegetarian or vegan. For the best arepas (in my opinion), head to the underground section of the Placita de Flores flower market in Medellin. They serve arepas de chócolo, a special variety made with sweet corn dough, topped with a piece each of salty butter and cheese.

India


By Neha from Travel Melodies

India tops the world with the highest percentage of vegetarian population. So, you can never go wrong in this part of the world. Due to the vast vegetarian population, every city and region has many sweet and savoury specialities that you can indulge in. From street hawkers to fancy restaurants, there is no dearth of places offering vegetarian options.

While in North India, one must try these savoury snacks that are easily available as street food -
  • samosa - a fried pastry filled with potatoes.
  • chaat - multiple types of sweet and tangy mix of ingredients.
  • chole-bhature - fried bread served with spicy chickpeas curry.

While in South India, savour the delicacies like dosa and idli (made from fermented rice batter), vada (salty doughnuts made from lentil batter) served with sambhar (a lentil-based curry with vegetables).

Vada - Vegetarian snack from South India

Lentils and vegetables are an inseparable part of the Indian cuisine. For the main course, there is a variety of lentil or vegetable curries (dal makhani, palak paneer, rajma masala, aloo gobi, kadhai paneer, kadhi etc.) cooked with famous Indian spices generally eaten with roti (Indian bread) or rice.

Sweets or desserts are a major part of the Indian cuisine and a meal is incomplete without serving them. There are sweet shops in all the cities that serve a vast variety of sweets generally made from milk, nuts and flours. The sweets will all be vegetarian. Some sweets that must be tried while in India are:
  • halwa - an aromatic pudding made from cereals, fruits or vegetables cooked in clarified butter with a dose of nuts making it very rich. Carrot halwa, semolina halwa, wheat halwa are some examples.
  • burfi - a dense milk-based cake-like kaju/cashew burfi, pistachio burfi, besan burfi, milk cake.
  • rasgulla - a famous Bengali sweet that is a ball-shaped dumpling dipped in a sweet syrup.
  • laddu - no festivity is complete without these sphere-shaped sweets made usually from various flours, ghee and sugar.
  • kheer/payasam - a milk-based pudding made all across India with rice or vermicelli and nuts.
  • kulfi - the traditional Indian ice cream made of milk and nuts is not to be missed especially during summer.

Indian desserts

Not just in India, but wherever in the world you are in, you can find an Indian restaurant and relish the many vegetarian dishes.

New Zealand


By Nadine from Auckland Uncovered

New Zealand’s cuisine is a testament to its multi-cultural roots. Gone are the old days of “meat and three vegs” that Xennials typically grew up with. Nowadays, restaurants and households alike are embracing more interesting and varied ways of eating and cooking. With this renewed enthusiasm in embracing other culture’s cuisines and eating habits, it’s no surprise that vegetarian and vegan diets are well catered for. Particularly in the larger cities. Auckland, in particular, has many vegan & vegetarian-only establishments and many more that have separate menus for non-meat-eaters. If you’re looking for traditional ‘kiwi’ foods that are vegetarian-friendly, you can’t go past the classics.

Vegetarian food in New Zealand

Try the South Island’s speciality of cheese rolls. This simple dish is made from white bread (typically) with a gooey concoction of melted cheese and other savoury fillings. It’s a local favourite that can be found in bakeries and tea houses pretty much everywhere from Dunedin down to Invercargill, but it’s rumoured the cheese rolls from the farmers market in Oamaru are among the best. For a sweet treat, the country's favourites are Lamingtons, Anzac biscuits, and cream doughnuts which can be found in bakeries NZ-wide. For vegan versions of these delights, head to the Tart Bakery in Auckland’s Grey Lynn. Although the traditional Māori Hāngī is meat-heavy, it’s possible to still enjoy this tradition as a vegetarian. This way of cooking, in a pit dug in the ground, has been practised by New Zealand’s indigenous people for centuries and today you can still partake in the ceremony at tourist attractions in Rotorua – where the natural thermal energy is harnessed. The classic kiwi brunch is a winner too, and can easily be made vegetarian by omitting the bacon or sausages. Try the vegan version at Christchurch’s Hello Sunday Café (pictured), you won’t regret it!

Sri Lanka


By Sasha and Vincent from Mog and Dog Travels

Sri Lanka is a dream destination when it comes to vegetarian/vegan-friendly food. With its huge array of herbs and spices (cardamom, cinnamon, ginger and turmeric, to name but a few) and an equally delightful variety of fruit and vegetables, ranging from the regular (aubergine and potato) to the more exotic (snake gourd, coconut and breadfruit), there are good reasons why vegetarian travellers are flocking to taste the cuisine of the Sapphire Island. Here are our top vegetarian foods to try when you visit Sri Lanka:

Hoppers

A cross between a pancake and an English crumpet, hoppers (or appa) are a quintessential Sri Lankan dish. Usually served for breakfast and sometimes after 5pm (much to the dismay of my husband and I, who basically wanted to eat them all the time), hoppers are made from rice flour, coconut milk and yeast. After being left to rise, the mixture is then poured into a small appa pan (which resembles a wok) and swirled around to cook. Fluffy in the middle and crispy on the edges, these babies are seriously addictive.

In Sri Lanka, hoppers can be served with a steamed egg in the middle (bithara appa) or with coconut milk and palm sugar (kiri appa). Plain hoppers are also usually served with lunu miris sambol (more on that vegetarian sambol goodness below).

If you are in Colombo, make sure to try the hoppers at Upali’s restaurant. Made fresh every day, Upali’s hoppers have the right blend of being deliciously crispy on the outside and firm but soft in the middle.

Wambatu moju

The food of the gods. Alongside hoppers, wambatu moju or aubergine pickle has to be one of my favourite vegetarian Sri Lankan dishes. Aubergine, shallots, ground mustard, cardamoms and chillies are cooked with vinegar, sugar and coconut milk until they caramelise into a sweet, sticky and spicy concoction that you are sure to fall in love with. Make sure you have this with your rice and curry at every opportunity.

Like other dishes in Sri Lanka, the recipe for wambatu moju varies depending on the region - for us Kandy, in the central province of Sri Lanka, had the most amazing version of this dish and we ate it in practically every restaurant that we visited!

Kottu rotti

If you are watching your carbs, this one isn’t for you, but if you want the Sri Lankan version of a  vegetarian burger, read on my friends. Kottu rotti is definitely Sri Lanka’s most musical street food: you’ll know when a kottu stall is nearby because you’ll hear the melodic sound of the chopping blades, as the chefs briskly slice up and fry roti bread into fine pieces until it resembles fried rice. Musical number over, the roti is then mixed with cabbage, carrots, leeks and curry sauce and served with a spicy tomato dip.

Nana’s restaurant on Galle Face Green in Colombo is famous for its kottu (hence the huge queues around it every evening). Our advice is to queue up, get your kottu and chow down on this greasy deliciousness’s as you watch the sunset over the beach.

Parippu

Nutritious and delicious, parippu is the Sri Lankan version of Indian dahl. A staple dish, you will find parippu being served at every meal in Sri Lanka (which really isn’t a problem because it is so damn tasty). Made with red lentils, shallots, green chillies, cinnamon, pandan leaves and unroasted curry powder, Sri Lankan parippu differs from other dahls by the addition of coconut milk to the lentils that makes the whole dish really creamy with a tinge of sweetness.

We loved the parippu at the Royal Dutch Cafe in Galle Fort - it’s definitely worth having dinner there and if you are looking for an after-dinner beverage, be sure to try their cardamom iced coffee.

The sambols - pol sambol, lunu miris and seeni sambol

Sambols are basically the Sri Lankan version of condiments. Every meal in Sri Lanka is served with at least two out of four of the following sambols: lunu miris, pol sambol, seeni sambol and katta sambol. Unfortunately for us, the fourth one contains Maldive fish (boo) but the other three are most definitely vegetarian (yay!).

Lunu miris is made from dried red chillies pounded together with red onions, lemon juice and salt. Whilst this is generally blow-your-head-off spicy, you will find that the heat is easily tempered as it is often accompanied by the heavy carbs that Sri Lankans love. Paired with creamy kiribath (coconut milk rice) or the pancakey goodness of a hopper, lunu miris gives you the spicy kick that your meal deserves.

Meanwhile, pol sambol is the shredded coconut relish that you never knew you needed in your life. The coconut is pounded together with lime juice, chilli powder, onions and salt and is often served with pol roti (coconut roti), rice, hoppers, curry...basically it’s the perfect accompaniment to anything! Some people even love to just eat pol sambol on its own!

Seeni Sambol Sri Lankan vegetarian food

Last but definitely not least, is seeni sambol - hands down my personal favourite. Sri Lankans love to caramelise things and play with sweet, spicy and sour flavours and seeni sambol is the best example of this working a treat. Red onions are fried in oil over a low heat with sugar, cardamom, chilli, cinnamon, cloves and curry leaves until it all softens and goes dark and mushy. Mmmm...my mouth is watering already! If you ask me, the best way to eat seeni sambol is in a sandwich: the buttered bread and the spicy-sweet flavours of the richly caramelised onion in the sambol go together magnificently.

We discovered whilst travelling around Sri Lanka that seeni sambol appeared to be at a premium and actually featured less often on restaurant menus than we expected. However, we loved eating in Galle as most restaurants seemed to serve all three sambols. Yum - threelicious!

And while you are here, take a look at Sasha and Vincent's Ultimate Guide to a Traditional Turkish Breakfast.

Georgia


By Nate from Travel Lemming

Though not obviously vegetarian-friendly at first blush, Georgian cuisine actually has a lot to offer plant-based eaters owing to the variety of fare included in the local diet. A typical Georgian dinner includes a gigantic spread of a variety of shareable dishes and, though not all are vegetarian, the sheer volume of food on the table means you'll never have a lack of options (and never go hungry!).

Best yet, the country's two most famous dishes also come in vegetarian-friendly versions!

The first is khinkali, which is basically a Georgian dumpling that can be filled without all sorts of ingredients like cheese and potatoes and is traditionally eaten with black pepper on top. For a special treat, be sure to order the mushroom khinkali (Georgian mushrooms are remarkably delectable). Oh, and remember to eat it like a local by using your hands!

Vegetarian food in Georgia

Vegetarians will also love khachapuri, a bread-and-cheese based dish that comes in several forms depending on what regional version you order. A popular favourite is khachapuri adjaruli, which is basically a bread boat filled with cheese and a cracked egg. If you're addicted to pizza, you're sure to fall in love with khachapuri.

Those are just a couple vegetarian favourites in Georgia, but with such a wide variety of fare on offer, the only way to really experience Georgian food is to visit Georgia for yourself!

Israel


By Or from My Path in the World

Israel is one big mix of cultures, so the local food comes from many different countries. However, several dishes have become the definition of Israeli food, and you'll find them all across the country. Oh, and most of them are vegetarian or vegan.

The first one is shakshuka, which you'll find in every single cafe in Israel. It's essentially eggs poached in tomato sauce, and it's usually served in the cooking pan itself. With the shakshuka, you'll also get a salad, bread, and tahini sauce. Many cafes have several different versions of shakshuka on the menu, including the classic one and a green one (made from either spinach or a mix of green vegetables instead of tomatoes).

Another beloved dish in Israel is hummus, which is, of course, made from chickpeas. It's served with pita bread and different toppings according to your likings like tahini, chickpeas, boiled egg, or a spicy sauce. Although you'll find hundreds of hummus places in Israel, the best ones have to be in Jerusalem or Abu Gosh, an Arab-Israeli local council located near it.

Vegetarian food in Israel

Last but not least, you cannot leave Israel without trying falafel. Pita bread loaded with these crispy little fried balls (that are also made from chickpeas), hummus, tahini, and some salad or pickled vegetables is pure heaven. My personal favourite place to eat falafel is Hakosem ('The Magician') in the city of Tel Aviv. It also serves other Middle Eastern dishes, but for me, the falafel is the crowning glory. It is so popular, and it really does provide the perfect bite, so you'll always see a line of people waiting to devour some great food.

Italy


By Claudia from My Adventures Across The World

It is a well-known fact that food in Italy is delicious. Italians naturally eat lots of fruits and vegetables. The typical Mediterranean diet is a very healthy one that sees lots of pulses and there are a lot of dishes that are naturally vegetarian, and at times vegan. Pizza and pasta are the most obvious choices, especially as they are made in so many ways that you will never have to have to same dish twice.

A traditional dish that is vegetarian too is melanzane alla parmigiana - an eggplant dish typical of Sicily which is made with abundant doses of cheese. Pasta e ceci (pasta with chickpeas) is a perfect dish which is naturally vegan and incredibly healthy - you get carbs and protein in the same dish.

Suppli - A vegetarian dish from Italy

Yet, a dish that not many outside of Italy know and is an absolute must try is supplì. A typical food in Rome, supplì are made with a good tomato risotto. Once this has cooled off, you add eggs and parmesan cheese to the mix until it becomes firm. You then take a good amount, flatten it in your hand and place a chunk of mozzarella cheese. Close it properly so that the mozzarella doesn't stick out, pass it in breadcrumbs and deep fry it in boiling sunflower or peanut oil. Eat it piping hot, when the mozzarella is melted and - if you divide the supplì in two, it pulls as if it was a telephone string (that's why the traditional name is supplì al telefono).

Argentina


By Anthony & Anna from Green Mochila

If you travel around South America as a vegetarian, you're likely to have a hard time eating out. Not that it's impossible –there are more and more vegetarian and vegan places opening in cities throughout the continent– but it's just not part of the culture.

Yet, there's one country that differs greatly in that respect: Argentina. Now, that might sound surprising from a country that is known for its beef meat and its tradition of the "asado" (barbecue). But that large country is different from its neighbours in many respects.

Argentina is the result of massive European immigration. It's quickly noticeable on the faces of its people, in the architecture of its towns (Buenos Aires is even called 'the Paris of South America') – and in the food. Considering that about 63% of Argentinians have Italian origins, their cuisine is massively influenced by that country. There are pizza places everywhere in towns, mozzarella at every meal, and flavours with names like "caprese".

As vegetarian street food lovers, we are in heaven in Argentina. Our favourite is with no contest the famous "empanada", a baked or fried triangle-shaped savoury pastry that you can find everywhere on the continent. It's traditionally filled with minced meat and onions, and that remains the most common. But in Argentina, most shops offer several vegetarian variations like tomato-mozzarella, cheese-spinach, sweetcorn and chard (Argentinians have a love story with chard, they put it everywhere).

Empanadas - A vegetarian dish from Argentina

We also highly recommend “torta pascualina”, prepared with spinach, ricotta and full boiled eggs. This thick pie originates from Northern Italy and can be bought in any bakery in Argentina. Rumour has it that Paul McCartney fell in love with it!

Ireland


By Emer and Nils from Let’s Go Ireland

When you ask people what Ireland is known for, vegetarian dishes are mostly not the answer you will hear. Yet, Ireland has become much more vegetarian friendly over the last few years, with scrumptious meat-free options widely found in restaurants, bistros and cáfes throughout the country. Many menus even identify the vegetarian options with a green leaf symbol (or something similar), which makes it the process of ordering your food hassle-free. Generally speaking, other dietary requirements, including allergies are also well catered for in Ireland.

Of course, it is true that Ireland is still very much influenced by the English meat-based diet. Yet, vegetarian versions of traditional recipes have recently become very popular. One of them is Irish Shepherd’s Pie. Traditionally this delicacy is made with seasoned ground lamb or beef which is replaced with lentils and mushrooms in the vegetarian recipe. The other ingredients are deliciously roasted root vegetables, leek, smooth cheesy mashed potato and salad. If you are looking for the best and most authentic versions of this dish, then pay a visit to The Pie Maker in Galway or The Boxty House in Dublin.

No other vegetable is as ‘deeply rooted’ in the Irish historical consciousness as the potato. Generations lived mainly off the potato until the Great Famine of the 1840s, which was caused by a potato blight. Every national dish, ranging from Shepherd’s Pie to Irish Stew has the potato as a key ingredient. For me, the most tasty potato dish can be found in Dublin’s arguably best vegetarian restaurant, Cornucopia. They offer an unbelievably tasty vegan garlic potato salad. Made with baby potatoes, toasted hazelnuts, parsley, garlic, lemon and veganaise, this recipe is so incredibly scrumptious that even non-vegetarians absolutely have to taste it.

Indonesia (Bali)


By Mal from Raw Mal Roams

Bali is a vegetarian and vegan food paradise. Countless restaurants offer traditional Balinese cuisine in a vegetarian edition. My favourite places in Bali for food are Canggu and Ubud. Every sometimes, new restaurants are being opened, most of them source their ingredients locally and care for the environment banning the use of plastic but also look after their local communities by supporting a charity, employing local youth or selling hand-made locally produced crafts.

If you love veggies then you will love it in Canggu! Indulge in lush acai bowls, plant-based burgers, Buddha bowls and tofu curries. In addition to all the favourite veggie staples, you can sample Indonesian cuisine too.

My favourite is nasi campur, a traditional Indonesian dish that consists of a portion of rice accompanied by small portions of a number of other dishes including different vegetables, beans, peanuts and eggs. This is a great way to sample some mouth-watering local flavours.

Vegetarian food in Indonesia

Try nasi campur in Ithaka Warung close to Batu Balong beach in Canggu, which serves western specials and Indonesian classics. They’ve got a pleasant outdoor sitting area and the portions are generous. For nasi campur, you’ll pay less than $3!

Another great dish to sample in Bali is Balinese veggie curry. It comes with tofu or vegetables and the sauce is based on coconut milk, lemongrass, turmeric and chillies. It is normally served with a bowl of coconut-infused rice. I’m an absolute fan of curries and Indonesian curry is a true feast for your taste buds. 


Thailand


By Nina from Where in the World is Nina?

When I first got to Thailand I was a bit afraid I wasn’t going to find anything that catered to vegetarians. Everything seemed to be with meat! Aside from fruit, I was thinking I’d need to jump through hoops to get some veg on my plate. Luckily, I was wrong!

The key thing to remember is that pretty much everything in Thailand, curries, rice dishes, and noodles, can be made with vegetables instead of meat, it’s very easy to sub out. This is music to a vegetarian’s ears, I know!

The one small issue is - will they understand what you want? I had to learn some Thai pretty quickly to actually get my point across as when you say you’re vegetarian, they will sometimes say things like, so chicken is okay? And it’s like; no, no it is not. When you’re in the touristy areas, you’ll be fine but since I was living there I was often going to very local places or travelling a bit off the path.

Another thing to note is that they sometimes don’t understand that fish sauce is not vegetarian and they use it everywhere. So again, knowing how to communicate this in Thai may be needed.

Here were some of my favourite dishes when I was living and travelling in Thailand.
  • Khao Soi - a delightful curry that’s often made with chicken but can certainly be made with veg only. It’s mostly found in the north (unfortunately) and it’s my favourite dish in the world. It’s a noddle curry soup-like dish, topped with crunchy noodles and served with pickled veg and spicy paste on the side.
  • Any curry - OK let’s be real, yellow, red, massaman, green - I’ll eat all the curries and they can ALL be made with veg. These are widely served around the country.
  • Mango and sticky rice - This can be a meal, at least for me. When in doubt, you know this will be vegetarian!

Philippines


By Elsa from TravellingQuote

The Philippines being a tropical country, there is an abundance of fruits and vegetables and so whichever part of the country you visit, you can expect to find some local dishes that are perfect for vegetarians. Two of the top vegetarian dishes are Laing and Lumpiang Sariwa.

Laing is a spicy Filipino dish that originates from the province of Bicol. Bicol is known for their chilli peppers which are very hot in taste that everybody loves. Laing is composed of taro leaves that are well-dried and, then, cooked in coconut cream together with spices like ginger, onions, garlic, and, of course, the siling labuyo (chilli peppers). The dish is so creamy and very delicious that a cup of rice is not enough to indulge with this laing.

I would recommend not to miss this dish when you are, of course, in Bicol region. Yet, this has become a regular dish on the menu of big restaurants everywhere in the country.

Lumpiang Sariwa ('lumpia' - spring roll, 'sariwa' - fresh), is made from fresh vegetables sautéed lightly and wrapped on a homemade spring-roll wrapper. Included vegetables are carrots, sweet potato, bean sprouts, string beans and cabbage. Actually, you can put any vegetable that you fancy. You just need to cut it into same sizes, preferably julienned. After cooling the sautéed vegetables, you can assemble it on a homemade wrapper, then add your favourite fresh greens and start rolling the wrapper to form a spring roll. Top with peanut sauce. And it’s ready, a very healthy and filling dish.

Lumpiang Sariwa varies depending on what is available vegetable on site. It is cooked in most places in the Philippines. And the best recommendation to eat this dish is in the province of Dumaguete, they prepare this Lumpiang Sariwa greatly satisfying.

Tanzania


Africa is certainly not the first place that comes to mind when considering the best regions for vegetarians. Here, meat signifies wealth, celebration, and stature and the idea of not eating meat by choice is simply unheard of. However, Tanzania has been influenced by various cultures and cuisines throughout its long history and is a relatively good option.

Tanzanian breakfast is simple, comprising fresh fruits as well as steamed sweet potatoes and cassava. Accompanied by chai, it is a good way to start the day. Snacking is easy with the variety of meat-free options including grilled corn on the cob, chapati, nuts, samosas and bagia. You also can’t miss ubuyu, a dried and coated baobab seed snack. For lunch and dinner, look out for Ugali and Maharagwe. Ugali is a national favourite and this weird food made from cornmeal is so common, you will not need to search much to find it while Maharagwe comprises red kidney beans boiled in natural coconut milk.

Vegetarian food in Tanzania

Even if you go to a typical restaurant that does not cater to vegetarians, it is common to serve a lot of side dishes and garnishes that are totally vegan or vegetarian friendly. It is also very important to explain to your host or waiter of any dietary requirements.



Is there a country that you think should be on this list? Let me know via the comments section below.

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