How to cope with being a vegetarian abroad

Ask any vegetarian what their greatest struggle is and no doubt their answer will be how to eat well whilst traveling or living abroad. Ever since age twelve when a grinning waiter handed me a plate of fish, heads still intact, arranged in a circular fashion, I knew my decision to give up meat might not go down well in certain countries.

Although vegetarianism and veganism are becoming increasingly more popular throughout the world, there’s still a stigma attached to it. You might be able to handle a few well meaning aunts and uncles commenting on your supposed lack of protein, but moving to a new country where the concept is less practiced is a whole other battle.

After eleven years of being a vegetarian, I moved to Spain; a country where jamón isn’t just a food, but a way of life. Although I made jokes about how I was going to starve in my new home, I never imagined just how difficult avoiding meat would be. But after two years, and one accidentally eaten ham and cheese croissant, I’ve learnt how to successfully navigate being a vegetarian abroad.

1. Learn your country’s staple dishes

Every country has a couple of dishes it’s famous for, and more often than not, at least one of them will be vegetarian. Sometimes snack type food or appetizers are better for this, so if you’re going out for dinner with a bunch of new friends and don’t want to be “that awkward vegetarian”, switch out your main course for a couple of starters. Most restaurants will be accommodating to this, and who knows, you might even start a trend amongst your friends.

2. Throw a dinner party

A great way to enjoy a delicious meal, have a fun evening, and even show your friends why you don’t eat meat, is to throw a dinner party. As much as people like to joke about vegetarians eating rabbit food, no one is going to turn down some homemade mac’n’cheese! Vegetarian essentials are easy to come by, and there’s no limit to what you can create with rice, pasta, cheese, and fresh produce. Get cooking!

3. Try a different cuisine

Although you might want to immerse yourself in your new home’s culture as much as possible, sometimes you just need a break from all that vegetarian stress. You can track down an international supermarket and stock up on your favourite foods from back home, or go even more international and try a completely new cuisine. Tofu is a staple in Thai food; Indian food always has amazing vegetarian options; and vegetable burritos are just as tasty as their meaty counterparts. You might even find a new favourite meal.

4. Bring a snack

As a vegetarian abroad, sometimes you’ll have to admit defeat. It’s rare, but it happens. Keep some fruit or a cereal bar in your bag for times when even a cheese sandwich is unattainable. It might not be as Instagramable as your friend’s pasta dish, but at least you won’t starve.

And when all else fails…

5. Order a pizza

No matter where you are in the world, the Italians will always have you covered.

If you’re a vegetarian living abroad, do you use any of these tips? Did we miss anything out? Let us know!

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Rosy Parrish

Rosy Parrish grew up in Britain and now lives in Madrid. She divides her time between teaching English, writing about expat life, and befriending dogs in the street.