A highlight for most travelers is eating out, trying local cuisine and indulging in new and exciting meals. For those who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, this can be a challenge depending on the destination. While there are places with tons of gastronomical choices for vegetarians and vegans on vacay in the city, going off the beaten path may make finding gourmet grub a bit harder.
Luckily, there are plenty of ways to have a fantastic foodie experience regardless of your dietary preference. And there are multiple ways you can be prepared when finding yourself with few options in the sky or in a new city.
Cheapflights got the inside scoop from dietitians and nutritionists in the know, who were happy to share their advice for meat-free foodies on the road
Tips for vegetarians
Sharon Palmer, RDN, The Plant-Powered Dietitian and author of “Plant-Powered for Life,” provided the following tips for vegetarians.
- Pack your own shelf-stable of nutritious vegetarian snacks. If you miss a meal, snacks like these can tide you over:
- Trail mix
- Nutrition bar
- Powdered smoothie mixes (to mix in water later)
- Whole grain crackers
- Roasted, dried chick peas
- When flying, bring along a vegetarian entree salad (often available at many grocery stores now) in a disposable container with a plastic fork. You can eat it on the plane.
- Prepare a sandwich with nut or seed spread and jelly on whole grain bread and a piece of fruit. It’s easy, doesn’t need refrigeration and is filling.
- If you don’t have time to pack snacks, airports are offering more vegetarian food choices. You can check out the restaurant offerings on the airport website before you travel or look for the following items:
- Hummus and pita snacks or sandwiches
- Salads with a variety of vegetables, grains and beans
- Veggie Burgers
- Fresh whole fruit
- Smoothie bars
- If you are traveling internationally, make sure you request your dietary requirements with the airline well in advance.
Anita Mirchandani, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., provided the following tips:
- Research the restaurants available at your departure and arrival airports.
- Once you book your plane ticket, contact the airline and request a special meal to suit your needs. Many times, meal requests need to be made at least 48 hours in advance.
- Pack at least one or two easy snacks that can be consumed on-the-go.
- Check out websites that provide restaurants listings. Once you scope out possible restaurants, review their menus online to understand the offerings and figure out what substitutions could be made to satisfy your dietary restrictions.
- Narrow down the restaurants that could work and call ahead to ask them about modifications to recipes/substitutions to suit your needs. If there is a language barrier, ask your hotel concierge to make recommendations and calls for you.
- At the restaurant, ask the server, manager or chef about the base in the foods. For example, if it’s a soup, what kind of broth is it? If it’s a pasta sauce, is egg used? Even though the finished product may appear a certain way, you need to understand how the item was prepared in the kitchen.
- To be more certain that what you are eating truly adheres to your dietary needs, consider the texture of the food by swirling it to assess the ingredients. Many people can taste a food and know if it is something they aren’t used to, partly because they haven’t eaten it in a long time.
Tips for vegans
Scott Schreiber, DC, DACRB, M.S., LDN, Cert. MDT, CKTP, CNS, eats a vegan diet and shares his tips for enjoying local meals and getting the same experience as travelers who do not have restricted diets.
- Plan before you go. It can be as simple as checking restaurants’ websites or making a phone call. More and more restaurants are open to modifying their menus for patrons with dietary restrictions, but do not be afraid to ask. Do not rely on the hostess or server’s opinions. Call ahead or speak to the manger or chef to see if they are willing to accommodate you.
- Check websites, such as happycow.com, veganrestaurantfinder.com and vegdining.com to find specific restaurants that will accommodate your dietary restrictions. When traveling, check these websites for vegan specific or vegan friendly restaurants.
- Have several restaurants pre-picked out so that you have choices depending on what you would like to eat for that specific meal.
- Typically, urban areas have more of a selection of specialty restaurants than rural. However, if you are going hiking, camping or taking a “wilderness” type vacation, looking up a local grocery store, health food store or farmers market may be helpful with snacks and for packing meals ahead of time.
- My favorite destination worldwide for vegan cuisine is Costa Rica. They have specific resorts that cater to the vegan lifestyle.
- In general, Mexican, Italian, Asian and Indian restaurants have options for vegan patrons.
Nichole Dandrea, MS, Registered Dietitian and Yoga Instructor who specializes in plant-based diets and owns nicobella organics, an organic dark chocolate company based in Atlanta, Ga., shared these tips for vegans who love to travel.
- For vegans, one challenge while traveling is getting enough protein. Grab and go protein ideas include:
- Nuts (almonds, pistachios, walnuts)
- Seeds (pumpkin, sunflower)
- Almond butter and peanut butter packet
- Call your airline ahead of time and ask them to accommodate your specific request if you are eligible for a meal. If snacks are your only option, ask which snacks are vegan or vegetarian. There is typically at least one plant-based option.
- Every restaurant has sides. Either choose four sides (which can be very filling!) or ask the restaurant to make you a veggie dish that includes their vegan sides.
- Questions to ask the restaurant server and chef are:
- Do you offer vegan options?
- Do you use the same griller or fryer for your vegetables as you do for meat, seafood or poultry? Some places don’t have the space to use separate cooking areas, which would make the meal not vegan/vegetarian.
- What is the broth base? (A lot of times restaurants offer a vegetable soup but cook it with chicken broth.)
- Does the sauce contain any dairy or fish sauce?
- Are there any animal ingredients in this meal?
- Are the vegetables cooked in butter or oil?
- Look at the menu and see what entrees contain ingredients you can eat. Then, talk to the chef about what they can create for you. Many chefs find it a fun and unique challenge to cater to dietary needs.
- How can you be sure you are truly getting a vegan dish? If you are vegan you will know if dairy, fish sauce or chicken broth is used. The flavor of the poultry or fish really comes out when you are used to eating vegan. For dairy-based sauces, it’s very easy to tell by the mouth feel and flavor. It’s different if you are eating at a vegan restaurant where they try to offer that dairy mouthfeel with non-dairy ingredients. At a vegan restaurant you can certainly trust it’s vegan, but if you taste dairy at a non-vegan restaurant, chances are it’s dairy.
- Veg-friendly places to dine in the U.S. include Austin, Tex., Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Portland, Ore., and San Francisco.
- It’s easy to eat plant-based at most Asian restaurants. Thai and Vietnamese are very vegan-friendly cuisines. You can typically get vegan options at any restaurant as long as you ask for exactly what you want.