Meat-free travel spots: Vegetarian hits and misses
The dosa, a rice flour and lentil pancake that comes in countless varieties, is the king of south Indian snacks. (Greg Elms/LPI)
Here are our pick of the perfect destinations for the best food without a face – and three for vegetarians to avoid.
From hectic hawkers’ markets to sophisticated specialist restaurants, the Southeast Asian island-state harbours a huge number of vegetarian eateries – well over 100, according to food guide happycow.net. In Singapore you will feast on the best of Asia’s great cuisines – Malaysian, south Indian, the varied flavours of China – and specifically that blissful blend of Nyonya (or Peranakan) cooking, rich with lemongrass, tamarind, galangal and coconut milk. Though the cuisine is not specifically vegetarian, meat-free mains are nigh unbeatable: order a veggie laksa lemak (spicy coconut noodle soup) to reach Nyonya nirvana.
Two words: thali and dosa – south India’s great gifts to the world. The first is an ubiquitous all-you-can-eat feast: a thali can range from a few simple serves of curry, dhal (lentils) and rice on a banana leaf to a half-dozen-plus chilli-tinged treats in special segmented trays. The dosa is the king of southern snacks, a rice flour and lentil pancake that comes in countless varieties: paper-thin and crispy, laced with onion, packed with spiced vegetables and dipped in soupy lentil sambar (chutney). In south India, carnivores are the odd ones out.
San Francisco: Hit
This is the city that has hosted the annual World Vegetarian Festival for over a decade -- a fantastic destination for discerning vegetarians. Partly it is the result of the embedded counter culture ethos that has simmered here for years, and partly the efforts of gastronomic pioneers such as chef Alice Waters in promoting respect for fresh produce. What it means for vegetarians is that you can tuck into anything from a vast Mission burrito to a five-course vegan “Aphrodisiac Dinner” at stylish, inventive Millennium – all without a whiff of meat.
Wander the narrow alleys of any souk and you will soon realise why Moroccan food is so tongue-tingling -- the carefully shaped, rainbow-hued piles of spices are dazzling. Be warned, however: not all “vegetable” dishes are necessarily meat-free and the occasional bland number crops up, but when it hits the mark dishes like vegetable tajine (fruit-sweetened stew slow baked in a conical earthenware pot) or couscous can be sensational. Add spicy harira soup for kick, olives to snack on and hummus to dip, and you are almost there. The test of a destination’s culinary credentials is bread – and in Morocco, khubz is king.
It is the spiritual home of pizza and pasta, but to discover Italy’s true culinary genius you need to plan a picnic. First, pick up bread – soft focaccia or thin, crispy Sardinian pane fresa. Market stall-hop for antipasto: olives, sun-dried tomatoes, marinated artichokes and peppers. Add a lump of pecorino, taleggio or dolcelatte cheese, toss in a bottle of local red, and away you go. And the best bit? Each region features divine local vegetarian specialities. Try -- black truffles in Umbria, white truffles in Piedmont, asparagus from the Veneto and capers in Sicily.
Mezze magic! Why be limited to only one or two dishes when you can load a table with scores of finger-food portions? This admirable philosophy reaches its apotheosis in Lebanon. Dips, grains, marinated and cooked vegetables, stuffed leaves, fried pastries and salads… grab some flat bread and start dunking and scooping. Our pick is baba ghanoush, humble eggplant roasted and miraculously transformed with tahini, garlic and olive oil.
Like San Francisco, Thailand has a vegetarian festival. Unlike San Francisco, during the vegetarian festival on Phuket –called Kin Jay – devotees stick sharp spikes through their cheeks. The relevance of self-puncturing to vegetarianism is debatable, but the festival is also a chance for ethnic Chinese Thais (and lucky visitors) to munch a dizzying array of faux-meat dishes. The rest of the year, specifying that you would like your meal jay (vegan) or mangasawirat (vegetarian) gets you your favourite pad thai noodles, red curry or spicy papaya salad sans animal.