Here are our pick of the perfect destinations
for the best food without a face – and three for vegetarians to avoid.
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
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.
Central Asia: Miss
little-travelled region (consisting of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan,
Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan)
may represent the global nadir for herbivores. As a rule,
dishes on the Asian steppes and mountains feature mutton or horse. You might
happen on Kazakh manti (steamed dumplings filled with meat), Kyrgyz besh barmak
(boiled horsemeat with noodles), lagman (noodles cooked in meat broth) or
regional favourite plov (mutton, horsemeat or beef fried with rice and carrots
– in fat). If you are vegan, forget it – chances are if it is not meat, it is dairy.
Is it worth it? Explore ancient Silk Road cities, roam vast steppes, trace the
Pamir Highway, and then make up your own mind.
Meat rules across South
America, so picking the least vegetarian-friendly country is tricky. Argentina
gets the nod partly because of its prodigious meat consumption – a whopping 70kg per person each year. In Buenos Aires and larger cities you can dodge the
ubiquitous parrillas (grill houses) and unearth some excellent vegetarian
restaurants. But if you want to fall off the wagon, this is the place for it.
Pick up a sharp knife, douse your carne de vaca (beef) with chimichurri (olive
oil with parsley and garlic) and dig in.
in Europe is easy… in theory. In practice, you will need to stay sharp; many
chefs still seem to believe that chicken and ham sprout in vegetable patches.
But it really pays to be alert in Germany. Yes, Berlin has a wide selection of
excellent vegetarian options in a range of international cuisines, but all too
often that pink dumpling in your soup is bacon. However, Teutonic food does not
get the acclaim it deserves, and for carnivores it is a treat. Wurst isn’t just
sausage – it is 1,500 sausages, an almost infinite variety.
The article 'Meat-free travel spots: Vegetarian hits and misses' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.