Travelling through Morocco recently on an organised tour, I couldn’t help but fixate on the dishes a fellow passenger – a lifelong vegetarian – kept being served. No matter the city, the setting or the time of day, variations of the same old vegetarian tagine and couscous made their way over to her.
She pleaded at times to be given something different. “Maybe a pasta dish, vegetable skewers or … anything at this point,” I heard her say to the tour guide, chefs and waiters; not only were all meals locked in ahead of schedule, but also no one seemed to quite know what to do with her.
“This is the one problem you have as a vegetarian,” she told me, “once you leave Australia, everything goes to hell in a hand basket unless you agree to eat meat.”
By the time the trip was over, she had grimaced her way through ten days of eating the exact same thing.
As evidenced by the staggering number of vegetarian and vegan restaurants throwing open their doors, and fresh food products hitting supermarket shelves, vegetarianism has been enjoying an unprecedented rise in recent times. In fact, Roy Morgan Research showed that the number of Australian adults whose diet is now entirely or almost entirely vegetarian rose "from 1.7 million people (or 9.7 per cent of the population) to almost 2.1 million (11.2 per cent)" between 2012 and 2016. Australia is now also one of the largest growing vegan markets in the world.
Suffice to say, sticking to a meat-free diet is simple enough on home soil, but when it comes to travelling, it can be tricky moment after tricky moment if you are not adequately prepared, says fellow SBS Food writer, Bonnie Bayley.
“I’ve been a vegetarian for two decades now and I always make it my mission to learn the native word for vegetarianism as soon as I touch down,” she says. “It helps, but there have still been some memorable bloopers, such as the time I ordered a tofu noodle soup at Tokyo airport and realised halfway through that the tofu was in fact pork – leaving me violently ill for the entire duration of our flight home.”
The second instance, says Bayley, was in Vietnam where she ordered a vegetarian noodle dish only to be brought a steaming plate of beef. “I felt so guilty sending it back and asking for a new dish because it was a rustic roadside cafe and the owners looked like they lived very simply and would consider this wasteful, but there was no way I could eat it.”
“Once you leave Australia, everything goes to hell in a hand basket unless you agree to eat meat.”
As memorable (or traumatic) as Bayley’s experiences have been, such dining incidents could soon be a thing of the past for people on meat-free diets, now that travel operators are adding vegetarian and vegan tours to their list of offerings.
Joining companies such as Green Earth Travel and VegVoyages, Intrepid Travel has recently launched a range of vegan food tours (departing 2019) in world-renowned gastronomic destinations: India, Italy and Thailand. “Food is one of the best ways to connect with a local culture, but dietary requirements can be tricky with language barriers,” says Intrepid Travel regional product manager Tara Kennaway. “Why should vegans miss out on authentic food experiences?”
Intrepid Travel’s three new eight-day tours include an Indian adventure that includes visiting the Taj Mahal before enjoying lunch at a vegetarian cafe that supports acid attack victims; an Italian trip that sends you to an all-vegan Tuscan villa and Venice's first vegan restaurant, and Thailand where one of the highlights is cooking a vegan meal under the guidance of a local in a Chiang Mai home stay.
Whether you’re a fan of group touring or not, you have to admit it’s a step in the right direction – and given my recent experience on a flight where I was given four bread rolls and some fruit for my ‘vegetarian meal’ – hopefully one that will soon encompass the entire travel experience.
Black beans are revered in Latin cuisine for their meaty, earthy flavour. Quinoa, another South American export and tremendously popular 'super food', needs no introduction. When combined, these ingredients make an excellent burger patty. Feel free to flavour the patties however you like, but don’t forget the chipotle chilli. Its smoky heat brings the whole dish together.
As a vegetarian, there are some things that are tricky to find good substitutes for. One of those, for me, is noodle soup or ramen. The broth in restaurants is often made with meat or bones, so I was super excited to make something at home that I knew would be healthy, delicious and meat-free (even vegan!).