Tuesday 3 May, 2016

A Vegetarian Abroad: How to Savor the Experience

As a vegetarian, I get nervous about traveling when meals are included as part of the package. I’m used to cooking for myself, and I know how to maintain a balanced diet. When traveling, I have less control over those factors. However, EF College Study does an excellent job making sure travelers with dietary restrictions are taken care of, and there are also plenty of opportunities to get lunch or dinner on your own.

I just returned from a culinary program to London, Paris, and Rome, and I was very happy with my meals. But, before I share them with you, I wanted to go over three travel tips I’ve picked up as someone with a special diet:

  1. Pack snacks! This is important. While it’s easy to find vegetarian and vegan food abroad, it is sometimes difficult to get all of the nutrients and protein you need. I like to bring protein packed snacks like peanut butter, nuts, and granola bars when I travel.
  2. Do your research. Know what the local cuisine is and what your food options are going to be.
  3. Look up how to say vegetarian (or your dietary need) if you’re traveling to a non-English speaking country. Write it down and keep the note in your wallet for reference so that you can show it to your waiters at restaurants.
  4. Advocate for yourself. If your meal isn’t sufficient or you aren’t happy with it, ask your tour director or the waitstaff for other options.

Here is a glimpse of my food diary from London, Paris, and Rome.

The first dinner we had in London was an included meal: fish and chips. Normally, I don’t eat fish, but this is London’s signature dish, so I decided to give it a try. The fish was delicious! Light, crispy, and juicy. The only thing missing was ketchup for the “chips.” I always seem to forget this when I’m traveling, but ketchup is an American condiment. It’s hard to find overseas, so don’t expect to find it at European restaurants. I stepped out of my comfort zone and tried something new—I loved tartar sauce with this dish. It had a nice kick to it that complemented the fish well.

On day two in London, our group visited Borough Market for lunch. Borough Market is one of the largest and oldest markets in London. There were dozens of food stands, and almost all of them had vegetarian options. Lunch was on our own, so I decided on vegetarian pad thai from one of the stands. It was full of fresh veggies, tofu, and nuts.

Vegetarian_BoroughMarket1 Vegetarian_BoroughMarket3

During our last night in London, dinner was on our own. A small group of us decided to go to an authentic ramen restaurant. They had a vegetarian option, but I was more excited about their spicy option, so I asked the waitress if she could make the spicy option vegetarian. They could! It was great for a cold, wintery night. Really warmed me up.


Next stop on the itinerary: Paris. Our first night in Paris, we had an included dinner at a restaurant near Notre Dame Cathedral. The main dish for everyone was Duck Confit (vegetarians excluded, of course). This was a crowd favorite. Based on their reviews, my dish was equally delicious. I had roasted eggplant with cheese and marinara sauce. Eggplant is extremely popular in Europe and a common dish for vegetarians. Most of my meals in Europe included cheese with vegetables, like eggplant or zucchini. Super yummy! If you are vegan or do not like something in particular, be sure to let your tour director know early so restaurants can prepare something else for you ahead of time.


Of course, you can’t visit Paris without eating a crepe. We spent our second day in the Latin Quarter, which is home to dozens of small French bistros serving fondue, macaroons, coq au vin, and more. Our tour director taught us how to find authentic crepes and galettes by looking for the Seal of Brittany on restaurant menus. A small group of us went to a creperie with the Seal on their door and had the most wonderful experience. We received hard cider, a galette (savory crepe made with buckwheat), and a crepe (dessert) for less than 10 euro. I had a goat cheese, honey, and walnut galette and a dark chocolate crepe. Definitely the best crepes I’ve ever had!


After leaving Paris we set out for Rome. For lunch on our first day we had two hours near the Trevi Fountain to explore and get food. I found an inexpensive gnocchi (small potato dumplings) dish with fresh mozzarella and marinara sauce. It was just what I wanted. The gnocchi was light and tender.

Our first night in Rome included a traditional four-course Italian dinner. Our meal began with an antipasto of cured meats, olives, tartar and cheese. Because I don’t eat meat, my antipasto included a variety of cheeses, olives and roasted veggies. Our second course was a ricotta stuffed cannelloni dish covered in marinara sauce.  Our third course included the entree. Everyone without a dietary restriction received roasted chicken. I received a baked dish with cheese, tomatoes, and zucchini. For dessert, we ate chocolate cake. This was by far the best meal we had. Everyone walked away full and satisfied

The last included meal we were served was bread, spaghetti and marinara sauce, ham and French fries for the meat eaters, and cookies for dessert. Instead of ham and fries, I received a plate of beans (the first I’d gotten in Europe) and fried veggies. It was an extremely balanced meal and a refreshing break from all the cheese I’d been eating.

For anyone reading this with allergies or dietary restrictions (gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan), rest assured that you’ll have plenty of food options while traveling. Food is a big part of studying abroad, and we want to make sure you have the best experience possible. Be sure to tell your professor of any allergies and/or dietary restrictions, and you will be in good hands.

Check out another EF College Study Tours program that goes through London, Paris, Florence, and Rome, and Florence, and start planning your international culinary education.


Contributed by Sam
Faculty-Led Program Coordinator