A Fussy Eater Abroad: 20 of Your Tales of Vegetarian Travel Woe

Lunch in Mostar

Lunch in Mostar

Having been a vegetarian since birth, and a fussy one at that, I think I’ve just about heard it all when travelling. Mainly it’s met with utter disdain or incomprehension. Thank god I quite like dry bread, chips and crisps.

This article, 20 of Your Tales of Vegetarian Travel Woe, recently appeared on the BBC website and I had to share, it’s always nice to know you’re not alone. I’m pretty sure I’ve endured similar situations to all 20, but I particularly like number 9 (the entire waiting staff discussing whether the pink ravioli filling is spinach).

This is a typical scene with a waiter, especially in Hispanic countries (with a few more pathetic attempts by me to pronounce something from the phrasebook):

Me – “I’m sorry, I’m a vegetarian.” (I always feel the need to apologise.)

Waiter – “We have chicken.”

Me – “I’m afraid I don’t eat any meat.”

Waiter – “Yes… chicken is vegetarian.”

In Bosnia last summer exactly this scene happened for the umpteenth time. I ended up with a bottle of still water and a small bowl of brown-tinged iceberg lettuce. No dressing. My boyfriend was given a plate of fried meat the size of his head and a legs-worth of beer.

Veggies are not a popular folk.

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A Fussy Eater Abroad: Argentina

A (fussy) vegetarian in Argentina

Argentinian cuisine uses a lot of red meat and cheese. They’re renowned for their steaks and asado, a South American style of barbecue, which is every meat eater’s dream. Not a vegetarian’s, though. Here are a few hard learned tips to getting by.

Tango in Argentina

Chicken is vegetarian – Knowing how much the Hispanics like their food bloody, I made sure to book a veggie meal for our outbound flight online. It was to be my last supper, one final safe, but probably a bit cardboardy, dinner to see me off on my three week South American adventure. That’s what I thought anyway. But when they bought our meals, mine was a silvery tub of steaming chicken. ‘That is vegetarian,’ barked the Iberia hostess, penciled-on eyebrows warning me that resistance was futile. It was very much a mark of things to come.

Ham is vegetarian – I love travel and when I plan a trip I’ve already accepted that enjoying food is off the cards. It’s my own fault I’m so fussy. That being said, there are times I want to bang my face on the floor. The average Argentinian menu offers three potential veggie options: chips, salad or omelette, all, at times, contain ham. Green salad for example, was really more of a green and pink salad. It’s not usually mentioned on the menu.

empanadas

Other options include: pizza is fairly easy to get from street vendors but watch out for ground beef hidden under the cheese,. There are also empanadas, a sort of latino Cornish pasty that are sometimes offered with a cheese filling. It’s not so easy to order them though. On our first day we ordered “dos con queso'”and ended up with four with some sort of red meat. Now, I don’t know if said red meat was considered vegetarian also, but it certainly put me off for a while.

Vegetarian restaurants: there are a few in Buenos Aires. They have a good reputation, but I didn’t visit any – I was traveling with a group of devout carnivores and somehow it seemed to keep slipping off the agenda. Outside BA though, there are very few. I would suggest that you save a few pennies and eat in if you have cooking facilities. There are mini-markets everywhere.

My favourite BA dining experience: the secret or closed-door restaurants, the puertas cerradas. We knew which street we had to go to, then followed instructions to ‘find a mirrored window and knock’. It was very much a meat restaurant, but so welcoming and so very Argentinian (there were no tourists there) that I couldn’t help but enjoy the meal. The steaks, I was assured, were out of this world, and I can confirm that their bread and chips where very nice too.

Buenos Aires steak

Andy was happy

The Deli at Corsham

The Deli at Corsham is one of those places that remind you what it is to be British.

Corsham deli - interior

Anna pretending to be intelligent and read.

When you live in the city and every food shop is subject to some trend, or charges you huge amounts of money because it’s decided to call basic homemade foods ‘artisan,’ it’s easy to forget the simple beauty of the humble deli.

Corsham deli - preserves

Situated in the pretty village of Corsham in west Wiltshire, this deli sells a wonderful selection of British favourites such as marmalades and local cheeses, alongside treats from further afield like vegetable samosas and a selection of curry pastes.

Corsham deli - preserves

Corsham deli - pollen

Bee pollen – sprinkle in morning cereal for protection against allergies.

Fussy eater abroad: the best of Prague

Pizzeria Ristorante Giovanni

There are a lot of average restaurants in Prague, but Giovanni‘s certainly isn’t one of them. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it was one of the best – perhaps even worth the expense of the flights to get there.

The front of Giovanni's in Prague old town

After an hour of trawling the streets desperate to avoid the tourist traps, of which there are many, and dodge the promo teams, of which there are even more, we dipped into an empty looking side road off the Old Town Square and BAM – there it was.

It’s an Italian, so you’re probably thinking pizza, pasta – so what? But Restorante Giovanni is so much more than that. Rustic yet modern, charming not twee, quiet, but not empty and with a distinctly welcoming, relaxed atmosphere.

Giovanni's interior secondary dining area

Perhaps it’s the warm lighting, or just the large glasses of specially imported Montepulciano, but this restaurant offers the perfect amount of indulgence for those fuzzy tingle times.

Interior of Giovanni's Prague

The menu features an interesting mix of classics alongside inventive newbies. Italian, but without the tired carbonaras and dull mushroom risottos.

The dishes were Italian by name but described in both Czech and English leaving no room for confusion and the maître d’ assured us that many of the ingredients were sourced locally.

For starters we shared a simple garlic bread (OK, not the most adventurous of choices but the perfect comfort food after a long day in the fierce outdoor chill) – beautifully moist, and full-bodied.

For mains my other half ordered a medium steak (he’s boring like that) – thick, juicy and er… Tender (lifelong vegetarians rarely understand these things, I was assured it was “beautiful”) – with seasonal veg cooked to buttery al dente perfection.

As a fussy eater I’m not used to having options, but unusually the vegetarian choice extended beyond mushrooms and, or with, aubergine (that’s egg plant to my American audience). For that alone I would like to give the chef a huge wet kiss.

I went for an asparagus and truffle tortelli – technically a mushroom, but as only a tiny amount is used I was prepared for the challenge and for just £6, who couldn’t?

truffle and asparagus tortelli at Giovanni's in Prague

The tortelli was firm and nutty, the sauce of the perfect consistency, adding moisture to the dish without drowning it. The slight acidity of the tomatoes cut through the richness of the cream and the Parmesan added a hint of fruitiness. Wonderful.

We were feeling naughty, or greedy, or both, and ordered dessert to share – poached pear stuffed with chocolate and hazelnut. What it lacked in presentation it made up for in brilliance – delicately perfumed soft pear contrasted against a robust nutty stuffing, rich but light with a refreshing citrus drizzle. Utter bliss when accompanied by a little more of the gorgeous red wine (compliments of the house).

Giavanni''s pear and hazelnut dessert

It was probably the least Italian, Italian, I’ve ever been to. Not because it lacked authenticity, but because the menu was so exciting.

Giovanni’s is a rare food gem that has somehow, thank St Wenceslas, remained untarnished by the hoards of drunken British tourists that have ravaged most of Prague.

The whole meal came to a little over £20, we couldn’t believe it, and, as one of Prague’s least gimmicky restaurants, it’s easy to get a table. Better get booking those flights then.

Rating – 4/5

A Fussy Eater Abroad: surviving Prague

The other half at Giovanni's Prague

Andy – he really enjoyed it despite the miserable face.

Mission Burrito, Bath

Front of Mission Burrito, BathI know it’s bad, but I just love this place. It’s tasty, not too fatty or carb-ey, suitable for vegetarians and quick. I usually end up treating myself to a vegetable burrito after the gym – although I realise the irony there.

Because you can choose the contents of your wrap it’s perfect for a fusspotato like me and it usually costs between £5 and £6, which isn’t bad for dinner.

Mission Burrito, BathMission Burrito, Bath

A Fussy Eater Abroad: surviving Prague

Prague’s a pushover

As travel destinations go, Prague is not a tricky one to survive as a fussy eater. It’s a tourist hotspot so just about every taste is catered for.

In the most touristy areas such as the Old Town, it’s hard to come by traditional Czech food. The grandiose street are dominated by a mix of Turkish street vendors, American theme bars, curry houses and steak restaurants. If you like meat, cheese, or eggs, you shouldn’t have a problem anywhere, but there are vegetarian, and vegan friendly places too.

Omlette that is in fact, just several fried eggs.

“Egg Omlette Grandma’s Style”

The trusty omlette – like many European countries, the Czechs love their red meat and cheese. If that’s not for you then you may end up eating a few of these. ‘Grandma’s style’ is essentially chunks of potato nestling within some fried eggs.

Czech Goulash with Bread Dumplings

Czech Goulash with Bread Dumplings

Beef Guláš – tender, if a little fatty (so I’m told), beef goulash, a dish borrowed from the Hungarians. Bread dumplings however, or knedliky, are a traditional Czech side dish made from wheat or potato flour, boiled in water as a roll, then sliced and served hot. They’re quite doughy, but good for soaking up the tasty rich sauce.

Time For Tea

It can get pretty chilly in the Czech Republic (my whole face was chapped for a week) so hot drinks are a must and, well, GREAT!

Take a break from the cold in a swanky bar, or just warm your hands on a cup of something cheeky from a street vendor.

Hot Wine

Hot Wine

Hot wine – another delicacy shared with the Hungarians and almost worth a city break alone. It’s simpler and less sickly than mulled wine. I’ve found a recipe for it here, but it won’t taste as good without the dramatic gothic architecture.

Hot cherry or apple – fruit liqueurs with hot water.

Hot cider – I’m sure you can figure that one out.

Grog

Grog

Grog – rum, hot water and a squeeze of lemon or orange. This is quite strong and varies in taste depending on the rum used, it’s usually pretty horrible.

Hot milk with a lump of chocolate to melt on a stick

Hot Chocolate On A Stick

Hot chocolate – familiar to us all, but have you ever had it with a tot of amaretto or rum, or more bizarrely, on a stick?

* If your thinking of heading to Prague I’d suggest a cheap deal that will take you there out of season (some time around January). Not only will you save a lot of money, you’ll avoid marauding Stags and Hens, but no matter when you go you will get hassled by promo teams.

Wrapped mints named Bye Polar

Feeling a bit menthol

Tibits London: a fussy eater’s dream

Tibits London

Tucked away just off Regent Street, Tibits is the perfect spot to feed a hungry fusspot.

Think fast food meets swanky restaurant with a hint of salad bar. It’s a welcome break from tired vegetarian restaurant staples – not a single yoga mat or hemp jumper in sight.

Pick a table, grab a bowl and help yourself to any number of colourful delights from the food boat, a sort of buffet counter. So, it’s a bit more like a fancy canteen than a normal sit down meal but don’t let that put you off. Besides the plush fabric lampshades and trendy wooden furniture, refreshingly, it’s the food that makes this place special.

The buffet bar at Tibits London

Catching the Food Boat

Dishes vary in both ingredients and cuisine. Indian inspired dishes sit comfortably alongside Chinese and Mexican, and although it’s strictly veggie, there’s something for everyone with perhaps thirty different dishes on offer at any one time.

Definitely no mushroom mishaps

You can see the food before you commit to eating it, for a picky eater this is a godsend. No embarrassing ‘oh dear, that ingredient wasn’t mentioned on the menu’ moments – for once you can just relax and enjoy the meal.

Tibits are creative with their food and offer a well-rounded variety, which on the veggie food circuit is like getting Jamie XX after a lifetime of being fed Coldplay; vibrant ideas replace clichés, predictable ingredients are brushed aside for surprising ones and you’ll be more than happy to tell your friends you’re a fan.

Reservations are a no no as Tibits like to keep things simple. Just drop in any time between 9 am and 10:30 pm weekdays, midnight at weekends, and if they can’t find a table for you, there’s always take-away. The food is charged by weight, so you just pay for what you can eat and the drinks are reasonably priced for central London.

14-18 Heddon Street London W1B 4DA

020 7758 4110

(Thanks to Spoonfed and The Prickly Margarita for the pictures.)