“No Problem, I’m Cooking Chicken”
While I am at home in States, I don’t struggle to find delicious vegetarian food. Restaurants that cater only to vegetarians are opening across the county, and there are a plethora of veggie friendly cuisines like Thai or Indian, but traveling can be a bit more difficult.
My first adventure outside the U.S. as a vegetarian was to Costa Rica. I hadn’t been a vegetarian for very long, so I was still learning to get creative with vegetarian cuisine, I scraped by on Luna bars I brought from home, mangoes, pineapple, and rice and beans. After a few days of that, lets just say my stomach was not in the best shape, if you catch my drift….it was there and then that I realized that my dream for lifelong travel would be a bit more complicated with my new eating habits.
Over the next few years I experienced a few different reactions when I arrived at a new restaurant or someone’s home and artfully announced in a non-offensive way that I was vegetarian. They ranged from a good hearted, “no problem!”, to utter disgust, to a few people even asking what that means with a face of confusion on why one would not eat meat. My favorite reaction was while visiting a rural home in the Andes. I was greeted with a rather rotund women who responded with a smile and ‘no hay problema, estoy concinando pollo’ (or not a problem, I am making chicken). Clearly vegetarian meant something different to this women, and I had to further explain that chicken too was off the menu. After some reassurance from me that I in fact am healthy and was perfectly okay eating the side items, she warmed up to the idea and we had a good time.
Visiting people’s homes is probably the hardest aspects of traveling as a vegetarian or someone with a special diet. The last thing you want to do is offend someone, and as you explain your restrictions, you need to respect the hosts culture and values. I find that being upfront with people, is usually the best way to conquer the issue. If you are bringing something as a gift, make it something you can eat! You should always stash something in your bag for later, just in case. In some cases you can skip out on trying a potentially revolting main dish, like I did in Laos, by simply being vegetarian. Extra bonus!
I like to think a few years on that I have mastered being vegetarian while traveling, that there is no place I can’t go and find food. While that is true, I’ve learned that the challenges are endless and in some cases that you just need to open your mind, and take a bite — there are new food adventures around every corner.