International travel is tricky when you have dietary restrictions. Tasting local cuisine is a large aspect of experiencing different cultures and ways of life.
Being a vegetarian is among the simpler diets to accommodate, but forethought can make your experiences much more pleasant.
Whether you’re a vegetarian for ethical reasons, to help the environment, or because red meat and poultry are not that healthy for you, you can take solace in knowing that there are plenty of ways to survive traveling while keeping your diet.
1) How stringent are you?
The first question to answer is how strict you’re going to be about your vegetarian diet. Are you going to avoid any and all meat, forgo your diet for the sake of culture, or pick and choose what’s okay and what isn’t?
I abide by a strict vegetarian lifestyle in my day-to-day life, but when I travel abroad I’ll loosen my diet for seafood, if I’m visiting a place bordering the ocean. Otherwise, I’ll avoid any meat products.
Knowing what your boundaries are will make the experience that much simpler.
2) Ask for an oil change.
In many local mom-and-pop restaurants, especially in Central and South America as well as in China, the cooks don’t use vegetable oil for their delicacies. Sometimes it’s too expensive or rare of a commodity, but other times they simply use animal-based oil, particularly lard.
Cooking with meat is a tradition, and the chefs don’t want to change. I ran into this scenario a lot in Costa Rica.
It might be a bit awkward to pepper your server with questions about their food sources. However, investigating what types of oil your food is cooked with will ensure you’re not accidentally ingesting animal products.
If the chefs have vegetable oil, then ask for your dish to be fried with that, and if they don’t, then you can move on.
3) Visit the market.