Saturday 31 January 2015

A Vegan Abroad

(Or 'why I never want to see another omelette again in my whole life')

You may have guessed, I'm not technically vegan, but I have been vegetarian since I was 9, which has been fine (apart from being force-fed nuts and seeds when, particularly as a teenager, all my friends were eating chicken nuggets and chips). That is, it was fine until about three years ago when I became lactose intolerant. All of a sudden, the main ingredients disappeared from my diet - no more macaroni cheese, no more milk in my (copious and very large) cups of tea, and no more ice cream, cream or custard. Basically all of the best foods had gone.

For a while, I survived on garlic bread and chips (although that was as much to do with the depression and general exhaustion as it was to do with the fact that 'I can't eat anything'). But over time, I have rediscovered my love for cooking, and now spend at least one afternoon each weekend creating new recipes and adapting existing ones.

One of my biggest bug bears is going out for dinner and being stuck with one of three options: pizza without the cheese (delicious but irritating given that I can buy lactose free cheese in the supermarkets, and therefore make my own pizza at least once a week); chips and salad (the excellent but lazy combination of unhealthy with a bit of wet lettuce); or my least favourite - pasta with red sauce (normally tomato. Sometimes I'm not sure).

Most of my favourite restaurants are on the list because they either offer a range of Rosy-proof food, or they are willing to adapt menu items. If the chef gets excited about the opportunity to try a new recipe just for me, they boost straight to the top of the list.

This is all fine when I'm at home - we don't go out for dinner very often. But during my 'mini grand tour of Europe', it wasn't that easy.

On my last day in the Netherlands, my friend and I decided to go out for lunch. The evening before, we trawled the internet for local menus, and had a shortlist of possibilities. When we got into town (I didn't fall of my bike - yay!) we headed to the first restaurant which, online, had veggie burgers on the menu. Their menu has changed the week before, so no veggie burgers, or anything that wasn't meat, fish or cheese.

The next few restaurants were similar - lots of options, nothing for Rosy.  After about half an hour, we settled on a pub, and I ordered an omelette - delicious.

Fast-forward a few days, and I'd given up looking for anything that isn't egg based and fried. I've just counted and I reckon I ate no less than 17 eggs in six days.

Being in Paris was particularly hard. Every other shop I passed seemed to be a fromagerie, and I LOVE CHEESE! I may have spent half of my final day in Paris standing outside and staring through the window, drooling just a little bit. That was the hardest part of this trip.

My advice for fellow intolerant vegetarians (HA!) travelling in Europe is threefold:

1. Take multivitamins with you, and make sure they contain iron. Chances are you won't get a huge variation in the meals you eat, so you'll need something to make sure you get your recommended daily levels! Although if you eat as many eggs as I did, your iron levels will be the least of your worries...

2. Stay in self-catered accommodation. There are loads of options, particularly in major cities, for cheap accommodation - I love staying in youth hostels if I'm travelling alone, but if I'm with my boyfriend or friends, we try to rent an apartment (I use Every city will have supermarkets, local markets and delis where you can buy fresh food which needs minimal preparation, and you can always take some dried pasta, rice or couscous with you as a back up.

3.  Do your research before you travel. Find out what the local delicacies are, and if there are any veggie/vegan alternatives. If you can, find out where you can buy these, and include them in your plans for your trip. Find out if there are any vegetarian restaurants, or restaurants that might have a vegan option (Mexican restaurants almost always will). Most importantly, make sure you know how to say 'I am vegetarian/ lactose/ gluten/ etc intolerant and cannot eat dairy/ milk/ cream/ bread/ eggs/ etc' in the language of whichever country you are in. You could write it down and keep it in your wallet if that helps, and try to learn how to ask whether there are any alternatives (and give examples). In my experience, restaurant staff are much more willing (and able) to help if you're speaking the same language.

I guess most importantly, don't be scared to try something new, but if you have to eat omelette every day of your trip, that's way better than being hungry and not enjoying yourself!

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