There’s no better way to experience a local culture than through its food. You can discover so much about a country’s history and values by how people prepare food and utilize the resources around them.
However, that isn’t always easy when you have dietary restrictions. I’ve been a vegetarian for more than 21 years, and have been traveling for just as long. And while I try my best to sample all kinds of local food, sometimes I have to get creative.
After visiting 45 countries, I’ve tried everything from translating my dietary restrictions in Google Translate and then taking a screenshot, to trying to learn specific words for things — like fish sauce (looking at you, Thailand) — in another language, to stealing instant ramen from the plane to cook with boiling water when there was nothing else (sorry, not sorry).
But sometimes you come across a destination or excursion where you don’t have to worry and can eat anything in sight. That scenario isn’t just a luxurious vegetarian pipe dream, it’s a reality in many destinations throughout the world. Whether it’s an all-vegetarian resort, a vegan food tour through a country that isn’t very vegan-friendly, or simply a destination where you’ll find food everywhere you turn — there’s something for everyone.
Here are 12 can’t-miss trips that every vegetarian should take.
Street food hopping in Delhi
India is one of the most vegetarian-friendly countries in the world, with a large chunk of the country eschewing meat for religious reasons. In India, vegetarian food is available everywhere you look (and packaged foods are even labeled with red or green dots to indicate if they are vegetarian or not). But to get a true taste of the country, you have to try the street food.
Head out on a culinary walking tour of Old Delhi with Delhi Food Walks for a flurried jaunt through the noisy and busy streets of the city and a whirlwind tasting of aloo chaat (fried potato with spicy and tangy chutneys), paratha stuffed with potatoes or cottage cheese, and crunchy jalebis that burst with sugary syrup when you bite into them. (The entire tour is not vegetarian, but options abound at nearly every stop.)
Vegan food tour of Thailand
In Thailand, they put fish sauce in everything — well nearly everything, at least. And for a vegetarian, that can be very difficult. Thankfully, there’s a tour that takes the guesswork out of eating in this Southeast Asian country and allows you to actually enjoy the food (because mango sticky rice is delicious, but sometimes you want non-fish sauce laden noodles).
Embark on an eight-day tour with Intrepid Travel from Bangkok to Chiang Mai to taste wing bean salad, tofu red curry, and coconut rice pancakes as you take in the country’s culinary history — vegan style.
Eating well in Reykjavik
When you think of food in Iceland, you may think of fermented shark or dried fish jerky — neither of which sound particularly appetizing and are definitely not vegetarian. But don’t fear, vegan-friendly food is very easy to find in Reykjavik and is available on the menus of some of the coolest spots in town.
The inventive vegetable maki at Fish Market, one of the most well-known restaurants in the city, will blow you away — they put crushed garlic on the outside of the roll when I visited and even though it doesn’t sound like it would work, trust me, it does. The vegan tasting menu at Kol (featuring a nut steak with dill apples and a lemon vinaigrette) is the perfect compliment to the inventive cocktails (try the Wokou gimlet with coconut-washed vodka, yuzu cordian, grapefruit, and lime). And while eating in Reykjavik is pricey in general, these innovative takes on veggie-forward cuisine are well worth the price.
Mediterranean feasts in Tel Aviv
Israeli cuisine tends to be inherently vegetarian-friendly with staples like hummus, falafel, and shakshuka. The country also happens to have some of the freshest and best-tasting produce I’ve ever had, where a tomato tastes like a tomato and a head of slow-roasted cauliflower tastes the way cauliflower should.
In Tel Aviv, you can stop at nearly any restaurant and find something that is vegetarian on the menu, whether it’s tangy pickles added to a falafel sandwich or a salad of tabbouleh. But you shouldn’t miss the pizza with black pepper, crème fraîche, and a hint of tomato at North Abraxass (trust me, it’s oddly addictive and something I still can’t stop thinking about) or the hummus at Abu Hassan (be prepared to wait for a table). Later, pickup some honey-soaked baklava from the bustling and hectic Carmel Market.
Cruising can be difficult for vegans, especially if the idea of eating pasta or simple (i.e. boring) salads the entire time doesn’t appeal to you. Luckily, some cruises are starting to add plant-based options to their menus that are inventive and flavorful as well as — most importantly — varied.
In May, Regent Seven Seas Cruises announced that they will be adding more than 200 “gourmet plant-based selections” starting in October. On this cruise, you can sample falafel fritters with harissa mayo, a wild mushroom tart with red pepper coulis, or an “Impossible” cheeseburger, before indulging in a peach-and-blueberry cobbler with cornmeal-almond topping. So, go explore exotic destinations and relaxing beaches before heading back to the luxurious ship and a delicious (and vegan-friendly) meal.
Vegan hotel on the California coast
Going to an all-vegetarian restaurant can take the guesswork out of navigating a menu, but staying at an all-vegan hotel makes thing even easier. Stay at the Stanford Inn by the Sea on the Mendocino coast (about 150 miles from San Francisco) for relaxation and creative — but vegan — cuisine. Rent a canoe or bicycle before settling in next to the wood-burning fireplace in your room with your furry friend (pets are welcome). Then, head to the hotel’s restaurant where you can start your meal with smoked and shredded Trumpet Royale mushroom tacos with pineapple cruda before diving into a plate of roasted red bell pepper and sun-dried tomato tofu ricotta ravioli with garlic caper marinara.
Wine tasting in the North Fork
Believe it or not, not all wine is vegan-friendly. In fact, wine can be processed with things like gelatin or egg whites as a way of fining the wine, which is part of the clarification process. At Shinn Estate Vineyards on Long Island’s North Fork, however, they list the ingredients right on the label — including the bentonite, or clay, they use to fine the wine.
The vineyard’s bed-and-breakfast, The Inn, boasts idyllic plush beds in a restored 1880s farmhouse, home-baked chocolate chip cookies, breakfast with made-to-order waffles, and lush grounds to enjoy all that vegan-friendly wine.
Food halls in Florence
Food halls tend to be a vegetarian’s friend since there is so much to choose from — and in Italy, that feeling is doubled. Italy is a foodie paradise with perfectly al dente pasta and crisp and chewy pizzas everywhere you look — and many dishes can be veganized by simply withholding the cheese.
At Mercato Centrale in Florence, options abound. Personally, I would trek back to the Italian city just to eat the white-truffle pasta from Il Tartufo Luciano Savini, probably the best plate of pasta I’ve ever had with mounds of thinly shaved white truffles and a decadent, creamy sauce. (And on a paper plate for about $30 you can’t lose.) Next, bite into the crunchy pizza bianca bread with garlicky, spicy greens (the misticanza alla romana is a seasonal flavor) at Trapizzino or dig into a pizza marinara without the cheese.
Made from scratch on a safari
A safari can be a life-changing experience: for me, watching the wildebeest cross into the Serengeti from Kenya — practically in a single-file line, no less — was one of the most breathtaking natural phenomenons I’ve ever had the fortune to witness.
Many safari packages are also inclusive of meals, something that has the possibility of making vegetarians nervous — a buffet can mean lots of mystery ingredients. But the good news is that all the hotels I went to in Kenya made everything from scratch, or to order. That meant I was able to find out the ingredients of every item to determine exactly which were vegetarian. So, enjoy your animal spotting, and your breakfast waffles too.
Vegan wellness retreat in the Philippines
Picture waking up underneath a Philippine rice barn with wood-beam ceilings and a thatched roof or taking a dip in your own pool from the comfort of your private villa. It sounds heavenly, but it’s the reality at the luxury vegan resort The Farm at San Benito, just over 50 miles from the capital of Manila. It also happens to be one of the best places in the world to unplug.
Take a complimentary vegan food class, indulge in a vegan meal with ingredients that are hand-picked from the resort’s organic garden, and pamper yourself with holistic treatments like Tibetan steam therapy and guided meditation.
All-vegan retreat in Bali
Watch the river flow by from your private pool and take an outdoor shower surrounded by the sounds of nature at Fivelements, Bali’s vegan retreat. The menu at the Bali resort features raw vegan options and “lightly-prepared, plant-based dishes” and the resort offers personal health coaching and healing food training.
If you want to get out of your room, just head to one of the eight private riverside healing rooms or the heated Watsu therapy pool.
Inspired vegetarian cuisine in Rome
Treat yourself to inventive dishes like green-pea gazpacho with lightly smoked almond mousse and purple potato chips, tagliolini pasta with vegetarian-carbonara sauce and cannoli with almond-ricotta cheese, or raspberry ice cream and orange sauce, all in the heart of Rome.
As if the food at the vegetarian-focused Raphaël Hotel wasn’t enough to tempt you, Carrara marble bathrooms, a terrace overlooking Roman rooftops, and the hotel’s ivy-covered facade — all just off the Piazza Navona — will have you saying sì bellissimo.