by Chris Caldicott from The Telegraph, May 16, 2017
For globe-trotters who don’t eat meat, learning to say “I am a vegetarian” in the local language can be an essential skill. In case you need to know, it’s “Ana natbateeyah” in Arabic, “Watashi wa bejitarian desu” in Japanese and “Eu sou vegetariano” in Portuguese.
In Britain, not only is there no language barrier but vegetarian diners have an annual celebration of their own. National Vegetarian Week (which begins on today) is a familiar foodie fixture which will this year enlist the help of the Hairy Bikers in championing the cause and encouraging the general public to “get stuck in and go veggie for a week”.
In Britain, adopting a diet free of meat, poultry, game, fish and shellfish has never been easier and is not just a metropolitan choice. Glasgow now rivals London as vegetarian restaurant capital of the UK, while a plethora of recipe books allows anyone without access to vegetarian restaurants or street food to experiment with non-carnivorous cuisine at home.
By comparison, life for a vegetarian traveller can be more of a challenge; merely crossing the Channel to France can be a vegetarian’s idea of hell – but don’t panic. There are plenty of meat-free havens out there, as this worldwide selection shows.
To mark National Vegetarian Week, here is my pick of 10 places, from Italy to India, where meat-free cuisine is celebrated.
Just one risotto
With the highest proportion of vegetarians in Europe and many classic restaurant favourites that are naturally meat-free, Italy wins hands-down as the most vegetarian-friendly destination on the continent. A simple “sono vegetariano” will yield delicious grilled or sautéed vegetable concoctions, risottos, salads and pasta dishes found in rural trattorias and truck stops, hip urban cafés and smart ristorantes. In Rome, head for L’Aranica Blue for treats such as black truffle macaroni, ricotta di bufala ravioli and buttered courgette flowers with a fine choice of wines on open shelves along the walls.
L’Aranica Blue: Via Cesare Beccaria 3; daily noon-4pm and 7pm-midnight: £25 a head (thefork.com/restaurant/arancia-blu/205317).
2. Gujurat, India
India has around 500 million resident vegetarians, and such is the unrivalled variety of its regional cuisine that in culinary terms it should be thought of as a collection of countries rather than just one. The concept of vegetarian and non-vegetarian food is so universal that just saying “veg” will work anywhere, although some states are more vegetarian-friendly than others.
Gujarat is a true vegetarian heaven where followers of Jainism consider all life so sacred that they do not even eat root vegetables such as onion and carrots because they believe harvesting means killing the plant.
It is amazing how delicious dishes can be when they contain only vegetables, spices, pulses, rice and grains that grow above ground. Located on the rooftop terrace of the House of MG, a boutique heritage hotel in Ahmedabad, Agashiye serves the mother of all vegetarian feasts in the shape of sensational unlimited “fill up” Gujarati thalis of more than a dozen different dishes, served from hand-beaten copper pots by armies of enthusiastic waiters in white kurtas.
House of MG: Bhadra Road, Sidi Saiyad Jali; daily noon-3.30pm and 7pm-11pm: £12 a head (houseofmg.com).
3. South India
Having your idli...
“South Indian food” is a generic term for “pure veg” multi-dish thalis served on fresh banana leaves. They include dishes such as dosas, idlis, vadas and uttappams, all made of rice or lentil flour and served with spicy sambal gravies and coconut chutneys originating from the street stalls, fast-food cafés and restaurants of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The Mavalli Tiffin Rooms in Bengaluru, known locally as MTR, is an atmospheric, iconic institution that has been serving the “world’s best dosa” since the Sixties.
Mavalli Tiffin Rooms: Lal Bagh Main Road 14, Sampangi Rama Nagar; daily except Mondays 6.30am-11am and 12.30pm-9pm; £2 a head (mavallitiffinrooms.com).
4. South-east Asia
Tom yum yum
The region is famous for inexpensive and tasty street food, with plenty of vegetarian options typically involving tofu and tempeh instead of meat. In Vietnam, look for the word chay (vegetarian) displayed at stalls selling traditional meat-free Buddhist dishes. Learn to say “Cafésmangswirati” to get what you want from market stalls in Thailand – you just have to watch out for fish sauce being added.
In Chiang Mai, in the north of the country, head to Pun Pun at Wat Suan Dok temple (one of 80 veggie spots in town) for organic versions of Thai classics such as tom yum; in Bangkok, Na Aroon offers polished teak floors, high ceilings, elegant old-world charm and vegetarian fine dining.
Pun Pun: Suthep Road; daily except Wednesday 9am-4pm; £6 a head (punpunthailand.org).
Na Aroon: Sukhumvit 1 Alley, Khwaeng Khlong; daily 6.30am-10.30pm; £18 a head (ariyasom.com/vegetarian-restaurant-bangkok).
5. Hong Kong/Singapore
Even in China, where almost every living thing is considered food, if you can master the phrase “wo shi sùshi zhuyi zhe” you can find inventive vegetarian dishes using wild mushrooms and “Buddhist meat” made from wheat gluten. The best countries in which to find first-rate Chinese vegetarian dishes are actually Singapore and Hong Kong, where there are so many dedicated vegetarian restaurants (360 in Singapore alone) that you will stumble across them. One of the best in Hong Kong is Pure Veggie House in Central, which serves modern, Oriental vegetarian dishes including 16 versions of mushroom and many “Buddhist meat” gluten dishes. In Singapore, don’t miss the superb Komala Vilas in Little India.
Pure Veggie House: 3/F, Coda Plaza, 51 Garden Road, Mid-Levels; daily 10am-11pm; £35 a heads (topstandard.com.hk/en/12-english/pvh/20-pvh-home).
Komala Vilas: 76 Serangoon Road, daily 7am-10.30pm; £5 a head (komalavilas.com.sg).
When travelling around Japan, stay in ryokans (family-run inns that offer guests home-cooked breakfasts and evening meals). Establish your dietary needs in advance and the sumptuous feasts of homemade, local meat-free delicacies provided will be the best vegetarian food you ever taste. With its strong Buddhist traditions, Kyoto is brimming with excellent vegetarian dining opportunities. Hidden down a narrow alley, Tousuiro is an exquisitely atmospheric venue for sampling some divine tofu-based cuisine.
Tousuiro: 517-3 Kamiosaka-cho, Sanjo-agaru, Kiyamachi-dori; Mon-Sat 11.30am-2pm and 5pm-9.30pm; Sun 12-8.30pm; £30 a head (tousuiro.com/en/).
7. Mumbai, India
Mumbai is the place to try some of the finest vegetarian dishes from all over India. Even if you don’t make it any further, try Chetana – a buzzing contemporary vegetarian café in downtown Mumbai – for excellent Rajasthani thalis. It attracts an eclectic, friendly crowd of arty locals, media types and tourists. Alternatively, Café Madras is a lively South Indian favourite among vegetarian Mumbaikars.
Chetana: 4, K Dubash Marg, Kala Ghoda; daily 12.30pm-3pm and 7.30pm-11.30pm; £12 a head (chetana.com/r.htm).
Café Madras: 38-B Kamakshi Building, Kings Circle; Tues-Sun 7am-2.30pm and 4pm-8.30pm; £5 a head (zomato.com/mumbai/cafe-madras-matunga-east/menu).
8. San Francisco
In the United States, San Francisco benefits from the legacy of its hippie past with a thriving casual vegetarian and vegan scene in the Haight-Ashbury neighbourhood. Despite a recent move from downtown across the Bay to Oakland, Millennium still ranks as one of the world’s top vegan restaurants, serving impressive high-end cuisine and offering fabulous bay views. Greens, too, has been a purveyor of inventive vegetarian dishes since 1979.
Millennium: 5912 College Ave, Oakland; daily 5.30pm-9.30pm; Sun 10.30am-2pm; £24 a head (millenniumrestaurant.com).
Greens: 2 Marina Boulevard; Fort Mason, Building A; daily – see website for timings for brunch/lunch/dinner; £30 a head (greensrestaurant.com).
9. Latin America
Beans from Brazil
Beans, in one form or another, are popular in every country from Mexico to Chile, and can be delicious in combination with other ubiquitous Latin American ingredients such as tomatoes, chillies, corn, avocados, potatoes, rice and cheese. Brazil is the best place to go for variations on this theme. For lunchtime dining there are popular, all-you-can-eat canteen-style vegetarian buffet restaurants in every city, as well as a good choice of laid-back and friendly vegetarian cafés.
In Rio de Janeiro, head to Cultivar Brazil, a tiny intimate local organic bakery in the bohemian neighbourhood of Santa Teresa, which offers a good range of homemade vegetarian snacks and the best pao de queijo (cheese bread) you will ever taste. In Sao Paulo, Gopala Hari is a lovely, airy, first-floor space in an old house serving superb Latin versions of Indian flavours as “combos” of curry, salad, juice and sweets.
Cultivar Brazil: Rua Paschoal Carlos Magno 124; daily 8am-8pm; £4 a head (no website).
Gopala Hari: R. Antônio Carlos, 429; Mon-Sat 11.30am-3pm; £10 a head (gopalahari.com.br).
Sub-Saharan Africa is generally bad news for vegetarians, with only a scattering of Indian or Lebanese cafés offering more vegetarian-friendly dishes. Ethiopia is the exception as the fasting that is part of practising the Orthodox Christian faith involves meat-free days on Wednesday and Friday and for the whole 40 days of Lent. At other times, perfecting the phrase “Ine vejeteriani nenyi” will secure you either a shiro (chickpea) or misir (lentil) wat curry, or a yetsom beyaynetu vegetarian platter with injera pancakes and salads.
In Morocco, meanwhile, you can feast on vegetable tagines, couscous, harira soup and salads in places such as the night market in Jemaa el Fna in Marrakesh. Earth Café is the only truly vegetarian café in town. Even carnivores might want to learn the Arabic for vegetarian and come here to be spared the obligation to eat the grisly morsels of loins and groins that meat-eating guests are expected to consume as a matter of courtesy when visiting a Bedu camp.
Earth Café: Derb Zawak, Riad Zitoun kedim 2; daily 8am-11pm; £5 a head (no website).