3 vegans tell us how they got on during their holidays abroad this year and share some useful advice and tips on the sometimes tricky business of eating out
Vegan Holiday in Poland
by Irene Sheedy
Heading off for a few weeks of adventuring around Poland I did something quite unusual for me, I didn’t trawl through Happy Cow, or anywhere else, searching for addresses where I would be able to get a hot vegan meal. I just felt tired of all that. Tired of consulting maps, tired of traipsing around far-flung suburbs trying to locate a tiny vegan cafe only to find out that it had closed down two years prior. This time I resigned myself to hummus and hoped for a miracle. And, boy, does Poland deliver on miracles, vegan ones, at least.
Our first stop was Wroclaw, an artfully rebuilt gem of great beauty, perfect for aimless strolling. Of course, the place to be is the main square, so that’s where we were when Poland started to reveal its miracles before us.
There was something in my friend’s voice that made “Irene, look!” sound more like “Irene, behold!”. I turned around, half expecting to see angels descending. I squinted in the direction of the blazing sun towards which my friend seemed to be pointing. And then I saw it. Right there. Right on the main square in Wroclaw, occupying two floors of prime city centre real estate: “Vega: 100% vegan restaurant”.
It was swelteringly hot, almost 38 degrees Celsius, too much for this Irish explorer. “Perhaps it’s a vegan mirage”, I suggested, unwilling to let my hopes build up only to find myself buying the inevitable tub of hummus at a supermarket later in the day. We made towards the restaurant, afraid that it would vanish (or close) before we had experienced its promised delights.
“It seems real” I said, savouring the cool temperature of the interior as I cast my eyes around. Everybody was eating all sorts of everything: sloppy burgers, hot-dogs, savoury pancakes, colorful soups, dumplings, enchiladas, samosas, seitan cutlets, cheesy pizzas, mushroom stew, stuffed cabbage. I wanted it all but I remained suspicious. I needed reassurance from the staff:
– “Is it really all vegan?”
– “Yes, everything is vegan.”
– “No dairy, no eggs?”
– “No, no dairy, no eggs. Everything is vegan. Really.”
However, there was a downside, it turned out. We braced ourselves for disappointment, they had no food left, they were shutting down forever in ten minutes, they were out of vegan cheese. The problem, it transpired, was that the upper level was actually a different vegan restaurant with a completely different menu to Vega and it wasn’t possible to order at the same counter. Phew – we could cope!
We were handed menus in English. There followed page after page of vegan fare from the fabulously unhealthy to the downright raw. What an exquisite dilemma for a vegan…choices! Many of them! Now came a new worry – we had only three days in Wroclaw. We would need weeks to sample everything (not to mention that there was a second restaurant upstairs and more around town), but we were determined not to let such an opportunity pass us by, so we ordered enough for five and ate what we could of the amazingly delicious offerings before staggering back to our hotel under the weight of the rest, just in case we got hungry later.
The next day, after polishing off the various dinners and cake we had brought back to our hotel for breakfast, we headed back to the main square and this time we dined upstairs. Among their many dishes was something I had been craving for years, stringy, stretchy, cheesy pizza. After placing our orders we sat in the window and watched a parade as it passed below. “I hope my pizza will be amazingly melty” I mentioned to my friend who had witnessed my disappointment on many an occasion when vegan pizzas had looked more barren and dry than the lunar landscape when placed in front of me. I needn’t have worried because the second miracle in as many days was about to occur, and in front of my very eyes there appeared the ooziest, meltiest pizza that there ever was. Manna! I was speechless. My friend was delighted for me and for himself when his as-they-should-be hot-dogs arrived.
Wroclaw is a beautiful town in which to wander and in between eating sessions at Vega we stumbled across a few other vegan cafes during our walks. We even happened across a 100% vegan grocery.
It is easy to be vegan in Poland. Every city we visited had a few fully vegan cafes, restaurants, even ice-cream shops. There’s no need to load yourself up with names and addresses of potential restaurants and maps before you head off, you’ll find vegan signs and wonders easily, just don’t forget to bring loose fitting trousers!
Our favourite finds:
Irene Sheedy is a globetrotting translator, committed vegan and a dedicated student and teacher of yoga. https://yogavestra.wordpress.com/
Vegan Holiday in Paris
by Regimantas Lukosius
Travelling is something I love. Meeting different people, experiencing various cultures and traditions. Travelling was the reason I decided to take up photography. And that has changed the experience significantly. I am not talking about the bigger camera bag and a tripod, but the perspective it gave me. It made me more aware of the surroundings, made me look more, go further. Another major shift in travelling experience happened after I went vegan.
I had been vegan for about 4 months before I went on my first vegan holiday to Paris. Although it was only for a few days, it taught me a few valuable lessons. The most important one is to think and plan in advance. Paris is a brilliant place for food (I have been there few times before) but the notion of veganism does not seem to be all that popular, even frowned upon in some places. I was lucky to meet a Parisian guy at one of the vegan meet-ups in Dublin just weeks before my trip. He explained to me how unfriendly and even hostile some people might be towards vegans, especially when it comes to food and dining out. I have also learned that there aren’t that many restaurants in Paris that would cater specifically for vegans. He did give me the name of one – “Gentle Gourmet Café”. At the time I figured that one restaurant will be enough for a couple of days, surely I will find some place that serves simple salad? Big mistake. Anyone who’s been to Paris knows that there is no shortage of restaurants, cafes and bars. However, unless you don’t eat any animal products, you rarely notice how little choice you might have on their menus.
It took me half a day to realise that I should have done more homework. After arriving at our apartment in Paris, we parked a car and took a metro to the city. While enjoying the views we slowly made our way towards that vegan restaurant I was recommended. Imagine the disappointment when we saw that the opening time was Wednesday to Sunday 12:00 to 14:30 for lunch and 18:30 to 22:00 for dinner. I think it was 3pm when we arrived. We did come back for dinner and it was absolutely amazing! Pity our schedule and the location we stayed at did not allow us to go back there again. So apart from an occasional salad and red wine we ended up having dinners in the apartment. While talking about eating in, it reminds me of another tip – know the animal-derived ingredients in the language of the country you’re travelling to. Unless you’re planning on eating whole foods, you will come across some things like bread, jams and other processed goods that will not have “suitable for vegans” stickers on them. That knowledge is also handy at restaurants, as you might be surprised how many people do not fully understand what vegan is.
So, my takeaway points from the first trip were:
- Do some research, find local fresh produce markets, restaurants, coffee shops and make sure to check their opening times!
- Always have some food with you for emergencies. I like to have some nuts and dried fruits or even raw bars with me so I don’t have to go out of my way just to find a place to have a snack.
- Learn some local language. Even if only to know the words like eggs, butter, mayo, milk and so on. It does get a bit frustrating when you are in the shop, a bit hungry and trying to google the ingredients of the bread.
When it comes to accommodation, my preferred choice is AirBnB or the equivalent. It allows me to ask more questions about the locality before I get there. Sometimes I even ask for the host to buy some fruits and veg so I can spend more time exploring the place. Whenever I can, I try to stay in houses/apartments together with the owner. Not only do I learn more that way, but I also found it leaves some positive influence on them too. A lot of them would ask for my reasons for going vegan, what do I eat, how, where, what changes have I noticed, and sometimes even “where do you get your protein from?!” I think we become like an ambassador for veganism and it is a brilliant way to spread/share information in a friendly manner.
Armed with all the above knowledge I’ve booked another trip to Berlin. I know I know… It is cheating a little… Berlin seems to be a vegan’s paradise. I can’t recommend it highly enough!
There are plenty of restaurants, cafés, smoothie/juice bars but the one that impressed us most was the place called “Kopps”. I was the only vegan out of the group of 12. When the appetizers were brought out we all tucked in. After a few bites I’ve noticed that everyone was looking kind of strange and quiet. Suddenly my cousin asked if I ate eggs. The appetizer consisted of a variety of breads and a spread that looked very much like egg and mayo. Since it has been over a year since I ate eggs, I started doubting myself. Did I misunderstand something in the description of the restaurant? Was it not fully vegan? All 11 people were convinced that spread was made with eggs, the texture, the taste and even the colour was identical! I had to call up the waiter and ask him about it. “What do you think it is made of?” – asked the waiter with a smug smile on his face. I did tell him that we thought it had eggs in it, even all the non-vegans felt 100% sure of it. Surely enough, there were no eggs involved, all I can remember is that some sort of pasta has been used to create the texture of the egg white and the mixture of spices and ingredients I didn’t even know at the time. After being impressed that much I couldn’t wait for my main course – a Wellington type dish. As expected, it was amazing! This restaurant had made me realise how versatile and inventive the vegan cuisine can be.
Most of us know the HappyCow website or the app. And those who like surfing will also know that the Cow is not that Happy around the West Coast of Portugal. I went to Ericeira for a surfing camp and things did not look that good on paper. Couldn’t find any vegan or even vegetarian restaurants around the place I was staying. However, I was a bit more experienced and braver to ask for non-animal foods in any regular restaurant. I emailed the surfing house advising them of my lifestyle choice and they were very accommodating and accepting.
Ericeira is a small coastal town with a vibrant atmosphere, friendly people. Although I did prepare some of the food myself, I did find a few local restaurants that did serve vegan friendly food. As before, some basic language skills do come in handy! Indian restaurants are normally a safe bet for something vegan, but I also found a nice little restaurant by the sea that served some nice bulgur wheat salad with a hot mushroom stew on the side. Unfortunately I can’t recall the name of it, so you will have to find it yourselves.
I have travelled to many other places since then and it is always an interesting experience. Sometimes it is easy, sometimes I get a little frustrated. I guess having a good understanding of why I am doing this always helps me to see the brighter side of it.
Regimantas Lukosius has been vegan for the past 3 years. He enjoys surfing, cycling, hiking and outdoor activities. He is also a keen photographer.
How to stay vegan when you’re on vacation
by Tanya Scutari
We all agree it is wonderful to travel, to discover new places and people, learn new things and gain experiences. The places we discover when we travel may inspire us to do great things: write, paint, create. There is an old saying that sounds like this: “the richest people are those who travel and read”. So let’s be them, if we can. But what if the countries and places we go to are not vegan friendly? It is much easier to stay vegan in cities when you can go to a lot of, at least vegetarian, restaurants. But even if you plan a vacation in a not so vegan friendly country, relax. You will be surprised how many options and ideas you have to eat healthy and keep your vegan lifestyle. It is simpler than saying “hello”.
Here are some of them:
Read about the country before you go.
If you know the exact place weeks before leaving, try informing yourself about what people usually eat. What is their traditional food? You may find some delicious vegan meals like I did in my last vacation in Greece. I ate savoury stuffed tomatoes, eggplant salad and tomato soup and I am happy I tried traditional vegan Greek food.
There is no need to eat only fried potatoes and some salad leaves every day. Being vegan does not mean to have a food disability. If you are informed, you will know exactly what to ask for food.
“Adapt” local food to vegan.
If you plan to eat in local restaurant and cafes, ask the waiter if they have vegan meals. Don’t be afraid to explain what “vegan” is and what the difference between veganism and vegetarianism is. It may not sound very delightful to him/her, but I also take my time to ensure everything is clear. They may say there is nothing on the menu for you. Look carefully. You may notice there are some, like (again) traditional Greek salad. It may be vegan if you exclude cheese. A vegetable cream soup can be adapted to a vegan one if the chef does not put sour cream in it. It is so simple!
Read the ingredients.
If you go shopping, make sure you read what you buy. It has to be a habit. It is necessary to avoid that moment when you realize you’ve eaten something that contains animal ingredients. Read what it says on the label and learn to decipher the ingredients. This is a general rule for vegans. I remember the day I ate some gelatin sweets. I only realized much later that they contained gelatin. The guilt I felt afterwards was great, but I did not beat myself up. I learned the lesson. It is not as hard to read the labels as it seems to be. In some countries it is stated on the product that it is suitable for vegans.
Have a Plan B.
Take with you on vacation nuts, dried fruits and seeds. Put them in small special bags and eat when you’re on a long road. If you go to countries where people consume more animal products, these home bags will save you having to find vegan options. You can eat them dry or hydrated as you can take advantage of all their properties. Sometimes, a handful of nuts can be just enough to keep you fed. Also, try to have fresh fruits with you. When I used to travel around the country, I always had such “bags” with me. They saved me many times.
Try a “mostly raw” vacation.
It may sound a bit crazy, but let’s recognize it, how many times do we promise to eat plenty of raw food? A vacation can be a great time to start! If you rent a house or apartment during your vacation, do your shopping at the local market and enjoy some raw food. Even if you have an all-inclusive package type you can try eating mostly raw. In all, you’ll find fruits, vegetables and salads. Eat more often if you get hungry. Enjoy the sun and raw food. You will be fed, but you will also get a mild detox!
Tell people about your diet beforehand.
We often used to spend our holidays with relatives or friends. Don’t be ashamed to say what you usually eat. I remember my last vacation in Italy – I stayed with a relative and asked her not to cook meat (I was vegetarian then). At first she was shocked, but after that she gave in. We cooked together simple and healthier food. Who knows, maybe this way you can motivate others reduce meat consumption? If you stay at a hotel, send them an email beforehand and say clearly what you cannot eat. In my notebook I keep a list of “prohibited” ingredients like “I am free of meat, eggs, milk, honey, sugar and gluten” and I show it when necessary. Again, I’m not ashamed to do this.
Look for the local vegetarian, vegan or raw vegan community.
You may go to a place where there are no restaurants for people like us, because in many countries, vegetarian cafes were closed when business did not go so well. Even so, there are hundreds of people who are at least vegetarian. In Moldova, for example, a small country near Romania, you will not find any restaurant or café for vegetarians, but you will be pleased to know that there are more than 1000 people in the capital Chisinau alone, who are vegetarians and vegans. Look for vegans on Facebook, every country has at least one big group. Share your ideas and experiences with them and make new friends!
This article is part of the Creative Commons and is free to publish under a CC licence.