It should go without saying that India is one of the best places to be for vegetarians. We have multiple kinds of parathas and chutneys, pulavs and rice, not to mention yummy South Indian breakfasts. In fact, it turns out that outside of India, a whole lot of vegetarian-friendly destinations get to be labelled so because they have Sri Lankan and Indian populations who have established plenty of eateries! Still, going abroad can be worrisome for strict vegetarians when it comes to food. I’m an omnivore (except for nuts – Nutella and Nutties are the only good things to ever come from nuts), but I have many vegetarians in my life and I’m very fond of them. I might not understand their choice, but I do respect it – they think life is worth living without bacon, more power to them. So here are my top vegetarian-friendly destinations for you.
Falafel and.. yummy cauliflower. Yummm. Believe it. Pic: Ewan Munro
No, I didn’t expect London to be on the list. But my closest vegetarian friend went to London (and saw Arsenal and the Grove, plus our streak started when he went for the Leicester game – he’s the new lucky charm!), and found a veg burger so good that he couldn’t stop drooling after getting back here. Patty & Bun is known for their meaty delights, but their mushroom burger, apparently, is the best he’s ever had. He did not have the sense to ask for the recipe, of course. Apart from this pick, Food for Thought is an establishment in Covent Garden with lots of cheesy items, varying from Indian to Mexican. Itadaki Zen serves Japanese food that’s vegan and organic, which rather boggles my mind. Mildreds in Soho is also extremely popular. Apart from these well-known places, there are loads of vegetarian stalls in London. Street food there is no longer just fish and chips.
Indian food in London. Really, vegetarians of the world should thank Asia. Pic: Ewan Munro
Even I wouldn’t mind this for brekkie. Pic: Soon Koon
There are a lot of fusion vegetarian restaurants in Singapore, and the sheer number of them – in three figures – makes Singapore a less painful vegetarian destination than you might imagine. First of all, there are enough Indian restaurants to keep you from being homesick. Second, there are a lot of eateries that mainly cater to Taoist Buddhists, many of whom are vegetarian. Third, soy and tofu are very popular ingredients on the street, so you have even more options. But it’s important to remember that you have to check if a dish without meat listed as an ingredient has been cooked in lard, or if shrimp paste was used in its preparation: both are possibilities. If you choose to go to a halal restaurant, lard will not be an issue. There is, apparently, a place in the basement of People’s Park that does excellent vegetarian food, and a place called Ci Yan in Chinatown that’s quite the experience.
See? Vegetarian! Pic: amanderson2
3. San Francisco
That’s vegetarian? Pic: Jules Morgan
San Francisco might be one of the easiest places to visit as a vegetarian, but a lot of it is pretty high end. First, keep in mind that people here are the ones who called themselves cool before it was cool to be cool; they were hipsters before it was cool to ironically poke fun at them. The World Vegetarian Festival is held here, even. So they, of course, have quite a significant vegan population, and you’ll find a lot of places that cater to them. There’s also a significant number of people who like food and want to eat well, and those groups sometimes overlap. That’s where vegetarian travellers luck out, as long as the word ‘gourmet’ sends little thrills up and down your spine. Greens comes up as a popular favourite among many people, and the view – it looks out over the Golden Gate – will make it worth the price, or so you will fervently hope. Millennium is another extremely popular spot. You’ll need to get reservations in San Francisco, though.
Vegan ice cream is just... Well, to each their own. Pic: grabadonut
4. Chiang Mai, Thailand
I think that’s an egg, though. Is it an egg? Pic: kafkaforprez
So you don’t want to spend so much every meal? That’s okay. Go on to Chiang Mai, which is the perfect place for vegetarian foodies on a budget. Pun Pun is the universal favourite. Their salads are incredibly refreshing – but it’s not like their salads are variations of the toss-lettuce-and-tomatoes-together-put-bacon-on-top stuff you get in places, only for veggies, there’s no bacon, so it’s barely worth eating. These are gorgeous, bright salads with wonderful flavours, using papaya, banana flowers and more. There are noodle soups, rolls, rice dishes – everything mouthwatering. Free Bird cafe is another option, and a good part of their proceedings go towards helping refugees from Burma, so you’ll also be part of a wonderful cause. For buffet that’s worth the price for vegetarians, head to Khun Churn. Don’t forget to try the khao soi! You’ll find vegetarians stalls in markets, too.
This looks completely vegetarian. Pic: arvind grover
That... does not look encouraging, does it? Hmm. Pic: Ryan Dickey
That doesn’t sound too exciting, does it? Well, the thing is, much like San Francisco, Portland is also ahead of schedule as far as trends are concerned, but being the real hipsters, are too cool to seek fame. There’s huge emphasis on local produce here, and there’s an even bigger vegan crowd. Even most restaurants with meat on the menu have a vegetarian selection that seems as extensive as the vegetarian sections we’re used to in India. It’s not an afterthought; it’s a pretty significant part of their trade. It’s not always cheap, however. Natural Selection is the most famous vegetarian place here, though The Farm Cafe’s (they also serve fish) veggie burger might have an edge. You can be fairly sure of vegetarian options at most places, though how extensive those options might be is up for debate.
This, on the other hand, looks delicious. It’s a squash risotto. Pic: Ron Dollete
6. New York City
Looks pretty good! Pic: Jeff Gunn
Can anything fashionable not make its mark in New York City? Why, that’s the definition of making it! Well then, you should know that your vegetarian great-aunt is right with the New York City high fashion crowd, because being vegetarian – or even better, vegan – is suddenly a bit of a status symbol. You’ll find lots of vegan options, but here’re two to start you off. For vegetarians who miss meat, there’s Blossom Vegan Restaurant, which has vegan pastas and almost-meat dishes. If you want dessert, but want to be absolutely sure there’s no egg in anything, Erin McKenna’s bakery will serve you wonderfully. The excellent bakery uses no dairy, eggs, gluten or soy, which makes me wonder how on earth they bake a cake. They make it happen, however. But Amanda Cohen’s Dirt Candy – who once turned down Leonardo DiCaprio because she could only seat 18 back then and she wouldn’t cancel a non-celebrity reservation to make room for him – is the most famous.
Never thought of it that way, did you? Pic: arvind grover
Maybe being a vegetarian isn’t all that bad when veggie Chiles en Nogada looks like this. Pic: Madeleine Ball
First, let me break some bad news to you: not all cheese is vegetarian. Cheese is made with rennet, and animal rennet is a very real thing. If you’re an egg-eating vegetarian – which is what most veggies in India seem to be now, ever since the murgi-ki-unda ad made mothers decide that eggs for breakfast are necessary – you’ll find that Mexico isn’t all about rice and beans. Forget what you know from Taco Bell. Try entomatadas (fried tortillas), quesadillas, papadzules (has egg in it) and stuffed peppers. Most of all, when you go a restaurant, ask them if they can make you a vegetarian version of something that catches your fancy. Many places will be very happy to oblige.
Bonus entry, because everybody wants more bang for their buck: Glasgow, Scotland. It’s apparently the best place in Britain for vegans, but I’m not too sure what to make of that. Indian food isn’t often vegan, so does that mean that most Indian restaurants are out? I’m not sure I’d want British vegetarian fare if that’s so! But I’ve added it because it’s so odd. Scottish food and healthy going together: this is a first!