Every vegetarian knows the struggle of going out to a restaurant and scanning the menu for meat free dishes, only to end up getting a salad. Everyone else has got colourful plates overflowing with food, and you just have your bland bowl of wilting lettuce.
Fortunately, since vegetarianism and veganism are on the rise, restaurants and food companies are starting to accommodate the diets of those who don’t eat animals or their by-products. Many restaurants these days are vegetarian friendly and not only tailor their menus to offer a diverse range of yummy vegetarian options, but cater specifically to vegetarians, where everything on the menu is certified meat-free. Certain countries, like the UK and India, also label prepared food in supermarkets as suitable for vegetarians.
When traveling, it’s sometimes harder to know what you’re ordering or buying when you have special dietary requirements. You have to take note that there’s no secret ingredient hiding in your food, especially when traveling in cultures whose cuisine is deeply rooted in its love of meat or fish. Some cultures just haven’t been struck by vegetarianism as hard as others, so you might find that communicating your needs will be met with confusion.
While you’ll definitely not starve anywhere as a vegetarian anymore (though you might subsist on that bowl of lettuce), here are 10 cities where you’ll have more options than meat-eaters, and 10 where you might want to pack your own snacks.
California is leading the US in a clean eating movement, that includes encouraging people to eat more kale and shop for locally sourced food. San Francisco in particular has a distinctive food culture, and vegetarians aren’t excluded.
The Bay Area has over 30 vegetarian and vegan restaurants listed on Google. From upscale dining in restaurants like Greens and Citizen Fox, to sushi at Shizen, or Mexican at Gracias Madre, San Francisco’s got it all. If you feel like cooking at home, stop at one of the world class farmers markets—Ferry Plaza is one of the best in the country.
Unless you want to eat meat wrapped in meat with a side of meat and fish for dessert, it’s going to be pretty hard to stay full in Russia, even in Moscow where you’ll find the most varied food choices.
Russians might be confused as to why you don’t eat meat, as vegetarianism is not nearly as widespread as it is in countries like the US and UK. Some restaurants will have options for you but are priced higher since they contain more exotic ingredients than can be produced in the arctic country.
On the bright side, Russian pastries and breads are delightful and totally vegetarian.
In a country not known for its cuisine, London is a multicultural city that has adopted every other culture’s food and put a modern twist on it. You might think of meat pies and pudding in England, but London has a prominent food scene for whatever your taste buds crave.
PETA rated London the best city in the world to be a vegetarian in 2009 not only for the number of vegetarian eateries and the shifting attitude towards vegetarians, but the British government labels everything, from restaurants to grocery items, if it’s vegetarian or vegan friendly.
Despite Japan having one of the world’s most exciting and unique food cultures, it’s hard to find many options that don’t include some type of seafood. The island nation has been reliant on the ocean for providing food since its been inhabited, and you won’t find eating plain rice daily very exciting.
It’s tradition in the country to have fish at almost every meal, and even tofu is cooked into meat dishes or flavored with meat or fish. In fact, vegetarians are so uncommon in Japan that the language doesn’t have a word for it, instead using the English term.
Most Middle Eastern countries are accommodating towards vegetarians due to the region’s Mediterranean diet, but Israel takes it just a step further.
Tel Aviv proudly calls itself the “vegan capital of the world,” with over 400 vegetarian and vegan restaurants, and Kosher food rules for those who do eat meat mean that many restaurants will have more meatless options in general.
Falafel, hummus, and bourekas are some of the world’s most popular vegetarian foods, and you’ll find them across Israel in street food stalls, markets, and cafes. Israelis also take pride in the freshness of their food, and the climate is perfect for growing produce that is often eaten the same day.
This is a culture that considers anything without beef to be vegetarian. You’d be better off listing the things you can’t eat to ensure you aren’t served something that includes chicken or fish.
You might see a quinoa or pasta dish that doesn’t list meat as an ingredient but check with your waiter to be sure there’s not. If you do successfully order something meatless, it’s usually not very interesting.
Your best bet is to cook for yourself or eat vegetarian empanadas on a daily basis, which thankfully have some flavor.
Germany’s capital is quickly becoming one of the most veggie friendly cities, with one of Europe’s highest populations of vegetarians. The city has 500 restaurants that offer a vegetarian menu alongside one that includes meat, and 30 that are exclusively vegetarian or vegan.
Berlin was named the vegetarian capital of the world by Saveur magazine and for good reason. The options for vegetarians in restaurants are on par with those that contain meat, but for Berlin, being vegetarian or vegan is a lifestyle, not a diet. Vegan stores line Berlin’s “vegan avenue” at Schivelbeiner Strasse, where you can shop for clothes and shoes, end even stop at a completely vegan supermarket.
Texas is a hub for southwestern US meat dishes, and hunting and farming is quite popular here, as it is in all the middle American states. But the meat loving culture runs deeper in Dallas than in other cities such as Austin or Houston.
According to a study on vegetarianism in the US by Datafiniti, Dallas is ranked fourth on the list for population size and fourteenth for being vegetarian friendly, making it one of the worst cities in the US for vegetarians. Although you’ll find plenty of places to eat, you might be laughed at for your choice in diet.
Not surprisingly, the largest US city also includes the largest number of vegetarian restaurant choices. New York’s vegetarian cuisine is some of the most affordable, diverse, and accessible in the US, according to the website WalletHub, which also named it the best city in America to be a vegetarian.
Vegetarians are well received in New York and will be welcomed by their fellow herbivores as well as understanding meat eaters. More vegetarian and vegan restaurants are opening quicker than traditional ones, and vegetarian supermarkets are encouraging even inner-city residents to shop meat-free.
The French are very proud of their culinary tradition, and a chef could be offended if you ask to amend a dish to exclude an animal ingredient, especially in Paris, where the country’s best chefs congregate.
While there are a number of French dishes that are vegetarian, it’s best to ask, as a vegetarian dish in France is often just fish.
There is no distinction between vegetarian and pescatarian to the French, and if you can’t find anything suitable, French pastries are the best in the world and one could happily gorge themselves on them.
Portland’s food scene is reminiscent of its progressive, youthful, outdoorsy culture, and where mountain food has come a long way from trail mix. This north-western city has been experimental with its meatless food choices in recent years, opening more vegan stores and restaurants that offer plant-based meat alternatives.
Portland is a haven for vegetarians who crave “meaty” foods, and it specializes in all your favorite comfort foods like vegan barbecue at Homegrown Smoker or soy and seitan burgers from DC Vegetarian food cart, which will satisfy even the most carnivorous of non-vegetarians.
At first glance, this Chinese city will have an abundance of vegetarian dishes, and no shortage of properly seasoned and cooked tofu. But take note that Chinese “vegetable” dishes almost always contain some form of animal product, for taste or texture. That noodle dish is probably flavored with chicken, and the dumplings likely have pork mixed in with the tofu.
The language barrier also adds to the difficulty of ordering, and unless you learn a few phrases in Mandarin, you could have a hard time explaining that you don’t even want animal products in for flavor. Thankfully, food in China is so good that you won’t be sacrificing taste without meat.
India is no stranger to vegetarianism, which has been practiced in Hinduism and Buddhism for millennia. The country has more vegetarians than anywhere else in the world, with about a third of its population abstaining from meat. Restaurants are marked with a veg or non-veg (or both) label, indicating the type of food it serves.
CNN Travel named the city of Chennai in southern India as the country’s leader in using less meat and dairy products in daily cooking, and Chennai is home to one of India’s first vegetarian friendly elegant restaurants, The Royal Vega.
In Korea, only the very poor don’t eat meat, and like other Asian countries, it’s food is based around meat and seafood, with vegetable dishes likely containing fish sauce or a scant amount of meat. Unless a dish consists entirely of meat, it is considered vegetarian.
South Korea’s second largest city of Busan is only slightly less vegetarian-friendly than the capital, Seoul. To be assured you aren’t eating a bit of sly beef or fish sauce, try the Korean temple food, prepared by monks who have long been vegetarian—and fully understand the concept.
Toronto is in the same league as New York and London when it comes to the breadth of vegetarian possibilities. Its diversity gives (vegetarian!) diners the choice of eating eastern or western, upscale or takeout, and its world class chefs are fearless when it comes to serving interesting meat-free cuisine across 150 vegetarian-friendly restaurants.
Vegetarians won’t miss out on Canada’s national dish either, which every resident and visitor wants to indulge in. You’ll find poutine shops all over the city, and one of the most famous is Poutini’s House of Poutine, which serves vegetarian and vegan poutine.
Like other cultures of Eastern Europe, Hungary’s traditional food is meat-laden and influenced by the landscape, which isn’t great for growing an abundance of fruits and veggies.
In Budapest, there are usually vegetarian dishes on restaurant menus, but they can be limited to pasta or salads, and the exclusively vegetarian restaurants are mostly restricted to ethnic cuisines that generally serve vegetarian fare,(Israel/Greece). If you want to try a traditional Hungarian food, lángos is a deep-fried dough that can be topped with sour cream and cheese.
Taipei has been named Asia’s Most Vegan Friendly City by PETA, with the highest number of vegetarian and vegan restaurants in all surveyed cities. In this city, you can expect a tofu dish to be tofu, without surprise meat mixed in! Taiwan also has a thorough vegetarian and vegan food labelling scheme for products sold in stores.
Though this embrace of veganism is relatively new, gaining popularity in the past decade, most of Taiwan’s Buddhist population rejects eating meat more so than in other nearby countries. About 13% of the population are vegetarian and live in Taipei, leading to many meat-free establishments.
While the seaside city of Lisbon is a pescatarian’s paradise, finding land and sea animal free food is a little more difficult. Vegetarian restaurants tend to be somewhat more expensive since they’re specialty. Still, they’re better than going to any restaurant and only finding that the vegetarian option is seafood.
Though vegetarianism in Europe is slowly on the rise, Portugal has one of the lowest concentration of vegetarians, at 0.3% of the population, according to Portuguese travel website, Go Discover Portugal. However, being vegetarian in any Portuguese city is still easier than in neighboring Spain, where the food is reliant on meat.
Italy’s Mediterranean cuisine focuses on olive oil, herbs, vegetables, whole grains, and very limited red meat, making a vegetarian pretty much set (be careful about the cheese, some of it is made using meat by-products). Anywhere in Italy is great for a vegetarian, but the northern city of Turin is just a little more welcoming.
The mayor of Turin, Chiara Appendino, announced in 2016 that she wanted Turin to become Italy’s first meat-free city, which includes incorporating animal welfare lessons into schools and a city-wide meatless day every week. You’ll find no shortage of vegetarian restaurants in the city, and you’ll be welcomed as any meat-free local.
Cuba isn’t exactly known for its food, vegetarian or not. The government supplies the people with rice, bread, eggs, meat, sugar, and coffee, and other foods are more expensive and sometimes scarce. Most locals won’t know how to cook exclusively meat-free, and that’s reflected in their restaurant culture. Seafood is abundant in Cuba, so that’s often substituted for land animal meat.
There are many street food vendors that will prepare vegetarian food, but it’s hard to find a sit-down restaurant with something that’s meat and fish free. Havana is the worst for this, with the small town of Trinidad improving just slightly.