When you hear Europe, what comes to your mind? Snow. Mountains. Lakes. Pretty cities. Amazing food. Chilled out people. Architecture. If these (or more) things come to your mind, that’s totally normal. Now, what comes to your mind when you hear Europe & Vegetarian? Heh. Its blank. That’s exactly how I used to feel when I first visited Europe. I couldn’t find vegetarian food, people didn’t understand what is vegetarian food (by Indian standards) & of course, the definition of vegetarianism changes with every country.
There are infinite options for people who eat everything & by everything, I mean literally every animal and bird. Although expensive, there are increasing number of vegan options as well. What about Indian vegetarians? Well, the real struggle for people like me is to explain what I really want and stress on what I do not want in my food. I have seen baffled looks when I say no fish, no meat, no egg in my food. Mostly they serve only salad then.
The problem with Indian vegetarianism is that we don’t like vegan food. I need milk, cheese, butter, ice cream & many other things with my food. For Europeans, they know only 2 forms of diets – Normal (Non-vegetarian) & Vegan. This middle form is difficult for them to understand. Here are few reactions that I get almost every time I ask for my kind of vegetarian food.
1. But eggs are vegetarian
This is a worldwide debate. In India, we have a category of Eggetarians as well but Europeans don’t know about that concept. So when I say I want my food without eggs, they go, “EGGS ARE VEGETARIAN!” Are you a vegan since you don’t eat eggs? But you eat dairy products so you are not a vegan! What do you eat? What are you?!
2. But fish is eaten by vegetarian people
This will be the most absurd thing to hear especially for an Indian vegetarian. I’ve heard this in quite a few cities like Dubrovnik, Lisbon & Prague. For them, anything that doesn’t move on land can be eaten by vegetarians. Again, they lack the knowledge of Indian Vegetarianism. Its better to tell them very specifically in advance.
3. What do you eat then?!
Most of them don’t know the Vegetarian dishes of India. When they go to an Indian restaurant in their cities, they order Chicken Tikka Masala or Butter Chicken & Naan (Why do they call it Naan Bread? 😐 ). Often these Indian restaurants are not run by Indians. Pakistanis & Bangladeshis don’t know what are our vegetarian dishes & how do they taste. Hence, it is simple for them to sell Chicken Tikka to Europeans.
When I tell them I don’t eat any non-vegetarian food, no fish, no eggs (even in bread or cake), the expression of astonishment can be clearly seen on their faces. They don’t know what we eat & how we survive. They don’t even know from where we get all our vitamins & other nutrients.
4. Do you live on grass?
This is usually the next question. Do you eat grass? Do you only live on salad? How does that work? It is difficult to make them understand our vegetarian dishes. So what’s the best option? Well, I don’t know about you but we actually hosted a feast in our Prague’s Hostel for people from 5-6 different nationalities. We cooked Bhaji (to be eaten with bread), Rajma & Chole (to be eaten with Rice), some chocolates from India & some Khakhra as snacks. They LOVED it! They hadn’t tasted this type of Indian food ever in life. None of the Indian restaurants sell such stuff to them.
The thing that we did might not be possible for all of you. But as Indians, we always have some food from our country with us (helps even more if you are a Gujarati). Feed them, let them taste our food & see the bewilderment on their faces! That’s fun to watch for sure.
Enough of reactions. If you are a vegetarian like me & visiting Europe for the first time, here are few tips on how to make sure that you are eating the food without meat, eggs or fish.
Europeans are super considerate about people’s allergies. Almost all restaurants, supermarkets & eateries will have a special section mentioning all kinds of allergens in their dishes. Eggs & fish are among those allergens.
If you can’t find this information on their menu, tell them that you are allergic to meat, fish & eggs. They will make sure that the food is free from all allergens. This is a sure shot way of making sure that you are eating food based on Indian vegetarian diet.
Restaurants can be an expensive affair, especially when you are making special requests. Vegan restaurants are there in almost all the cities of Europe but they, too, are expensive. What to do on a budget trip then? Well, head to your nearest supermarket! Lidl, Spar, Rewe, Coop & many other supermarket chains offer cheap & fresh food all around the year.
Get whatever you need from these supermarkets & come back to your hostel & cook. If you are staying in a hotel, get some frozen food (Dr. Oetkar’s Pizzas are the best) & heat it in a microwave. The best part about supermarket food items is that you can go through their ingredients & be thoroughly sure of whatever you are eating is what you usually eat.
3. Google Translate
In most of the supermarkets though, you will find ingredients written in the local language or maybe 3-4 other European languages. English is not widely used language, at least on their food packets. In this case, Google Translate becomes the best option for vegetarians like us.
Download the app, make a list of countries you are going to & the languages that are spoken there, download those language packages on Google Translate & you are all set. Simply click a picture of ingredients section on the packet & let the app do its job. 99.99% it comes back with the correct result! There are many other apps available but from my own experience, Google Translate’s been the most dependable app.
4. Happy Cow
If you can’t cook for some reason or don’t like frozen food, restaurants are the only option. But what if you want to visit Veg-Only restaurants in Europe? That’s very difficult to find, obviously! You can visit HappyCow.net, put the city of your choice & select vegetarian-friendly or vegetarian-only restaurants. This is one of the best websites when it comes to finding restaurants for vegetarians. Sometimes, even Google fumbles when we try to search for vegetarian only restaurants.
The problem that we face about Indian vegetarianism in Europe is because they are not aware of what we eat. This scenario isn’t going to change overnight. Its going to take time, maybe years for even 5% of them to know about it. The best way to make sure that the future visitors might face lesser hassles in terms of food is to educate people about Indian Vegetarianism. The more people (especially hoteliers & cafe owners) know about this, they will try to include it in their menus for their future Indian visitors.
If you discover any other tip or reactions, let me know in the comments below! 😉