For years a vegetarian (who ate way too much cheese), in 2017 I made the switch to veganism. It – totally unexpectedly – turned out to be the best decision of my life, and I was stunned with just how delicious and varied plant-based food can be. I made it my mission to sample as much of it as I could… something I’m doing pretty well at so far!
Here you can browse a selection of my food writing, covering the best places to eat vegan in the UK as well as around the world.
For years a fringe movement, veganism has now hurtled into the mainstream, with recent research suggesting there are as many as 3.5m of us in the UK. While the merits and ethics of veganism remain divisive (and don’t I know it!), there’s no doubting that it has become big business. Plant-based restaurants, shops, festivals and organisations are popping up all over the world, catering as much to vegan travellers as to locals.
Having travelled extensively as a vegan, I can attest to the growing number of specialist itineraries — and to the growing acceptance.
When you think of Spanish cuisine, chances are that most of the dishes involve animal products. Known worldwide for their love of ham, fish and cheese, the Spanish didn’t seem particularly welcome to meat-free consumers. For years, vegans had to rely on plates of Padrón peppers, grilled vegetables and patatas bravas (hold the mayo!) to get by in Spain — but things are changing. Like most cosmopolitan cities around the world, Barcelona is experiencing the same transitions, and here the plant-based movement is not only growing but exploding. Here are my picks for the best plant-based restaurants in Barcelona.
In recent years, even the most ardent meat-lovers would find it hard to ignore the rise of veganism. The most recent research estimates that six percent of Americans now follow a vegan diet — a staggering increase of 600% in just three years.
While the idea that vegans just eat salad prevails among some, the notion that you can eat healthily and deliciously without animal products is catching on. The Big Apple is a great place to discover how versatile a vegan diet can be. So where should you eat vegan food in New York City? Just about anywhere!
The popularity of plant-based food is soaring across the world, and things are no different in Vancouver, Canada. Notoriously a health-orientated city, in the past few years Vancouver has seen numerous vegan eateries pop up, and while the long-established restaurants remain popular, I found that it was the newer restaurants that served up the most enticingly innovative dishes. From the best cruelty-free comfort food to fresh mezze plates and brand-new plant-based pop-ups, here’s where to eat vegan in Vancouver.
After 16 months on the road, Vietnam was the last stop of my vegetarian food journey. Luckily it was also one of the best. While nothing beats Bali as the ultimate vegetarian destination, the veggie food in Vietnam is amazing. The local cuisine is packed with fresh vegetables, just-picked herbs, succulent tofu and a subtle colonial French influence, and the prices are staggeringly low. Here’s how to eat veggie in Vietnam.
For backpackers, tourists, or anyone who travels for work, trying exotic new cuisines is one of the best things about travelling. Who wouldn’t be excited to try authentic empanadas in Mexico, steaming-hot street food in Vietnam, or a plate of fresh gnocchi in Italy? But if you don’t eat meat, fish, dairy or eggs, things can be more difficult. Though the vegan movement is growing quickly, in many countries meals still centre around animal products, and the very concept of veganism can be met with bewilderment.
In many ways, Thailand is paradise for food lovers. You can’t cross a street without the aroma of frying garlic and chillies drawing you in, or smoke pouring from a street grill hitting your nose. Everywhere you go there’s a new temptation, whether it’s spicy papaya salad, fragrant coconut milk curry or traditional roti pancakes sizzling away.
But in Thailand, navigating what’s safe to eat can be a minefield.‘Vegetarian’ generally means not eating meat or seafood: anything else, including meat stock, shrimp paste or fish sauce, is fair game. Get it right and you’ll be feasting on a variety of aromatic and flavorful dishes; get it wrong and you’ll find yourself inadvertently chewing on some gristle. Here’s how vegetarians can eat well in Thailand.
I didn’t expect to love Ho Chi Minh City as much as I did. More than any other place, Vietnam seems to divide travellers and tourists: they either really love it, or really don’t, and Ho Chi Minh City is often at the forefront of that. Because of this polarisation, I entered the city thinking I probably wouldn’t love it instantly, but perhaps it would grow on me.
I was totally wrong. I LOVE Ho Chi Minh City – or Saigon, as everyone still calls it. Forget about it growing on me, it took about five minutes to realise this city was right up our street.
Bangkok is paradise for a food lover. You can’t cross a street without the aroma of frying garlic and chillies drawing you in, or smoke pouring from a street food grill hitting your nose. Everywhere you go, there’s a new temptation, whether it’s a spicy papaya salad, fragrant coconut milk curry or traditional roti pancakes sizzling away.
You could spend weeks wandering these chaotic streets and barely scratch the culinary surface of this city, but many people only spend a few days in Bangkok. If you’re just passing through and want to make the most of your time here (i.e. eat as much as possible), there are a few things you can do to experience how diverse and delicious the food scene here is.
It’s hard to imagine a more idyllic place than Bali. With ornate Hindu temples, verdant green rice fields and white sand beaches, this beautiful Indonesian island encapsulates the idea of paradise. As one of the world’s top destinations for holistic retreats and a mecca for yoga enthusiasts, the concept of health and wellness permeates many aspects of tourism here. As a result, it’s also a dream for vegetarians and vegans — more so than any other country I’ve visited so far on this year-long trip.
Australia is such a vast country that writing an article about the best veggie hotspots would only offer the thinnest insight into the food scene here. Most visitors tend to stick to the ever-popular East Coast, which stretches from Cairns down to Melbourne. While not the capital, Sydney is indisputably the business and tourism hub of Australia: almost all visitors will find themselves here at one point, and the city has as many exciting food options as you’d expect.
The appreciation for vegetarian food in Australia was not, on the whole, as prevalent as in other countries I’d visited (many people I encountered seemed to genuinely think I only ate vegetables), but there is still a growing vegetarian movement here.
Mexican restaurants are a dime a dozen in most American cities, and Las Vegas is no exception. In and around the famous Strip are a peppering of taco joints and burrito bars, most serving up the usual fare. But as with most things, the City of Sin has taken Mexican food one step further.
The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas has no less than 17 restaurants — a number that doesn’t seem so high once you consider its 2,995 rooms. Deciding where to eat can be a test, but as a serious aficionado of Mexican food, I had my heart set on guacamole and tacos. The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas had bigger ideas. What’s the only thing better than Mexican food? Mexican and Chinese food.
New Zealand is known for its Middle Earth–inspiring beauty, Maori culture and passion for rugby more than for its food. Yet the endless swaths of farmland and 8,700 miles of coastline mean that meat and seafood feature strongly, and popular national dishes include roast lamb, oysters, and fish and chips.
But vegetarianism has been increasingly steadily, and in the past five years the number of vegetarian Kiwis has reportedly grown 27 percent. During my time here I found that while there were few exclusively vegetarian eateries, most cafés and restaurants have several decent meat-free free options. Naturally, some are (much) better than others. Here’s where to find the best vegetarian food in New Zealand.
Known more for its beautiful beaches, rich culture and warm hospitality than for its food, Fiji has a far more extensive culinary repertoire than one might think. This group of South Pacific islands has a deep and diverse culture, and its cuisine takes influence from India, China, Polynesia, Melanesia, Rotuma and several other Pacific Islands. But just how diverse is the vegetarian food in Fiji?
Despite many people telling me I’d find it hard to find healthy, varied options, on the whole Central America surprised me by how veggie-friendly it could be. The standout was Guatemala, but each country’s people offered up their own unique meat-free treats and happily tweaked their dishes for vegetarians. So how hard would it be to find the best vegetarian food in Panama?
Costa Rica has come a long way. Described in the 18th century as “the poorest and most miserable Spanish colony in all of America,” today it is by far the richest and most stable country in Central America. Long popular with tourists due to its wildlife, beaches and exceptional coffee, in recent years Costa Rica has been busy advancing its gastronomic reputation too.
But this is a country where most national dishes (“tico” to the locals) revolve around rice and beans with seafood or meat. Remove that from the equation, and how does Costa Rica’s vegetarian food fare?
Like much of Central America, Nicaragua isn’t really known for its food. Bordered by Costa Rica and Honduras and set between the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, this country is celebrated more for its dramatic volcanic landscape than its culinary prowess. There’s a reason for this.
There are places you know you won’t find any good vegetarian food, and there are places you think you won’t find any. Belize is the latter.
The Central American nation has a lot of coast for such a small country, so fish and seafood form a substantial part of the traditional diet. Ceviche, conch and lobster are the national dishes, and the idea that a vegetarian movement would be strong here didn’t seem too likely.
But Belize is veggie-friendly — far more so than I anticipated.
Cuba is famous for many things. Rum. Cars. Cigars. Che. Food isn’t one of them.
Aside from the staples (every Cuban citizen receives a regular supply of rice, sugar, coffee, meat, eggs and bread), food supplies are often limited and can run out without warning. Traveling the world as a vegetarian, Cuba was the country I thought would prove hardest to eat well in — or even moderately well. Its vegetarian food has a reputation for being either “completely uninspired” or “uniformly terrible” — but is the vegetarian food in Cuba really so bad?
In a word, no. Definitely not. But I wouldn’t call it great, either. Let’s explore.
The first stop in Cuba is usually Habana Vieja, or Old Havana. As the vibrant and historic hub of the city, Old Havana is known for its striking colonial beauty, art galleries and museums, and countless restaurants offering authentic and traditional Cuban meals. In Habana Vieja, this almost always means meat or fish.
Restaurant staff linger outside their establishments, trying to draw you in by tapping their menus and describing their dishes with an almost feverish passion. Mention you’re vegetarian, however, and even the most enthusiastic waiters usually give up. Sometimes they’ll try to act as though the rice and beans accompanying the meat are the real draw of the meal, but usually the response is just defeated disappointment. I actually started to feel quite bad for them.
After bypassing many restaurants without a vegetarian main course, I wandered into O’Reilly 304. A tiny, trendy restaurant specializing in gin cocktails and contemporary Cuban cuisine that’s unassumingly sandwiched between two shabby buildings on the outskirts of Habana Vieja, it’s easy to walk past altogether. But it’s clear from first entry that here is something quite different.
Framed glowing reviews from the Miami Herald hang proudly on the walls, cool bartenders shake up incredible-looking cocktails, and the menu offers several meat-free plates. From pumpkin soup with Cuban blue cheese and cilantro to soft veggie tacos stuffed with beans and seasonal vegetables, O’Reilly 304 reflects the slowly developing restaurant scene in Cuba.
One thing I discovered at O’Reilly 304 is that Cubans love bruschetta. It’s on the menu at any half-decent restaurant, and O’Reilly 304 is no exception. But Cuban bruschetta is a little different than what may strike you as familiar. The onion is sweet, and spring onion and chives usually make an appearance, too. Also unlike traditional bruschetta, the onion outweighs the tomato in quantity, and an added splash of vinegar makes for an unusually sweet yet tangy appetizer. Cuban bread isn’t good, but when it’s lightly toasted and doused in oil, garlic and vinegar, it’s great.
The quality of food at O’Reilly 304 is excellent. The banana chips come served with the most delicious dipping sauce I’ve ever had — so good that I embarrassed myself trying to wipe up every last drop of it and had to write down every discernible ingredient to try to replicate it later (it definitely contained ginger, chili, sugar, cilantro, spring onion, onion, garlic and vinegar).
If a vegetarian winds up at one of the many Havana restaurants that don’t cater to veggies, keep an eye out for the street food carts afterward. The corn carts are the best: The husks are soaked in water, toasted until the corn is charred and tender, and then drenched in butter, salt, cheese and squeezes of lime. Cuban churros will also hit the spot if the not-so-veggie-friendly menus didn’t: lighter and fluffier than Mexican- and Spanish-style churros, Cuban churros are sweetened with condensed milk (surprisingly delicious) and white sugar rather than brown.
The food choices picked up, unexpectedly, in Trinidad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site at the foot of the Escambray Mountains. Walking through this beautiful town, with its cobbled streets and perfectly preserved colonial buildings, really is like stepping back in time. The prospect of getting any good vegetarian food in a town that wasn’t even connected to the rest of Cuba until the 1950s didn’t seem too realistic. But I was wrong.
At Giroud, a bizarrely cool place where you sit on old TV sets and beer crates and chairs hang upside down from walls, there was a whole variety of meat-free, tapas-style dishes: stuffed peppers and tomatoes packed with cheese and sautéed vegetables, pumpkin cream, vegetable bruschetta, diced pumpkin with onion and herbs, and cooling gazpacho. Serving beautiful and great-tasting dishes, Giroud is another example of Cuba’s emerging avant-garde food scene.
The standout in Trinidad for me was Taberna La Botija, a lively 24-hour restaurant where the country’s Spanish and Latin influences seamlessly merge with traditional Cuban cuisine. The sweet corn fritters, served with a creamy garlic dip with a hint of dill, were lovely, but the fried Cuban cheese balls were incredible. I had two portions, one right after the other.
In the beach resort of Varadero, finding vegetarian-friendly meals got harder. In most restaurants, the only vegetarian option was spaghetti napolitana. Now, I love all forms of pasta and honestly never thought I could tire of it, but when you’ve had spaghetti napolitana three times in 24 hours because it’s the only vegetarian main dish on the menu, things can get dull. Thank goodness, then, for the prevalence of Cuban street pizza.
While we’re still talking about carbs, cheese and tomato sauce here, Cuban pizza is actually quite different from most pizza. The dough is thicker, softer and squidgier, the sauce sweeter and smokier. Rather than only using mozzarella cheese, Cuban pizza usually involves Gouda — a staple in the Cuban diet and the backbone of the celebrated Cuban sandwich.
There are two types of Cuban pizza: The more authentic kind has the cheese, sauce and fillings cooked into the pizza — so you can turn your pizza upside down, shake it about, and nothing will fall out. The second is more like Italian-style pizza, where the toppings are scattered over the top of the pizza. While it may look Italian, one bite of the plump dough, sweet sauce and buttery Gouda cheese and you’ll know this pizza is certified Cuban.
Breakfast was a much easier matter all over the island, and one of the reasons why getting enough protein was never an issue. Cubans love their omelettes. Like their pizza, it’s almost an institution, and no authentic Cuban breakfast is considered complete without an omelette.
Traditionally the eggs aren’t scrambled while the omelette, packed full of cheese, onions, peppers and tomato, is cooking. As a result, the omelette is firm and easy to fold. Omelettes are typically served with piles of fresh and delicious seasonal fruit: the sweetest, ripest mango I’ve ever tasted, papaya, watermelon and pineapple. Cuba is inundated with tropical fruit, and the portions are huge. If you visit Cuba and your accommodation offers a traditional breakfast, take it.
After so much pizza, spaghetti and omelettes, I began craving salad and fresh vegetables like never before. Cuban salads are generally very simple — most consist of tomatoes, cucumbers and cabbage. Basic though they are, it was nice to have a reminder of one of life’s most easy culinary pleasures: fresh, ripe tomatoes with just a sprinkling of salt. In Cuba’s sweltering and relentless summer heat, sometimes the simplest things work best.
While I would never cite Cuba’s food as one of the reasons to return, in the face of its rapidly developing gastronomic scene, its reputation for truly terrible vegetarian food now seems a little undeserved. It may take a while before it can be considered “veggie friendly” (and vegans would certainly struggle), but the meat-free options are expanding. Changes are being made, and attitudes are adjusting. Embargoes may even be lifted. The wheels on this classic Cuban car are in motion, however slowly they may be turning.
The best thing about travelling is eating. There’s no better way to appreciate a different country and its culture than to tuck into the national dishes, and for most people, sampling the local cuisine is one of the things they look forward to most about exploring a new place.
But if you’re vegetarian, things aren’t always so easy.
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