Last Updated on August 15, 2023
(This article originally appeared on the now-defunct website wellwellwell.com in 2017.)
Staying vegan can be challenging in your hometown, let alone when you’re visiting a new city. But there are certain types of cuisines that are more likely to offer options for the vegan traveler; you can reliably find meat- and dairy-free items on the menus at most Italian, Middle Eastern, and Asian restaurants. Here’s what to look for — and what to avoid.
Many Italian dishes can easily be made vegan-friendly, with the only drawback being that they will also be carb-heavy. You can offset the carb load with an array of vegetable sides, such as grilled eggplant or a hearty salad.
Although many pastas are made with eggs, some simply use water to bind the flour, so ask which type the establishment serves. If the pasta is egg-free, there should be a range of options available, including aglio e olio (garlic and oil) and most any tomato-based sauce.
Hidden ingredients to watch for: cream-based sauces, which often contain cheese and milk, and cheese in most side dishes.
Look for these staples of Middle Eastern cuisine: falafel, a deep-fried patty typically made from chickpeas, and the typical accompaniments of hummus and pita. Stuffed dishes such as dolmas, which are commonly served as grape leaves filled with rice and herbs, provide a wide range of vegan flavors, and you can often ask to have mezze (a sampling of side dishes) without meat or dairy.
Hidden ingredients to watch for: yogurt, particularly in sauces, and cheese, which sometimes sneaks into even traditionally vegan dishes, such as dolmas.
While fish plays a large role in Japanese cuisine, there’s little dairy, so spotting a suspect menu item is fairly easy. In the U.S., many sushi restaurants offer avocado or cucumber rolls, as well as vegetable tempura.
Miso soup is traditionally vegan, but ask in case the broth uses a fish base. Don’t rule out salads, which often contain protein-rich seaweed or mushrooms.
Hidden ingredients to watch for: imitation crab, which often uses crab flavoring, and fish sauces.
Most dishes are already dairy-free, so if you find a dish with meat, simply ask to substitute tofu or extra vegetables, such as a hearty helping of broccoli, which is bursting with vitamins C and K.
Bao, or steamed buns, more often than not include meat but sometimes come filled with veggies or red bean paste.
Hidden ingredients to watch for: non-vegetable-based broths, egg (common in fried rice), and egg foo yung sauce (often made with chicken stock).
Bursting with spices and flavor, the cuisine of the subcontinent is one where meat is hardly missed, even by non-vegans. Although many Indian curries contain cream and/or ghee (clarified butter), some use coconut milk or no cream at all. Several varieties of dal (lentil-based dishes) and samosas (crispy fritters filled with potato and served with flavorful chutneys) are frequently served vegan — no substitutions required.
Hidden ingredients to watch for: ghee (in many dishes) and paneer (Indian cheese that closely resembles tofu).
It’s almost impossible not to find a vegan option on a Thai menu. From noodle dishes to coconut-milk curries, Thai restaurants are likely to offer the biggest selection of vegan-friendly options. One of the country’s national dishes, pad thai, loses none of its flavor without meat or shrimp. For a dish with a kick, try one of the many Thai curries (red, yellow, and green being the most popular), which often have tofu as a protein option.
Hidden ingredients to watch for: egg, often served in noodle and rich dishes, and fish paste, used in some sauces.
Despite what many omnivores think, being vegan while traveling isn’t all that difficult. Your openness to the wide world of fruits and vegetables may also introduce you to a new ingredient or dish that you’ll want to incorporate into your diet even when you’re back home.