I have been both a long time vegetarian and a long time traveller, ranging from places in the UK to exotic destinations such as India, Thailand and the area previously known as Soviet Asia so as you can imagine my experiences, both positive and negative, are varied. One thing I have found however is that as I have grown older my patience with poor catering has worn very thin so I am no longer willing to put up with poor meals and I always in advance make it clear that I expect a decent vegetarian breakfast and not just the meat breakfast without the meat. I have found this is one area of particular weakness as many hotels and guesthouses feel it is sufficient just to serve egg with beans, tomatoes and mushrooms. As vegetarians (including vegans) pay the same as anyone else why should we have so much less choice? One of the nicest surprises I had was when the Sun Inn in Clun, Shropshire, where we stayed for a couple of days went to the trouble of getting in some quorn vegetarian bacon, it really made my weekend. Similarly hotels that serve a very good fresh (and I mean fresh, not out of a tin) fruit salad go up in my estimation. Earlier this year we stayed in Malta in the Corinthia Hotel St George’s Bay and although the evening meals were pretty useless they served an excellent breakfast – they did not have any veggie sausages etc but they had an amazing breakfast buffet choice including pancakes, wonderful fruit salad, cakes and homemade bread etc., so it was a great start to the day.
Of course the safest option would be to always stay in a vegetarian or vegan guesthouse or hotel and this can be really special, for example in the wonderful Yewfield Country Guest House or Lancrigg both in the Lake District and the tiny but tasty No 15 Vegetarian B&B in Norwich all of whom we have enjoyed in the past but obviously there is not always a veggie place to stay where you wish to visit so that can be a bit limiting.
Similarly if you are going for more than a couple of nights there is always the self catering option and we had a delightful week in May in a cottage in Northumberland which had some excellent evening catering nearby in the Three Wheatheads in Thropton. We took this option however as we wanted to take our cat with us on holiday – generally self catering can work out more expensive than a B&B and who wants to spend their holiday cooking? Nowadays with vegetarian food much more available than in 1972 when I first turned veggie it is usually fine to eat out evenings and lunch though again, if you are not fortunate enough to stay nearby to somewhere like Ambleside, Brighton, Edinburgh, Glasgow or Manchester all of whom have a good range of purely vegetarian eating places you might find the choice a bit limited. I find this is a particular problem for me as I don’t like spicy food and I find many non vegetarian chefs think that in order to provide a tasty vegetarian dish all they have to do is throw spices or garlic at it and it will be fine. I also find a lot of veggie dishes seem to consist of gloopy sauces – we are not reverted to babyhood! Vegetarian pies also seem to be limited to cheese and onion so I was delighted to get one in the Lake District recently which had broccoli, stilton and beans in it for a change.
When it comes to travel abroad some countries are much more veggie friendly than others. Obviously India tops the list as a large percentage of the population there is vegetarian so the majority of food is also. I was pleasantly surprised when I visited there in 2013 that I could also get plenty of non spicy vegetarian food. Turkey is also a good country to visit with plenty of bean based dishes and chefs there are only too willing to make things up for you. Many countries that are sea bound are less veggie friendly so I am a bit apprehensive about my forthcoming trip to Norway but we will be on a cruise ship so somehow I doubt we will starve.
Most capital cities around the world are now also very veggie friendly and we have eaten very well in places such as Barcelona, Berlin, Dublin, Paris, Prague and Rome. Of course our own capital, London, probably has the highest percentage of vegetarian restaurants in the world and I have found vegetarians visiting the UK generally from elsewhere are very impressed by the dishes available.
The moral of the tale seems to be vegetarians need to research more, prepare more and complain more if we are to have an enjoyable visit whether it is for business or pleasure. So all you veggies out there – stand up and be counted and don’t let poor catering be rewarded.