France and Italy: Vegan Travel

Hello again! You’ll have to excuse the long time between posts, as I just got back from a long trip to France and Italy. Yes that’s right, Europe! I had never been to Europe (although I have been international twice before), so it was quite the experience. I saw so many sights, including the Palace of Versailles, the Mona Lisa, the Piazza San Marco, and the Colosseum. It was truly an amazing experience.

But how was the food, you ask? Well at least for me, that is a very important question. My travel partner is not a vegan, and was very set on eating traditional French and Italian cuisine, so I had to work around that. I did my research before leaving for Europe, and the idea of vegetarianism is actually very common in France and Italy. All of the places I visited (which, admittedly, were very touristy), all understood “vegetarian” meant no meat. For those ever planning on visiting Europe, you might be interested to note that “meat” does not include “fish”; “meat” only means land animals. But of course, keep in mind I only visited France and Italy.

As for the concept of a vegan diet…unfortunately the term “vegan” isn’t as prevalent as the word “vegetarian” is.┬áMost restaurants, if asked for their vegetarian menu options, will point to most pastas and salads and omelettes (In France it is common to eat omelettes at dinner!) and you can pick from that. Asking for “vegan” food often causes a strange look and a confused “Sorry, what is that?”. Instead of spending the time to explain the concept to an often busy waiter, I chose to pick one of the vegetarian dishes on the menu and ask what ingredients were used in the dish (citing allergies as my concern if they asked why). For most pasta dishes, butter and cheese were the top two ingredients I asked to have removed, for a salad it was often a dairy-based dressing. Almost all of the restaurants I ate at were able to remove the ingredients, although I’ll admit I was sometimes given a strange look when I asked for no butter. If you’re not totally comfortable with confrontation or questions, especially in broken English or a foreign language, I would suggest using allergies as your reason for being picky.

And how about breakfast? Well, in both France and Italy, most patisseries or cafes have baguettes, which you can either eat plain (I did, they’re delicious), or with jam if they serve it. Fruit is also easy to obtain.

So in summary, what did I eat most often? Well, eating a vegan diet in France or Italy essentially boil down to three specific meals you will eat every day. For breakfast, it’s a baguette with jam and fruit. For lunch, it’s salad and bread. And for dinner, it’s pasta, most likely with a tomato or mushroom based sauce. It is humorous to note that almost every single restaurant in Italy has “spaghetti with tomato and basil” on their menu. It’s very akin to how American restaurants almost always have a hamburger on their menu, for young children or picky eaters like me.

20130708_125853Admittedly, it’s easy to get bored with such a strict diet. But it was very important to me to try my best to do so because I believe that no matter where I am, I shouldn’t add to the suffering of animals. And luckily, I didn’t always find myself consuming the same foods. I was completely surprised when I found out one of the specialties of Rome is something called a “Jewish-style fried artichoke”. Although I’ve eaten my fair share of artichokes (they are my favorite vegetable), I have always steamed, roasted, or boiled them. The concept of frying such a complex vegetable that takes so long to break down to its edible parts in the first place seemed completely foreign to me, but when I tried it– WOW. It was the most delicious artichoke I had ever eaten. Soft on the inside and crispy on the outside…I dream of those artichokes now.

So in the end, I have to admit it wasn’t easy striving to eat a vegan diet in Europe, but I feel very glad that I did so. Saving animals is one of the most rewarding things, emotionally and physically, that I believe a person can do.

P.S. As a side-note, there are actually many fully-vegan restaurants in Europe. They are most often Asian-style cuisine or slightly more expensive, fancier restaurants serving the local cuisine but with vegan ingredients. I wasn’t able to try any of these places. If you have, let me know what you thought!