Vegan travel might sound challenging, but it can actually be a lot of fun to get to know a new country through its vegan food.
Author of the award-winning vegan travel blog The Nomadic Vegan, Wendy Werneth, has uncovered some of the most vegetarian- and vegan-friendly cultural cuisines around the world. Keep reading to find out her top destinations around the world for vegan travelers.
Speak food like a local
In this article, I'll list some of the best countries for vegan food and also point you to resources that will teach you how to speak food like a local. This way, you can begin learning these languages either to prep for a visit, to strike up a cross-cultural conversation at a local restaurant, or just to learn more about another language and culture with values that are similar to yours.
By learning about the local cuisine to find out which dishes are vegan, you also learn a great deal about the local culture. And you get to taste lots of authentic local dishes that most tourists know nothing about!
Countries all over the world are becoming more vegan friendly these days, but there are a few countries in particular that stand out for their vegan options.
Countries with strong vegan movements
First of all, I should point out that, despite their "meat and potatoes" traditions, English-speaking countries in North America and the United Kingdom have always been at the forefront of the vegan movement. It was in the U.K. that the Vegan Society was first founded, after all.
The popularity of veganism in the United States varies drastically from city to city, but progressive cities like San Francisco have loads of vegan options. In recent years, European countries that are known for eating meat, such as Germany, have also experienced a boom in vegetarianism and veganism. And Australia's vegan cuisine has quickly caught up with or even surpassed that of the U.S. and the U.K.
The focus of this article, however, is countries where the authentic, traditional cuisine has always been filled with vegan dishes, even if there are very few vegan restaurants and most people there have never even heard the word ‘vegan’ before.
Whether it's for geographic, economic, religious, or other cultural reasons, vegan and vegetarian food makes up a large portion of the local diet in these places, even among people who are not vegetarians or vegans.
Top countries for vegan cuisine around the world
Greek cuisine may be famous for meat on a stick [souvlaki], but it is so much more than that. Thanks to the fasting tradition in the Greek Orthodox Church, there are a huge number of traditional Greek dishes that are completely vegan.
You see, in the Orthodox Church, ‘fasting’ doesn’t mean that you don’t eat anything at all. It just means that you avoid eating certain foods, all of which are animal products.
Apart from just a couple of exceptions (honey and some aquatic animals), Greeks eat a fully vegan diet when they are fasting. And there are more than 180 fasting days per year in Greece!
If there’s one word you should learn in Greek as a vegan, it’s nistisima [νηστίσιμα], pronounced nee-STEE-see-mah, which means ‘fasting.’ While the vegan movement is starting to grow in Greece, many people there are still unfamiliar with the word ‘vegan.’
So instead of asking for vegan food, ask for nistisima food, and specify that you also don’t eat honey or seafood. You’ll be amazed at just how many dishes on the menu are actually vegan.
Learn the Lingo: You can learn Modern Greek with Mango Languages. In the ‘Food and Drink Culture’ chapter, you’ll learn how to order different kinds of food when out at restaurants.
Three of India’s major religions — Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism — teach the practice of ahimsa, or non-violence towards all beings. Because of this religious tradition, India has the highest percentage of vegetarians out of all the countries in the world.
You will find a plethora of vegetarian restaurants in India, and even the restaurants that do serve meat usually have a large vegetarian section as part of their menu. And since Indian vegetarianism involves avoiding eggs as well as meat and fish, the only non-vegan ingredient to watch out for is dairy.
It’s best to ask specifically about individual dairy products such as ghee (clarified butter), paneer (cheese), and curd or yogurt, since the concept of not eating dairy is pretty new to most Indians, at least in the north of the country. In the south, coconut milk is used more often than cow’s milk, so many dishes are already naturally vegan.
Learn the Lingo: Hindi is spoken widely in India, especially in the north of the country. But it’s not the only Indian language you can learn with Mango.
If you’re heading to Kerala, you’ll want to check out the Malayalam course instead, and you can also learn Bengali for a trip to Bengal, Punjabi for the Punjab, Telugu for Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil for Tamil Nadu.
Like India, China also has an ancient spiritual tradition that encourages non-violence towards all living beings.
Buddhist monks in ancient China produced their own food in their monasteries. And, since the Buddhist teachings forbade them from killing any living being, the monks produced and ate only vegan food.
Even today, many Buddhist temples have an attached vegetarian restaurant that is open to the public. These often serve incredibly convincing mock meat dishes made from seitan. Incidentally, seitan was also invented by monks in China, as early as the sixth century!
While most Chinese people today are not devout Buddhists and do not identify as vegan or vegetarian, the local diet has always been largely plant-based. Noodles, rice, tofu, and vegetables are the mainstays of Chinese cuisine.
Learn the Lingo: If you’re planning to visit several different places in China, your best bet is to study Mandarin, which serves as the country’s lingua franca. In Mango’s Mandarin course, Unit 4, Chapter 6 ‘Food Allergies and Ingredients’ is all about dietary restrictions. You’ll learn to talk about the ingredients in a dish and your own dietary habits.
If you’re heading to Hong Kong or neighboring areas in mainland China, you’ll be better off learning some Cantonese. And if Shanghai is your destination, you can even learn Shanghainese with Mango!
Like in many European countries, the vegan movement has really taken off in Italy in the past five years, and it’s now one of the most vegan-friendly countries in Europe. But even before this recent change, pretty much all restaurants in Italy were vegan-friendly restaurants. That’s because Italian cuisine is full of naturally vegan dishes.
There are 20 different regions in Italy, and each one has its own local dishes and cooking traditions. Southern Italian cuisine is definitely more plant-based than in the North. The regions of Sicily and Apulia in particular are a veggie lover's paradise.
Pro Tip: Ignore the secondi [second course] section of the menu, which is almost always a meat or fish dish. Instead, stick to the antipasti [starters] and the primi [first courses]. Oh, and also the contorni [side dishes]. Yes, there are lots of courses in a typical Italian meal!
Learn the Lingo: Italian is a beautiful language, and learning it is even more fun with Mango. To talk about all the delicious food in Italy, check out the ‘Food and Drink Culture’ and ‘Cooking and Eating’ chapters.
There are several Southeast Asian cuisines that could have been included in this article. I settled on Malaysia because it offers a bit of everything.
Malaysian food is an eclectic mix of Indian, Chinese, and traditional Malay influences. You’ll also recognize flavors from Indonesia, Thailand, and colonial European countries.
From street food stalls to fancier sit-down restaurants, Malaysia offers all kinds of dining options. A large number of Malaysian restaurants are Mamak stalls, run by Indian-Malaysians who are of South Indian descent.
There are also smaller noodle shops, usually run by Chinese-Malaysians. The Chinese vegetarian buffets, which cater to the largely Buddhist Chinese-Malaysian population, offer lots of choices for vegans. Like in the Buddhist temple restaurants of China, many of the dishes here are made with realistic-looking mock meats.
Learn the Lingo: When learning Malay with Mango, in the ‘I Can’t Eat That’ chapter you’ll learn how to explain that you require a special diet and how to ask whether a dish contains certain ingredients.
And if you want to explore other countries in the region, you can also learn Thai and Vietnamese with Mango. Both countries have amazing vegan food, in particular, Chiang Mai, Thailand — which is consistently rated as one of the most vegan-friendly cities in the world.
While restaurants in Turkey tend to tout their meat-heavy dishes to foreign tourists, if you can look past all the kebabs, you will find that there are plenty of local specialties for vegans to enjoy.
The more authentic, home-cooked dishes focus not on meat but on beans and vegetables, and are usually cooked in olive oil rather than animal-based fats.
A great place to try these plant-based dishes is at ev yemekleri. The name literally means ‘home cooking’ restaurants, and these family-run establishments serve authentic Turkish food at reasonable prices.
Like their Middle Eastern neighbors, Turks have a real fondness for meze. These small dishes are often served as appetizers before the main course, and many of them are vegan.
Oddly enough, one of the best places to find meze in Turkey is at one of the many seafood restaurants. The tradition in these restaurants is to first bring out a plate of cold meze, followed by a round of hot meze, and only after that is the seafood served. Don’t worry, it’s perfectly acceptable to eat just the meze!
Learn the Lingo: When studying with Mango’s Turkish course, be sure to check out the ‘Food and Drink Culture’ chapter. You’ll gain insight into the Turkish food culture while learning how to order drinks and meals at restaurants using common phrases.
Traveling to Germany, Japan, or another country not listed above? Learn how to order food and express your dietary needs in a different language with the Mango learning system. Hungry for more? Log into Mango or create a free profile below to get started.
Asking all foodies — where do you travel to explore the local cuisine? Share your travel tips in the comments below!