I became vegetarian as a twelve-year-old, compelled by equal parts youthful rebellion and righteous indignation. It started more as a dare with myself, a challenge to see how long I could last and how angry I could make my father.
You could say that my upbringing was somewhat unconventional. My father was an avid angler and hunter, who spent the summers fishing and the spring and fall hunting moose and deer. In our house it was rather more likely that dinner would be bolognaise made with ground moose rather than beef, and summer barbeques featured venison rather than pork sausages.
Dinner table arguments between my father and I were not uncommon, but with my mother fighting my corner along with me I stuck it out far longer than anyone expected. I have always been a rather determined (read: stubborn) person and I must admit that the angrier it made my father the more unwavering I became in my resolve. Such is the mindset of a teenage girl.
Over the years my indignation has mellowed, and the rebelliousness has (somewhat) faded with age, but the vegetarianism has remained. Now it just ‘is’.
In my day-to-day life I don’t generally feel inconvenienced by my meatless diet, but when I head out on the road everything changes. While major cities in Canada, the US, and the UK are relatively well-equipped for vegetarians, as soon as you head off the beaten track your options decrease. I once spent hours searching the suburbs of Quebec City trying to find anywhere that served anything vegetarian other than an iceberg lettuce salad to no avail.
I had the worst of my vegetarian travelling experiences on my first visit to Prague. I had expected that meat would feature heavily on most menus, as it does it most Eastern European countries, but I never could have predicted just how central meat is to the Czech diet. On our first night in the city we searched countless restaurant menus trying to find anything that I could eat, meeting with the same fate every time. I eventually had to settle for a restaurant that offered a few starters that were meat-free and I made the best of it. To add insult to injury, when a restaurant did have something vegetarian on their menu it was usually nothing but cheese, and I am lactose intolerant as well! I can’t tell you the number of restaurants where the only option for me was deep-fried cheese, in cheese sauce, topped with melted cheese.
You think I’m joking, but I’m not.
I have learned over the years that the vegetarian traveller sometimes needs to take matters into their own hands and prepare in advance.
Ever since the fateful trip to Prague we have made sure to research the cuisine of the country we are visiting more thoroughly, and if it looks like it’s going to be a problem we look for local vegetarian restaurants. This has made all the difference. We even found a great vegetarian restaurant in Prague the next time we visited and liked it so much that we ate there two nights in a row. We’ve done the same in Paris, and will definitely be researching some options in advance of our upcoming trip to Portugal. I made the mistake the last time I was in Portugal thinking that it would be like other Mediterranean cuisines, but sadly it was not.
So to save some of you other veggie travellers from the similar frustration, I will share with you my favourite vegetarian restaurants from my travels.
If you can get over everyone smoking around you it’s a pretty cool place to eat – moody lighting, art deco decor, and tasty inexpensive food. You won’t really find traditional Czech food here, but that’s not a huge surprise considering the aforementioned Czech meat penchant.
This is the quintessential vegetarian restaurant – mismatched dishes, tightly packed tables, and friendly wait staff. It has a nice relaxed atmosphere and the daily specials were tasty. They also give you free tap water, which is a novelty in Paris! It seemed as though it could get pretty busy though so make sure to make a reservation if you have your heart set on it.
I think cheap and cheerful just about sum The Egg Cafe up. It’s nothing fancy but the food is tasty and plentiful and was a good discovery in a city that somewhat lacks in vegetarian fare.
Fresh, which used to be called Juice For Life, evolved from a mobile juice bar to a multi-restaurant veggie powerhouse in Toronto. The food here is super healthy and super delicious – a pretty perfect combination really.
I have to give a shout out to my favourite hometown veggie restaurant. The Green Door has been around since 1988, which is pretty old when it comes to veggie restaurants. Food here is laid out buffet style and your plate is weighed to determine the cost, so you can take a little bit of everything and give it a try. Yum!
Ottawa is actually a great place for veggie food so if you want any other recommendations just send me an email!
My absolute favourite veggie restaurant, bar none. This is the ultimate boho, stereotypical veggie resto – with dreadlocked wait staff, lentils in everything, and the most delicious chai latte on the planet. The best part is that it’s a pay what you feel restaurant so you can always afford a meal here, just decide what you think the food was worth and stick it in the box before leaving. Those crazy hippies!
We veggies have to stick together so please feel free to add your own recommendations in the comments below.