How are your knife skills? If they’re anything like mine, they’re absolute bobbins. Although I have a cool 5-knife set in the shape of a man being stabbed five times, I only use one of the knives on a regular basis – the utility knife. I like this knife because it’s not scarily big like two of the others in the set and it’s not too small like one of the others. The remaining knife in the set – the bread knife – does get used now and then on bread because even I prefer to actually neatly slice bread with a knife with a serrated edge and not just drag a blunt butter knife into the bread, forming two misshapen lumps.
We’re almost halfway through Veganuary and, although I’m not taking part this year, I’m still a supporter of the campaign which, with 50,000 people taking part this year, is more popular than ever. In case you’re wondering why I’m not taking part this time when I loved doing it last year, I’ve had a change in circumstances and, frankly, I can’t be arsed (I know, crap excuse – it’s not like I can’t be arsed to be vegetarian anymore). Still, it’s not too late for you to join in and I’ve posted below an infographic containing some information about veganism in general (ignore the bit about you’re not vegan if you use the new five pound note. Yes, they contain bits of animals but so do smartphones and computers and you’re not going to go back to using smoke signals and abacuses, are you? But if you really don’t want to use the new five pound notes, just send them to me and I will dispose of them for you in the pub.)
I’m by no means a seasoned traveller. I’ve only ventured out of the UK about ten times, and most of those were to Amsterdam (and in case you’re wondering, I’m neither a prostitute nor a dopehead – I just love it there.)
Although I’ve never starved abroad, I can’t say I’ve been spoilt for choice of vegetarian options and usually live on pizza, telling myself it’s probably vegetarian cheese, even though I know it’s bound to be almost definitely probably not.
What I’ve been meaning to do for years is buy a copy of the Vegan Passport. This is a multilingual vegan phrasebook that includes the languages of over 95% of the world’s population so, as well as pointing to something on the menu that looks veggie-friendly, I could simultaneously point to something in the phrasebook and increase my chances of being served something that doesn’t contain meat.
There are vegetarian and vegan restaurants in most cities now but, as I’ve never been abroad with a vegetarian, I haven’t looked for any vegetarian restaurants, relying on the probability I wouldn’t starve when I got there. Anyway, everywhere serves chips and pizza. And if you go to Italy, you can get chips on pizza (and, incidentally, at Mondragone in Walthamstow).
Below I’ve summarised my experience of eating abroad as a vegetarian. Please bear in mind this is based on a couple of days in each place where I haven’t been too bothered about where I’ve eaten; rather, this is what I’ve ended up having instead of trying to find anywhere better.
Oh yeah, Amsterdam. I love Amsterdam. It’s a friendly, chilled out city and one in which I could imagine myself living. When I go to Amsterdam I live on chips and mayonnaise (if you’ve only ever had the stuff we have here, you’ve missed out) and pizza.
Like Amsterdam, Brussels is also the home of the chip-and-mayo combo. The first time I ever had a pizza in Brussels, the vegetables were raw and I don’t think I’ve had one there again. Brussels is the home of fruit beer though, so just drink a variety of those and you’ll be sorted.
‘Don’t go to France,’ they said. ‘You’ll starve,’ they said. Did I fuck. I had amazing food in Paris. I had one of the best pizzas I’ve ever eaten, a wonderful crepe near the Notre-Dame Cathedral and, although before I left England I had looked for a vegetarian restaurant in which to have my birthday meal, our map let us down and we couldn’t find it. We did, however, accidentally stumble across another vegetarian restaurant that sold Indian/Chinese fusion food and that suited me just fine (i.e. it was licensed).
I know, I know – no one goes on holiday to Frankfurt, but my friend Tracey wanted to go there because we could get a flight for a penny (and now we know why). I can’t remember eating anything in Frankfurt except the peanuts the waitress brought us with each round of Apfelwein we ordered in the only open bar near our hotel.
Heston Blumenthal said on a television programme that Dal Presidente made the best pizzas in the world so I decided to go there for my 40th birthday. I have no idea if it is the best pizza in the world as, when we got there, it was no more than a take away place. We asked if there was somewhere to sit and the manager reluctantly showed us to a scruffy table in a back room. He flung a few menus at us, then started shouting and pointing at his watch. Doing our best Sherlock Holmes’ impressions, we deduced he wanted us to hurry the fuck up and piss off, so we left and went somewhere else. That somewhere else was great. Apart from the staff and one man reading a newspaper, we had the restaurant to ourselves. I explained to the friendly waiter I was vegetarian, and he brought over a selection of vegetarian pizza for me to try so I could choose my favourite.
So, that’s my experience of being a vegetarian abroad. Yes, I live on pizza and chips. Don’t be like me – do some research before you go and don’t just hope to stumble across something accidentally. And if you want to know the top travel destinations for vegetarians and vegans, have a look at this infographic.