Vegetarian seeks tasty food in Western Europe
October 24, 2009 4:57 AM   Subscribe

What tasty foods should an adventurous vegetarian eat in the UK and Western Europe?

I eat eggs and dairy, but not meat and only rarely fish. I'm not overly uptight about trace animal products or stock. I'll be travelling through England, The Netherlands, Belgium, France and Germany. These countries aren't generally known as hotbeds of vegetarianism, but I'd still like to try as many interesting local foods as I can.

A meat-eating friend has been joking that I'll starve - I'm more optimistic, so help me prove him wrong. I'm not worried about what I'll eat, but I'd like to expand my culinary horizons beyond "That one vegan cafe in the hippy district". Which quintessential European meals and snacks just happen to be meat-free?
posted by embrangled to Food & Drink (22 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
The French approach to Pizza is generally awesome (seriously, I crave it all the damn time). Also, crepes and omelets in France (mmmmmmmm), and frites in Belgium and the Netherlands. There are also some pretty great falafel joints owing to the diversification of Europe. If you eat seafood, moules frites in Belgium. And beer, lots of beer.

Also, don't underestimate the awesomeness of finding a great market (Farmer's or otherwise), buying great meat-free food, and picnicking somewhere pretty.

I've spent two or three months every year for the last five years in France and ate very well. You'll be fine.
posted by The Michael The at 5:11 AM on October 24, 2009


Clarification: I've spent two or three months every year for the last five years in France as a vegetarian and ate very well. You'll be fine.
posted by The Michael The at 5:13 AM on October 24, 2009


In the UK, indian restaurants are usually a safe (and tasty) bet. Most places that offer a Full English breakfast will do vegetarian versions of the same, with Quorn sausages or similar. The proportion of vegetarians in the population of Britain is large enough that virtually everywhere offers good, varied vegetarian meals, even Sunday roasts at local pubs.
posted by Cuppatea at 5:25 AM on October 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


Most draft beers in England aren't going to be vegetarian. This is a non-issue if you are pescatarian. Cask beers (which are served in England) are clarified using isinglass which comes from the bladders of fish.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 5:31 AM on October 24, 2009


Well first of all, you won't starve in Europe. Even in the rural areas you nowadays always find vegetarian options.

Having said this, you should definitely try out the local cuisine. During my time in Brighton I really loved the vegetarian option of Sunday roast. Brighton in also the vegetarian capital of Britain (if not even Europe). I have never seen as many vegan/vegetarian shops & restaurants in another city.

The German cuisine is unfortunately very meat centred. In the big cities, however, you will also find vegetarian/vegan restaurants. Typically German dishes without meat are very rare. At the moment I can only think of Käsespätzle, Germknödel, Dampfnudeln and Schupfnudeln (all South-German dishes). And of course Sauerkraut and Bier is vegetarian as well ;-) Another option is to eat at the many Turkish restaurants that usually have a lot of vegetarian offers.
posted by jfricke at 6:00 AM on October 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Its totally doable. As said, the frites (and waffles!) in Belgium are awesome. Indian in the UK (check out brick lane in London) or the wagamama chain.

Don't forget to visit the grocery stores too. Even if you can't cook, you can still get yogurt, things to make sandwiches, fruits/veggies, etc. And the candy aisle is all kinds of awesome.
posted by cestmoi15 at 6:04 AM on October 24, 2009


I've already favourited Cuppatea's comment, and add that all the curry houses I've been to will cook almost anything on the menu substituting veggies for the meat. You just have to ask.
posted by spandex at 6:10 AM on October 24, 2009


In England, there is a delicious cheap and quite readily-available snack food called malt loaf that is vegetarian and very, very tasty. In supermarkets and corner shops it is most often Soreen brand, which comes in bright yellow packaging.

I am a huge fan of Germany's Landliebe yogurt and similar products [warning; if you have safe search off, a couple of the images on that page are NSFW]. It is seriously tasty stuff. I was never able to find anything quite like it when I lived in the US.
posted by sueinnyc at 6:27 AM on October 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


"I eat eggs and dairy, but not meat and only rarely fish. I'm not overly uptight about trace animal products or stock."

You will be perfectly fine in the countries you listed (I lived in Holland for 8 years, several as a vegetarian, and traveled fairly regularly to the countries you list). You may come back wanting a cheese-vacation (I predict eating a lot of - delicious - cheese on this trip), but you will be happy and very able to eat local foods provided you clarify that you are vegetarian upon arrival at a restaurant. Your (above-quoted) needs will be happily catered to (not all restaurants will be aware that many vegetarians avoid eggs & dairy and that most avoid animal stock).
posted by pammeke at 6:31 AM on October 24, 2009


There's various traditional eats in the UK that are veggie - I love pease pudding, which is like the English hummus, and if you're in the Midlands get an oatcake or several with the veg filling of your choice. As someone said above, there's a pretty big proportion of the UK population that's vegetarian; one town I lived in had an outlet for a hundred-year old organic bakery that served veggie versions of the kind of pies (even sausage rolls) that are some of the best of English cooking.
posted by Abiezer at 6:48 AM on October 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you find yourself in Scotland, look for a restaurant (like The Ubiquitous Chip in Glasgow) that serves vegetarian haggis. SO DELICIOUS. I kid you not. Also, as mentioned above, South Asian restaurants in the UK and France are a good bet.
posted by Spinneret at 7:22 AM on October 24, 2009


Honestly being a vegetarian is super easy in the UK. Everything in supermarkets that you can eat is labeled as such, most restaurants will do the same by putting a big V next to the options that are good for you. In my experience France is likely to be the trickiest of the countries that you mention as they in my experience at least have some pretty odd ideas of what constitutes vegetables. Duck was a suggestion at a restaurant I was in once. French pizza though is generally ace ad really you could live on fantastic bread and cheese and red wine there and die happy (or I could anyway).

Hardest places I've been as a vegetarian as of now are Spain (they really like meat there!) and the US (where chicken stock is still considered a perfectly good addition to vegetarian food by many restaurant chefs)
posted by merocet at 7:31 AM on October 24, 2009


Since you occasionally eat fish, you should take advantage of being in the Netherlands and have some herring. You might also give an Indonesian restaurant a try; some will have a vegetarian rijsttafel (small servings of usually about eight dishes).
posted by transporter accident amy at 7:40 AM on October 24, 2009


Pease pudding is traditionally cooked with a ham bone or bacon so isn't vegetarian by some definitions, if it has been prepared that way. I think the tinned/canned pease pudding isn't, but the fresh stuff you find in northern butchers' shops might well be.
posted by galaksit at 7:58 AM on October 24, 2009


These countries aren't generally known as hotbeds of vegetarianism, but I'd still like to try as many interesting local foods as I can.

WAT??? More than Australia, I'll tell you that. In England just hit up all the Indian/Bangladeshi/Jamacian/etc restaurants and you'll eat like a king. For fast food, you'll have a lot of falafel.
posted by beerbajay at 8:14 AM on October 24, 2009


You're going to be most comfortable with the various ethnic restaurant options -- and I don't see why you can't treat that as "local", given that they reflect a melding of outside food cultures with local palates.

Your waistline might regret it, but there are plenty of veggie things in bakeries like Greggs or the now-ubiquitous pastie sellers across Britain. You've got Maoz falafel shops in Amsterdam and rijstatafel alongside the friteurs. Unless you really head off into the sticks, you're likely to be in places where there's enough vegetarians to make them worth catering for.

Definitely see what you can put together for yourself from shops market stalls -- bread and cheese and olives and fresh fruit and veg. (That'll make your money go further, too.)
posted by holgate at 10:21 AM on October 24, 2009


Where are you going in the UK? (Oh, and Marmite. I love the look on the face of a first-time adult Marmite-eater)
posted by Leon at 11:29 AM on October 24, 2009


Thanks for all the great suggestions, everyone! I'm very much looking forward to trying those German dumplings. That's exactly what I was looking for - food that's uniquely local and just happens to be meat-free.

Me: These countries aren't generally known as hotbeds of vegetarianism, but I'd still like to try as many interesting local foods as I can.

beerbajay: WAT??? More than Australia, I'll tell you that. In England just hit up all the Indian/Bangladeshi/Jamacian/etc restaurants and you'll eat like a king. For fast food, you'll have a lot of falafel.

You're right, I should have phrased this better. I guess what I meant is that the traditional local cuisines of these countries aren't known for having a wide range of vegetarian options. Australia is the same - if it wasn't for our large immigrant communities from Asia and the Middle East, vegetarians would be a pretty miserable lot. I'm very much looking forward to eating British Asian food, Turkish German food, and other fusion cuisines. I'd love to try Jamaican food - are there any dishes you'd particularly recommend?

LeonWhere are you going in the UK? (Oh, and Marmite. I love the look on the face of a first-time adult Marmite-eater)

Hah, I'm Australian, eating beer by-products on toast isn't new to me! I admit I'm more partial to the local version, Vegemite, but I'll certainly give Marmite a try. So far I'm only going to London - it's a bit of a whistle-stop tour, unfortunately. Looking forward to Brick Lane, though!
posted by embrangled at 5:35 PM on October 24, 2009


Belgium: Cheese steaks are a calorie catastrophe but delicious. If you eat fish, Moules-frites are pretty much the national dish and supposedly fantastic.

France: Galettes (savoury crepes made with buckwheat flour, called Sarrazin in french) with cheese, mushrooms, potatoes... whatever. Have them with Cider, the Breton way. Whilst this is a Breton specialty you'll find creperies all over france. Some fish eaters stretch the definition of fish to include snails, it's up to you whether you choose to do this of course, but they are rather tasty particularly if you like garlic.

England: London's Drummond Street is a vegetarian indian paradise. I'd say forget Brick Lane and head to Drummond St (by Euston station) instead. A lot of people will disagree with me, but the Drummond St curry houses are mostly south indian so nearly all 100% vegetarian.
posted by handee at 2:49 AM on October 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Cheese steaks! Holy cholesterol, those sound delectable - I think I'd better schedule a heart bypass on my return. Thanks for the tip about Drummond St, I'm a big fan of South Indian food so this is very useful information. Masala dosa, here I come.
posted by embrangled at 3:04 AM on October 25, 2009


Here's a list of vegetarian and veggie-friendly restaurants in Belgium. These will be your best bet for nutritious and well-balanced meals. Quintessential traditional Belgian fare is just not vegetarian, I'm afraid.

PS: handee, as a Belgian foodie I wouldn't know what you mean when you say cheese steak. I only know them as an American food: Philly cheesesteaks. Maybe you mean 'kaaskroketten' (croquettes de fromage/cheese croquettes)?
posted by lioness at 6:11 AM on October 26, 2009


lioness that's probably what I meant. It was translated as "cheesesteak" in the restaurant I was in in Bruges...
posted by handee at 7:03 AM on October 26, 2009


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