Dietary restrictions certainly isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when picking a country for study abroad, but for some, the culture of food in a country may eventually weigh in on their final decision. Being a vegan or vegetarian can make living and eating in a new place more difficult, especially if local customs encourage meat-eating or experimenting with new foods.
While stepping outside of your comfort zone while studying abroad can be an enriching experience, if it’s stepping outside an ethical or nutritional life decision – like vegetarianism – it can be extremely uncomfortable and upsetting. However, do not worry, there are some countries that make studying abroad as a vegetarian student easy.
Due largely to the predominance of the Hindu religion, India has the largest population of vegetarians in the world. This makes studying abroad as a vegetarian in India a painless experience. Many dishes offered in restaurants and even from street vendors contain no meat and are prepared separately. Try delicious sarson ka saag (a traditional dish of mustard leaves and spices) served with makki di roti (cornbread), stuffed capsicums, or a variety of curry dishes without fear of accidentally ingesting meat.
India makes it easy to try a variety of new dishes while staying away from animal products, and, as an added bonus, you won’t find yourself eating the same rice-and-tofu dish everyday or endlessly gorging on breads and cheeses, as many vegetarians studying abroad find themselves resorting to. India is also very respectful of vegetarian diets, so if you choose to live with a host family, you can easily explain your diet regimen without fear of judgment or criticism.
Large cities in Thailand, such as Chiang Mai and Bangkok, have largely welcomed vegetarian cuisine. With a large population of Buddhist citizens and visitors, Thailand’s cities have welcoming all-vegetarian restaurants that aren’t too difficult to find; in fact, most vegetarian restaurants advertise with banners! Pad thai, easily the most famous dish in Thailand, is meatless in almost all restaurants, whether vegetarian or otherwise, and even in markets or at street vendors. Delicious salads with seasonal vegetables and fruits, curries, and rice porridges are appetizing vegetarian options that abound in Thailand. No vegetarian student studying abroad in Thailand will go hungry.
London, England is fast becoming a veg-friendly place, although a vegetarian diet may be difficult to subscribe to in some of the smaller cities and towns. London now boasts tons of all-vegetarian (and some vegan) restaurants, many with modern twists on English cuisine. Tons of “fusion” restaurants, which mix Indian, Chinese, Thai, Italian, French, and a multitude of other foreign cuisines together in new and interesting ways, can be found scattered throughout London, and most of these restaurants’ menus revolve around unique vegetable dishes. Vegan, vegetarian, and raw food restaurants are becoming social hotspots in London too, with live music, film nights, poetry readings, and a variety of other fun community events gradually being hosted in these locations. Vegetarian students who study abroad in London will surely find a few restaurants where they can become a regular.
Not surprisingly, most of the vegetarian-friendly places to study abroad in the world are located in areas where prominent religions require meat-free lifestyles, which is most often Asian countries and parts of the Middle East.
Jordan is an exceptional place to study abroad if looking for all-vegetarian restaurants. Even mainstream restaurants serve vegetarian options, since popular meals center around hummus and flatbreads and the vegetarian soups prepared in Jordan appeal even to meat-eaters.
South Korea is another excellent study abroad option when considering a vegan or vegetarian diet. Rumors of strange meats being served to customers aside, South Korean kimchi is a delectable dish suitable for any vegetarian, and dishes are often served with plates of vegetables, that can be ordered as solo meals with a bit of convincing.
Near Impossible Vegetarian Destinations
Despite these great culinary study abroad options, these are often not popular study abroad locations therefore these options often go unconsidered when determining where to study abroad. Although some of the most popular destinations for studying abroad include Europe and South America, studying abroad as a vegetarian in these regions can be extremely difficult.
Meat is considered the centerpiece of a good meal in South America, whether that be cuy (guinea pig) in Peru, churrasco (beef) in Brazil, or asado (variety of grilled meats, steaks, and sausages) in Argentina. Sticking with a vegetarian diet can be nearly impossible in some areas of South America, especially if living with host parents who will likely insist that you try some of every dish they prepare. Many restaurants in South America may prepare a vegetarian meal upon your request by simply picking out large chunks of meat from already-prepared dishes, which isn’t exactly what most vegetarians are used to.
Studying abroad in certain parts of Europe can make a vegetarian lifestyle difficult as well. In Eastern Europe, especially, saying you’re a vegetarian is met with the same reaction as saying you have no football team preference – astonishment followed quickly by trying to bring you over to their team, usually by sampling their food. In a large city, some vegetarian options can usually be tracked down.
No matter where you decide to study abroad as a vegetarian, you can always check out Happy Cow, which is an excellent database of vegetarian restaurants around the world, it will surely save you when you get sick of eating supermarket breads and vegetables.
Additional Things to Consider
While living with a host family while studying abroad is a truly beneficial experience, as it is more affordable and culturally immersive, keep in mind that host families regularly determine the menu of the household. Explaining that you’re a vegetarian in some places can be met with confusion, astonishment, and recommendations to “just try it!” So be sure you explore the local understanding of vegetarians before committing to living with a host family.
Before studying abroad as a vegetarian, make sure you study the language of whatever country you choose. Be sure to learn phrases such as “I can’t eat meat/beef/pork/etc.,” without being rude. Using the word “can’t” instead of “don’t” discourages locals from forcing foods containing meat on you for the sake of cultural experience.
Whether your study abroad choice is based on subject availability, cultural attractions, language excursion, or a multitude of other factors, keep in mind that being a vegetarian means different things in different places around the world. As always, do your research before making your decision and be prepared to have conversations about your dietary restrictions when needed.