Sharing meals when traveling helps transcend barriers and open new cultures. Photo: IC
It is often said when traveling that "if you reject the food, you might as well stay at home." But for vegetarian travelers, some exotic foods must be ignored. This can make the effort of travel all the more strenuous, and possibly all the less enjoyable.
Ji Xiao, a vegetarian traveler who has been to over 15 countries, completes extensive research before every trip. "Travel seems to be a challenge for all vegetarian travelers," said Ji. "It requires us to be as meticulous as possible."
Ji surfs the website happycow.net before every trip, which acts as an international dining guide to healthy vegetarian or vegan restaurants.
"I am a vegetarian because I feel disgusted about the taste of meat, so I'll double-check the information to ensure if these vegetarian restaurants still exist by e-mailing or calling them," she said.
"Although I want to travel to the Middle East, I'm told people use fish soup to cook many of their dishes. It is for these reasons that I do research before leaving."
Traveler and avid vegan Huang Haifu, however, has no fear when he sets out on one of his many trips through China. He strictly limits himself to local vegetables, fruits and nuts.
"If the restaurants don't provide any vegan food at all, I'd rather stay hungry," he said. "The alternative way for me to eat is to have some edible wild herbs."
Born in a small village in Dazhou, Sichuan Province, Huang knows the wild fruits and vegetables that human can easily digest. "Actually, people can eat all the foods that herbivore animals eat," explained the 29-year-old.
However, nutritionist Yang Wenjiao does not support Huang's diet. "If a vegan traveler insists on eating herbs that only provide human bodies with micro nutrients and water, he or she will probably suffer from malnutrition," she said.
Yang suggests that vegan travelers like Huang bring some vacuum-packed food on their trips.
Yet one of the great pleasures of foreign cultures is the new and bizarre food that travelers get to taste, which herbs and vacuum-packed food cannot replace.
Shannon O'Donnell, a world renowned travel writer and winner of the prestigious 2013 National Geographic Traveler of the Year award, is a 16-year vegetarian veteran who spoke to Metropolitan earlier this week.
"Vegetarianism is generally a privileged choice in many parts of the world. In many cultures, rampant poverty means that any food source is eaten to survive and thrive, so the concept of vegetarianism is simply not understood," said O'Donnell, who has traveled to over 40 countries.
As a result of her diet requirements, O'Donnell says she has a more respectful approach to travel and foreign cultures. "I am fortunate to have the choice to restrict my diet. It has allowed me to always travel with a humble attitude and greater patience," she said.
Only a few countries have presented serious obstacles for her, with China surprisingly being one of them.
"I found China difficult at times because of the language barrier. Even with an app translating for me, the food included meat or fish boiled into the broths," she said.
Despite presenting more challenges, she doesn't believe vegetarianism has hindered her travel experiences, but enhanced her understanding of foreign cultures.
"In order to maintain my diet, I was forced to open a dialogue with the locals about their customs and dishes," she said.
"I have sampled street snacks from every corner of the world, sat with locals around campfires eating meals, and found creative ways to explore the fusion between each new food culture and my own. It has allowed me to share knowledge and friendship over food."