If you are a vegetarian or just want to eat more greens on the road, then Asia can sometimes be a delight or a challenge depending on where you happen to be travelling to. Some countries in Asia celebrate the very best of veggie packed fare whereas other places fully embrace meat based meals leaving little choice for those looking for something different.
Your vegetarian dining experience in Asia will also doubtless be based on how strict you want to be. If you eat seafood or fish for example then you will have far more choice than if you eschew all animal products. Some things to look out for also include condiments like fish sauce which are often added to dishes in countries like Thailand, even if the plate itself contains no meat or seafood. In other countries noodle soups may also have been cooked in stock make from boiling beef or pork bones, so if you are very strict about your diet then it is best to ask about this in advance.
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Of course India has to be at the top of the list as this country has the lowest meat consumption in the world. The reason why vegetarianism is so popular in India is usually for religious reasons as many Hindus do not eat meat. As such, this has spawned an amazing array of delicious vegetarian dishes as well as local specialities in each of the different regions. Some of the highlights of India include things like vegetarian Thali sets where you will get to enjoy a variety of individual veggies dishes served on a round platter, or comfort foods like daal which is a creamy curry made of lentils. Even street food snacks like samosas usually come with just vegetable based options and this is arguably the best place in the world to stick to a plan based diet. Even the chef and food writer Anthony Bourdain claimed that he could be vegetarian in India which is high praise indeed.
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Thailand is (not unfairly) known for its love of pork, but due to the fact that it has a large Buddhist population you will also find a selection of vegetarian options. Many Buddhists in Thailand don’t eat meat and religious locations like Buddhist temples will often have vegetarian eateries attached to them that are also open to the public. If you can’t find a fully vegetarian restaurant or cafe, then a good tip is to remember that many Thai restaurants cook your food in front of you to order which makes it much easier to control the ingredients used. Explain your dietary requirements and then keep an eye out for any meat or seafood products to make sure that they don’t ‘accidentally’ end up in your finished meal. As with many countries in Asia, replacements for meat often come in the form of tofu or large mushrooms and other vegetables. Many Thai salads can be prepared without animal products as can vegetable curries or stir fries.
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Japan is often not immediately thought of as a top vegetarian destination but if you are heading to cities like Kyoto then you are in for a treat. This city in particular has a wealth of Buddhist temples with attached eateries and the food served here is not only vegetarian but also vegan. If you are in other parts of the country then many dishes in Japan don’t include meat such as soba noodles, okonomiyaki (a kind of pancake made by mixing eggs with shredded cabbage) and vegetable tempura. If you are travelling as vegetarian on the road your biggest issue in Asia may be that you are stuck with bland meals and little choice, but fortunately in Japan this won’t be a problem.
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On the face of it Indonesia doesn’t have a great vegetarian food scene and only a small percentage of the population doesn’t eat meat. The trick when travelling here however is to seek out the many vegetarian options available in eateries that also serve meat. One of the cornerstones of Indonesian food is tempeh, a kind of compressed cake that is made of soybeans which is the perfect substitute for meat (and often used as a cheap replacement). You can also choose from salads like the famous gado-gado made from steamed vegetables with a zingy peanut sauce, or go for choices like the ubiquitous nasi goreng (fried rice) which can be easily customized so that it comes without any meat or seafood.
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5) Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country but vegetarian food on its own (such as dedicated veggie restaurants) is not as widespread as in many other parts of Asia. Still, lots of dishes in this country don’t come with meat and so it is easy to pick and choose according to your diet. Across the country you will find a huge range of vegetables curries as well as hoppers which are a kind of pancake made from coconut milk and rice flour. If you are in bigger cities like Colombo then you will have more choice as there are a number of restaurants from South India that serve only vegetarian meals. If you are looking for easy vegetarian snacks in Sri Lanka then the country has a bounty of colourful tropical fruit to enjoy.
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