For years I talked about a post-graduation venture to Europe. After a great deal of saving and very little planning, one night in August I bought a plane ticket from Boston to London for September 1st, and another ticket home from Barcelona on the 23rd. This pricey purchase insured I could no longer just talk about some quixotic hypothetical adventure over drinks, I would have to act—no backing down.
I was excited about improvising my way through Western Europe, my one reservation was how to eat vegan across the pond. With some ingenuity, the willingness to explore, the occasional aid of a hostel’s internet and most importantly the ability at times to sacrifice comfort and variety for financial salvation, I successfully maintained a plant-based diet as I traversed through London, Amsterdam, Paris and Barcelona.
London is a city rich with history, an extreme tolerance towards drinking in public and a diet that consists of “chips” and other assorted fried goods dipped in a lugubrious brown sauce. I arrived at the West Hammersmith tube station with an empty stomach and an ear infection, weathered and weary from two flights and a half an hour train ride. I checked my bag into my hostel and immediately explored the neighborhood, scoping out any restaurants or eateries that could provide proper nourishment, unfortunately it was ten o’clock in the morning and many of the restaurants were closed. I eventually found a burrito joint that served bean and rice burritos with veggies and salsa. When travelling, I’ve found that Mexican places are a reliable backup for vegan meals that are both tasty and rich in protein.
The highlight in London was a Thai Chinese all-you-can-eat veggie buffet appropriately titled “Thai Chinese Vegetarian Buffet.” The restaurant was located right across from a strip club in the neighborhood of Soho—an eclectic area marked with tourists, gay bars, night clubs and inconspicuous men whispering, “Hey man do you need anything?” as I passed them on the street.
“Thai Chinese Vegetarian Buffet” had a large selection of veggies, mock meats and traditional Asian food. The “Hot Section” included veg spring rolls, sweet and sour veg chicken, “sea spicy veg mince,” “veg chou mein,” “red veg curry beef,” and “veg curry rice.” For the cold section, there was soy-based prawn, veg crisp duck, and enough plants to satisfy any herbivore—raisins, olives, green beans, broccoli, cabbage, “bamboo shoot and cabbage,” tomatoes and string carrots. My plate could be further customized with soy sauce, black bean sauce, spicy chili sauce, green ginger sauce or sweet and sour sauce. Dinner was only £6.50, even though the sign outside indicated it was £3.50 (they raised the price but neglected to change the sign). All of the food was good, and a little on the salty side, but the friendly staff and multiple refills of water were the perfect compensation for the high levels of sodium.
New vegan restaurants are a great part of being a veg traveller, but as someone fresh out of college with Sallie Mae knocking at my door, my budget was limited, and frugality was a virtue. The second hostel I stayed at in the London Bridge area was located directly across from a small supermarket. There in the refrigerated section I found a vegan-friendly brand called “Innocent” which had whole meals in Tupperware-esque microwavable cups. For only four pounds I purchased good-portioned meals like Thai Curry, Sweet Chilli, Mexican and Indian Daal. Both taste buds and wallet were deeply gratified.
I originally planned to spend a full week in London before proceeding to Paris. With three days left in my stay I thought I had seen enough of our motherland’s capital city, and one morning I woke up and thought, “Let’s go to Amsterdam.” Within an hour I booked a flight and was in a cab on the way to the airport. Before dark, I stepped out of Amsterdam Central train station and made my way down cobblestone streets amongst swarms of bikers and tourists eager to satisfy their thirst for vices without legal recourse.
In Amsterdam my main means of sustenance were falafel, a food I would soon acknowledge as my most valuable ally against hunger and debt in Europe. The Dutch city had an Arabic presence and I ate falafel from both local Middle Eastern vendors, and a chain called “Maoz.” According to their website, Maoz locations are international, but their origins lie in Amsterdam. For less than €5.00 one can get a pita full of falafel, and then access a small salad bar where one can fill their sandwich with tahini, cooked carrots, chickpeas, sun dried tomatoes, and other vegetables.
Amsterdam is nice, but its novelty wears off quick. One soon realizes that they are in one large tourist trap, and within two days I was glad I was back on train headed to Paris…
Stay tuned veg comrades!