Lovin’ Up on Vegetarian Food ‘Round the World
Sawatdee ka all you No Meat Athlete readers (that’s hello in Thai by the way)! My name is Holly, and I write the healthy living blog The Healthy Everythingtarian. Last week, I was elated when Senor No Meat himself asked me to write a guest post. I started brainstorming right away – what was I going to write about? My upcoming marathon? Maybe. Share some recipes? I’m not the greatest cook in the world. Vegetarianism? Well, I was vegetarian (and vegan) at one point, although I do consider myself an “everythingtarian” now, of course. But it got me thinking. The one thing I do feel qualified to write about is travel. I LOVE traveling. I’ve been to more than 15 countries and recently spent a year teaching English abroad in Thailand. Thailand is where – coincidentally – I went vegetarian, which leads me to today’s post…
The wonderful world of global vegetarian food!
My favorite Thai dish – som tam, which in English translates to spicy papaya salad.
You see, unlike the USA and many Western countries, most countries eat a fairly vegetarian diet, while eating meat sparingly or on special occasions. According to The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, more than 4 billion people worldwide live on a primarily plant-based diet. That is more than half the world people! Even traveling through European countries like England, France and Italy, as well as Australia, vegetarian options were very easy to find. While traveling my way through Southeast Asia, I was fortunate to go to China, Laos and Cambodia as well, where vegetarian dishes are commonplace on all menus.
Throughout Asia, dishes were often based off of rice and veggies. These included Thai curries – often coconut milk-based – as well as stir-fries, rice noodle dishes, seafood (shrimp & fish) and lots of broth-based soups. Although meat is a definite component of many dishes, egg tofu, regular tofu, bean curd and peanuts are all common protein sources in Asia that are used in place of meat. I was surprised at just how many veggie combos can be concocted out of a few simple, basic ingredients!
I went trekking in Northern Thailand where our guide made us a delicious noodle soup made over a bonfire – totally MacGyver-style!
Even though Europe and Australia are considered Western countries, ethnic restaurants are as common as McDonald’s here. In London, the number of Indian curry houses could easily rival the number of fish & chips shops, while in Germany, you can always find a local beer joint. Just call it a liquid (vegetarian) lunch. The best dish I’ve ever put to my lips to this day is a margharita pizza I had in Florence, Italy. Dough + cheese + tomato sauce = heaven on a plate.
An example of one such liquid lunch.
Also in abundance are an array of delicious spices sparingly used in American cuisine. In Thailand, kaffir leaves, curry paste, chilli, turmeric and Thai basil add a unique, Thai-esque flavor to dishes. Indian food commonly uses turmeric, coriander and garam masala, while za’atar, ras el hanout and cardamom are frequent additions in Middle Eastern food. Basil and oregano are Italian staples while French cooking includes herbes de provence and lavender. Although more Americans are familiar with these European spices, there is literally a world of spices out there to discover (no pun intended). Check out this list for a quick look at all the culinary herbs and spices – half of them I don’t even know!
My favorite Indian dish (which also happens to be vegetarian) – Baingan Bharta! It is eggplant in a spiced tomato sauce. Yummm!
So before I ramble on so long that you fall asleep on your keyboards and yell at No Meat himself for letting me guest post, I just want to encourage you all to try something new this week! Whether you go out to a local Indian joint for a yummy curry or pick up some Thai peanut satay sauce at Trader Joe’s (which also makes excellent Thai curry sauces, BTW), embrace the veggies and spice! There is a world of delicious global vegetarian cuisine calling your name. Make a classic pasta dish with marinara and fresh basil or hell – drink that German beer! After all, it is vegetarian too :).