I went to Madeira in August 2019, where the cuisine of choice for many is their fresh seafood. As a vegetarian myself and travelling with a large group of predominantly vegetarian family members, finding a suitable restaurant proved a challenge almost trickier to achieve than completing one of their famous levada walks. With some planning though, we found some great food and got a little creative with our meals. If you’re going to a place where the vegan revolution hasn’t quite hit, here are a few tips.
Whilst there seems to be an expansive range of choice in most cities, this is not the case in the parts of Portugal I have been to. I wonder if Finding Nemo was ever popular in Portugal, because they really need to listen to Bruce when he says ‘Fish are friends, not food’. Even the pesky waiters that try to lure you into their restaurants, gave up with us and wished us luck, with a look of bemusement and surprise when we said we’re vegetarian.
Max out your breakfast buffet
We often took bread rolls for our lunch with some cheese and tomato from our included breakfast from the hotel. By booking a hotel with breakfast included, you’ll save time in the morning and there is usually a continental spread, from where you can discreetly hide buns in your napkins. It was free, convenient and meant we knew we had something for lunch time instead of searching for 20 minutes.
If you don’t have a large breakfast buffet included, bring dry snacks from home you can munch on, or scope out a local supermarket that should have ready food or ingredients you can use to make something for yourself. Rice cakes, crisps and fruits are great to keep in your bag when on the go.
Using Tripadvisor and similar sites can allow you to find the best veggie options in a certain area, price range, cuisine and that come under that all important ‘vegetarian friendly’ filter. Ensure to look at the menu’s online before you go though as ‘vegetarian friendly can be subjective. Tripadvisor took me to a steakhouse once that was supposedly veggie friendly because there was an option of one burger and chips.
Ask for something off the menu
People are more than willing to take out a few ingredients or replace it with something else if it is available or possible. Eateries will often try their best to accommodate, but depending on how strict of a vegetarian you are, you might want to check if they fry everything in the same oil/batter.
Always check the ingredients
There may be surprising non veg ingredients used in food you wouldn’t expect. I used my google lens to translate the ingredients into English which was incredibly helpful. I found out certain breads and savoury snacks in the supermarkets had animal products. Either use an app, or ask somebody.
Check their staple cuisine
If you know the city is renowned for just seafood or BBQ, you’re not missing out by hitting the McDonald’s nearby for some chips. Sometimes it’s just a little sustenance we’re after, so we can carry on exploring other parts of the city.
Ensure the locals understand you are vegetarian.
Arabic: Ana natbateeyah
Dutch: Ik ben vegetariër
French: Je suis vegétarien
German: Ich bin Vegetarier (male) Ich bin Vegetarierin (female)
Japanese: Watashi wa nikku-o tabemasen (“wah-TAH-she-wah NEE-koo-oh TAH-bay-mah-SEN”)
Portuguese: Sou vegetariano.(male) Sou vegetariana.(female)
Marathi: Mi shakahari aahe
Tamil: Naan Saivam
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