An Indian vegan goes Europe-hopping
October is observed as World Vegetarian Awareness Month. So, we invited hardcore Indian vegan Rithika Ramesh to tell us how she charted unknown culinary terrain across Germany, Austria, Italy and the United Kingdom in this unique gastronomic challenge. Find out how this challenge turned up!
Vegan: A person who for ethical, moral or health reasons avoids eating dairy products, honey, eggs, meat, fish and wearing leather, silk, wool and other animal products.
On first mention, the idea of a vegan in Europe might sound a bit out of sync. After all, most cheese varieties originated there, varying styles of gastronomy emerged from the continent, which to this day are still revered, the daily meal mostly consists of animal foods, and it isn’t known to be vegetarian-friendly. Naturally, questions emerged when yours truly, a hardcore vegan, decided to take a vacation across Europe.
Being a travel addict, it was a challenge to not allow a dietary restriction by choice to hamper any plans and the challenge of being vegan, was taken, head-on. The test began as we boarded the first long flight out of the country. Fortunately, airlines offer an array of menu choices, and a vegan meal is one of them. European air carriers usually deliver on vegan meals, American airlines don't and only one Indian airline does, and it isn’t our national carrier.
A beery-good German stop
Our first stop was Germany, the land of beer and sausages. Beer and other alcohol is vegan unless it is filtered with animal bones. All this information is available on websites like www.barnivore.com. Crisscrossing through Munich, Rosenheim and Hochfelln Mountain, we learnt that traditional breweries and Biergartens have very meat-centric menus, but they also have an array of raw and pickled salads and breads that are more than enough to fill you up. Big cities have vegan restaurants that offer traditional German specialties in vegan avatars.
The vegetarian, dairy-free and gluten-free movement has grown in Europe over the last ten years. The organic movement has grown even more. Every supermarket has a ‘Bio’ section that stocks a lot of organic foodstuffs some of which are vegetarian and also vegan. The European definition of vegetarian includes eggs, so it is best to read the labels carefully. Most vegetarians don’t know this, but a lot of European cheeses use rennet, which actually makes them non-vegetariancheese.
Our next stop was Austria, where we moved from Salzburg to Grossglockner. It was interesting to learn how several companies offer milks, desserts and foodstuffs for vegans and a growing number of people who are allergic to milk and eggs. Bigger supermarkets stock these foods and have an assortment of soy, rice, almond, hazelnut milk drinks, flavoured yogurts, puddings, ready-to-eat foods like burger patties and pates. These work in case of emergency.
We stocked up on the abundant variety of fruits and salad vegetables available. The peaches, pears, nectarines, berries and cherries were all in season. If you find yourself in a restaurant, the menus almost always have one vegetarian dish, which could be easy to make into vegan. If not, the restaurants are more than happy to make the salads vegan.
Italy was next on the compass, which I believe, is one of the more easily customisable countries with food. Chefs don’t scoff at your request for a vegetarian pizza without cheese, which is denied here in many Mumbai restaurants. They’ll even whip up pasta in a red sauce without the cheese.
Most restaurants use dry pasta, which is eggless. In case of freshly-made pasta with eggs, it is always mentioned on the menu. Lemons are another Italian must-have. You can have them as is, like we did on most occasions or as a shot of ice cold Limoncello, which is lemon liqueur or as lemon sorbetto. Sorbettos are gelatos made with fruit pulp, sugar and ice. They come in varied flavours like strawberry, muskmelon, mango, pineapple and so on. Gelaterias are aplenty and the attendants always know which flavours have no dairy product in them.
Old Blighty is best
The last leg of our trip was in London, which is vegetarian-friendly, with many vegan restaurants and bakeries. A quick search on websites like www.happycow.net will guide you to vegetarian and vegan establishments. London also has an all-vegan shop that stocks everything from vegan cheese, chocolates to cruelty-free clothing, badges, shoes and even vegan sausages.
Clearly, as people get increasingly conscious of what they eat, it is only natural that restaurants and stores, globally make it easier for vegans. It can only get better from here on.
Rithika Ramesh runs a vegan bakery called The Green Stove in Mumbai.
Log on to: www.veganontheprowl.blogspot.com