Differences – Not Bad, Just “Different”
People usually travel or choose to live overseas in search of new and different experiences. As an American vegan, pronounced VE-GON in German, you can imagine I’m having a very different experience.
Here are some initial observations:
- Shop for 1-2 days, but not for the entire week. Numerous neighborhood markets and bakeries accommodate this lifestyle.
- German refrigerators are 1/3 to 1/2 the size of their American counterparts.
- Look forward to local, in-season produce. Learn to identify your seasonal recipes or embrace ingredient substitutions.
- Where’s the kale? You won’t find a year round supply of fresh kale. It’s a fall/winter food.
- Set aside any GMO concerns – everything appears to be non-GMO.
- “Bio” means organic. The label pops-up everywhere from gas stations to markets.
Imagine ordering a vegan meal at your everyday restaurant. Now, try doing that again in German, Czech, Polish, Italian, French, and well, you get the picture. Larger cities and popular tourist sights often accommodate with English menus and many people speak some English.
The real challenge begins once venturing off the beaten path and away from big cities. We politely stumble through our language barrier and look forward to the creations coming out of the kitchen. Be prepared for the
occasional creamy dressings and suspicious butter flavors, which take away from an otherwise perfect vegan meal.
When dining at a non-vegetarian/non-vegan friendly restaurant, seek out salads and sides. The salads are very good and tend to have lots of variety (olives, beans, colorful vegetables).
While traveling, vegans have also found the Vegan Passport handy. Written in 73 different languages, it explains in great detail the foods vegans do and do not eat.
Needless to say, we do our best to find every vegan friendly restaurant. While Yelp is our go-to resource in the States, Happy Cowwins Europe. Additionally, most Rick Steves and Lonely Planet books offer good vegetarian suggestions, pointing vegans in the right direction.
Definitely plan ahead to avoid the ‘French Fry and sorbet’ meal. When in doubt, go ethnic by seeking out Indian, Thai, Persian, or your on-every-corner Kebab shop.
Surprisingly, some of our best and most memorable vegan meals have been here in Europe.
- In your daypack, pack a Swiss Army Knife (but remember to remove or leave in hotel room when touring bigger museums and tourist spots where knives are prohibited), cloth napkin/bandana, re-usable water bottle, emergency fruit and nut mixes, small bottle of fruit wash, wine/beer opener, and nylon grocery bag.
- Pick up fresh fruit, vegetables, spreads and bread at both indoor and outdoor markets. Bakeries and produce stands are an easy find and inexpensive option. This is where your fruit/veggie wash, re-useable grocery bag, and Swiss Army Knife will come in handy.
On the Road
- Seek out larger roadside gas stations. We’ve lucked out with fresh pickles from the barrel, fruit, espresso, dried fruit and warm pretzels.
On the Train
- Snacks and drinks on the train are expensive. Plan ahead and pack your own lunch, snack, dinner food and drinks (this includes beer and wine).
- Larger train stations will have markets, fruit stands (sometimes all organic), and a “food court” area with vegan options.
- Pay the extra $5-7 on longer trips to reserve a train seat with a table. It will make cutting, assembling, and eating your meal more enjoyable.
- Markets and fruit stands can be found in larger train stations.
At the Hotel
- Book hotels with complimentary or inexpensive breakfast. Typical European hotels will offer bread, Müsli, preserves, cucumber, tomato, fruit, juice, and coffee/tea.
- Cucumber, tomato, and bread make a good sandwich. Add Dijon (if provided) for some kick.
- Bread with jam is always good.
- Müsli loaded with wonderful nuts, dried fruits and seeds makes a good form of “oatmeal”. Just add a little hot water. Small, single serving, boxes of soy milk can be found at the commissary. Although I wish they were sugar free, they do come in handy.
- Without a hotel breakfast option, you will probably land at a nearby bakery. The bread and coffee are excellent but may leave you wanting more.
Shopping for the Home
I’m learning our new “home” has many vegan options. The packaging, brand name, and language may be different but the products are just as good. Vegan is written on many items, making them easy to identify. I’m prepared for the odd looks as I stand in front of a product, with my phone, trying to translate ingredients and
Similar to the States, some stores offer a better selection than others and some cater specifically to vegetarians and vegans. I find myself meandering through the aisles a little more slowly and am always excited to stumble upon a familiar favorite. I’m embracing extra time in the kitchen, learning how to veganize German foods, such
as currywurst, and continue to make all my favorite recipes (some needing creative substitutions). With enough research and patience, I believe any committed vegan can find healthy staples or substitutions almost anywhere.
When talking to anyone about their time in Europe, you can be guaranteed they will reminisce about the cuisine. I am convinced we will also leave with great, albeit “different”, memories .
I do most my shopping at Edeka, the Commissary, and local gemüse (vegetable) store. For more specialty items, I head to Reformhaus in Kaiserslautern (there are two – the larger one (Eisenbahnstraße 28-30) has a bigger selection).
Examples of offerings….
Flax, oats, flour substitutes, vital wheat gluten, almond milk, tahini, raw almond butter, organic tofu, kimchi, organic spinach, frozen fruits (some organic), Naked Juice, nuts, earth balance butter or vegan smart balance, Rudi’s organic breads, hummus, produce (some organic), Amy’s vegan pizza and burritos, quinoa, etc.
Vegan cheese (potato based), smoked tofu, hazlenut milk (and other non-dairy milk), spelt four, spelt burger/veggie burger mixes, kombucha, produce (some organic), Müsli, miso, and large spice selection.
Nuts, grains, seeds, beans, nutritional yeast, sweetener alternatives, tempeh, non-dairy yogurt, tofu, many vegan spreads, tea, supplements, produce (some organic), Müsli, non-dairy milk, etc.
More on Reformhaus Shannon’s website.
Nuts, grains, seeds, beans, spreads, bath and body products, cosmetics, produce, Müsli, non-dairy milk, clothes, etc.
Müsli, tofu products, spreads, and non-dairy milk.