Vegan Foodie Travels: Where to Eat Plants in Munich, Zurich and Venice

You may read this and think, “Eating this way is ridiculous. You’re on vacation. You’re missing out (and overcomplicating things) by not just eating what’s there. A little gluten/ a little meat/ a little dairy won’t kill you.”

And I get it. It won’t.

But I’ve spent a lot of time in the last eight years getting to know what works for my body, and understanding which foods won’t leave me feeling uncomfortable, grumpy or needlessly emotionally turbulent. If you’ve experienced the subtle shift in mood that comes from a pair of pants feeling – inexplicably – just a little too tight, you’ll know what I mean.

I went into this trip knowing we would come across some tricky food situations: the only way to know exactly what’s coming into your body, and whether it has the nutrient profile and wholeness you want, is to make it yourself. Obviously, this isn’t an option when cavorting around a new continent, without a portable set of pans and a gas stove.

There were some tough situations where food didn’t play out exactly as I would like it to at home, but what I’ve learned on this trip is that flexibility can be an option… in the right place, for the right reasons, and when the quality of the food (and the quality of the whole experience) justify it. The quality of food in Europe, like the quality of so many other things, far exceeds the average in America. We found so many fresh options, so much local produce and wine, so many handmade artisanal foods, that the whole experience of eating gelato, say, didn’t feel like participating in an industrial agriculture machine but supporting a small farm from just outside the city with un-medicated, well-treated cows and fruit sugar instead of mass produced sugar cane. These were the situations, I decided, where I would be willing to bend my ‘rules’. I even had bread and pasta for the first time since 2005. Not a lot, mind you, but a few bites here and there to partake in the experience… read on for how that went, because as it turns out, European wheat is far less damaging than the strands we have in the US. 

I’ve also had a great realization that, unlike the Amy of ten years ago, this trip wasn’t entirely about food. I could settle for not having the most perfect, the most special, the most amazing thing at every meal because the food was functional: it was the fuel to get me to the next stage of our trip, the next exciting event, the next beautiful sight. Feeling rundown or outright gross just wasn’t worth it. The great thing was that, even when things weren’t the most amazing food ever, I absolutely still enjoyed it. The specialness of being in a new country was far more exciting, and in itself enhanced the experience of eating.

It was a really interesting thing to observe, and something I think signifies the changes that have occurred in my interactions with food. 

Our flight: vegan eating in the skies

Not a huge surprise, but the airline didn’t offer a vegan AND gluten-free option. “One or the other is no problem,” they told me, “but both together we cannot do.” I know my body well enough to know that the Teriyaki Airplane Chicken or the Newark Special Pasta weren’t going to, erm, fly. Nor did I really want to eat either of them, so I didn’t especially feel like I was missing out. Thankfully, I had planned ahead and brought food along, which was also a convenient way to get the last of the perishables out of our kitchen before two weeks away. (No one likes a moldy squash.)

I sautéed up a mixture of roasted squash and spinach, topping it with avocado and gomasio – a TSA-friendly mixture in a Tupperware, which made its way through security sans probleme. (My bag was scanned twice, but that’s probably because they thought it looked yummy and wanted a second glance. Right? ;) Haha.)

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I also packed a ridiculous amount of no-bake granola bars, which quickly became a 1.5-pound no-bake granola bar blob in my carry-on. All of the batter squashed together, which, although kind of gross to look at, gave Michael and I some extra fun times pulling it apart to fashion little donut holes throughout the week. These were a lifesaver, particularly during the breakfast service on the flight: a packaged blueberry muffin, a package of cookies and orange juice in favor of my nutrient-dense scoop of cashew butter, apricots, gluten-free oats and cinnamon… plus hot water.

Lesson here: plan ahead and bring food with you that will keep. If you can subsist on packaged peanuts, go for it – just know that many airlines now forego nuts and offer Goldfish-like crackers instead. We had a good time reading the labels on those and the muffins, counting how many preservatives a product seems to need to withstand multiple trans-Atlantic trips. It’s a lot. Do your body a favor and bring something nourishing along with you.

My recommendations: cooked or raw veggies that can last without refrigeration (cooked greens, sweet potato, squash, turnip; tomatoes, carrots, celery, cucumber), hummus or babaganoush (as long as you’re not in a super-hot airport, these should be fine), nut butter + nut flours (like these homemade energy bars). As long as the consistency is at least as solid as a gel, you’re in good shape with the TSA.

Veg traveler tip #1: hang onto that Tupperware container throughout your travels. It’s not only more environmentally friendly, but it will probably help you out when you least expect it. We ended up finding some great grocery options during our trip (see below), and it was helpful to have this little around-the-world container on hand. 

Munich

When we arrived in Munich, we had about two hours to go before our walking tour of the city. True to (New York City) form, we stopped at the Starbucks on our way out of the airport. They offered soja, the fun non-English way to say ‘soy milk’, which was a helpful thing to know. As it turned out, most places in Munich have some kind of non-dairy alternative, and as much of this trip was fueled by excellent European coffee, I was glad to have a latte option.

When we arrived at the hotel, we grabbed a snack at the hotel café: surprise! They had Bircher Muesli, a staple, it seems, in Central Europe. It’s typically a blend of oats, fruit, coconut and yogurt, which originated at a Swiss spa in the 1900s by a doctor convinced that raw food could cure all kinds of illnesses (he was right). It’s a wildly common breakfast food, and this version happened to have coconut milk [kokosmilch]. Because I’d decided to be a little flexible with my fruit intake on this trip, the muesli definitely seemed like the best option. It was ridiculously good.

(Fun sidebar! Later, on a walk, I discovered a whole store dedicated to the sale of muesli: My Muesli, it’s called. Love it. I may have to experiment with making a version of this at home! It would be super easy to do with less fruit + more nuts/coconut, plus a yummy vegan yogurt substitute. Hmm. Noted.)

 That evening, the Columbia crew had a dinner gathering, and I was determined to fight off the weird flu thing I somehow acquired hours before our flight out of New York, I stayed back at the hotel to sleep. I ended up venturing out on my own to track down some dinner post-nap.

Admittedly, I was nervous about finding anything I could eat in Germany. In a country well-known for its wursts, schnitzel, and pretzels, I was fairly certain I’d be eating from the bag of granola blob all week. I respect culture! I do!  And I certainly woudn’t fault anyone for a) eating that way, or b) wanting to partake in the local cuisine. I’m sure the wurst is wonderful – I just can’t bring myself to eat it.

Much to my surprise, I found two great options right across the street from our hotel, the Hilton Munich City: a {very busy!} Thai place called Manam, and a takeout Turkish restaurant {with a decidedly shorter line}. I opted for the latter, and in very apologetic broken German, ordered a mezze plate (my favorite at home, and oh so fun to say in German: Vorspeisen! – ‘appetizer’). Going a little outside the local offerings, ie. to another ethnic cuisine, can be a great option, if you find yourself someplace where the standard cuisine doesn’t necessarily jive with your preferences.

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Hummus, stuffed grape leaves, roasted red peppers, sundried tomatoes, falafel and white beans are super-nourishing, decidedly gluten-free and had enough variety that I was pretty sure I was getting the nutrients I’d need to fight off the flu. It was really good.

The next day, breakfast turned out to be a-okay, as well. The breakfast buffet was included in our stay thanks to Columbia, and where I usually see ‘continental breakfast’ and think ‘oh good, croissants and sausages… dammit’, this was a really great situation! The hotel offered salad, tapas-like veggie dishes, beans and Bircher muesli (again!) for breakfast, so I was happy as a clam. I pretty much had the same weird smorgasbord of plants every morning for six days. (This was super-fueling, which my body appreciated given the amount of movement I made it do every day, including an awesome 12.5km run through the Englischer Garten just north of the hotel). Nothing says ‘well-fueled sightseeing distance run (or hours of walking through the city)’ like veggies and legumes.

Veg traveler tip #2: Find the grocery store. I was delighted to discover a whole vegetarian/vegan section at the Gruner Markt east of the hotel (including tofu, tempeh, packaged Indian meals, cereals), which would have been ideal if we’d had a kitchen.

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This particular store – like many others, I discovered – also had a premade hot bar, with a chickpea chana masala! Never underestimate, either, the power of the produce aisle. You can craft some pretty hilarious meals with a few raw veggies and some legumes. Remember that Tupperware container above? It might be your new best friend as you try to figure out how to combine your veggie finds into one vessel. ;)

The following night, Columbia arranged a dinner for everyone at a traditional German restaurant, in a huge event space with long communal tables and servers in leiderhosen and dirndl. The coordinator from Columbia asked me to introduce myself to the head server and let her know I was the ‘special meal’; evidently, again, ‘vegetarian or gluten-free is possible; both is not’. UNLESS YOU ASK. ;) I was so so so thankful for the gorgeous three-course meal they put together for me (since the lasgna the other vegetarians had wouldn’t work for me, and I was entirely not going to eat the rolled up beef medallions).

A gorgeous plate of fresh veggies (European produce is the best. Whoa.) 

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The most enormous plate of cooked veggies I have ever been served. It was so big, it was almost like they thought it was a joke. I ate the whole thing. Hahaha. 

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A pile of fresh fruit (including gooseberries?!) and mint for dessert. I was one happy (and very grateful) camper.

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This is what Michael had – apple fritters and walnut ice cream, which I have to admit looks awesome.

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In my adventures the following day, I decided to check out a different organic grocery store in the city center to cobble together lunch AND figure out something to take with me to Oktoberfest. (Our tour guide, Gunther, had been kind enough to tell me there would be nothing for me to eat when we got there. “Anything with a vegetable with be covered with flour,” he said. “Everything else is meat, cheese and beer.”)

I wandered through the Basic Bio Markt, marveling at the teeny tiny shopping carts…  (how smart is this?! Wouldn’t you be enticed to buy far less if this was all the space you were given?! I love that this translates to less wasted food, less garbage from packaging, less unnecessary eating and more conscious thought around what one buys!)…

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… and the Makrobiotik and Glutenfreie aisle.

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I picked up some honey-pumpkin seed bars for Michael for portable snacks…

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… and some hummus and sprouts for lunch. (Again, Mr. Tupperware was a lifesaver for combining these back at the hotel!)

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The beets I hung onto (whole roasted beets in a package? Sign me up, please. Travel convenience at its best and most nutritious.)

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This Squash Chickpea Coconut Milk soup was my Oktoberfest savior. As it turned out, there was one thing at the event I would eat: a red radish. Haha.

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This soup was nice and portable, and didn’t’ feel odd to drink in the midst of a bunch of folks cheers’ing beer steins. I cheer’sd my soup cup. ;) (I did have wine, too, which is hilariously watered down so you don’t drink a stein full of wine too quickly and end up under the table.)

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After the festivities in the tent, which were hilarious and boisterous and so unique to Munich, Michael and I headed out to the midway to check out the rides and of course, the carnival fare. In addition to the usual popcorn and ice cream stands, there were little cabins selling roasted nuts (haselnusse, mandelnusse, marroni) and every fifty feet, it seemed, beautifully lit displays of chocolate covered frozen fruit.

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We past about 5 of them, and then this happened. Of course. :0) Michael thoroughly enjoyed his milk chocolate and banana situation, while I was kind of dying over how good the dark dark dark chocolate + strawberry skewer was. After all of that festivitating, we needed to recharge, right? :0) I would recommend, sugar-free or otherwise. 

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Veg traveler at Oktoberfest tip: bring food with you. While the revelry is very exciting, and if beer is your thing, it’s plentiful, the food options for the gluten-free or vegan eater are limited. There might be the occasional piece of fruit or radish amongst the half chickens, salumi and cheese, but it’s going to be rare. If you can do pretzels, you will definitely be in luck. They’re huge and smell amazing. Michael was a fan!

On our fifth night in the city, we booked tickets to the see the Munich Philharmonic, and needed to find a dinner option nearby beforehand. There was a whole strip of diverse restaurants on the Am Gasteig, just paces from the concert hall and our hotel. We considered the Afghani, Turkish and Japanese restaurants, all of which had great veggie options, before settling on sushi. (We eat a fair amount of sushi in NYC and wanted to see how it would compare!). As it turned out, it was great!

The miso soup was awesome – packed with whole gorgeous mushrooms and seaweed…

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… and we shared a veggie sushi combo, which include avocado, cucumber, and spinach seaweed rolls. Although they didn’t offer a brown rice option (my usual go-to for a happier tummy), these rolls were super filling and extra green… which we were both feeling a need for.

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Post-concert, we checked out the hotel bar for a glass of wine and shared a couple of little nibbles: chickpea falafel with mint sauce and crudités [gemuse!] with guacamole. Even bar food in Europe is more veg-friendly than bar food in America. And it’s all so ridiculously fresh. For the win, Europe. :0)

On our last night in Munich, we went out for a great group dinner with a bunch of Columbia folks. Naturally, this meant a big bierhaus in the downtown, which is where food freedom moment #1 happened: I had pretzel. I KNOW. WHAT?! This was actually in the name of science, as so many of my gluten-sensitive clients have told me they’ve traveled to Europe and eaten wheat without the usual complaints they’d have at home. I wanted to test this out for myself, and dammit, I wanted a pretzel!

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I had just a few nibbles before feeling like it was probably not the best thing I could have done, but it was worth a shot. That silly warm pretzel was so good. ;0) I decided I’d revisit my gluten experiment in Venice where it felt more worth it.

At that bierhall, like the other one we’d visited, my best options were cooked veggies and sauerkraut, especially this dark red variety with beets, apples and red cabbage, plus cinnamon and some other unidentifiable spices. It was super dark -- the pictures I took didn't turn out. :( 

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The next day at lunch, our last meal in Germany, I did very much the same thing, combining a pile of cooked veggies (carrots, leeks, cauliflower), sundried tomatoes, some chickpeas and a few gluten-free potato dumplings into a makeshift macrobiotic bowl. It was so good. Why are veggies – simple, whole veggies – so delicious?!

Veg traveler tip #3: Look at the side dishes. If you can muddle your way through the menu and clumsily order veggies, rice, potato pasta, and legumes, you’re set. Act like what you’re asking for is the most normal thing anyone could possibly do and just own what you’re doing. Your whole person will thank you.

That afternoon, we departed for Zurich, four hours by train from Munich. Powered again by a whole lot of coffee and an afternoon of walking through some beautiful neighborhoods and the Englischer Garten once more, we headed to the train station to find dinner to take on board.

We explored the Munich train station for dinner options: Michael found some great looking sushi rolls (like, whole, uncut maki rolls that one might eat like a wrap), and because four hours of sitting + 2 cups of cooked white rice didn’t sound ideal, I kept looking. I found pretzel and wurst, pizza and pasta, and a plethora of other ‘travel food’ that didn’t really speak to me; another one of those situations where I could have just settled for what was around, but it wouldn’t have felt worth it.

And then I found the souvenir shop. With a wall of refrigerated foods, hidden off to the side across from the crackers, cookies and boxes of chocolates. There, amazingly, were little packages of meats and cheeses, yogurt, sauces… and marinated veggies.

Remember those roasted beets I found at the grocer the day of Oktoberfest? I’d brought those along in the reusable container and realized I just needed to find something else to pair with them. Marinated olives and a wee jar of pickles (the funniest souvenir food I could find), and I was set. It was weird, absolutely, but man alive, for a four-hour train ride, it was perfect.

Vegan/gluten-free travel food in a train station idea: Check out the souvenir shop. While the foods aren’t usually intended to be eaten right away, pickled foods, jars of veggies or bottles of juice or smoothies might be hiding in unexpected places. It beats eating a bag of cramp-inducing crackers or cubed meat.

And thus began our voyage to Zurich!

Zurich

If you’ve never been to Zurich, you must go. I had no idea what to expect, and as it turned out, it’s a city full of really friendly people, immaculately constructed old architecture, including some enormous churches and the largest clock face in Europe; mountains, Lake Zurich, hiking trails, wonderful public transit, and some of the freshest food I have ever experienced. 

We didn’t check into our hotel until nearly 10:00pm our first night, so our options for food on the town were limited. We took trolley down a few stops from our hotel to the pedestrian area – actually a few blocks of old Medieval side streets – and walked in the rain until we found something that was a) open and b) not 90 Swiss Francs per meal. (Fun fact! SWITZERLAND IS EXPENSIVEI’m not used to seeing prices that include a 20% tax and service included on the label. When the coffee at Starbucks starts at 7.80, it’s a little off-putting. But once we figured out that everything was going to be pricy and we’d just have to get okay with it, it was all right. Awesome public transit doesn’t pay for itself, it seems. ;)

Drawing on my experience in Munich (international food might be a great option!), we parked ourselves in a quiet, kind of sketchy little falafel place for a short bit. Falafel + salad + hummus turned out to be a great option after a long day of travel, and a quick meal with green things and protein that less expensive than many of the other restaurants nearby.

The next morning, we planned to wander around the city to get our bearings, and to save time (and money), we stopped at a nearby grab-and-go grocery for breakfast. Michael found a salad (complete with fun little foldable fork!) and I grabbed a container of pea soup and a little dish of olives and garlic… because apparently, weird combinations of food are totally appealing abroad, and eating along the esplanade in downtown Zurich is awesome no matter what you’re having.

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That afternoon, we strolled into a chocolate shop on the recommendation of Michael’s good friend who has spent a fair bit of time in the city. Lunch turned into a creamy lemon-y gelato adventure with coffee… because sometimes you need to have gelato for lunch and gosh darn it, it was good.

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That evening, we stopped back into an interesting restaurant we’d discovered on our walk, Globus. Their concept was cool – a little like Le Marche, if you’ve ever been there – where you walk through and select your own meal components (my favorite!), but in this case, the food was sorted by type (pastries + coffee, Thai curries and stir fries, salads, sandwiches, grill), and you’d pay at each station. If you’re picturing a college cafeteria, add a bunch of gorgeous black marble, crystal glassware, open-concept kitchens, funky chandeliers and a mini department store around the perimeter selling Anthropologie-like stationery, throw pillows and furniture.

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Michael tracked down some yummy looking curry from the station in the back, which had omnivorous and vegan options, all in sumptuous sauces accompanied by rice. I could feel that I was missing the experience of digging into an enormous bowl of veggies – my happy go-to at home – so I headed over to the salad bar to put together something familiar. I ended up finding a lentil-chickpea mixture, greens and plump grape tomatoes. The fellow serving asked if I wanted to try a bit of a local cheese, along with some of the most gorgeous crusty bread I’d ever seen… so I said yes. Food freedom moment #2: accepting the offer for foods I don’t normally eat, in the spirit of participation and exploration, and what I discovered? Cheese from happy cows, and bread made from non-GMO, non-crappy wheat is actually really delicious. The bread was quite possibly the yummiest bread I have ever had, and I didn’t have to eat all four slices the gentleman served with my salad to get a sense of the goodness. As my sweet clients predicated, I felt fine afterwards, albeit a little more tired than I normally would after eating just a salad. This flexibility felt like a gift, and that meal – enjoyed with my husband on a busy street along the water, outdoors, in Zurich – was a highlight of the trip.

The next morning, we planned to hike the nearby trails to get a view of Zurich from high up. Conveniently, the larger version of the grocery store was right by the main train stop we needed to take to get to the bottom of the trail. We stopped to pick up some hiking fuel. I discovered the enormous prepared food bar – spilling over with croissants, breakfast quiches, cooked veggies, antipasto, fruit, yogurt, muesli, you name it – and fashioned a portable little mélange of marinated beets, red cabbage salad with walnuts, chickpeas and grape leaves stuffed with spices, brown rice and pine nuts (protein, veggies of varying colors, and fats… score). It was uber filling and got me through to the end of the hike, a circuitous 5km+ trail, weaving through trees and past streams at a hilarious 50 degree incline until we found ourselves at the top of a lookout tower over a kilometer above sea level. This was another of those situations where ‘settling’ for fried potatoes or a sandwich would have taken away from the enjoyment of the experience and actually made the whole expedition more difficult. I was so thankful we’d found such a gorgeous variety of real food!

Lunch was coffee and a fruit-and-nut bar.

Okay. So now, la piece de resistance for Zurich vegan eating. If you are vegan and you find yourself in Zurich – or if you like food and you find yourself in Zurich – you must visit Tidbits. Oh whoa, it’s insane-o good. We stumbled across it on our first city walkabout, having wandered out of the Opera House and onto a cute street with cafes and restaurants.

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 Tidbits, ‘plant based fuel for London (and Zurich)’, or so its postcards read, immediately caught my attention. It, like Globus, is a build your own adventure kind of situation, and I was immediately in love with their funky décor, decidedly unsketchy style of buffet and the unbelievable variety of their dishes: so many gluten-free, vegan or vegetarian and raw and cooked foods. Michael and I happily built our plates and dug into a serious vegan extravaganza.

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I tested out their gluten-free schnitzel, gluten-free bread, lentil daal, tomato chickpea masala, roasted squash, sambal green beans and seaweed salad.

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Michael tried their tomato foccacia, green peas, schnitzel, bread, eggplant tagine, japaleno poppers, onion bhaji, and salad. This was barely of sixth of everything they had on offer, and we had a tough time narrowing down our choices!

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 For dessert, vegan coffee gelato and a square of vegan cheesecake for Michael.

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For me, (more!) Bircher muesli with coconut milk (why isn’t this a bigger thing at home?!) and a piece of tiramisu cake. Holy decadence, Vegan Batman. And holy necessary veggie refuel… it was possibly one of the most delicious meals I’ve had in a long time, and such a neat concept for a restaurant. I’m crossing my fingers, toes and tongue that Tidbits migrates across the ocean. I bet they’d do famously in San Francisco and New York.

Our last day in Zurich was an early one. Our room in the hotel was too tiny to do Insanity in, and it was too dark to run in a neighborhood I didn’t know, so I took my workout timer (actually a free online app in my phone) to the stairwell and did 25 minutes of intervals (burpees, power jumps, pushups and lunges) to wake up. Thankfully no one else was wandering the halls at 6:00am, so I only looked crazy to myself.

We’d planned ahead and procured train food from the grocery store the evening prior. I was already growing a little attached to the Whole Foods-like prepared food bar, so I’d put together another smorgasbord-like breakfast and lunch, including muesli (do I have a problem?) and the cabbage, beets, grape leaves and some shredded carrots for lunch. Brightly colored, balanced and with little done to them: this is my kind of meal! It kept brilliantly on the train and was totally fueling for our long day of travel: Zurich to Venice, via Milan. 

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There was also a significant amount of coffee.

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Veg food traveler tip #4: Check back on Tip #2. That grocery store or deli might be your best bet. I am such a fan of making side dishes into meals! Look for the counter where an employee might portion out potato salads or roasted veggies into containers – perhaps for use as a side dish at a barbecue? – and concoct a little meal combo from those.

Venice

After several (beautiful) hours on the train, we arrived in Venice. It’s magical. I spent most of our time in the city with my mouth agape, trying to figure out how we’d managed to step into a fairy tale and obviously fictional city. It is so beautiful (and so old!). We spent a fair bit of time wandering around – doing a requisite amount of getting lost – and also explored Murano, Burano, some beautiful churches and the Piazza San Marco. The palace there was originally built in the 9th Century, which is decidedly older than anything else I have seen in person… ever.

When I think of Italian food, I think the usual iterations we see at home: pizza, pasta, bread, things covered with cheese… which is not at all the complete picture of Italian cooking. (Incidentally, we learned that ‘Italian food’ is not a thing; cuisine in Italy is very regional, so Tuscan food is different from Florentine, which is different from Venetian or Umbrian. Neat, hey?)

In any case, the restaurant recommendations we’d received from co-workers of Michael’s included ‘a great pasta place’ and ‘a tiny local spot that specializes in meat dishes where the rich and famous of Venice eat’. Oh good, thought I. Haha.

As it turns out, Venice is well known for its seafood, its unique pasta, its thin-crust pizza, its cheeses and its wine.

We stayed at an AirBnb in the Castello, and our host recommended a nearby osteria for dinner; at this point, quite a late one because of our ill-fated Vaporetto adventure thanks to some questionable directions. [Adventure!] We took her suggestion and were glad we did. At this little local family-owned restaurant, everything, as we’d soon discover is the case in Venice, was wildly fresh. (The veggie barge was unloaded in the canal about 20 feet away in the mornings).  I sorted through the salads and the sides to concoct a fun little veggie-based dinner (caprese minus the mozzarella = tomatoes and basil (yum), and grilled veggies make a great base for those!).

Veg traveler tip #5: if you see it on the menu, it’s somewhere in the kitchen. Deconstruct the salads or sides and ask for the various components altogether. Olives, corn, tomatoes and carrots are common ingredients in insalate; pair these with some cooked veggies and beans – which are often handy for other salads or soups – and you have a great balanced meal, much cheaper than a 4-course dinner you might feel pressured to order when seeing how the menu is laid out. 

On our next two mornings, we had late breakfasts, as we’d get up early to grab to-go coffees and walk around the quiet city, then run along the water (a gorgeous way to see any city, I maintain). I had an interesting test of my intention to eat in a way that would feel best for the rest of the day, as I could feel my inner bread monster strirring. It takes very little to wake his taste for carbs, it seems! I felt oddly drawn to the veggie Panini, as though I suddenly had a free pass to eat whatever I wanted with abandon. I knew, though, that a whole sandwich – to a body that hasn’t had bread in years and still doesn’t do so awesomely with it – would be too much. Regardless of how freed I felt with food, feeling great for the rest of the day was more important than indulging in a panino. I found that my most appealing options at these brunch-y breakfasts were hearty salads, including cooked veg like grilled pepper or eggplant, tomatoes, carrots, olives, beans and corn. 

Two days in a row, we had a mid-afternoon gelato. Eight hours a day of walking, plus the added bonus of local, handmade treats, made it feel like a worthwhile splurge. Part of me worries I’ll want a midday gelato everyday henceforth when we get home, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out. It felt special and fun to walk with a treat through such a unique place; I think the appeal will be less in a city I know as well as NYC.

We went for another local-ish dinner that evening, where I explored the various verdure [veggie] options in the sides – roasted potatoes, kale, fried eggplant, roasted tomatoes, a carrot zucchini slaw, and also tried a little local wine and cheese with Michael. It was one of those luxuriously drawn-out, wine-drenched dinners, and our favorite in Venice.

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That day, we also visited the islands, grabbing requisite gelato of course. We also checked out the enormous market in the Rialto, overflowing daily with beautiful veggies, nuts, fruit and fresh pasta (in addition to still-moving fish and shellfish, which totally stressed me out and I had to walk away from). I remarked to Michael that if we had more time in the city, I’d love to grab a meal’s worth of veggies and cook something at home. Next time.

Veg traveler tip #6: hit up the farmers’ market and grab ingredients. Even if your accommodations are simple, there’s lots you can do with local greens, tomatoes, cucumber, zucchini and peppers. If you have more utensils or appliances at your disposal, eggplant, artichoke, potatoes, Arborio rice and spices could make for a very interesting meal.

Dinner on our last night in the city was at another Venetian place, as we figured we’d offend the city if we did anything else. The veggie options at this place were more extensive, so I tried artichokes, spinach and a pair of roasted veggie skewers with polenta in an indescribably yummy roux. I felt great that at this restaurant, a look at the bread on the table felt less than inspiring, and we didn’t feel the need to eat it. Another of those food freedom moments: having the option to say no when you truly don’t feel like having it. That bread wouldn’t have been worth the potential ickiness, so declining felt like the best choice. Again, lots of local wine. Good choices all around.

Veg traveler tip #7: take apart the meat or fish dishes to find the ingredients you want. The skewers I ended up trying typically came with scallops and shrimp.  I asked for them to be served with extra veg and polenta instead, and the server was happy to make it happen.

On our final morning in the city, we again got up early to walk the quiet alleys with espresso before the crowds of thousands descended on the city (which is an altogether exciting thing to see, too). After a run along the water, out to a naval base and a shipyard, and a burpee tutorial with Michael in a park, we sought out simple takeaway breakfast so we could head back to the apartment to pack. While takeaway Panini is an easy choice, one that Michael was on board with, I didn’t want to spend our travel day feeling uncomfortable. (Have you noticed a trend in the thinking here?) Takeaway salad isn’t so much a thing, at least not at the places nearby, and the grocery store was stuffed to the gills with bags of cookies and wheels of cheese. I was starting to get frustrated that I wouldn’t be able to find anything that would feel fueling.

And then, as if a funny little joke from the universe, a shop about 100 feet from our apartment opened its shutters and revealed a sign: Drogheria Vegetariano. A vegetarian shop paces from our AirBnb? You’re kidding. Thanks, Universe.

As it turned out, the jolly woman who owns it sells a variety of vegetarian and vegan goods – pasta, crackers, other baking, spices, a display fridge packed with seitan and tempeh, and a glass case full of bowls of different vegetarian sides, which one can cobble together into a takeaway container. HOW PERFECT!

(I suppose the secret veg traveler tip #8 is ‘never give up’… haha. You never know what will be right around the corner!) 

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The woman packed up a little container of roasted zucchini, baked squash salad,  roasted fennel with pine nuts and a sinfully good curried potato-carrot salad, which I happily took home and gobbled up while we packed. Man alive, Europe is so surprising sometimes!

I had perhaps the most interesting vegan food surprise of all on our train ride between Venice and Munich, where we headed on Saturday afternoon to catch our Sunday flight back to New York. The train station was decidedly low on real food options (white bread sandwiches and bags of cookies, again), so Michael and I elected to take our chances on the food on board the train, which we hadn’t yet had reason to explore. Surprise! Deutsche Bahn trains have excellent food! We took a little voyage down to the dining car about 5 hours into the trip to see what the situation was like – by the way, such an interesting experience to eat en route in a train! – and we were pleasantly surprised by the menu! Full of real food! Actually yummy real food! Michael found a curry he was very excited about, and I found, of all things, smashed pumpkin with potato dumplings and salad.

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I am going to have to try to recreate this ‘Austrian special’, because the smashed pumpkin was so so so yummy. I’m glad the options were as nourishing as they were, and in retrospect, I would have been happy to check out the menu in advance.

Veg traveler tip #9: if you’re taking an extended trip by plane, train or boat, research the menu in advance. You might save a lot of time and headache searching for on-land options if you know your method of transport could feed you something fueling instead.

By the time we got back to Munich Airport to fly home, I was thoroughly convinced that foodie things couldn't have gone any better on our trip. And then, waiting to check in, I noticed a grocery store - yes, a full grocery store, complete with produce, premade foods and all kinds of snack-y options - on the Arrivals level. What. For real?! I loaded up on a quinoa salad and a lentil salad to get through the 9.5 hour flight, assuming the on-board options would again be chicken or pasta.

And then would you believe, there was a Chickpea Masala with Sauteed Spinach and Brown Rice as one of the lunch offerings? I couldn't believe it, but man alive, was I happy. It was actually really good, and made up for the fact I the afternoon meal had only one option: Turkey and Gouda on a Cheese Bun.  I was so glad I had the lentil salad. :) 

Veg traveler tip #10: Thorougly scope out the airport for handy travel foods to cover your bases in case the in-flight goodies are no bueno. Apparently not all countries are required to have the same Hudson News, Dunkin Donuts and greasy Chinese food that all American airports seem to have. Bonus. :) 

So, in conclusion...

After countless coffees, more gelato and tastes of bread than I have had in years, international grocery store explorations, cobbled-together eaten-on-a-bench meals and some of the most delicious vegetable dishes I have ever had, I would say our trip, food-wise, and in so many other ways, was a big success. I feel like a learned a lot about my relationship with food, one that is ever-evolving and constantly intriguing, and that exploring it actually gave a lot more depth to our time in Europe. The best trips are the ones where you come back feeling changed, and in a lot of ways, that is so true for me this time around.

 It’s hard to know a culture without participating in their food traditions, and it’s also hard to fully experience a new place when you feel like crap. Balancing these two sides by knowing your body, honoring your preferences and limitations, and also opening yourself to flexibility, can lead to a richer, lasting experience on so many levels. I am enormously grateful for the lessons and the perspective afforded me on this time away. 

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4 comments on “Vegan Foodie Travels: Where to Eat Plants in Munich, Zurich and Venice
  1. Great post! Somehow I still have not been to Venice, Zurich or Munich, even though I live in Germany. I did go to Tidbits in Bern though and loved it. Good tips with the sides! Sometimes I like the sides more anyway!
    Nicole @ Vegan Nom Noms recently posted…Back to Germany & My American Vegan Food HaulMy Profile

    • amyheight says:

      Thanks, Nicole! I agree: the sides are usually the best part. ;) Where in Germany are you? Any other vegan recommendations there? Best!

  2. Andrea (in Boston) says:

    Hi Amy, What a great trip! I love Munich, and it’s surprising to most people, but Germany and Austria are quite veg-friendly. We are going to Italy for most of April 2015, cannot wait! I know it is not too vegan friendly. I found the place you mentioned in Castello; it’s called Le Spighe. It’s on Happy Cow, which we always check before traveling.
    I never travel without a few things: Clif Bars &/or LaraBars and my tube of peanut butter. You can buy these self-fill tubes at REI, they are awesome. I also have a couple of those bowls that collapse to almost flat. Camping supplies are the best, like the water ‘bottles’ that flatten as you empty them, and they weigh nothing.
    I want to point out a misconception about Europe, similar to the myth American advertisements try to peddle about happy cows in pastures. They most certainly get most of their meat and dairy from factory farms now. Veal is very popular and of course, the calves are a product of the dairy industry.
    Any tourist tips for Venice? Anything you thought was great or not worth your time?

    • amyheight says:

      Hi Andrea! Thanks tons for this – such great ideas! Yes, you’re absolutely right about the food system: while it’s definitely better and smaller than the American system, there are very few parts of the world where raising animals for food doesn’t cross some ethical and environmental lines. We were uber diligent in our travels to ask about where and how the animals were raised, and I definitely put my foot down about Michael ordering veal anywhere. I can’t even take the idea of that. It was great to have so many veggie options available. Thank you for your insight!!

      I’m so excited for your time in Italy next year – that will be amazing! I would check out the Doge’s Palace in Venice for sure; I’ve heard the Basilica next door is neat, but not the best or most impressive. If there’s a line, skip it. But do go to the Palace. It’s unreal. We took the boats over to Murano and Burano, which I’d recommend — such gorgeous little towns with interesting art! My favorite part of the city was just wandering around and getting lost. I’d highly recommend. ;)

      I will check out Happy Cow – thank you! xx

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