We have spent the last two weeks traveling throughout the countryside in Scotland, Ireland and northern England. I’ll be completely honest, while we’ve had some winning vegan dining experiences, we have also spent a great deal of time trying to seek out restaurants that can cater to a healthy, vegan diet. Eating a balanced, vegan diet (beyond simple salads!) has been a little more challenging in this part of the world than we anticipated, but it’s certainly do-able with a little advanced planning and a positive attitude!
Like most major cities, Dublin and Edinburgh have a handful of entirely vegetarian and vegan restaurants, some of which have been around since the 1980s! I’ll save the urban vegan highlights for another post.
As for the non-urban areas, here are a few tips for finding healthy, vegan food while traveling in some of the more remote parts of the UK and Ireland.
While hot soup might not be your first choice during the summer months, most cafés and restaurants, even in the most rural corners of Ireland and England, will offer at least one homemade vegan soup. It most likely won’t be advertised as being vegan, so just double check to be sure it doesn’t contain dairy. We came across some fantastic soups, such as carrot-ginger-coconut and lentil-chickpea-leek. They’re always served with hearty, wholegrain brown bread. And while it might be the middle July on the west coast of Ireland, that doesn’t always equate to warm temperatures, so a hot soup might be just what you’re craving on a cool, damp day.
Chefs are usually game for preparing something vegan just for you.
While planning your dining a day ahead requires some additional forethought, we found that booking a table (even at the more casual pubs and cafés) and giving the kitchen a heads up about our vegan preferences resulted in a much more enjoyable experience, both for us and for the restaurant. For example, in the small town of Hawes in England’s Yorkshire Dales region, the White Hart Inn’s Restaurant and Pub prepared a special vegan meal just for us, but they were only able to do this because they had some advance notice. We later learned from our server that the chef was really pumped to come up with a new dish, something so different from the standard menu items. A win-win situation!
This grilled veggie stack served with an olive tapenade and a salad of roasted almonds and zucchini was excellent. It was perfectly seasoned and the salad of almonds and zucchini was so unique. I have added it to my recipe repertoire for when we’re back in our kitchen again.
Pack a picnic before getting on the road for the day.
If you’re visiting the countryside, hopefully you’re out exploring the nearby mountains, lakes, castles and national parks. If you plan to be out and about all day, it’s probably best to pack your own lunch so that you’re not relying on the one or two nearby food vendors that most likely aren’t vegan-friendly. Even the most basic grocery chains, such as TESCO Express or Spar, will have hummus, avocados, fresh fruit and veggies and maybe even a prepared couscous or quinoa salad. Grab some freshly baked brown bread from a local bakery, bring along your travel utensils (I’m a fan of the Spork), and make some open-faced sandwiches while enjoying the views (such as this one below).
Don’t be discouraged by the meat-heavy “traditional hot breakfast”
Most accommodations throughout the countryside in Ireland, England and Scotland will offer what they call a “traditional hot breakfast” as part of the room rate. 90% of the hot breakfast options contain eggs and meat; however, if you’re looking for a savory vegan breakfast, go for the baked beans, grilled mushrooms, and grilled tomatoes. These are the standard sides dishes that accompany the traditional breakfast of eggs, black and white pudding, bacon rashers, and sausage. I realize these same veggies may get a little repetitive after a week or so, but it’s a nice alternative if you want to take a break from cereal and fruit.
Consider bringing your own non-dairy milk.
As for cereal, most accommodations will offer basic muesli with dried fruit, seeds and nuts for breakfast; however, only the major hotel chains will provide a non-dairy milk alternative, which is most often soy milk. Consider bringing your own non-dairy milk. Again, the most basic grocery stores, even in the countryside, have a decent selection of almond, coconut, rice and soy milk. Since we were traveling by car, it was easy to have a carton of almond milk ready to go for our next accommodation. Also, steel-cut oats are a common breakfast food throughout the UK and Ireland. B&Bs often prepare the oats with cream or milk, but a simple request to have the oats prepared with water is rarely denied.
Thai and Indian food might become your new best friends!
Lastly, don’t forget that Thai and Indian restaurants usually offer a nice variety of vegan dishes. Aside from a few Indian dishes that contain cream or paneer, dairy is uncommon in these cuisines, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find a delicious saag aloo, stir-fry or green curry even in some of the more remote areas in the countryside. We came across an excellent Thai and Indian restaurant in Fort William, home to Scotland’s highest peak, Ben Nevis. It was so yummy that we went twice in one day!
While urban centers often offer cutting edge vegan dining options, don’t let a lack of vegan dining options keep you from exploring some of the most stunning landscapes in the UK and Ireland. The scenery is well worth it, and don’t worry, the food situation can be easily managed with a little planning. Even though the vegan scene may be small in and around the UK, local B&B hosts and restaurant owners tend to go out of their way to ensure that your needs have been fully met. As we discovered early on in our travels in Argentina, just ask away. More often than not, restaurants are extremely accommodating and are happy to think outside of the parameters of the standard menu so that you enjoy your meal and leave as a happy customer.