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A Vegetarian Travelling with Omnivores - Primarily Belgium and Paris

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We're (family, wife, husband, 13yo daughter, 17yo son) travelling next year to Europe. Son has been a vegetarian for a while, but on prior trips to Europe he's either not been vegetarian, or we travelled to countries where many restaurants included vegetarian items (the Czech Republic and Slovakia were quite easy, not surprising when you think about it, though the cuisine was not our favorite).

Next year will include Belgium and Paris, which I think will be more of a challenge (for dinner; lunch is always much easier). The rest of us foodies, most vocally our daughter, would rather not end up somewhere bad, dull, touristy or vegetarian-only to accomodate our son.

I actually think Paris will be easier than Belgium, as I've heard some places, such as Z Kitchen Galerie, have vegetarian mains (is that correct?); I know that Willie's Wine Bar and Mon Vieil Ami do, as we noticed them the last time we ate there, but we'd like to try other places.

But there are places that we would love to return to, such as Le Reminet in Paris, or the lovely little seafood places that we ate at in Brussels (de Koetse) and Bruges (Bij den Boer), that have very few vegetarian items listed, and I'm not sure if they'd be enough for a meal.

I have been told that European restaurants are not so accomodating to this sort of thing, but how unmannerly would it be for me to contact some restaurants beforehand, and see if they could provide enough food for a polite young vegetarian to have a reasonable dinner with his omnivore family? I wouldn't be asking for specially-prepared dishes, but whether they were serving enough vegetarian salads, side items, etc. that evening to comprise a meal, and whether that would be acceptable to the restaurant owners. If someone offered to modify a meat or seafood-based dish, or prepare an omelette, that would be even better, but not expected.

Generally, any other suggestions on this would be great. Most of the info I've found relate to vegetarian restaurants, which is not what we're looking for. I want to be understanding of his ethical choice, but also of our other family members who view travel as an excuse to eat a variety of great local dishes!

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  1. Two things to get out of the way first:

    1. I'm actually quite surprised by the ease with which you found vegetarian options in the Czech Republic (unless you mean a surfeit of fried cheese). Report? I have friends whose stomachs would thank you.

    2. I do not think it would be rude to ask when you call in advance. You have to call to make a booking, so why not ask?

    OK, onto Brussels: I will, as usual, recommend Kokob, which is an Ethiopian restaurant where I have yet to have a bad time. But perhaps you are looking for more traditional Belgian dishes (although bear in mind that traditional is rarely vegetarian in Belgium). In that case, do check out this thread, which seems to have been very useful:

    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/782313

    3 Replies
    1. re: Lizard

      Keep in mind that the vegetarian in the Czech Republic was 13 at the time, not quite the foodie his sister is, and with a sterner stomach than some of us adults, so he liked the fried cheese! Many places also had pasta, risotto, pizza and occasionally more local items, such as a variety of dumplings (such as Bramborové šišky s mákem), garlic soup, haluska (in Slovakia), etc. Dumplings were another item possibly more pleasing to kids a main course than adults (though I had them for lunch occasionally; I've never met a carb that I don't like). And he did get to experience pizza with ketchup on top!

      At Kolkovna, in Prague, he had a decent farmer's omelet, supplemented by very ordinary onion rings and some of my bread dumplings and potato dumplings. At Hergetova Cihelná, also in Prague (it was actually his birthday), he started with vegetarian goat cheese croquettes, then had linguine with butter and black truffles (looked a bit bland to me). We finished, after a black light theater, at Café Restaurant Louvre, where he had a very large piece of (birthday) chocolate cake. I much preferred my poppyseed strudel. At lunch at Klášterní Pivovar, he had potato pancakes and fried cheese. We actually ate more non-Czech food in Prague, as were headed after that for about a week in the countryside, where we knew the choice would be Czech, Slovakian in Slovakia, finishing off with Hungarian food in rural Hungary.

      We tend to focus on local food when we travel, and I know that traditional Belgian does not tend to be vegetarian! Hence the dilemma. I'm somewhat reassured that we could call restaurants in advance, though it sounds like the poster on the link you provided had some less-satisfactory experiences (I guess I haven't done a CH search on this topic for a while, so hadn't seen that thread). Though our son would do just fine with a meal of a vegetarian soup (he loves onion soup), a salad, and lot of frites.

      Looks like we have some options; 'T Kelderke has stoemp with eggs, which would be great for him, and a variety of more traditional items for the rest of us. Though sadly, I realized that as we'll be travelling in May, we'll miss mussels season - though be able to enjoy asparagus!

      Thanks for your input.

      1. re: Lexma90

        since he's lacto-ovo, it's considerably easier, although it's still not a walk in the park.

        The best part is that restaurants are required to post their menus (with prices) outside -- so you have a chance to see what's on offer before you commit. You don't even have to phone -- if the doors are open (and they're not in the weeds with the lunch crowd) you can just walk in and talk with them -- and make your reservation on the spot.

        While I agree that you need to make a reservation at the most popular restaurants, there are also a lot of places that aren't sticklers about reservations, so don't panic if you don't have reservations.

        You'll also find a lot of north African places (couscous and vegetables tajines are excellent), Chinese, Indian, and southeast Asian -- with a little work, everyone should be well-fed.

        1. re: Lexma90

          In Brussels, I can heartily recommend Soul Restaurant: http://www.soulresto.com/ (might want to mute your speakers first, music alert!). Although it's not traditional Belgian (hard to get vegetarian and traditional), they do some really tasty food and as a bonus it's deep in the Sablon, down a little alley, so it's fun to find. You definitely have to book here as it is super tiny! It's also not too hard on the budget.
          I've also taken vegetarian friends to L'Ultime Atome. (Having trouble finding the link to their website even though I've used it in the past, but this is their page on the local restaurant directory website: http://www.cityplug.be/en/Brussels/SX...) They have the traditional Belgian dishes here (an excellent roasted pig knuckle and great carbonnades flamande) but also several vegetarian friendly pasta dish and a fantastic hot goat cheese salad. The dauphinois potatoes are an excellent side dish to the lamb brochette, but you could ask for them separate. Bonuses: L'ultime Atome serves later than some other restaurants, is very easy on the budget, has an extensive beer list for a restaurant here, and is certainly off the tourist track but in a buzzy, social area called St. Boniface.
          Bon appetit!

      2. I mentioned a few veggie-friendly Brussels options in the thread Lizard cites above, but thought I'd toss a few more casual options into the pot:

        Mamma Roma - pizza al taglio (by the slice). Three locations (Place du Chatelain, Place Flagey and Place Jourdan). Hands down the best pizza I've had, barring only the sainted memory of Delorenzo's tomato pie in Trenton. Always some vegetarian options, ranging from potato/truffle to buffalo mozzarella/basil to fontina/courgette.

        Antoine's - Friterie, Place Jourdan. Who says a cornet of frites can't be a full meal? I certainly don't.

        Yamato - Japanese noodle bar, Place St Boniface. Tiny, so be prepared to queue, but excellent miso ramen, plus pork gyoza and ramen for the non veggies.

        If your son DOES like asparagus, you're in easy street. Even the most hard-core carnivorous restaurants will have asperges a la flamande on the menu in May. :o)

        1. But surely it wouldn't kill you to eat out just once at a veggie place, so your son doesn't have to feel the odd one out all the time!

          1. I don't want to start trouble here but may I ask "how" vegetarian your son is?

            For instance, if he is not fussy about whether cheese is made with non-animal rennet, then that makes things a LOT easier. If he is more worried about actual pieces of meat but doesn't care about meat or fish stocks in dishes, then that is also going to make things even simpler. What about animal fat used in dishes? Do you see where I am going with this?

            The reason I ask is because these are useful things to think about before your trip. I am a vegetarian who eats dairy but not eggs and cares about not eating animal products such as stock, etc. When travelling in Italy, the no-egg thing was a pain as I sometimes couldn't eat a pasta dish due to eggs in the pasta. Also I avoid cheese made with animal rennet so many European cheeses were out including Parmigiano-Reggiano, Grana Padano, etc. which are often sprinkled on so many dishes! Many lovely sounding soups were cooked in meat broth and so they were out too. In some areas, it was common to add "just a little" meat (often a pork product) to a vegetable dish for flavour, so those "almost" vegetarian dishes were not suitable for me either.

            I didn't starve as many people were very helpful and I always found something, even if it wasn't always amazing. But the point is that if you know your son's boundaries you will have a much better idea of where and what you can eat.

            4 Replies
            1. re: Muchlove

              I just now remembered to check up on this thread, sorry I didn't respond earlier!

              Son eats dairy and eggs - he acknowledges that as he's still in his growing years, that it's difficult for him to get the nutrients he needs without that. Also, he loves cheese. He does eat cheese with rennet - I think he knows what the deal is there, but I've never pressed him on it.

              On meat or seafood broth, he would probably say that he wouldn't eat them, though he doesn't always think of asking. And my moral line in the sand is that while I'm ok with him being vegetarian, it's his job to figure out and decide where his moral line is. So I'm not going to be his food policewoman for him. He probably wouldn't find an "almost" vegetarian dish acceptable.

              In the meantime, I've come up with some good-sounding possibilities: Toucan Brasserie or Brassins (and I'm guessing we'll visit the Horta Museum, so we'll be in the area); Switch (I think they have veggie main course, though possibly only at lunch); Le Manufacture; in addition to places already mentioned above. So I'm feeling better about our options.

              1. re: Lexma90

                Les Brassins is tasty, but not particularly near the Horta museum (maybe a 25-minute walk?), and isn't terribly veggie-friendly -- I think they have a vegetarian pasta, and a chevre salad, but the latter comes with smoked salmon. Toucan Brasserie is closer to the museum, but I find it quite average for what you get. A few other options in this area (I've lived here for 12 years, so it's my 'hood!):

                Mamma Roma - the pizza place mentioned above (rue du Page, a 3-minute walk from the museum). We're there at least once a week. :o)

                Orientalia - a very good, though not at all fancy, Lebanese restaurant. Vegetarian heaven. It's on chaussee de Charleroi, not even 2 minutes from Horta (walk out the door, turn left, turn left at the next corner and it's down a block on the right hand side). Avoid the Lebanese restaurant on Place du Chatelain (La Chatelaine du Liban) - it's much more expensive and not at all good.

                Pain Quotidien - yes, it's now an international chain, but before that it was (and still is) a Brussels institution, and I think it's very nice. Always a few vegetarian sandwich/salad options, and it's just opposite Toucan (so about a 5-minute walk from the museum)

                1. re: Kelly

                  Toucan have several vegitarian dishes on the menu - in general this is now more common on Belgian menus than a few years ago. In particular, pretty much any Italian restaurant in the city should be able to look after a vegetarian and this probably applies to any ethic restaurant (err, perhaps not Argentinian). There will always be a menu posted outside.
                  Antoine's? - is that where they cook the frites in beef dripping for the lovely golden colour?

                  1. re: kerriar

                    Yes, Toucan does have veggie-friendly dishes; I just don't think it's a particularly good restaurant. :o)

                    And Antoine's shifted from beef dripping to vegetable oil about 5 years ago, according to one of the staff.