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Vegetarian Dining in the Caribbean

For vegetarians, dining out presents many challenges; finding vegan choices can be even more frustrating. Add travel to the mix and you’ve got a potential recipe for disaster. While the Caribbean’s abundance of seafood will suit pescetarians, discovering true vegetarian meals requires a bit more work. Fortunately, a little research before you go will help find dining choices which are not only suitable but delicious.

If you’re planning to take a cruise, you’re in luck. A number of cruise lines offer vegetarian options, a complete vegetarian menu, or can make you special dishes on request. Celebrity Cruises has received rave reviews for their excellent gourmet vegetarian cuisine, which tailors meals to diners’ needs. NCL and Royal Caribbean also rank highly with vegetarian passengers. Carnival Cruise Lines, on the other hand, may be one to avoid. Although they offer one vegetarian item per menu and claim they can accommodate vegetarian requests, they don’t have a dietician on board, so their ability to make changes is limited. For vegans, this can be a big problem. One vegan reports that she was assured before the cruise that her diet would be no trouble; however, all she could actually eat was bread, lettuce, and an occasional baked potato. When booking a cruise with any company, tell them you’re vegetarian or vegan and ask any questions you may have about menu offerings.

Land-lubbers may find the easiest way to assure a variety of vegetarian choices is to stay at a resort with several restaurants. The Sandals chain, for example, includes up to eleven eateries at each location. Their menus typically include at least one vegetarian option in each category. While that may sound limiting, resort menus tend to change frequently, often nightly. Resorts also usually have a buffet, so you’ll be able to pick and choose. Sample menus are generally posted on a resort’s website, so logging online may be one way to do a bit of investigative work. Still, it’s a good idea to check with the resort before booking to find out how veg-friendly they are.

Higher-end resorts are often more conscious of serving healthy food, including vegetarian dishes. Some of them use locally grown and/or organic items in their cooking. Even if you can’t afford to stay there, you may be able to eat at their restaurants. For instance, the Sugar Mill Restaurant at the Sugar Mill Hotel (British Virgin Islands) is a local treat that’s worth the trip. Voted “The Best Restaurant in the Caribbean” by readers of Caribbean Travel & Life, this gourmet restaurant’s ever-changing menu always offers several vegetarian dishes and its atmosphere makes it a great place for a special night out.

Meat-free travelers interested in visiting the Dominican Republic should consider Sirenis Hotels, which have an all-vegetarian restaurant at their Punta Cana resort complex. Comprised of Sirenis Cocotal Beach Resort and Sirenis Tropical Suites, the vegetarian restaurant seems to be on the all-inclusive plan of Tropical Suites but not Cocotal Beach Resort. If you prefer to stay at Cocotal, check with them to find out if you’ll be able to eat at the vegetarian restaurant.

As far as specific countries go, Jamaica is veggie heaven. Because Rastafarians are vegetarian, options abound. The key word to remember is “Ital,” derived from “vital.” Ital cooking uses pure, organic ingredients, and is essentially vegan. However, some dishes may contain honey, so if you don’t eat honey be sure to ask about it. In fact, Ital is a good word to look out for anywhere, as Ital food can be found in other countries, too.

Puerto Rico also has a number of cafés and restaurants which are either all-vegetarian or veg-friendly. If you’re having a hard time finding a place, keep your eyes out for the fast food chain Pollo Tropical, which doesn’t put meat in its rice and beans.

Of course, ethnic restaurants are good stand-bys anywhere. An island’s ethnic population will partially determine what’s available. For instance, Trinidad has a number of Chinese and Indian restaurants because immigrants came over from those countries prior to the 20th century.

For casual or take-out meals, look for natural food supermarkets, which sometimes have delis with vegetarian items. Nature’s Way in the British Virgin Islands’ Road Town is one such place.

The brief list of dining options below will help you get started. Some aren’t exclusively vegetarian, but all include at least a few veggie choices on their menus. Vegan and vegan-friendly are indicated with a V.

Antigua: Kalabashe, St. John’s West. V

Barbados: Back to Eden, Speightstown. V

Cancun: 100% Natural. V

Cayman Islands: Veggie Delights, Georgetown. V

Dominican Republic: Lotos Restaurant, Santo Domingo. V

Nevis: Natural Livity, Newcastle Village. V

Puerto Rico: Asiquesi, Cabo Rojo. V

St. Martin: Top Carrot, Simpson Bay.

Trinidad: Mother Nature, Port of Spain.

Tobago: Kariwak Village Restaurant, Crown Point.

US Virgin Islands: Soul Vegetarian, Christiansted. V

A few good online resources are www.HappyCow.net, www.VegDining.com, and www.VegSource.com. Unlike the first two, VegSource doesn’t have a directory, but its forum has a few threads on restaurants in the Caribbean, and you can always post your own question. Also take a look at the online international yellow pages. Just remember that businesses have to pay money to be listed, so not all restaurants will be represented.

When you’re on your trip, if you want to try a restaurant that’s out of the way, call first since listings can be outdated. With a little preparation, you’ll spend less time worrying about where you’re going to eat and more time enjoying your travels.

Karen Joslin writes for Antigua-Guide.info, VirginIslands-Guide.info, and other Segisys travel Web sites.

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