Studying Abroad as a Vegetarian

Sumini Siyambalapitiya
April 13, 2020

A little over 10 months ago I decided to become a vegetarian and haven’t really looked back since. I generally don’t ever feel restricted, but I was a little anxious before studying abroad for a number of reasons. Navigating eating out with friends, getting enough nutrition and budgeting were my main concerns. Thankfully it proved to be easier than I anticipated!

I lived in a studio apartment that came with its own kitchen, which was awesome because I could cook most of my meals at home. This was easily both the cheapest and healthiest option. But I also allowed myself to eat out once or twice a week, so that I could hang out with my friends and explore Amsterdam’s amazing food scene.

Here are some of my tips for being vegetarian/vegan in Amsterdam (or for the most part, pretty much anywhere) as a study abroad student:

1. Go to Open Air Markets

If you are planning on cooking your own meals, the numerous open air markets in Amsterdam have an abundance of fresh fruit & vegetables for far more reasonable prices than the supermarket. Albert Cuyp and Ten Kate are some of the more well known ones, but you’ll probably find one right in your neighborhood!

2. Use the Google Translate app

I try to avoid dairy products and use alternatives wherever possible and Google Translate was my savior in more situations than I can count. Most labels in the Netherlands are in Dutch and French, so I highly recommend using the camera translation feature on the app.

3. Let your friends know

I’ve gone through my fair share of “Am I being an inconvenience?” thoughts when I’m eating out with friends. But chances are your non-vegetarian friends are more than happy to pick a restaurant that has options for everyone. My friends and I even went to an all-vegan restaurant called the Vegan Junk Food Bar that is super popular in Amsterdam even among the non-vegan community. We ended up coming back twice!

4. Don’t be shy to ask

Again, same rule at restaurants. It doesn’t hurt to ask if a restaurant has a vegetarian/vegan alternative to a popular dish. Some friends and I wanted to try the traditional dutch snack - Bitterballen, which is a sort of croquette traditionally stuffed with a beef filling. I asked if the place we were at had a vegetarian option and turns out they had just added it to the menu!

5. Cafes charge extra for non-dairy milks

This is not really a tip, but a heads-up. I am a huge coffee drinker and it can be a little frustrating that a lot of cafes in Amsterdam, including Starbucks and the local favorite - Coffee Company - charge up to 80 cents extra for switching to almond or oat milk. Yup, it's expensive and adds up pretty quickly! The obvious solution is to cut down on coffee consumption, and while yes, I wholeheartedly support that, let me tell you that the overpriced 6 euro oat milk iced latte at Coffee Company is the best I’ve ever had!

Food is one of the best ways to immerse yourself in a culture, and that stands true regardless of your diet or where you are in the world. Amsterdam has so much to offer in terms of vegan/vegetarian options, so don’t hold yourself back!!

Sumini Siyambalapitiya

My name is Sumini Siyambalapitiya and I'm a junior at Lafayette College PA, studying Math/Econ and Women, Gender and Sexuality studies. I call the incredibly beautiful island of Sri Lanka my home. Some things I love in no particular order are: bubble tea, reading, working out, and This Is Us!

Home University:
Lafayette College
Colombo, Sri Lanka
Women's Studies
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