Do you love to discover new vegan dishes from countries around the world but don't have the time or money to take a round-the-world trip? Or are you trying to decide where to go on your next vacation and looking for a bit of culinary inspiration? With a theme like "Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life", what better place to explore global food culture than Expo Milan 2015?
With dishes from more than 60 countries on offer, there was far too much food for me to sample in just a weekend. Nevertheless, I put in my best effort, and here are the results!
Let's start our tour with the host country, Italy. You might be familiar with Eataly - a fast-growing chain of open markets/high-end food courts with branches in many Italian cities and several other countries around the world.
At Expo Milan, Eataly have opened up a food court with a separate stall for each of Italy's 20 regions. While not all regions feature vegan dishes, there are several that do, with those in the south of the country generally being the most vegan-friendly. Options include acqua sale in Puglia, fresa al finocchio in Calabria, and barley (orzo) with seasonal vegetables in Abruzzo.
And if it's pizza you're after, look no further than Pizza Giovane. The dough here is made from integralbianco – a special kind of flour that has the flavour and appeal of white flour while still providing more fibre and a lower glycemic index and being easier to digest.
Their range of focaccia changes daily, but at the time of my visit it included plain, red onion and mixed vegetable varieties, all three of which are vegan. And if no vegan options happen to be available when you're there, you can always order a marinara pizza.
Simple Mediterranean cuisine at its best, this popular pizza is topped with nothing but tomato sauce, garlic and oregano. And for those who follow a gluten-free diet, you're in luck! There is a food cart called Gluten-Free Fest that will make you a gluten-free focaccia with the vegetables of your choice.
Of course, no visit to Italy would be complete without gelato, and at Expo Milan those looking for a frozen treat have a number of options. First, there's GROM, a widely respected chain of gelaterie that uses all-natural ingredients.
Their vegan options are clearly marked and include all flavours of granite and all their fruit-flavoured gelato, though unfortunately neither the cones nor the chocolate flavours are vegan. But don’t worry; you can certainly get your chocolate fix at Pernigotti in the Cacao and Chocolate pavilion.
They have a whole slew of vegan dark chocolate gelato flavours made with cacao from different countries represented in the pavilion. Ever wanted to know which country has the best chocolate - Ghana or Côte d’Ivoire? Now you can do a side-by-side taste test and find out!
Tasta, also in the Cacao and Chocolate pavilion, offers a vegan line of granite and sorbet that are sweetened with raw sugar cane. Flavours include chocolate, coffee and mulberry.
Phew! So many good eats, and we haven't even left Italy yet! Time to get a move on.
While I didn’t have time (or the room in my stomach) to sample the vegan fare from all the different countries represented, there were several promising-looking options at the Romanian pavilion, such as baked vegetable spread with mushrooms, mashed beans, eggplant salad and vegetable stew.
And if you're feeling thirsty, at the Russian pavilion you can taste free samples of Russian drinks like kvas, sitro, baikal and tarkhun.
If you're in the mood for Middle Eastern fare, the Moroccan pavilion is just one of several options. While none of the tajines on offer are vegan, they do have a trio of yummy antipasti dips, all of which were new to me.
There's one called zaalouk that features eggplant and is similar to baba ghanoush, one called taktouka that is made from tomatoes and red peppers, and a sweet one made of candied pumpkin, cinnamon and sesame seeds. And if you're looking for a vegetable couscous, don’t worry, you can get that at the Israeli pavilion.
Unlike many other countries, Israel seems to have cottoned on to the fact that “feeding the planet” is going to require a drastic reduction in animal agriculture. Thus, all of their menu items are free of meat and dairy. Yay! (Some contain fish though).
Here you’ll find all the typical Middle Eastern meze, like hummus, falafel, taboulé and olives. And for those who eat honey, you can even enjoy a bowl of meat-free cholent – a very traditional stew often eaten on the Sabbath.
The Turkish pavilion also has a couple of take-away dishes like hummus and kisir (a dish similar to taboulé that's made with bulgur, parsley and tomato paste). The Afghan pavilion provides a wonderful opportunity to sample the cuisine of a country that is probably not on many travellers' itineraries.
I asked the guy behind the counter about vegan options, and he suggested that I order the Kabuli palaw with vegetables instead of the usual meat. What I got was a heaping plate of cardamom-flavoured rice mixed with carrots and raisins, all topped with a gorgeous-looking medley of vegetable dishes. Be forewarned: strangers may approach you and ask with envy what it was you ordered.
Moving further east across the globe, the vegan options continue to multiply. If you're looking for a little snack or an afternoon pick-me-up, just outside the Sri Lankan section of the Fruit and Legumes pavilion is a Chinese cart selling baozi – steamed buns filled with sweet red bean (adzuki) paste.
If Japanese is more your style, the Zen Express stand has vegan gyoza (fried dumplings). The Indonesian pavilion sells nasi goreng (fried rice) and mie goreng (fried noodles), two must-have staples of Indonesian fare.
And then there are a plethora of Vietnamese options, including nem chay (spring rolls), mì xào (stir-fried Vietnamese noodles with vegetables), phở xào (fried rice noodles with vegetables) and miến xào (vermicelli with vegetables).
If you're in the mood for a curry, then the Bangladeshi pavilion is probably your best bet. It offers vegetable kebabs, samosas and a variety of vegan curry dishes including beans, dhal, spinach, peas and potatoes, and mixed vegetables.
The only vegan dish I could find at the Nepalese pavilion was bara (a deep-fried patty made from black lentils), though you could ask about a vegan version of the thali (set meal) they offer at lunchtime.
There is also an Indian restaurant in the Basmati pavilion that offers samosas, mixed fried vegetables, vegetarian biryani (ask for it without yogurt sauce) and a vegetarian curry menu (ask for it without yogurt sauce or naan).
Now, moving on to the African continent. Given that Ethiopian is one of my top favourite world cuisines, I have to say that the country's pavilion was pretty disappointing.
If you're not familiar with Ethiopian fare, the deep-rooted "fasting" tradition in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has resulted in a cuisine with a huge range of delicious vegan dishes. Unfortunately, the only ones you'll find at this pavilion are injera (a ubiquitous sourdough flatbread eaten at every meal) and shiro (a stew made from chickpeas).
You can, however, participate in a traditional coffee ceremony. The Gambia pavilion, on the other hand, appeared to have a wide range of vegan offerings, such as fried bananas and chilli sauce, African couscous, fried spring rolls and a vegetable mixed platter.
Be sure to keep an eye out for free tasting opportunities too.
While there was no restaurant attached to the Venezuelan pavilion, by timing our visit to coincide with a scheduled tasting we were able to sample conservas de coco (a rich, sweet jam-like concoction made of coconut, sugar cane syrup, cloves, cinnamon and anise) and tostón con guasacaca (a fried plantain chip topped with a spicy, avocado-based sauce).
If you want something more substantial from a Latin American country, the restaurant at the Ecuadorian pavilion does a quinoa salad.
And speaking of superfoods, Expo Milan also has a few great options for those looking to keep their diets as healthy and clean as possible.
The Juice Bar, for example, does freshly pressed juices and smoothies and a whole line of “super juices” made with different superfoods. A variety of fresh fruit and vegetable salads are also on offer there.
Los Granos de mi Tierra is another place that sells a variety of smoothies, including green ones. And then there's Alce Nero Berberè, which serves organic pizza and other "light" foods in the Organic pavilion.
There is a changing daily menu of sandwiches, salads and hot meals, as well as a picnic box for 10 euros that is always vegan. It comes as a set of boxes containing bread, salad and a variety of rice, legume and grain-based dishes. Perfect for when you're hungry and have a train to catch.
And if you haven't already blown your whole budget on this culinary global adventure, there are a couple of shopping opportunities to keep in mind. In the Organic pavilion is quite a large branch of the NaturaSì organic supermarket chain.
It's a great place to stock up on all manner of vegan pantry staples, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables and some pre-prepared meals and snacks, including vegan sandwiches. And finally, the bookstore near the USA pavilion has a decent selection of vegan and vegetarian cookbooks in both English and Italian.
Have you tried any of these dishes before? Which one tempts your taste buds the most? Let us know in the comments below!
This article first appeared on Happy Cow.