In reflecting on my time in Portugal, I have realized something culturally different between this city and the other cities we visited. Portugal was by far the hardest city to eat in with dietary restrictions and preferences. Coming into this trip I knew that being vegetarian would put me at a disadvantage. European food culture puts a large emphasis on fresh meats and fish, so I figured I would have a much more difficult time finding options to eat in each of the countries. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that London, Paris, and Verona were all incredibly accommodating to not only my dietary preference of being vegetarian, but also my friends’ restrictions with gluten, nuts, and shellfish. Each city was similar to the US in their approaches. When going out to eat, restaurants had breakdowns of allergies, labeling for different preferences, and clear instructions on menus to let servers know if you had restrictions.
In my time in Portugal, I found that there were no standard approaches that restaurants had to address food restrictions and allergies. I found the culture in Portugal to be a little dismissive of the topic, almost like it wasn’t important enough for them to address. Even when speaking to our API host, Carlos, he said it wasn’t really a “thing” there. I quickly realized that the culture in Portugal just didn’t really have people that were vegetarian or have many allergies. It was frustrating walking into a restaurant and being scared that there wouldn’t be an option for me to eat, whereas in other countries, options were plentiful. I definitely felt like I was more of a burden in Portugal than in any other country due to my dietary preference.
Even when we had our group dinners, it was always made such a big deal with regards to my preference being vegetarian. My experience at group dinners differed greatly in other countries, as I was just another tourist who chose a different option on the menu. In Portugal, I stuck out like a sore thumb and it felt a little embarrassing when the servers had to ask me multiple times what I could/could not eat or when they accidentally gave me the wrong dishes which included meat. Overall, I think that Portugal is only just starting to become a popular tourist destination, and with time they will learn that restrictions and preferences are more prevalent in other countries. I defintiely appreciated how much their culture valued the foods they ate and the traditions they had. I just hope that they will become more open to tourists and offer some more options in the future for people like me.