I’ve been a vegetarian for so long (20-plus years!) that I don’t experience any sense of active compromise when I’m quickly scanning menus for the limited dishes I can eat. And certainly when I travel, I don’t necessarily expect to eat that nation’s specialty, and I don’t bemoan it if I can’t. I’m very used to this, and I like to think I’m low maintenance in that regard, though I do actively seek out vegetarian restaurants when I travel if it’s a possibility.
You’d think that a babymoon in Europe (France, Italy, Spain) would be kind of a perfect scenario for a pregnant vegetarian: first-world cleanliness practices, and tons of bread and pasta and cheese as national specialties, available anywhere from street corners to fine dining rooms (especially compared to some of the more far-flung or meat-loving places where we’ve traveled recently, like Indonesia, Istanbul). Easy peasy, right?
Totally wrong, as it turns out. American pregnant women are not advised to eat unpasteurized cheese (or milk, or juice), and it turns out Europeans are not real big on pasteurizing their stuff. Ironic, right? Given that Louis Pasteur‘s birthplace was indeed France.
Our babymoon started out in Barcelona, where I tried to rely on the concierge at our hotel (the well located and chic Murmuri) to call ahead to restaurants we were considering for dinner and navigate the pasteurization question in Spanish. The answer generally came back no-go. Fortunately, we had the recommendation of a friend for an absolutely amazing vegetarian restaurant, Teresa Carles, nearby our hotel that had tons of vegan options without any cheese at all. It turned out to be one of my favorite meals on the babymoon, and one of the most affordable too (as these things go).
Apart from that, I’d made up three little text images, with the help of Google Translate, that said in each of three languages: “I’m pregnant and I’ve been forbidden by my doctor to eat unpasteurized cheese. Could you kindly let me know if any of your cheese is pasteurized?” The looks I got when I shyly showed waiters my iPhone screen translated universally across language to: Basically, lady: 1), No, it’s not. 2) We don’t even know what you’re talking about. and 3) We’re kind of perplexed as well as offended that you’re asking.
By the time we got to Venice, I’d figured out some additional details about pregnancy and pasteurized cheese, thanks to long-distance consultations with my sister (who has three pregnancies under her belt) and my doctor dad: Pregnant women can eat unpasteurized cheese if it’s been cooked — that means well cooked, and not street-corner heated — and that hard cheeses like parmesan are not hospitable to listeria and are pretty much OK regardless of pasteurization. This, coupled with my workable grasp of Italian, led to the most amazing pizza experience on our first day in Italy, a parmesan and arugula pie I devoured ruthlessly over lunch. (BTW, many English menu translations in Europe translate arugula as “rucola” or “rocket salad,” which is really so adorbs to me.)
In Paris, I bypassed the crepe stands longingly (with their taunting undercooked eggs and unpasteurized emmental). Having decided against the hustle of Valentine’s Day reservations (not to mention the impossibility of securing them), one of the most fun meals we had was a picnic we made that day for dinner. We scoured all of our ingredients from the amazing market street Rue Cler — including baguette from the boulangerie, grapes from the grocery, and a red rose for the lady from the flower shop, bien sur. We found that, among the many dozens of cheeses at the fromagerie, were a few labeled pasteurized (see photo above)! No sheepish question asking required. We ate our goodies in the park beneath the Eiffel Tower, before heading up into it with our pre-purchased tickets (a must) when the sun went down. It was pretty much Valentine’s Day perfection.
Over all, eating was not a high point of this particular trip (though I’d never complain about a few dozen croissants and generous helpings of Nutella among friends), and required much more high-maintenance question asking with bashful apologies for my very American dietary restrictions than I’m usually comfortable with.
But I’d never trade this particular adventure shared with hubby before babies — or any adventure anywhere in the world we’ve ever shared — for all the pasteurized cheese in China (if I may mix a few metaphors).