Our interviews with vegan travelers not only unfailingly provide us with inspiration, tips, and life lessons. They also leave us with interesting perspectives. And this one is no exception. Nina Ahmedow is the founder of Lemons and Luggage – a website where she writes about vegan travel and a sustainable lifestyle while also putting a spotlight on the richness and diversity that come with traveling. Read our interview with her where she gives us a glimpse into her views and experiences growing up in Germany and now living in Greece, vegan food, travel tips, and so much more.
Q: Tell us about yourself and your website -- Lemons and Luggage.
I’m Nina and went vegan in early 2016 after more than 15 years of being a vegetarian. Because my parents are from different cultures I always had an appreciation for travel and learning about other cultures. That’s why on my blog I combine my passion for travel with my love for vegan food. I post both vegan travel guides as well as travel tips that don't revolve around food. On top of that, I’ve always been very opinionated: Lemons and Luggage goes beyond the regular travel blog and also addresses topics that may be uncomfortable to discuss.
Q: When did you start traveling as a vegan? And what inspired you to embrace the vegan lifestyle?
I took my first trip as a vegan a few months after I went vegan. Ever since then I have been exploring different countries and cities, mainly in Europe. I honestly have to say that in all the years I was vegetarian, I never understood the harm the dairy industry causes. After I found out what happens to male chicks I did eventually stop eating eggs, but the dairy industry is very good at hiding its practices so it took a long time for me to understand what I was contributing to. But now that I know, there’s no going back.
Q: When did you move to Greece from Germany where you grew up?
I moved to Greece in 2014 because of a job offer. Moving somewhere without knowing a single person and without having been there before was an interesting experience and has taught me a lot about myself.
Q: What is it like living and traveling around Greece as a vegan?
Living and traveling in Greece as a vegan has its pros and cons. Many people who come here for a short trip think that it’s extremely easy to be vegan here because there are quite a few traditional Greek dishes that are already vegan. If you spend more time here, however, you quickly realize that the understanding of veganism is very limited. In non-vegan restaurants, my Greek vegan partner and I have often been told that a dish was vegan when, in fact, it wasn’t. Other Greek vegans I know have experienced the same. That’s why I always suggest requesting specific dishes or cooking at home when there are no vegan restaurants.
Q: Can you share two interesting things about Greece that many veg travelers may not know?
Orthodox Christian tradition requires that people who fast abstain from meat, eggs, and dairy, but seafood and honey are permitted. That's why it's not enough to simply ask for fasting food ("nistisimo") as some people may tell you. However, this still means that during fasting periods (lent, for example) it is much easier to find vegan options in Greece than usual.
The other thing is not strictly vegan-related but important to know for many travelers: Smoking is permitted in most restaurants. Luckily, the vegetarian and vegan restaurants are usually an exception to the rule.
Q: What is the one meal vegan travelers heading to Greece shouldn’t miss?
For an authentic vegan dish that you can find in Greece and the rest of the Balkan region, definitely order “gemista,” stuffed peppers and tomatoes.
Q: What are some of the best vegan food spots you can recommend to vegan travelers visiting Greece?
The vegan scene in Athens is growing, but I would recommend a visit to the first-ever vegan spot in Greece: Bamboo Vegan. This store and café opened in 2012 which just goes to show how young the vegan scene is in Greece. For an actual restaurant, check out Lime Bistro which was the first vegan restaurant in Athens and opened in late 2016. All their food is vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free, and homemade – and full of flavors. You can get veganized traditional Greek foods here to make your food experience more authentic. And if you have time, head to Avit in the suburb of Glyfada on the Athens Riviera. They make the most amazing vegan burgers in all of Greece.
Q: Can you name some of the most vegan-friendly cities you’ve visited so far?
I love the vegan scenes in Warsaw, Budapest, and Bratislava. Not only are there tons of vegan restaurants, but they often veganize traditional dishes so you don’t have to miss out on trying the authentic cuisine. The restaurants there are also incredibly creative. In Bratislava, I had “fish” made of celery!
Q: What are some of the best vegan foods you’ve had and where did you find them?
The vegan fish and chips I had at made with laf in Bratislava definitely stand out. Such a flavorful dish, but what I loved most was the fact that they came up with such an interesting idea. This summer, I had a delicious meal at Limu Café and Bistro in Hamburg. It consisted of a very tasty gazpacho followed by a savory pancake which was super yummy. I also have to mention the chocolate cake at Omas Backstube in Vienna – one of the best cakes I’ve ever had.
Q: Any tips or advice you can share with other vegan travelers?
I actually recently published my seven tips for vegan travelers. The most important takeaway is to do your research. Check out travel blogs or some of the common apps. Local vegans will be able to give you a lot of advice, and they usually know things that travelers may not be aware of. Don’t be afraid to ask them for tips.