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Accommodating Dietary Restrictions On The Rails

I’ll preface this essay by pointing out: I am in no way a professional food critic. I am, however, the youngest in a long generational line of food lovers.

My cousin is a modest but incredible international chef and he swears he inherited his love for food from our grandparents. Food is instinctual for us and is deeply embedded in our family; from vegetable gardens to beer brewing, homemade mac and cheese to 5-diamond eateries, food binds our family. The kitchen is where we gather, and meals are a team effort.

That all being said, I am a bit of the odd man out in a family of near-carnivores: I have been a vegetarian for 12+ years. I think it has been a good thing for the family, inspiring creativity and opening minds to explore foods and recipes that may have otherwise been overlooked. I’m also a particularly strange vegetarian that doesn’t like cooked mushrooms. I’m sorry, but a grilled portabella just won’t do! So, when Martin asked me to write about dining on our recent train trip, from the perspective of a vegetarian, I jumped at the opportunity to share my experiences.

First, a lay of the land, for those curious about how meals happen on the train: Aboard VIA Rail, meals are served in a dining car and are organized in waves of seatings. When you check in you are assigned a meal time, and you will be prompted to attend the dining car by a train announcement. A menu with several selections is provided for you to choose from. Meals are prepared fresh to order.

Aboard Rocky Mountaineer, traveling in SilverLeaf, a menu is provided and your meals are served to you at your assigned seat. A variety of options are provided for breakfast and lunch, and they do change on the second day of travel.

Aboard Rocky Mountaineer, traveling in GoldLeaf, guests are organized into waves similar to VIA Rail. When your designated seating time ticks around, you descend into a dining room in the lower half of your train car. A menu with a variety of freshly prepared options is provided and you are served at your table. Snacks are provided to guests that await a second or later meal seating.

For those of you with dietary concerns of your own, both train companies do their very best to accommodate preferences and restrictions within their menu. For main courses, VIA Rail always includes one meat entrée, one fish entrée and one vegetarian entrée. On Rocky Mountaineer, each menu includes a salad option and your choice of a meat or seafood main. Either dish may be modified for anyone who doesn’t consume seafood. At least one option is prepared gluten free, and in many cases even a light fare option is provided.

Beyond all of the generous options, everything can be modified on the fly. Though, due to the extremely courteous and timely service of staff aboard both VIA Rail and Rocky Mountaineer, I didn’t have to ask for many favors. Where standard airplane food often appears microwaved and either lacking in or is over-saturated in sodium, the food on my VIA Rail and Rocky Mountaineer journey was fresh, prepared by hand, and tasted just like sitting down for a family meal with grandma at the head of the table. There may not be any of grandma’s fine china or sterling silver flatware, but nevertheless, you will dine with real cutlery!

If I haven’t done enough to convince you already, consider a few of the meals I enjoyed in my travels on the rails: a three cheese omelette served with herbed, roasted potatoes and fresh tomatoes; a grilled salmon fillet served with a creamy dill sauce, garlic mashed potatoes and roasted root vegetables; a roasted lentil and curry stew served with a mixed green salad and fresh orange dressing, followed by a divine maple cake; buttermilk pancakes with fresh fruit and real maple syrup; some of the most delicate cinnamon scones ever; handmade vegetable gyoza dumplings with a sweet soy garlic glaze and served with a freshly tossed spinach salad. This is by no means everything that I consumed during my three and a half days aboard the trains either – there are copious amounts of snacks and unmentioned desserts along the way too!

If you’re a vegetarian that is driven crazy by the alternative always being a soggy salad that lacks protein, french fries, or a grilled portabella with rabbit snacks – fear not! You have options, staff are well-equip to look out for you, and I can promise you will never go hungry.

All things considered, my experience as a vegetarian on board was marvelous. I certainly never went hungry, and every bite become just as much part of the experience as the valleys, peaks and rivers passing outside the windows.

It’s also worth mentioning that very strict dietary concerns can be addressed if you suffer from severe allergies. It’s best to notify us at Canada Rail Vacations with your specifications as soon as possible, so we can let VIA Rail or Rocky Mountaineer know. With enough advance notice, staff will always do their best to minimize your risk of exposure to allergens in particular.

Ellysa Evans
Vacation Planner
Canada Rail Vacations



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