You’re out to dinner with a group of friends. You stare at the menu and hope something pops out at you. When the waiter arrives, you quickly order the grilled veggies and a side salad, so as not to halt the group conversation. Your food arrives–the veggies doused in butter topped with grated Parmesan (which was not specified on the menu) and the simple side salad has cheese and bits of meat. Now what?
No one likes to be caught in this position especially when you just wanted to enjoy a nice meal with friends. Here are 4 tips to avoid sticky situations when dining at non-vegan establishments.
1. SPEAK UP! Communication is key. You have to be vocal with your server. Never just assume that something is vegan. Always be sure to ask about what kind of stock is used in a soup. Make sure that veggies are steamed or sautéd in oil. Double check about aioli, sour cream, mayonnaise, and other dairy-based sauces that may come on your entrée. I’ve even gone so far as to say I have a dairy allergy when ordering a cheese-free pizza. This ensures that all the veggies are chopped fresh and there is no chance of cheese appearing on my plate.
2. Do your research. Accept the fact that you will have to have a conversation with your waiter about the menu, but do your research ahead of time. Come prepared with several dishes in mind. Sometimes waiters aren’t as creative about substitutions on the spot as you may be. If you see they have hummus on the menu and they have a grilled veggie sandwich that normally comes with mayo and cheese, see if you can swap out the dairy for a scoop of hummus! Parse through Yelp reviews to see if any other vegans have found success there and once you do, share your secrets.
3. Stick to ethnic foods. It is far easier to find vegan options at restaurants that feature international foods. Indian, Ethiopian, Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Mexican restaurants can all be great. You’ll have luck assembling a meal of legumes/beans, grains, and veggies. Just be sure to make sure to ask about fish oil, lard, animal stock, and other hidden ingredients.
4. BYO. Okay, now some people may frown upon this, but if I know I am going to a very non-vegan friendly establishment where my best bet will be a baked potato and steamed veggies, I absolutely pack a mini container of vegan butter. Sometimes I bring my own non-dairy milk to brunch if I know the place doesn’t have it or my favorite vegan salad dressing to spice up the iceberg lettuce plate I will be forced to eat. I believe there’s a big difference between bringing along little condiments like this and bringing in an outside meal. That would obviously not be okay, but my mini sriracha bottle never hurt anyone. 😉
Do you have a favorite ethnic cuisine that is very vegan-friendly? Anyone else a fan of BYO? Please share!
Also by Christina: Asian Inspired Tempeh Bowl
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Photo: Peaceful Dumpling