When I tell people I’m vegan, they often say “that must be so challenging to eat vegan!” Well, no, I think it’s really easy actually.
At home being vegan is as easy as eating any other kind of diet. I only buy vegan groceries, so therefore I only have vegan food in my house. When I go to grab a snack or make a meal, I don’t even have to give it a second thought because my only options are vegan food. It’s not like I look in my fridge and see cheesy dishes and chicken wings!
The only part of a vegan diet that can be challenging is dining out. All of the control is in someone else’s hands. But, I LOVE going to restaurants. So what do I do? Here are my tips for how to eat vegan at any restaurant (and not order salad).
As someone who is horribly phone shy (I get nervous just ordering a pizza), this tip is not my favourite, but it’s REALLY helpful. If you have plans to go to a restaurant and you aren’t sure of the vegan options, just give them a ring and ask. If the restaraunt really doesn’t have any vegan options, you can change your plans, (although I have never had that response before). It also let’s the chef know ahead of time that you are coming so if they want to prepare something special they have the time to do so. Then when you get to the restaurant you can relax because you already know the options. I have even called a restaurant and been thrilled and surprised when I was told they had a separate vegan menu! I wouldn’t have know that unless I asked. You can also try looking the menus up online, but it can sometimes not be clear if items are actually vegan, so I always suggest a call.
When I first made the switch, I hated saying the dreaded word “vegan” as I was somehow worried chefs would get mad at me. This isn’t true. I have heard from both chef and waiter friends that they much prefer someone being clear in their limitations so they can address it correctly and without confusion. When you first walk into a restaurant, if you haven’t called ahead, ask the greeter about vegan options. They will be able to tell you before you even sit down. If there is no greeter, ask the server right away. The last thing you want to happen is that you already have your drinks, everyone places an order and then you realize there is nothing for you to eat. Asking as soon as possible ensures a relaxing dining experience.
When you ask, just be polite. You don’t have to shout at the world, don’t make a million demands, and don’t try to deconstruct the ingredient list, just ask if there are any vegan friendly options with a smile on your face. Not everyone understands what vegan is, so if they don’t know, help them out by just telling them what you don’t eat. No animal cruelty talk here, this isn’t the place or time. If you’re nice, people will be nice right back.
Look for the codes.
Menus often have little icons next to items that indicate which items are vegan or vegetarian, just like they do if it is spicy. Sometimes it’s a little “v”, sometimes a leaf, or other fun icons. Just look for the guide so you can know what they stand for.
Be a clever subber.
Most menus have vegetarian options which can easily be made vegan. Just ask if the dairy or egg can be removed from the dish to make it vegan friendly. Sometimes when you remove an ingredient the dish might need something else to boost it up a notch, so what I like to do is peruse around the menu and if I see another ingredient I think would be great, I might ask for a substitution. A good example of this is if I am ordering a veggie burrito, I would ask for the cheese and sour cream to be removed, and instead replace it with guacamole. Saying the word sub or replace is key because then hopefully they don’t charge you extra! Sometimes if there are no main dishes that are easily made vegan, I will look to the sides. Often there are lots of side dishes that are vegan friendly, or can be adapted, so I will order a big plate of those.
Get the apps.
There are lots of great apps or websites that will help you find great veg friendly restaurants near you. This can be especially great for travel. My favourites are Happy Cow and Vegman, which find restaurants in your area that are vegan friendly, and VeganXpress which helps you find vegan options on popular chain restaurant menus.
The beauty of vegan restaurants is you actually have a whole menu to choose from! I know, joy! Go ahead, feast away!
Just check to make sure the items you are ordering are vegan, the servers understand your language, so they will know how to edit a dish if needed to make it vegan friendly.
I love a good vegetable pad thai, vegetable cold rolls, green mango salad, lemon grass or coconut soup, vegetable curries, and vegetable rice dishes. Just make sure to ask for no egg, no fish sauce (in everything), and that curry paste use is vegetarian.
I order edamame, vegetable sushi rolls, vegetable tempura, miso soup, fried tofu, and noodle soups. Just make sure to ask for no egg, no fish sauce, and no bonito flakes (dried fish flakes).
Vegetable spring rolls, vegetable dumplings, vegetable soups, vegetable fried rice, vegetable noodle dishes, and beancurd are all great options. Again, just make sure to ask for no egg, no fish sauce, and no oyster sauce.
Bruschetta, grilled artichokes, bean salads, olives, bread with olive oil and balsamic, salads, pasta with marinara sauce (most pastas don’t contain eggs, so just ask to be sure), vegetable pizzas with no cheese. Double check that there is no cheese or eggs in your dishes. I often say no parmesan as well as they sometimes toss it on right at the end.
I find French can be one of the most challenging options as they use so much butter and cream in their recipes, but sometimes you can get away with vegetable soups, roasted veggie platters, bread, salads, or ratatouille might be vegan. Ask about butter, cream, and chicken/beef stock.
Hummus, tahini, olives, pita bread, vegetable dolmades, panfried potatoes, Greek salad, roasted eggplant, grilled veggies, vegetable moussaka, and grilled veggie wrap. Just make sure to ask for no cheese or yogurt.
BBQ or Steak Restaurants
You might think I’m crazy, but I have eaten at BBQ restaurants and lived to talk about it. Try deep fried pickles, french fries, sweet potato fries, vegetable chili, BBQ vegetables, sometimes they even have BBQ tofu, vegetable sandwiches, salads, and baked potatoes. Make sure to ask for no cheese, sour cream, butter, mayonnaise and make sure the batters don’t contain buttermilk. I sometimes find it’s easiest to order several side dishes, and ask for them on a plate all together.
American or Canadian Restaurants
French fries, onion rings, potato wedges, veggie burgers, and veggie dogs. Ask about mayonnaise, cheese, and eggs in the ingredients.
Lentil, bean, and pea dishes, cabbage, and other greens, and injera (flatbread). Ask about butter, cheese, and egg.
Middle Eastern Restaurants
Falafels, coucous, tahini, vegetable samosas, pita bread, tabouleh, and rice. Just make sure to ask for no cheese or yogurt.
Vegetable samosa, vegetable pakora, saag, dal, rice, channa masala, naan bread (check that it isn’t made with yogurt or butter), and a lot of other great veggie dishes. Just make sure to ask for no butter, ghee (clarified butter), cream, or paneer (cheese).
Fried plantain, veggie or potato roti, jerk vegetables, callalloo, festival, rice and peas, ackee (no salt fish), curry vegetables, bammy, and vegetable patties. Just make sure to ask for no butter, or eggs.
Salsa, guacamole, tortilla chips, vegetable or bean burritos, rice, vegetable tacos, vegetable fajita, and vegetable chimichanga. Ask about sour cream, cheese, lard, and that the rice isn’t made with chicken broth.
Do you have any other tips or discoveries? Leave them in the comments!