Today, there are more vegetarians and vegans than ever. This means that you can probably find a vegan-friendly restaurant in your area and that there will be at least one item on the menu that you can eat. Still, it isn’t always easy eating out as a vegan. The only vegan option is usually something boring like pasta with plain marinara sauce or a wrap – which they will charge you full price for even though you asked for no meat or cheese.
The truth is that you will probably stop eating out so much after you go vegan. Yes, this might mean missing out on a luxury you used to love, but it also means that you will be saving a lot of money by cooking your own meals. If you usually ate out for lunch before going vegan, you’ll probably find that you now pack your own lunches – thus saving you money and also boosting your health in the process.
How to Find Vegan and Veg-Friendly Restaurants
As a vegan, one of the first resources for dining out that you need to know about is Happy Cow (www.happycow.net). It was founded in 1999 as a resource to assist vegetarian and vegan travelers. You can go to the website, type in your location, and you will be given a list of veg-friendly places to eat. They also have an app (including a free and a paid version). Just open the app and you’ll be shown all the nearest veg-friendly places to eat. It is worth noting that Happy Cow isn’t just for the USA. I use it when I travel abroad and it is really helpful.
Another cool app is VeganXPress. This app lets you know what is vegan and vegetarian at popular fast food chains and restaurants (costs $1.99).
Choose Ethnic Restaurants
If, for some reason, you don’t have any veg-friendly restaurants in your area or can’t check Happy Cow, then ethnic restaurants are probably your best bet. Specifically, these ones usually have a vegan option:
- Indian: just make sure to ask for veggie fare without ghee or butter.
- Chinese, Japanese, and Thai: At these restaurants, you can almost always get steamed or fried veggies served on top of rice. Make sure you ask them to hold the fish and oyster sauces!
- Middle Eastern: You will really have a large selection of accidentally-vegan food to choose from, like falafel, okra, lentils, broad beans, couscous and veggies.
- Mexican: Traditionally, Mexican beans usually have lard in them. However, most restaurants are aware of the demand for vegetarian food and don’t use lard or cook their beans with meat. Be sure to ask! Then tell them to hold the cheese and sour cream and to give you extra guacamole instead.
How to Eat at Restaurants which Aren’t Veg-Friendly
If you have no say in the restaurant you are going to and know it isn’t exactly veg-friendly, then try to scout out the menu in advance. Call the restaurant and ask any questions you have, such as whether they use butter or olive oil in their pasta. It is a lot less annoying to ask these questions in advance than at the dinner table.
If you can’t scout out the restaurant ahead of time, then you’ll have to get a bit creative when ordering. First, ask the waiter if there are any vegan-friendly options. You can also look for menu items which can easily be veganized.
There is usually at least one dish on the menu which is easy to veganize — like ordering a veggie wrap without the cheese. But don’t assume that, by asking them to hold “xyz” ingredient, that the dish will be vegan. A lot of times, there are animal ingredients in food which aren’t listed. For example, you might order the grilled potatoes and veggies without cheese, only to have it delivered to your plate with bit of bacon. Funny how the menu didn’t mention anything about bacon! Ask questions (politely) about what is included with the menu item and be specific about your requests.
Here are some vegan fallbacks that you can almost always find at a restaurant. They might not be the most exciting options, but at least you won’t go hungry:
- Salads without meat or cheese, and oil/vinegar dressing
- Pizza without cheese
- Spaghetti with marinara sauce, no meat, parmesan or butter
- Soup made from vegetable stock
- Rice not cooked in meat stock
- Wraps or burritos with veggies and beans
- Baked or roasted potatoes or veggies with olive oil and herbs
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
When eating out, try not to sweat the small stuff. For example, the monoglycerides in bread can come from animal origins and some brands of juice are filtered with bone char. At home, you can eventually learn to avoid these hidden animal ingredients by calling the company and asking whether the ingredient is from animal or plant origins. But, if you were to ask the waiter at a restaurant whether their monoglycerides are plant or animal origin, you’ll probably just get met with stares of confusion.
Even Peta (who are usually pretty hardcore in their vegan message) recommends that you “take one for the team” and just eat the food – even if it may have some animal-derived “xyz” in it. Their reasoning is that, when you stress about the small stuff, you are telling your waiter and friends that “being vegan is hard” (not to mention that vegans are annoying). You’ll end up turning people off from the idea of veganism instead of getting support. Remember, being vegan isn’t about perfection. It is about doing the best you can.