How to Eat Vegan When It’s Not on the Menu
I firmly believe vegans should never have to relegate themselves to ordering a meager salad when dining out. In fact, I have never eaten salad at a restaurant in my life! A healthy vegan meal can be “invented” at any kind of restaurant whether or not vegan options exist on the menu; all it takes is a willingness to ask questions and make specific requests. The vast majority of restaurants are more than happy to accommodate your needs as best they can. No matter what which restaurants you frequent or what types of cuisines you crave, there’s an easy vegan solution. Here are some examples of vegan or almost-vegan (for those who are approximating) meals you could find at your favorite restaurants and in a variety of dining scenarios.
The relative absence of dairy makes it easy to eat vegan at an Asian restaurant. Order steamed vegetables, stir-fried tofu, lo mein, brown rice or any other meatless offering at a Chinese place. Go for miso soup and a vegetable sushi roll if you’re eating a Japanese meal. Thai, Vietnamese and Korean restaurants usually offer multiple vegetarian options on their menus as well.
Strict vegans: Always ask to make sure your meal won’t contain any fish sauce or stock.
Although it seems like this category would be the toughest one of all, it’s probably the simplest—just go for the side dishes! Build a “sampler platter” of sides like grilled corn or asparagus (hold the butter), a dinner roll or two, steamed broccoli, a baked sweet potato with cinnamon sugar, or even steak fries.
Strict vegans: Ask whether your veggies can be cooked on a separate grill or otherwise apart from where the meat is cooked.
Breakfast & Brunch
Whether you find yourself at a Denny’s or at a fancy-schmancy brunch spot, there are lots of options when it comes to breakfast food. Fresh fruit, oatmeal, hash browns with ketchup, granola, bagels and toast with jam are a few great ones.
Strict vegans: Request that your oatmeal be prepared with water instead of milk, and always remind your server you don’t want butter on your toast.
French cuisine is notorious for its liberal use of butter and cream, but you can bypass that (no pun intended) with dishes like ratatouille, veggie soup, steamed vegetables and baked or fried potatoes. When in doubt, check out the side dish menu and ask for your order to be prepared without butter.
Strict vegans: Ask in advance whether soups are made with animal stock and if breads contain egg or dairy.
An Indian restaurant is a veg paradise to me. Although many curries are made with ghee (clarified butter) and cream, most Indian restaurants will omit the ghee and substitute coconut cream if you ask—it’s much yummier anyway! Appetizers and sides like pappadum, pakora, veggie samosas, roti and paratha are also excellent vegan choices.
Strict vegans: Avoid naan, which, although delicious, is made with yogurt.
Fresh-baked bread with olive oil is my favorite starter of all time. Don’t forget the bruschetta and minestrone soup! You may think spaghetti marinara is the only entrée possibility, but many places also offer a pasta primavera or spaghetti pomodoro, a sauce made with fresh tomatoes and olive oil.
Strict vegans: Make sure no chicken broth is used in the vegetables soups or pasta sauce, and if you’re ordering garlic bread, request that it be prepared with oil rather than butter.
Think Mexican food’s no good without the cheese? Think again. After digging into the tortilla chips with salsa and/or guacamole, I like to ask for tacos, enchiladas or a burrito filled with black beans instead of meat, plus a side of Spanish rice.
Strict vegans: Ask your server whether the rice is prepared with chicken stock, and make sure the beans haven’t been cooked in lard.
Hummus (my favorite food in the world) is a no-brainer, especially with freshly baked pita bread, but there’s also baba ghanouj, dolmas, falafel, and tabbouleh for appetizers. For the main event, veggie kebabs over rice pilaf is always a winner.
Strict vegans: Verify there’s no animal stock in the rice, and request that nothing be garnished with feta cheese, just in case.
You don’t have to give up pizza night with your friends! Just get your portion of the pie cheeseless (I ask for extra sauce, instead), and pile on the veggies—roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, kalamata olives and roasted garlic are my favorites.
Strict vegans: Most pizza crusts are naturally vegan, but ask to make sure there’s no dairy or honey in there.
And remember: whenever possible, check out a restaurant’s online menu ahead of time, to help you create a “plan of attack” in advance. It’s always best to be prepared!