I firmly believe that vegetarians and vegans should never have to relegate themselves to ordering a meagre salad when dining out. A healthy vegetarian or vegan meal can be "invented" at any kind of restaurant whether or not the options exist on the menu -- all it takes is a willingness to ask questions and make specific requests.
Here are some examples of vegetarian and vegan meals you can "tweak" at your favourite restaurants and in a variety of dining scenarios.
The plethora of vegetable dishes and the relative absence of dairy makes it easy to eat vegetarian or 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 as well.
For 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 actually simple -- just go for the side dishes! Build a "sampler platter" of sides like grilled corn or asparagus (vegans, hold the butter), a dinner roll or two, steamed broccoli, a baked sweet potato with cinnamon and sugar, or even steak fries.
For strict vegans, ask whether your veggies can be cooked on a separate grill or otherwise apart from where the meat is cooked.
Breakfast And Brunch
There are lots of options when it comes to breakfast food. Fresh fruit, porridge, hash browns, cereal and toast are a few classics.
For strict vegans, request that your porridge be prepared with water instead of milk, and always remind your server that you don't want butter on your toast.
French cuisine is notorious for its liberal use of butter and cream, but vegans can bypass that (no pun intended) with dishes such as 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.
For strict vegans, ask in advance whether soups are made with animal stock and if breads contain egg or dairy.
An Indian restaurant is a vegetarian paradise. 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 -- and it's delicious! Appetisers and sides such as pappadum, pakora, veggie samosas, roti and paratha are also excellent vegan choices.
For strict vegans, avoid naan, which, although delicious, is made with yoghurt.
Fresh-baked bread with olive oil is my favourite starter of all time. Don't forget bruschetta and minestrone soup! You may think spaghetti marinara is the only entree possibility, but many places also offer a pasta primavera or spaghetti pomodoro, a sauce made with fresh tomatoes and olive oil.
For strict vegans, make sure no chicken broth is used in the vegetable soup or pasta sauce, and if you're ordering garlic bread, request that it be prepared with oil rather than butter.
Vegans -- think Mexican food is no good without the cheese? Think again. After digging into the tortilla chips with salsa and/or guacamole, I like to ask for tacos, enchiladasor a burrito filled with black beans instead of meat, plus a side of Spanish rice.
For 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 favourite food in the whole world) is a no-brainer, especially with freshly-baked pita bread, but there's also baba ghanoush, dolmas, falafel and tabbouleh for appetisers. For the main event, veggie kebabs over rice pilaf is always a winner.
For strict vegans, verify there's no animal stock in the rice, and request that nothing be garnished with feta cheese, just in case.
Vegans don't have to give up pizza night with friends! Just get your portion of the pizza without c(and ask for extra sauce instead) and pile on the veggies -- roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, kalamata olives, and roasted garlic are my favourites.
For strict vegans, most pizza crusts are OK, but ask to make sure there's no dairy or honey in there.
Remember, whenever possible, check out a restaurant's online menu ahead of time to help you create a "plan of attack." It's always best to be prepared!
Amber Shea Ford, creator and author of the popular food blog Almost Vegan, is a linguist-writer-runner-metalhead-traveler-strangeling from Kansas City, Missouri. She is also a certified raw vegan chef, classically trained in the art of living foods at Matthew Kenney’s 105degrees Academy. As a health-oriented vegan, Amber eschews diets based on dogmatism and deprivation, espousing a flexible approach to food choices instead. Don’t look to her for strict rules, political rants or ethical diatribes. Amber is not your mum, your congressperson or your local PETA representative -- she’s just a girl with a taste for nutritious, vibrant, sexy food! Read her musings at Almost Vegan and find her around the Web at Almost Vegan on Facebook and @AlmostVeganChef on Twitter.
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