MYTH: IT IS DIFFICULT TO EAT OUT WHILE ON A PLANT-BASED DIET. Aside from the hard core steak houses, sea food bars and barbecue diners, it is really pretty simple to have a delicious vegan meal while out and about. Most restaurants offer some sort of veggie fare for those who eat lower on the food chain. If you are tired of ordering veggie burgers and plain salads, here are some ideas for different kinds of flavorful and healthy vegan cuisine you can enjoy while dining out:
Middle Eastern: For a tasty meal that is packed with protein, you can enjoy a tabouli salad and freshly-made garbanzo bean hummus. Try the baba ghanoush dip, made from eggplant and seasonings. Felafel is a deep-friend garbanzo bean mixture that is delicious stuffed in a pita bread pocket with fresh veggies and topped with tahini sauce.
Italian: There is nothing like a fresh dish of pasta primavera (spring vegetables). Do not forget the usual standby of whole grain pasta seasoned with olive oil and garlic or tomato sauce. Many soups such as minestrone have a beef or chicken broth base, so you will likely want to avoid them. Some pizza restaurants are starting to carry vegan cheeses. I like to order pizza with fresh veggies and extra sauce. Depending on what kind of pasta you have, there may not be a lot of protein in these dishes, so make certain to have some in your diet during the day.*
Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese: These are the easiest restaurants to order vegan food. There are many mouth-watering, bean curd (tofu), cashew and peanut dishes available that can be served with rice or noodles. Be careful when ordering to specify that you would like to avoid any egg, fish or meat sauces.
Japanese: Try some vegan sushi: you can order cucumber, avocado and mixed vegetable rolls. I like to gobble up a dish of steamed edamame (soybeans in the pod) that are super healthful and delicious. Many Japanese restaurants offer tempura, teriyaki and stir-fried vegetable dishes served warm with rice. Warning: I ate at a Japanese Steak house recently where the chef cooked on a grill at the table teppanyaki style, and I watched him put butter in the veggies at the last minute. Clarity is important when ordering.
Indian: There is nothing so tasty as basmati rice! You can have it smothered with deliciously seasoned garbanzo bean and lentil dishes prepared in different curry sauces. Try the naan bread (without butter) to dip in the sauces. Be sure to avoid dishes with dairy products such as cheese and ghee (a purified butter made from cow’s milk).
Mexican: You can order scrumptious, filling dishes such as guacamole and chips, bean and rice burritos and chips and salsa. Most Mexican restaurants have lard-free beans. If you order whole beans instead of refried, that usually skirts the issue.
Should you find yourself at a restaurant where the menu is heavy with animal products, not to worry: briefly and politely explaining your dietary request to the waitperson usually elicits a positive reaction from the kitchen. Many cooks are happy to oblige as they enjoy the opportunity to be creative. Please, be certain to give them positive feedback for their efforts when due!
If you dislike risking the high-maintenance image when placing a special order, a friend of mine suggests having a card handy to give to the waitperson (either at the table or away from it) that explains exactly what foods you seek to avoid. In the meantime, keep in mind that the more people who order vegan cuisine, the more restaurants will offer it on their menus for more people to enjoy as a result of special requests like yours. You can feel good about voting with your fork!
*Remember, people do best with only 10% to 15% of protein in their diet. For more nutritional information go here.
© Jill Powers and The Feel Good Vegan 2010.
Photo courtesy of Microsoft