Unless you are visiting a known vegan establishment, eating out as a vegan can sometimes be a bit of a challenge. To ease your mind, we have put together 5 helpful tips on how to order vegan when you are dining out.
I- Do your research
Planning is an important step for a stress-free dining experience. If you can pick the restaurant, start by looking up vegan
friendly places in your area. The best website for this is HappyCow.net. They even have an app that shows you all the vegetarian and vegan friendly businesses near you. For Edmonton residents, the Vegetarians and Vegans of Alberta Association has a comprehensive diner’s guide that you can actually pick-up at our store.
If you do not get a say in selecting the venue, make sure to check out the menu in advance so you know what to expect. Many restaurants have vegetarian menus nowadays, or at least little symbols indicating the vegetarian options.
Do not hesitate to call the restaurant if their menu is not very clear or if it is not available online. You are most probably not their first customer with some dietary restrictions.
II- Don’t be scared to customize your order
Most menus have a fine print that says something along the lines of “let your waiter know your dietary restrictions”. However, even if the menu doesn’t say that, don’t be afraid to modify an already existing dish. It is okay to ask for the delicious salad but hold the cheese, swap the chicken in the stir-fry for more veggies, or make a new plate just out of side dishes.
III- Be nice to your server
A smile and some “please” and “thank you”s will go a long way. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about dish ingredients, your server is there to help. However, be reasonable; do not bombard the staff with questions and impossible requests to veganize dishes that are heavy in animal products. Most restaurants are happy to accommodate within reason. Just ask nicely and do not overreact if they can’t accommodate. What is the worst that’s going to happen? You are not going to starve to death. You can always order a drink and enjoy the company of your friends. Don’t forget fries are vegan and easy to share!
IV- Know your vegan options
You don’t have to stay home if you can’t go to a vegan restaurant. In every type of cuisine, there are always some plant-based options. Most of the time, it will not always be labeled as vegan since the majority of diners are omnivore. To help you when reading a menu, here is a list of some popular options sorted by cuisine type.
You can usually get a vegetable pad thai, vegetable spring rolls, lemon grass or coconut soup, vegetable curries, and vegetable rice dishes.
Note: Be sure to ask if there are any eggs or fish sauce in the dishes.
Avocado sushi rolls are the best! You can usually get vegetable sushi rolls, edamame and seaweed salad, vegetable tempura, miso soup (might have fish sauce in it so always ask) and avoid the bonito flakes (dried fish flakes).
Enjoy the bread with olive oil and balsamic, salads, pasta with marinara sauce, vegetarian pizza without cheese. Panago and Famoso have vegan cheese but not all pizza crusts are vegan so do not forget to inquire about that.
Most French dishes have dairy or meat in them. Your best bet is to stick with salad or a simple vegetable soup.
GREEK & MIDDLE EASTERN
Hummus, tahini, olives, pita bread, salads without cheese, roasted eggplant, grilled vegetables, tabouli, fattoush, and falafel are some of the fantastic dishes you can pick from. The garlic sauce may have dairy so make sure to check first.
These dishes can be heavily meat based, especially bacon. You can usually get away with salads, fries, soups and grilled vegetables at most North American cuisine based establishments. If you’re lucky, they might even have a veggie burger!
You can usually get a vegetable version of many Indian dishes such as; vegetable samosa, vegetable pakora, vegetable curries, etc. There are also many dishes made from just vegetables and legumes or grains like; saag, dhal, rice, channa masala, aloo gobi, okra bhajis. Avoid naan bread as it usually has dairy in it. Poppadom/papadum, chapatti, puri/poori and rotti are also all vegan.
The best vegan Mexican option has to be guacamole with chips. You can usually get vegetable tacos and fajita, and vegetable chimichanga just hold the cheese.
V- Review the restaurant
Lastly, do your part to help other vegans out. Reviewing a restaurant isn’t just helpful for the establishment but for other people looking for the same options as you. If a non-vegan restaurant (or even a veg-friendly one) went out of their way to help make your vegan dining experience a success, shout it from the rooftops. This way other vegans can know what places they can comfortably visit. Plus you gain some karma points!