In our last post we talked about some of the social aspects of being vegan. It’s such an important topic because it really is one of the major issues for vegans, especially if you’re surrounded by non vegan friends and family. I hope that after reading the last post you are feeling more confident with the fact that you can be the amazing social creature that you are, have a blast sharing time with friends, coworkers and family, and have amazing vegan food to boot. Today, we’re going to talk specifically about eating out at restaurants, and I’m sharing my top tips for finding the most amazing grub in the most unexpected places.
Social is fun: A little exercise for new veggies
Being social is about enjoying yourself. When you’re invited to a restaurant with friends, family or coworkers, take a breather and relax before doing anything else, and remember that being around the people you love is as good as it gets. You need to start practicing this exercise: when an invitation is headed your way, think of the fun and enjoyment, the stories and laughs you’ll share, the warmth and sense of belonging that will fill the air. Don’t jump straight to the ‘what will I eat there?’ state of mind. Don’t let this be your first thought when someone tells you they want to spend time with you. This takes practice, because in the beginning we’re very focused on what we can and can’t eat. Please trust me: you’ll always find something to eat. You might not find a dish marked as vegan at every single restaurant, but with the following tips, you’ll be able to enjoy your time with friends and this includes eating deliciously. For many of us, eating has taken the place of wonderful company when we think about dining with the people we love. Let’s bring our social connections and friendships back to the center of the table.
The beauty of the internet
One of the great things of being a vegan now and not 40 years ago, is that practically every single restaurant has a website or at least a facebook page, and their menu is featured online. Next time you’re making plans with friends, do a little research online and take a look at what dishes they might have that are vegan or can be made vegan with a few adjustments.
Don’t be afraid to make a call
Most restaurants are more than aware that people have different dietary needs, so if you’re the one making the plans, don’t be afraid to call the restaurant and simply ask if they can accommodate you or have any dishes that can be made vegan.
Step out of your country
Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indian, Arab, Mexican, Indonesian, Italian, and countless other International cuisines are literal heavens for vegan food. Most of these have vegan dishes, or vegetarian dishes that can easily be made vegan. Order some noodles with tons of veggies, a veggie roll and some edamame, have a creamy and delicious curry massala made with coconut milk, have some bean burritos with tons of guacamole and of course delicious pastas and even pizza! Any pizza restaurant will make you a cheeseless pizza with extra veggie toppings if you ask for it. Step out of your country and enjoy endless options.
Let’s say your friends or family have chosen a restaurant, you’ve browsed the website and found there are no options for you to choose from (although this is rarely the case once you get the hang of things!). Instead of saying you can’t go, try suggesting an alternative, and choose a place that has a similar type of cuisine to what your friends were craving. My friends love having burgers and so do I! So when they suggest a burger joint that doesn’t have a veggie burger, I ask them if they wouldn’t mind going to another burger restaurant. They usually say yes and I make it my mission to take them to the best burger joint in town, where all of us can dig into a juicy burger and mine can be a veggie burger. Although I do this with my very close friends, if it’s a special occasion and a big crowd has been invited, I simply go to the restaurant of their choice knowing that I always find something. Even if it is some sides or a salad and a plate of beautiful golden french fries with ketchup. Who doesn’t need a big plate of french fries with ketchup every once in a while?
Some restaurants have vegan or vegetarian menus my friends, especially in the US! Here’s the thing, they keep them completely hidden from the public along with their menu for people with celiac disease, and their allergen charts! That’s right, they’re secret menus! All you have to do is do a little research online to see if they have one, or better yet, ask the waiter as soon as he brings you the regular menu! If they have one you’ll be in heaven with all the new options, and if they don’t, it will be an awesome reminder that we veggies exist and that maybe they’ll want to include a couple of veg dishes.
Many restaurants these days already have vegetarian dishes marked as such on their menus. Sadly, many times these dishes are slathered with cream or cheese, so if one of these dishes suits your fancy, ask if they can leave out the ingredient you would prefer not to eat. Remember that in practically every table someone is ordering a dish from the menu and asking for no onions, no pickles, no oil or butter, salad instead of fries, etc. Restaurants are used to these requests and are more than happy to help to ensure you’ll come back and spend your money there.
Salads are great but don’t dis the entrées!
When I first became vegan I remember I would go straight to the salad part of the menu and order from there with a few adjustments. Don’t get me wrong, salads are amazing, and in some places they can really be a star dish, but as it turned out, I was overlooking all sorts of other warm and hearty meals. Next time you go to a non vegan restaurant, don’t just look at the obvious dishes that might be vegan or might be made vegan easily like salads or vegetable starters, take a look at the entrées! I’ve had crazy amazing meals by ordering one of the restaurant’s normal dishes but asking them to leave out the meat, chicken or fish. Of course they always look at me like I’m crazy and say that’s the most important part of the dish, and to this I say with the sweetest voice possible: “I’m sure it’s delicious, but I’m vegan. I would love to try the rest of the dish if that’s at all possible… (insert smiley face here)” (sometimes I say vegetarian when I know they’ll have no clue as to what the word vegan means..hey it happens!). The minute you say you’re vegetarian or vegan, waiters and managers are always so helpful and sweet. Usually sweeter, kinder and more curious than when you break the news to family and friends! Interesting…
Powerhouse side dishes
Most restaurants have amazing side dishes to go with their meat, fish and chicken, I’m talking grilled asparagus, delicious roasted potatoes, rice pilafs, Asian noodles, braised veggies, creamy polenta, stuffed mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, and even decadent options like truffle infused fries. Ask your waiter if he can bring you a plate with two or three of your favorite side dishes and tell him that you’re a vegetarian or vegan. Those are the magic words people! For some strange reason, waiters and restaurant managers always have this incredibly friendly desire to offer you the best meal possible when they find out you’re veggie. Choose your favorite sides and go crazy.
Take non vegan friends to your little pieces of heaven
When you go veggie, vegetarian and vegan restaurants are now these incredible and magical places. You’ll feel like a kid in a candy store being able to choose anything your heart desires from the menu. If your friends are open to it, take them to a veg restaurant. They’ll be surprised with how delicious and hearty the meals are and be knocked down with the low prices. Find out if you have a high end vegan restaurant in your town as well, and take your fellow foodie gourmet friends to a unique and extremely creative culinary experience.
Veggie but not vegan
If at first you find only vegetarian restaurants in your area, don’t fret and book a table! Most vegetarian restaurants have vegan items marked as such on the menu, and many offer to veganize all of their vegetarian dishes.
Visit Happy Cow, your new best friend
You’ve heard me mention my life saver happycow.net before right? In one minute you can type in your city or GPS your location, and it will give you a list of all the vegetarian, vegan, veg friendly restaurants and vegan stores near you, complete with ratings, signature dishes, photos, price ranges and hours. Narrow the search down to veg friendly restaurants, and it will give you great options if you’re looking to dine with friends and family and want a little more variety for everyone. Narrow it down to only vegan and have a blast ordering anything and everything. Nowadays, especially in big cities you’ll be able to find everything from vegan sushi restaurants to vegan doughnut shops, vegan ice cream stores, vegan bakeries, vegan cupcake stores, even vegan pizza places (and I mean pizza with vegan cheese!). The world is your oyster my friends!
Last but not least…
My last tip is possibly the most important: if you strive for absolute perfection with your dietary choices you will find yourself out of the beauty, simplicity and bliss that comes with being veggie. Treat yourself with kindness, if you fall off the horse, get back on it! This beautiful journey is about doing the best you can, not about being perfect. Please do not isolate yourself. Strive to be a joyful vegan and the ripples of your choices will reach people and places you never could have imagined. Talk about heartfelt activism!