Whether you’re new to the vegan lifestyle or have been vegging out for awhile now, dining in restaurants as a vegan can be quite challenging sometimes.
Though a lot of places may seem to have vegan offerings, there are often times hidden ingredients that may prove otherwise. It’s always a bummer to have a “vegan” favorite, only to find out it had eggs in the batter all along!
Here are some tips to help navigate those yummy-sounding dishes when dining out:
The bread zone
Most vegans tend to think of breads as being in the “safe zone”. However, many soda breads contain buttermilk, and the other day proved to be very awkward when I found out that the Gebeta bread I used to love in one of my favorite local restaurants actually contains butter rather than olive oil. This same mistake can be easily made mistaking your focaccia bread to be olive oil based, when, in fact, butter may have been used instead. If you don’t want dairy in your bead, you’re better off asking in advance.
Give me some pasta
Another assumed safe zone is the world of pasta. As long as we stick to the olive oil or tomato based sauces, we should be safe right?
Well, to some of you this might be obvious, but for me it was a shocking discovery to find out that some restaurants prepare their fresh pasta using eggs! Needless to say, this discovery lead me and my husband to remove quite a few favorite Italian restaurants from our list. That being said, some very good restaurants remained, and our new guideline of deciding whether to go in to a new Italian restaurant has been to ask in advance whether their pasta is made with eggs.
Sauces and dressings
Another area to approach with caution is that of sauces. While most of us will assume that our tomato sauce is made only using tomatoes and spices, and that our coconut milk sauce is made with, well, coconut milk – it’s worth noting that many restaurants add dairy cream to their sauces to make it richer. Suddenly the coconut sauce doesn’t look that innocent, does it?
The same goes for dressings; while we all know to stay clear of the likes of “Thousand Island” dressing due to its mayonnaise content, and Caesar dressing as there is nothing vegan about anchovy, parmesan cheese, or eggs, there are many dressings that sound quite vegan, and in many cases are, but are still worth a double check: many chefs add parmesan cheese to their pesto dressing/ sauce, for example, while others might use mayonnaise and/ or honey in their lemon-herb, garlic, and vinaigrette style dressings. Be ware.
Dip it, spread it – check it
Dips and spreads can be quite surprising as well. While many of us know to check for eggs in the guacamole spread, how many of us have ever stopped to check for eggs in our hummus dip? Oh yes – some places add them. Others things to check for are parmesan cheese in your bean dip, yogurt in your Baba Ghanoush (aubergine dip), etc.
What can go wrong with a salad?
The salad zone, believe it or not, can contain quite a few unpleasant surprises as well, in the form of croutons and fried/ sautéed vegetables such as mushrooms, corn and green beans. Make sure your croutons weren’t fried in butter and that your fried/ sautéed vegetables aren’t greasy due to the addition of animal fats (dairy or non). In regards to the dressing – check the guidelines listed above.
Do you ever go to a restaurant, order a seemingly vegan dish, and yet something still smells fishy? Well, no, it’s not just you. Many places add fish stock to their dishes, and while this is especially common in Asian restaurants, this practice is also wide spread in many western food cuisines as well. Check for fish stock in your pasta, or Dashi in your stir-fry vegetable and miso soup.
The same is worth doing with eggs as they are also present in seemingly vegan dishes as well as more expected ones such as the traditional Pad Thai, eggrolls, and some tempura dishes.
I need a drink
Drinks can be one of the more enjoyable aspects of dining out, however, this aspect is a little more difficult unless you ask questions or make preparations in advance. Not all restaurants will know to tell you if fish bladders were used in the purifying process of your beer or if eggs were used in the purifying process of your wine. Even some soft drinks turn out to be not as vegan as one might think, but again- this issue, until things will be labeled correctly as vegan friendly or unfriendly – is kind of the vegan twilight zone.
Many vegan organizations around the globe are working towards proper labeling of products and menus these days. One day soon we will all hopefully be able to sit in a restaurant and know exactly which dishes and drinks are 100% vegan friendly, no questions asked. Until then, I would simply suggest contacting restaurants in advance, or at least asking questions before ordering your food – everybody deserves to know if there are any animal products or by-products in their food, and the more of us that “annoy” the servers and chefs with these inquiries and requests, the more motivated they will be to label things properly so that no further questions will be needed.
Don’t let this demotivate you. You will quickly find that most establishments will be more than happy to accommodate you and your needs. Sometimes all it takes is just a polite request or a smile. I can tell you that the local sushi restaurants in my area already have a vegan sushi stand for those who don’t want to have their vegan sushi mixed with fish, and that the other day, while dining in a local Thai restaurant I was offered a new vegan and vegetarian menu in addition to the regular one that they have. Things-are-a-changing and soon this will all become much easier – promise!
Happy vegan dining to you all!