• Zoe Peled

Eating Vegan at Restaurants: The Master Guide



We've all been " that vegan": the one with a couple of bananas and a protein bar in our bags at all times, just in case the restaurant doesn't have a satiating meal for us. Due to the rise of popularity in plant based food and veganism, the tides are changing. Major restaurants, fast food chains, an expansive range of cuisine from around the world, and even options at the gas station convenience mart are steadily growing. Here's how to navigate them all, find hidden ingredients, identify the vegan-friendly options, and dive into a world of new dishes, flavours and experiences.



Chinese

  • A fantastic option for traveling. Most major (and small) cities will have at least one amazing Chinese food restaurant.

  • Due to the prevalence of veganism and vegetarianism, most restaurants will now have tofu on the menu in main dishes (or the option to switch in tofu for meat in any dish)

  • Options for main dishes (which will usually appear on a menu) include anything tofu-based, vegetable fried rice (specify no eggs), tofu fried rice (specify no eggs), steamed vegetables with a side sauce of choice, sautéed beans, and garlic eggplant.



Keep an eye out: Mapo tofu, though soy based, is traditionally cooked with pork. If you are selecting this dish, ask if it’s possible to have a vegan version. Be aware that some dishes may be prepared with fish sauce, even if it’s not stated on the menu. This can easily be subbed out for other sauces.



Ethiopian


  • An abundance of Ethiopian food options are fantastic options for vegans, as they are inherently free of animal products. Many will have a legume base (red lentils or split peas), and feature leafy or root vegetables that are specific to the region.

  • Popular traditional dishes such as Misir Wot (Red Lentil Stew), Kik Alicha (yellow split pea stew), Shiro Wot (Chickpea Flour Stew), stir fries, and Injera bread are all vegan.

  • Vegan dishes may be referred to on the menu as ‘ yetsome megebe’, which means ‘ food eaten for fasting days’.

  • When you order vegan food at Ethiopian restaurants, the most common option is to get a large vegetarian combo or sampler platter, known as “yetsome beyaynetu”.

  • The combo usually comes on a base of injera bread, which is used to scoop the stew and veggies. This is then topped with Salata (romaine salad), Misir Wot, Kik Alicha, collards, and more.


Miriam Berger/ Buzzfeed

Keep an eye out: Almost all the vegetarian dishes at most Ethiopian restaurants will also be vegan, though some may have clarified butter in them: double-check before ordering.



Indian


  • Indian food is one of the world’s most vegetarian-friendly cuisines, but finding reliable vegan Indian food can be tricky (at times). On the flipside, some Indian dishes are vegan by default.

  • A lot of Indian cuisine emphasizes dairy. This dominance arose partly from religious beliefs, and partly from nutritional concerns (both complex historical components, which can, and should be further researched).

  • When it comes to snacks and appetizers (Chaat), your best options are:

  • When it comes to main dishes, your best options are:

  1. Puri (deep fried, whole wheat bread served with chutney. Inquire, as some versions are made with curd).

  2. Samosas and pakora (deep fried, vegetable stuffed pastries and bite-sized veggies deep fried in a spicy chickpea batter).

  3. Aloo tiki (fried potato dumplings; request no yogurt on top)

  • When it comes to main dishes, your best options are:

  1. Aloo Gobi (potatoes and cauliflower seasoned with cilantro and onions)

  2. Chana Masala (chickpeas in spicy curry sauce)

  3. Dal (lentil stew)

  4. Dosas (Southern Indian cuisine; lentil crepes folded around a savory filling, usually potatoes and onions.

  5. Roti and Chapati ( flatbread varieties; choose these over naan as it almost always contains dairy.)

  6. Kitchari (rice and split yellow peas)




Keep an eye out: Ghee (clarified butter) is a staple ingredient in some dishes, so double check yours are made without it. Cream is used to thicken some sauces. Naan is sometimes brushed with ghee, so request it without, switch out for oil, or order roti/chapati. Nearly even popular Indian dessert contains dairy products or honey, unless you’re eating at or ordering from a vegan-specific Indian food restaurant.



Italian


  • A fantastic option for vegans, as Italian foods are predominantly (though not exclusively) pasta, breads, and seasonal vegetables.

  • Many of the key ingredients in Italian cooking (nightshades, onions, garlic, dried herbs, balsamic vinegar, pasta, borlotti beans, lentils, garbanzo beans) are vegan.

  • Dry pasta is commonly made from white “semolina” or “durum flour, and is usually vegan by default. (Fresh pasta is different; see “ keep an eye out section”.)

  • Fresh, from-scratch tomato sauce (a staple) needs nothing more to achieve perfection than ripe tomatoes, good spices, and olive oil.

  • Some traditional dishes may include meatballs and sausages, which is an opportunity to try many of the alternatives on the market, or make your own from scratch.

  • Higher-price point Italian restaurants will usually have fresh pasta (made with egg). Spaghetti and angel hair are (almost) always vegan, since they’re typically dry pasta. Meaning: go for spaghetti + marinara sauce if need be; ask for extra veggies in your sauce provided they’re prepared with olive oil and not butter.

  • Salad is a great option, and most Italians don’t fill arbitrarily fill theirs with meat and cheese. Ensure the dressing is vegan (and the chef doesn’t add cheese into the salad).

  • Typical pizza dough will be made from white flour, sugar, yeast, and water. Load it up with tomato sauce and veggies! Make sure there is no cheese baked into the crust, which some bigger “chains” will do.



Keep an eye out: Nearly all options for fresh pasta contain eggs. Some companies do many fresh pasta versions that are vegan friendly, but note that many have a higher price point. Make sure pasta dishes are not sprinkled with parmesan, and double-check croutons for butter/cheese (or omit them from the salad altogether.)


Japanese


  • A lot of Japanese cuisine is inherently vegan: rice, noodles, vegetables, seaweed, soy products and mushrooms. Ironically, at the same time, a lot of traditional Japanese food does have a seafood ingredient, and/or a fish-derived seasoning. Meaning, Japanese food is very vegan- friendly, and very much not at the same time.

  • Fish is easy to avoid, but fish-based seasonings can be more of a challenge. Dashi, a seasoning power made primarily of fish flakes, shows up everywhere in Japanese cooking: soups, sushi rice, sauces, and dressings. Dashi provides the “umami” flavor that can’t be easily replicated with a lot of other ingredients. (There are now a few vegan versions on the market, but you might only find it in vegan-specific restaurants.)

  • Pork is not a traditional component within the Japanese diet, but it has become more popular due to Japan’s proximity to China. It’s a common ingredient in gyoza, and some vegetable dishes may include pork seasoning.

  • The best options at a restaurant may include:

  1. Soba and Udon Noodles. Authentic soba is 100 percent buckwheat (vegan), cheaper sobas are 90 percent wheat and 10 percent buckwheat (still vegan). Tsuyu broth, which is what a lot of Soba and Udon dishes are served in, is made from soy saucer, ginger, wasabi and dashi.

  2. Edamame (steamed soybeans)

  3. Seasoned Cucumber

  4. Ramen (double check for meat stock)

  5. Nori Rolls (avocado, vegetables, etc.)

  6. Nato (fermented chopped soybeans)

  7. Mochi




Keep an eye out: A lot of traditional Japanese food does have a seafood ingredient, and/or a fish-derived seasoning. Sometimes, pork ingredients are used to season broths, especially for ramen. Double-check veggie rolls don’t contain vegan mayo, and ensure that the miso soup option is vegan-friendly.



Korean


  • The majority of Korean Food has meat and seafood as a base, including many stocks and seasonings. Therefore, a lot of South Korean cuisine has been past regarded as one of the most unfavourable for a vegan diet. That said, things are shifting!

  • If you’re ordering in a restaurant, these are the top five dishes that can usually be easily veganized:

  1. Bibimbap (traditional dish made from steamed rice, assorted vegetables, gochujang (hot chilli paste), and sometimes beef and egg. Simply request the beef and egg are omitted.

  2. Japchae (a stir fry dish made with sweet potato noodles, vegetables, and meat and/or fishcakes. Usually served as a side dish, you can request a meal portion with rice if you’d like to make it a main dish.

  3. Pajeon (green onion pancakes, frequently made with seafood. The batter is water, cornstarch and flour (rice or wheat), added to onions and other ingredients. An egg is cracked over the top at the end of cooking. Ask to skip the eggs. Some restaurants may already have a veganized version on the menu.

  4. Gimbap/kimbap (South Korean vegan fast food) One of the most popular items here is a sushi variation, made from rice (bap), which has other ingredients such as egg, crab sticks, pickled radish, veggies. If you have the option to “build your own”, simply sub out the animal-based ingredients for more veg.




Keep an eye out: Many traditional Korean dishes use large amounts of meat, and/or seafood, especially as a base flavouring in stocks and sauces. If you’re not able to obtain the ingredients for any reason, opt for a dish with no sauce included to err on the side of caution.



Mediterranean


  • First and foremost: Mediterranean is a great option for vegans, as a lot of the main dishes are inherently free of animal products.

  • Hummus, tahini, falafel (bonus: all boasting good protein levels), especially when prepared traditionally, will have no animal products. Falafel is usually fried in vegan-friendly oils.

  • Roasted veggie dishes (such as eggplant) will usually be cooked with vegetable oil(s) as well.

  • Greek salad is easily modified by taking out the feta cheese. There are many great vegan feta brands on the market, or if you’re preparing the salad at home, you can experiment with one of the (many) amazing marinated tofu ‘feta’ recipes.

  • Greek restaurants will usually be able to put together a vegetable kebab option if you’re ordering a main + sides (this is my default order.)

  • On a Greek menu, a Ladera dish (made with olive oil), often consists of a vegetable cooked in tomato sauce. You could have fasolakia (green beans), bamies (stewed okra), briam (zucchini, potatoes, eggplant, and bell peppers baked together with tomato sauce), or melitzanes imam (baked eggplant in a tomato sauce).

  • Fasolada (bean soup), Revythia (chickpeas or garbanzo beans), Mavromatika Fasolia (black-eyed peas, sometimes in a salad and other times in a tomato sauce), or fakes (lentils) are all great options, and are also chock full of protein to boot.




Keep an eye out: restaurants may brush their pita with butter. You can request this without anything, or olive oil instead. Greek restaurants often have roasted potatoes; sometimes they’re prepped in butter + lemon; sometimes it is oil + lemon. If you’re ordering the ‘ Ladero’ option, ensure the restaurant doesn’t use a meat-based bouillon in the dish, or sprinkle feta cheese on top.



Mexican


  • No cuisine is more vegan-friendly than Mexico’s, and several classic dishes are perfect for beginning cooks.

  • Mexican food is very healthy: fresh vegetables, tomatoes, and avocados are staple ingredients, and protein sources (beans, rice, and corn tortillas) and satisfying and nutritious.

  • The quintessential pairing of rice and beans, topped with guacamole and salsa is vegan by default (double-check the guacamole is dairy free, which it should be if it is ‘traditional’.

  • Many Mexican dishes can be easily adapted to vegan. If it’s a burrito, taco or quesadilla, remove the meat/cheese and request extra veggies + beans.

  • As with Mediterranean, most dishes and ingredients are prepared with oil instead of butter.

  • Veggie tamales, black bean soup, nopales (dishes with cacti), salsa, and guacamole (and chips) are usually vegan by default.



Keep an eye out: animal fat shows up by default in many “plant-based” menu items. Beans can be prepared with pork, and refried beans often contain lard. Some rice is prepared with chicken stock, or we’re looking at the infamous sour-cream in guac as mentioned above. Most wheat flour tortillas and corn flour vegan tortillas are vegan, however may be fried in lard in rare circumstances.



Middle Eastern

{Lebanese, Israeli, Iraqi, Iranian, Egyptian}


  • There is no other major word cuisine that is consistently (and reliably) vegan as Middle Eastern Food.

  • As long as you avoid meat dishes, traditional Middle Eastern food contains no eggs and only rarely contains dairy products.

  • A great option across the board: falafel (flavourful, deep fried balls or patties made from garbanzo beans, garlic and spices. Usually, falafel is served in a wrap or pita bread, with lettuce, cabbage, pickled vegetables and tahini.

  • Tahini is a staple dressing and sauce. It’s incredibly creamy, due to its base of sesame, water, garlic, lemon juice and salt. (Highly recommend to put on everything).

  • Pita (bread) and lavash (flatbread) are vegan by default

  • Hummus is made from cooked garbanzo beans, blended with tahini, garlic, lemon juice, water and salt. (While we are here, it’s unparalleled.)

  • Babaghanouj has a similar texture to hummus, but uses baked eggplant as a base.

  • Other options: dolmas (marinated grape leaves stuffed with rice and herbs) or tabbouleh (grain and parsley based salad).

  • All these dishes are popular throughout the Middle East, although the methods of preparation will vary between countries. In Iraq, for instance, the falafel often has a doughnut-style hole in the middle.

  • Of all the Middle Eastern cuisines, Egyptian food is the most distinct from Lebanese/Israeli cuisine. The most popular dish in Egypt is called kushari: rice and lentils.




Keep an eye out: beans may contain lard, rice may be boiled in chicken stock, and/or potatoes may be cooked with butter. Some falafel sandwiches/wraps may have cheese in them. Sometimes dolmas contain meat, but even if they don’t you should ask whether they’ve been soaked in meat broth, or if the rice has been cooked in meat stock, which is sometimes the case.



Thai


  • Thai food is one of the most delicious, vegan-friendly cuisine options. It is easy to prepare vegan Thai food at home, but presents some challenges when eating out.

  • In a lot of traditional Thai dishes, a tiny amount of seafood is incorporated into the seasonings that go into most savory Thai dishes.

  • The most popular Thai dishes are stir-fried veggies with either tofu or meat, served in a curried coconut milk sauce over rice.

  • Thai curry sauce comes in red, yellow (panang), green, and massaman. Each of these varieties is based on different spices, offering radically different flavors. Yet they all pair perfectly with coconut milk.

  • The majority of restaurants put ground shrimp in their curries. Sometimes these are pre-made, so you may not be able to order a standard curry item or modify it.

  • If you don’t have several menu options, a go-to dish would be ordering veggies and tofu in plain coconut milk, seasoned with salt and spices, with jasmine rice. Another option: stir fried veggies with plain soy sauce.

  • These are popular menu items that can be veganized:

  1. Pad Thai (rice noodle dish seasoned with tamarind sauce, garnished with crunchy mung bean sprouts and chopped peanuts.)Traditional Pad Thai includes eggs. Some restaurants will be able to leave the egg out, some won’t.

  2. Tom Yum and Tom Kah (Thai soups, featuring vegetables in a clear yellow broth, and for Tom Kah, spicy coconut milk). Soups are usually pre made, so you may not be able to order yours without shrimp or fish sauce.

  3. Sticky Rice (popular Thai dessert)…which is almost always vegan! Rice, sweetened coconut milk, and mango slices.



Keep an eye out: Ground shrimp (curry paste), fish sauce (noodles or coconut milk sauce), veggies cooked in fish sauce, seafood based sauces. As this article comes to a close, let's acknowledge this list is not finite. When it comes to experiencing the foods of the world, there is no way that vegan culinary adventure could be contained into one article. Stay tuned for versions 2, 3, 4, and.....more. Happy adventures, and bon appetit!



Sources // References



Celestial Peach


Healthline Kids Love Greece PETA


The Nomadic Vegan


Vegan.com

Vegan Sisters





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