With some tried-and-true strategies, you can enjoy restaurant meals that are unforgettable for all the right reasons.
Read the menu before leaving home
Visit a restaurant’s Web site or Facebook page to explore the menu, then check online reviews and search the page for “vegetarian.” Call the restaurant to ask if the chef can accommodate your preferences. “I find that 95 percent of the time, chefs are more than happy to accommodate such requests,” says Oakland, Calif.–based Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, author of The 30-Day Vegan Challenge. She also recommends having a script at the ready, such as, “I see that you have a fabulous-looking pasta on the menu—could the chef prepare it without the anchovies?” It takes some getting used to, but the more you do it, the less daunting it becomes.
Dining out on the fly? Get creative. Mix and match items to make your own custom vegetarian or vegan meal. You can turn the menu into a smorgasbord of snacks, by ordering vegetarian options from the appetizers, salads, and side dishes sections on the menu. Scope out the sides that accompany the meaty mains too: the sweet potato mash from the pork entrée might go great with your spinach salad. When dining at an Italian restaurant, look at the contorni section of the menu to find delicious roasted, grilled, and sautéed vegetables.
Graciousness and a good attitude go far. When confirming that a dish is vegetarian, do so with a smile; if you have to send a plate back to repair an erroneous order, politely request a re-do. Most important, when the kitchen staff prepares an off-menu dish, express your gratitude. “Ending with, ‘I’d like to personally thank the chef for this delicious meal. Is he or she available for a quick hello?’ adds a really nice touch. This simple gesture will give you a boost, make the chef feel appreciated, and help pave the path for future veg diners.
Avoid unwelcome surprises by acquainting yourself with common animal ingredients lurking in seemingly vegetarian dishes. Japanese Diner Beware: Bonito A key flavor component in Japanese cuisine is dashi, a broth made from the bonito fish. Always ask before diving into dipping sauces, miso soup, or agedashi tofu, which is commonly prepared with dried bonito flakes. Korean Diner Beware: Shrimp and fish No Korean meal is complete without kimchi, the pungent, piquant cabbage-based side dish. Before tucking in, confirm the absence of shrimp or fish paste, and other sea-dwelling creatures, such as octopus or mollusks. Mexican Diner Beware: Lard At traditional Mexican restaurants, refried pinto beans are often made with lard (rendered animal fat), though whole pinto or black beans are generally veg-safe options. When in doubt, ask about the chips, tortillas, and tamales too. Thai Diner Beware: Fish sauce Red, green, and yellow curries are typically prepared with nam pla, a salty sauce made from fermented fish. Ditto for Thai dipping sauces and dressings. Ask if yours can be made with soy sauce instead. Paris-based writer Aurelia d’Andrea relishes the challenge of a non-veg menu—especially when it involves Italian food.
Revised from the VEGETARIAN TIMES EDITORS (SEP 14, 2015) “The Vegetarian’s Restaurant Survival Guide”
Great resource for everything vegetarian – with subscriptions available