One of the challenges that you can face when following a plant based or vegan lifestyle occurs when going out for dinner or lunch with friends/family. I think that a lot of people are very sensitive to dietary choices and they will try to find a place that works for everyone. I must say here in the NYC, this is pretty easy and considering a lot of my non vegan friends have one or more dietary restrictions (gluten free, lactose intolerance, nut allergies) I never feel like I am the only one who has ‘special needs’.
Now I must say that for a long time I used to be a bit embarrassed, even when I was only vegetarian, to voice my preferences. This has changed because I respect other people’s choices so I feel OK expressing my choices as well. Also, it is really not that difficult to be plant based and social at the same time and it won’t influence your friendships at all, unless you make a big deal out of it. I find it very easy to eat vegan at non vegan restaurants – it’s all about being creative and informing yourself. I ask waiters questions, without making them feel uncomfortable of course and I tell them that I don’t eat animals nor animal products. 90% of the time they say: ‘Oh, we can make you a vegan platter’. If that doesn’t happen, have a look below for some easy tips to eat plant based at any restaurant.
Indian food is definitely very vegan friendly. Traditionally, a big part, especially of the southern Indian population is vegetarian. A lot of dishes are even vegan. I would always check and ask for them not to add any Ghee (basically a form of butter, and easy to avoid because the chefs usually only at it at the end of the dish’s preparation) and don’t choose any dishes with Paneer (Indian cheese). Dosas, which I love, are an Indian play on crepes, usually stuffed with mashed potatoes and spices. They are made out of lentils and 100% vegan. Indian desserts can contain honey or milk so make sure to pick the ones with almond milk and sugar.
Italian cuisine mainly uses olive oil so no need to worry about butter. A lot of pasta dishes come with cheese, so just order it without. I love gnocchi (made out of potato) with a simple tomato sauce or an eggplant sauce. Ask for some fresh ground pepper and extra herbs. Antipasti often include marinated veggies such as mushrooms, peppers and tomatoes. All vegan! Be careful with focaccia bread as it can contain cheese but otherwise it shouldn’t be a problem. Minestrone, a classic Italian soup, is also vegan when made with veggie broth. It’s a delicious soup made with veggies and pasta.
Chinese broth often contains animal product so make sure you check beforehand. It can also be used in veggie dishes. A lot of noodle dishes can be vegan as well as braised eggplant, mushroom or broccoli dishes. You can get veggie dumplings at a lot of places too.
Thai curries can be 100% plant based if you pick the tofu option. Pad Thai and other noodle dishes are plant based too if you ask for it not to come with meat.
Ethiopian food is another cuisine that is traditionally super vegan friendly. Try Injera, which is a sourdough bread that serves as a spoon for other dishes. A lot of toppings are lentil, chickpea or bean based. Just go with bayenetu and you’ll have a combination of plant based dishes.
If you go out for sushi, just go with the avocado, cucumber or veggie rolls. Miso soup is usually vegan too. If you go to a more traditional Japanese restaurant, avoid the fish and shellfish and make sure your veggie tapas don’t contain fish broth. Also, mochis, the wonderful rice cakes, are vegan so get some Japanese dessert 😉
French food is a bit more tricky. French cuisine uses a lot of butter and other animal products. To be safe, just go with a salad and make sure you avoid eggs. In the south of France, socca is very common – it’s a chickpea crepe often topped with veggies and absolutely vegan friendly when you avoid cheese (check out my recipe for it!). Ratatouille, a traditional veggie casserole, is also vegan because it’s usually prepared with olive oil. Be careful with crepes as they often contain eggs and milk but I have heard of some NYC creperies that they make vegan versions now.
BBQ places are actually surprisingly vegan friendly. A lot of side dishes are vegan or easy to veganize if you ask. Baked potatoes (without the cheese), grilled veggies, collard greens, sweet potatoes fries (while not the healthiest) are all great options. Ask if the baked beans are made with plant fat and look out for hearty salads. Things to avoid are Mac’n Cheese and Corn bread – although vegan version of these goodies exist, they are not common at traditional BBQ places.
As you can see, eating plant based doesn’t mean you have to compromise your social life. In any case, I always check out the menu online beforehand if I go to a new place and if I have doubts, I call and ask if they can make something vegan so I know even before I get there.