If you’ve been a vegetarian for any length of time, then you know all too well how frustrating it can be to eat at restaurants. Some restaurants view a salad bar as an acceptable menu choice for vegetarians. If you’re lucky enough to find a restaurant with an actual meat-free entrée, chances are that this will be your one and only option on the menu and the dish will be one that you’ve had thousands of times before. So what’s a veg to do? Follow this guide for a happy dining experience, vegetarian-style.
Most waiters don’t really think about what goes into the food that they serve. Some waiters are simply ignorant about what makes a dish vegetarian. There has been many a waiter that mistakenly believes a “vegetarian” dish is one with no visible chunks of meat. They think nothing of chicken stock, anchovy paste, gelatin, or any number of “invisible” animal products that can go into a dish. Therefore, being told that a dish is vegetarian does not necessarily make it so.
Three Red Flags That Your Vegetarian Dish Actually Contains Dead Animals:
1. You ask if the dish is vegetarian and the waiter hesitates before giving you an answer. If the waiter must think about it, then they don’t actually know. They are simply picturing the dish in their mind, imagining the ingredients that go into it, and using their best judgment to provide you with an answer. If they contemplate the issue and declare a meal to be meat-free, they are probably wrong.
2. If the waiter looks at the food to determine the presence of animal products, you cannot trust their answer. They are simply looking for visible signs of meat. This is most likely to occur in a buffet-style restaurant.
3. The waiter says, “No, there isn’t any meat in the dish.” Again, they are just telling you that no chunks of meat are present. They aren’t even thinking about less-visible animal products.
Conversely, there are certain signs that indicate when a waiter can be trusted.
Your Meal Is Likely Meat-Free When:
1. The waiter’s response is without hesitation and he/she tells you why the dish is meat-free. For example, instead of stating, “Yes, this dish is vegetarian,” they also tell you, “this dish contains no meat, poultry, seafood, or egg products – but it does contain dairy.” This added information is an indicator that they are at least aware of what makes food vegetarian.
2. You request a vegetarian entrée and the waiter asks if dairy and eggs are ok. Again, this waiter is knowledgeable about the food they are serving and sensitive to vegetarian’s needs.
3. The menu specifically states that the dish is vegetarian or vegan.
Some Restaurants Are More Veg-Friendly Than Others
When it comes to finding a restaurant that will please vegetarians and omnivores alike, look for restaurants that meet one or more of the following criteria:
1. High-end: Expensive restaurants tend to have more knowledgeable wait staff, more vegetarian options, and a wider variety of options. You probably won’t find the over-used spaghetti with marinara sauce at a fancy restaurant. Even if the menu doesn’t list any vegetarian options, the highly-skilled chefs are more likely to make a special dish just for you.
2. Choose a steak house over a seafood restaurant. Steak houses almost always have at least one vegetarian dish, whether it’s pasta or a portobello mushroom “steak.” Seafood restaurants rarelyserve vegetarian meals. Their pasta dishes, though they may appear vegetarian, almost always contain clam sauce or some other sea creature flavoring.
3. Italian food and pizza are the easiest to make vegetarian. If you want choices, restaurants that serve these foods are your best bet. Pasta and pizza can be made in an infinite number of ways and are highly customizable. Whether you choose your own toppings or you order a gourmet vegetarian pizza, good food is easy to find.
Never assume that a dish is vegetarian unless you cooked it yourself.
Anything from pizza, to pasta, to rice, soup, and Chinese vegetables can be cooked with chicken stock. When in doubt, always ask. Then follow the guidelines above.
By taking some simple precautions and trusting your gut (ha ha, get it?), you can ensure that your vegetarian dining experience is a pleasant one.