This weeks blog post was inspired by a conversation I was having on Facebook about what to eat and what to avoid when eating out on a plant based diet.
It transpires that we’re all eating out more than ever according to recent research and while I think making your own food is the way to go most of the time, who doesn’t like someone else occasionally doing the cooking especially if you’re celebrating a birthday or anniversary?
You can eat well and plant-based when you’re eating out, you just need to know what to look for on the menu.
It doesn’t matter whether you want to eat Thai, Indian, Mexican or British, there’s always something you can enjoy.
Remember, if you want to know something, just ask your server/waiter if food can be prepared without any animal products, including dairy or eggs, and request zero to minimal oil.
You can always order off menu as well. Unless off course it says on the restaurant website that they do not cater for vegetarians or vegans. I’ve seen that before, so I naturally stay clear.
So here are a few thoughts from a ‘round the world’ plant-based eating adventure to show you What To Eat And What To Avoid When Eating Out.
Let’s get strapped in, and off we go….
Our first stop is the beautiful Mediterranean country of Italy!
ITALIAN – nearly every town has an Italian restaurant and they’re normally super helpful. Go for the pasta primavera, pizza with arrabiata or plain tomato sauce base without cheese, then load up with your choice of veg including red onions, mixed peppers, olives, mushrooms, artichokes, raisins, spinach, rocket, SunBlush tomatoes – what ever takes your fancy.
Don’t forget there’s also penne or spaghetti with tomato sauce and pasta marinara.
Ask for no cheese and check for meat in the marinara sauce, butter in the sautéing, and eggs in the pasta.
Remember that the parmesan often contains animal rennet which comes from the stomach lining of calves.
Then the Middle East and India…
MIDDLE -EASTERN – I love middle eastern foods. Go for the falafel, tabouleh, hummus, dolma, baba ghanoush and couscous. Ask about cheese, yogurt, and dairy ingredients in the breads. If you want to make your own falafel at home, here’s my recipe.
INDIAN – Going out for a spicy Indian meal is one of my favourite things to do. India by and large is a vegetarian country so you’ll always find a wide selection of starters, soups, main courses, breads and desserts on the menu.
I head straight to the vegetarian section on the menu to see what’s on offer.
Unfortunately, they do use dairy products (ghee – clarified butter in lots of their dishes, eggs and milk in breads and yogurt in sauces) and oils, so I usually ask the waiter to recommend a dish without dairy and oil. They are always very helpful and without fail, always come up trumps.
On to the Far East…
THAI – Thai is another of my favourites when we’re going out for dinner. I love the aromatic and fragrant flavours. I immediately turn to the vegetarian section on the menu which is usually full of delicious dishes including rice noodles with soy sauce, bean sprouts and garlic, pad Thai, green curry, red curry, stir fries, and a great selection of vegetables with brown rice, sticky rice and jasmine rice.
Remember to ask if they’ve used fish sauce and eggs.
VIETNAMESE – Similar to Thai, go for the vegetarian pho, rice wraps with tofu, vermicelli noodles with tofu and vegetables. Again, ask about egg and fish sauce used in the dishes.
CHINESE – I’m not a great fan of Chinese cooking, maybe it’s all the dishes I see being served to other customers when I’m there that makes me wince.
If I do go, I stick to steamed mixed vegetables with tofu and rice. There’s also veggie dumplings, kung pao tofu, tofu and broccoli. Ask about oyster sauce and eggs in mixed dishes.
JAPANESE – Vegetable sushi has become increasingly popular in recent years with supermarkets selling takeaway veggie sushi. Try the seaweed salad as well, and off course the miso soup, edamame and hiya yakko (tofu).
Ask about fish flakes (bonito) in the miso soup or fish sauce. Don’t forget some of the veggie sushi may also contain fish. Just ask the waiter and they’ll be able to tell you exactly what’s in it.
A massive hop across the Pacific to Mexico…
MEXICAN – A great fast food for when you’re on the go. Bean burritos, vegetable fajitas, soft bean tacos with salsa and guacamole are all great.
Watch out for beef/chicken broth/stock that’s often used when cooking the beans and rice. Remember to hold the cheese and sour cream.
And now it’s back home to our local neighbourhood…
SUPERMARKETS – If you’re on the go and need to find something to eat head to the supermarket or local market. In amongst all the produce you’ll probably find a salad bar. In a couple of minutes you’ll be able to pick up a three bean salad, chickpeas, tasty tomatoes, crisp cucumber, carrot batons and a selection of greens including spinach, rocket and watercress. You might even be able to grab a bowl or cup of soup.
Lastly, if you’re in the UK there’s always the local pub and their food. I’ve been to some lovely pubs and eaten amazing veggie dishes that they’ve adapted slightly by removing the eggs or cheese for me.
I’ve also been in some where it’s been very difficult to find anything to eat. In these situations I order from what they call the sides menu. Here you’ll find baked potatoes, side salads and veggies.
I’ve even been known to ask if they can make me a bowl of pasta with tomato sauce if there’s been nothing on the menu that I can have. They’re usually very accommodating.
This also applies to any ‘family-style’ restaurants.
A few more general tips…
- If you’re planning on going out to eat, check the restaurants website first and to see what the menu is for the day you’re going. You can even call them in advance and ask what they might serve you.
- For dressings, go for balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar or ask for a wedge of lemon and squeeze over your veg or salad leaves.
- Rather than have mayo on your spicy bean or veggie burger, go for mustard, ketchup or salsa.
My top tip is… always ask. You’ll be very surprised at how accommodating restaurants, cafes and pubs are.
To finish up…
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