It is not that hard to get a great vegan meal at a non-vegan restaurant. You just have to be willing to ask questions…don’t be shy! In my experience, most waitstaff care about the people dining in their restaurants and will gladly answer you.
Salads are usually on the menu and oil and balsamic vinegar are always available on the side (thanks to Sally.) Bread is generally abundant on the table; tell them you don’t want butter up front so it’s not wasted. If you are a dipper, ask for olive oil instead. Most bread is just flour, yeast, salt and water, but if it looks shiny (egg wash) or yellow in color (eggs) or has unidentifiable toppings, ask.
Here are some ideas for specific cuisines!
Italian: You can always order pasta with olive oil and fresh tomatoes or hot pepper. Other vegetables, say in a primavera, could be cooked in chicken stock so ask before ordering. Pizza with no cheese is one of our favorites. We dress it up with a drizzle of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, oregano, and salt. Take home any leftovers and freeze the slices individually for those nights when you don’t feel like cooking.
Middle Eastern: Pita bread, hummus, baba ghanoush, tabbouleh, olives, falafel, tahini sauce…what more could you want?
Indian: There are tons of options at Indian restaurants, especially the vegetarian ones. The thing to watch out for is ghee, which is clarified butter. Our favorites are masala dosas and channa masala.
Asian: Tofu is on the menu at lots of Asian restaurants. At any Chinese restaurant you can get steamed vegetables and rice. At both Thai and Japanese restaurants, you have to look out for fish sauce which tends to flavor many dishes. But again, rice and vegetables are usually available. Edamame and vegetable sushi are no problem at Japanese restaurants.
Mexican: Tortillas (corn and flour), beans (not cooked in lard), rice (not cooked in chicken stock), chips, guacamole, salsa…let’s go!
Breakfast: Oatmeal made with water and berries, toast, bagels, fruit and cereal are usually easy to come by. If the restaurant does not have milk alternatives, do what my husband does, pour orange juice over your cereal!
Bars/Diners/Steakhouses: French fries, baked potatoes, salad, steamed broccoli are always a good option.
Dessert: Fruit or sorbet.
Being vegan does not mean staying home! Go out and be social. People might even ask you about your dietary orientation and it will be an opportunity to share your views and perhaps change someone’s life.