New Zealand is fortunate enough to have a large selection of quality vegetarian restaurants in most locations. For vegetarians, these are the dining places where you can truly relax. However, dining out is often done with friends who might not be veggie, and while understanding omnivores are happy to have a vegetarian meal, it’s nice to be able to go to the restaurants they want as well. This puts the vegetarian in a difficult position, but it’s a situation you’ll invariably have to deal with. Here are some tips for eating out when not at a vegetarian restaurant.
- Investigate. Thankfully, most restaurants these days will provide a vegetarian menu, with a list of dishes that are friendly for you. If for some reason they don’t, don’t be afraid to ask the staff about it. If they aren’t sure, talk to the chef. Be polite, but also firm that it must contain no meat.
- Modify. Ask if a dish can be modified to exclude a certain ingredient. Often stir-fries will taste just as good with the egg or meat removed so check if this is possible. Not all restaurants are able to do this, but any that prepares food fresh should be able to accommodate you.
- Create. A lot of side dishes such as salads, chips and breads are vegetarian, so don’t feel weird if you make up an order of sides. If you order a few it’s sometimes cheaper than a main course, and just as filling.
- Query. If you’re ordering chips or anything fried, ask about the cooking oil. Non vegetarian restaurants often use animal fat because it’s cheap, so be very careful even if the ingredients themselves seem to be just potatoes.
- Bluff. If you feel like the staff don’t understand or aren’t taking your vegetarianism seriously enough, consider saying that you’re actually allergic to certain animal products. No waiter or chef will argue if you tell them you could get seriously sick.
- Prepare. If you know where you’re eating ahead of time, call up and ask about vegetarian dishes. If they don’t have something suitable, they may be able to prepare something specially for you if you give them fair notice.
- Vigilence. Be careful of dressings and sauces – these sometimes contain egg.
Caution: Thai restaurants in particular must be treated carefully – even if the menu says it is vegetarian or vegan, the sauces used often contain fish, oyster or shrimp derivatives. Double check on this, and don’t eat unless you receive a satisfactory answer.
Eating out at non vegetarian restaurants is an inevitable social hazard, but there should be enough options for you to actually make a choice about what you order. It can make you feel like an undercover agent, trying to get by at a non-veggie establishment. Ask plenty of questions, and at the end of the night ask your friends to return the favour by eating on your terms next time!
I find this situation really tough. Your tips are good, but I feel like if I have to go through that much effort to simply get a vegetarian meal somewhere then I don’t really want to give that restaurant my money anyway…