Eating Out Vegan

The past three days have been an experiment in vegan restaurant dining.  As an added challenge, the people I was eating with had no idea I was keeping a vegan diet, so I tried to be subtle.  My relative success proves one point: as a vegetarian, taking the additional step to veganism is neither conspicuous nor overly difficult.

One disclaimer: I say relative success because I accepted before the weekend began that I might accidentally break my month-long veganism.  The one thing I hate even more than eating foods that caused suffering is wasting good food that would be thrown out otherwise, so when a pasta dish I ordered had a bit of cheese sneaked in, I said nothing and enjoyed it (with a seasoning of regret—this is the first time I’ve broken my strict veganism in three weeks).

The first night out, we found a vegan Thai restaurant, where the entire menu was fair game.  Since I originally shunned meat because I dislike the flavor and texture, I avoided the faux-meat entries (which, according to reviews, are extraordinarily convincing) and instead went for the tofu dishes.  Everything was superb.

The biggest lesson I learned this weekend is that Asian cuisine has the most exciting variety of vegan foods anywhere.  Tofu is prevalent as a meat substitute, and the sauces don’t depend on cheese to lend richness and depth of flavor.  Some Asian restaurants are fond of putting fish sauce in everything, and others use egg noodles in certain dishes, so strict vegans should ask before ordering anything.

Baked desserts are the only foods that offer no compromise.  Every conventional baked dessert I encountered (except the carrot cake at the vegan Thai restaurant) was made with animal products; so are English muffins, as I learned too late.  In other words, I just had to say no to baked desserts.  I was sorely tempted by the gelatos in the Italian district, but otherwise it was fairly easy to turn down pastries and cakes in favor of vegan Taza chocolates and soy lattes.

Basically, I was able to order more or less exactly what I wanted, with just a few key substitutions. 

  • For breakfast, I had peanut butter instead of cream cheese on my bagel.  (Note: some bagels are coated with egg washes to make them extra shiny.  In the future I’ll investigate companies that are guaranteed vegan).
  • As usual, I asked for soy lattes instead of the regular kind.  (Even the small independent coffee shops have this option readily available).
  • At California Pizza Kitchen, I had to order a salad instead of a pizza.  Of course, I got such a delicious grilled vegetable salad that I didn’t even miss the pizza.
  • When visiting a Lindt chocolate store, I had to look very carefully at the ingredients of the chocolates to find a dark chocolate bar that didn’t contain any dairy.  The classic truffles all contain milk.

Though I had a few accidental slip-ups, I made it through the most difficult new experience as a vegan without feeling that I was missing anything.  To my amazement, I wasn’t even jealous as I watched my friends eat the pizza I couldn’t touch.

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