This is Part One of a two-part series on feeding a vegetarian, where I'm showing you how to pick a vegetarian friendly restaurant. Stay tuned for Part 2 where I discuss what to do if you actually have to cook for your vegetarian.
Maybe you’re hosting an out-of-town guest. Maybe you’re taking your new Special Someone out to dinner. Maybe you’re treating the new hire at work to a getting-to-know-you friend-date.
Whatever the reason, you have been charged with feeding a vegetarian and you have no idea what to do.
Relax. I'm here to help.
I know that to an omnivore, vegetarianism can seem really complicated and restrictive. It’s not, but you’re going to need to find out a few things if you want to successfully feed your vegetarian.
First, ask some questions.
What kind of vegetarian is this person? I'm a “regular” vegetarian, the technical term for which is Ovo-lacto. I do not eat anything that was part of an animal, but I do eat dairy. Because mmm... cheese.
Some people refer to themselves as vegetarians, but they still eat fish or poultry. This isn’t really vegetariansm, but that’s a discussion for another day. These people are sometimes referred to as Pescatarians or Flexitarians.
And then there are Vegans, who do not eat meat or dairy and most avoid animal products altogether (honey and leather, for example). This is certainly the trickiest scenario, because it means you'll need to worry not only about the food, but also what it's cooked in (no butter!). Still, this is nothing to panic about.
Do they like ethnic food? Some of the best vegetarian options come from Asian cuisine. Indian restaurants especially are very vegetarian friendly, as are many Thai and Chinese restaurants. Even sushi restaurants typically have a few rolls that are vegan. Find out if your dinner companion has any special affinity or aversion to any kind of cuisine.
Next, look at some menus.
Jump online and google up menus for some local restaurants, or check out Happycow.net and see if there are any listings for any veg-friendly eateries in your town. I have walked into dozens upon dozens of restaurants sight unseen and have literally never in fifteen years of vegetarianism had a situation where I could not find something to eat. But since you’re trying to be a super considerate dinner companion and make sure their choices are actually good, do your homework and make sure the places you’re considering have a few promising options.
A lot of restaurants today have several menu items that are already vegetarian, if not a whole section of the menu. If they don’t, look to see what they have that can be easily vegetarianized. Don't be afraid to ask for a change to something on the menu. There are almost certainly items where the meat can be left out or substituted for a vegetable.
For example: I ate with friends a few weeks ago at restaurant near the beach. The place specializes in seafood and literally the only non-meat options were fried appetizers. Luckily, they had a black bean burrito that came with chicken and a delicious mix of vegetables. I asked them to leave out the chicken and add some extra beans and veggies. They were happy to oblige and it was bangin’. They also took a few dollars off the bill because what I was asking for was a cheaper meal. Protip: Vegetarians are cheap dates.
If you want to be really thorough, call the restaurant and ask to speak to someone about their menu. Hopefully this will be the Chef, but you may end up speaking to a host or server. Be very specific about what you’re asking, and if they can’t seem to help, ask to speak to a Chef or Manager. Most people in the food industry will understand you, but you don’t want to leave anything to chance.
For example: “My friend and I would like to have dinner at your restaurant. He’s a vegan, so he doesn’t eat any meat or dairy products. Is there anything on your menu that you could recommend to us?”
Any Chef or Manager worth their salt will be glad to make suggestions or offer substitutions to fit their guests needs. Afterall, they’re business people and they want you to have a great meal so that you come back. If you run into someone who stonewalls you and offers no help, no sweat. Just tell them to have a nice day and move on to the next restaurant on your list.
So you've picked a restaurant? Awesome! Run it by your vegetarian and watch them be overwhelmed by how incredibly thoughtful you are.
If you're a meat eater, have you ever had to choose a veg-friendly restaurant for a friend? If you're a vegetarian, are you constantly amazed that people think this is hard? Tell me!