Calling all veg heads - what are your common pitfalls when ordering at non veg restaurants?
I try to stay as close to vegan as possible and I find that ordering in non-veg restaurants takes a lot of strategy and diligence. Many times the waiters push the "vegetarian" risotto on me until I ask if it is prepared with chicken stock - it always is. The other common problem I have is if I forget to tell them to hold the cheese then they find a way to sneak it in. What issues do you have?
I agree that it's much harder for a vegan than a vegetarian.
Over the years, I've learned to watch out for:
soup (I never order it unless the broth is specified - this goes for miso, too, cuz it often has fish)
salads (bacon bits or caesar dressing)
curries (shrimp paste)
stir fries (oyster sauce)
beans (bacon or lard)
collard greens (same as above)
mashed potatoes (often served with gravy)
rice (cooked with broth)
veggie burgers (usually cooked on the same grill as the meat)
I eat a lot of salad ... and some really vile sandwiches. I have a don't ask don't tell policy. Unless an item is clearly marked "vegetarian/vegan" on the menu I don't order it. And I only change those that can be cleanly altered - i.e. salads. Soups, risottos, pastas, sandwiches (or grill items) are all suspect unless clearly marked veg/vegan and even then it's questionable if they understand the meaning of the term ... it's a risky business. I let my stomach tell me the truth and steer clear of the offenders in subsequent dealings.
I think most vegetarians (myself included) realise that going to a restaurant that serves meat is going to be a compromise. I do my best to stay away from the soup, anything that requires stock/broth and anything fried (same grill/oil as the meat).
I have a few restaurants that I know I can go to without problems, if I'm out with friends, I'll try to steer them towards one of these. If I'm going to a new place, I'll look up the menu online before I go. If it is a nicer restaurant, I do call ahead and ask.
In terms of "going with the flow" - look for the pasta dish. Even if they don't have a pomodoro sauce, most restaurants can cook make an olive oil and garlic dressing for it - ask them to toss some veggies in with it. If all else fails, go with the salad and bread. I always keep peanutbutter & crackers in my car as a fall back so my blood sugar doesn't suffer.
I do not want to sound mean or anything, but if you are a true Vegan, stay out of the meat serving restaurants. What good is a veggie burger that gets cooked along with the hamburgers or the French fries that gets fried in vegetable oil right after frying some chicken fingers?
My point is, if meat consumables comes in the back door of the restaurant, forget about having a 100% vegan experience.
if you're not going to a vegetarian restaurant, it would save you, the server and the kitchen a lot of hassle if you called ahead. very few things in a restaurant are totally cooked to order -- yeah, that risotto was par-cooked, ok? if you're trying to keep to a restricted diet, it's your responsibility to make that known, just like if you have an allergy.
soups, stocks and sauces will be your major hurdle.
if you're vegan, you might as well forget dessert, unless you're content with a fruit plate. but if you call ahead, many pastry chefs will rise to the challenge and make something special.