During the festive season we tend to dine out more often than usual. If you just adopted a vegan lifestyle and worry about what you will be able to eat in a restaurant, I have good news for you - eating out on a plant-based lifestyle can be an absolute delight. Luckily, more and more mainstream restaurants in South Africa are offering fantastic Green options on their menus, and the number of pure veg food outlets are also on the rise. From fast-food to raw cuisine, there’s a restaurant to suit your needs! However, from time to time you might find yourself in a unpalatable predicament with limited or no plant-based options in sight. These simple steps by HSI-Africa will help you create a decadent dish and avoid socially-awkward situations:
- Surf the net: When dining out as a group, offer to be responsible for picking the restaurant and do some research on veg-friendly eateries in the area. This is especially important when visiting an unknown town or going on vacation to a new destination. Refer to plant-based blogs, influencers and websites that provide honest restaurant reviews. Take a look at our tried and tested restaurant favourites.
- Phone ahead: If you don’t see a plant-based option on the restaurant’s online menu, phone ahead to inform the staff that you are plant-based and ask whether it would be possible for the chef to create a dish for you. If the staff is unsure what to whip up, suggest a few options that are in line with what they have on offer, using the ingredients you can identify on their menu.
- Spot the plant-based potential: Try to have a quick scan through the menu before the table place their orders. If there are no plant-based options available, page to the vegetarian options first. Most vegetarian dishes, such as pastas, salads, sandwiches, burgers, pizzas and sushi, can be made plant-based by removing the egg or diary ingredients. Substitute cheese for guacamole on pizzas and burgers, opt for a brown mushroom instead of a patty when a veggie burger isn’t listed, replace feta for olives or roasted vegetables in salads and ask for a pesto or coconut cream sauce over your pasta.
- Sneaky suspects: Be careful of sneaky ingredients hiding in vegetarian options. Falafels and veggie patties often contain egg as a binding ingredient and some bread rolls may contain dairy. Vegetables (especially mushrooms) can be fried in butter, pesto may contain cheese and soups may be drizzled with cream. Restaurants who make their own pasta usually make use of egg. Just ask your waiter to confirm the ingredients of suspicious dishes.
- Speak to the chef: On (very) rare occasions you might not find anything to munch. In this case, kindly ask the waiter to call the chef or excuse yourself from the table to speak to the manager or chef. Restaurants are usually extremely accommodating and often make your meal with extra care.
- Say thank you: If you’ve had an incredible meal at a restaurant that usually doesn’t have a plant-based offering, encourage the chef to add your meal to their menu. You can post a photo of your meal on social media and tag the restaurant in your post, write an online review or email the restaurant with gratitude and suggestions the day after.