How to order off a meat-only menu...
Blog posts: 3
...without offending anyone
I am admittedly a pessimist...but looking on the bright side that might make me more of a realist. And the harsh reality in this dog-eat-dog world is that meat-eaters dominate. Which means the odds are stacked up against you, dear ethical eater, in your hungry forays into the world's four corners.
Lucky for you, Vegman is always scouting out more great vegetarian or vegan-friendly dining options that are designed right around your dietary restrictions. But they are grossly outnumbered by the rest of restaurant-landia, where you can be pretty sure you won't be seeing any buckwheat or tempeh on the menu.
Yak stew might be the only option in a mountain-top Himalayan village or grilled piranha in a steamy jungle outpost.
Does being an adventurous traveler mean you have to be an adventurous eater?
If you want the trip to be memorable, yes. When else will you get to try plums and cabbage for breakfast? Yet it doesn't mean you have to entirely abandon your eating preferences.
The trick is to sample the local flavor without upsetting either your intestinal flora or the hospitable townspeople. It's about being open to try, but respecting your personal boundaries.
You know those annoying choosy folks who make eating out in a group a torturous selection process? As soon as a consensus is reached, the food snob has to say “There's no way I'm eating there!” Groan.
Yeah, don't be that person. Especially when abroad.
These locals have accepted you into their fold, choppy grammar, tacky clothes and all, and here you are sniffing at their favorite joint, where they so graciously want to take you and show you a good time, in the only way they know how. You need these friends! To understand the culture, to find your way around, to not get mugged in the wrong restaurant.
Here are three options:
1.) Group smorgasbord
When I went out with a dozen foreigners in Panama, one girl made it almost impossible to decide on a restaurant with her vegan snootiness (she was also the one who brought a blowdryer and wheeled luggage on a rainforest outing). Our salvation was a Chinese restaurant, mercifully known for at least always having a veggie stir-fry on the menu. The round tables were outfitted with a nifty lazy-susan that we could spin around to share and sample a bit from what everyone ordered.
Even if not in Asia, suggest that everyone orders something different and then play mix-and-match. It takes the pressure off from having to eat an entire plate yourself that might be meat-heavy and makes it easier to offer to share most of your meat entree and sample more of the other dishes' sides, often grains or salads.
2.) Pick and choose
Northern coastal Peru used to be forested. A love of rotisserie chicken has pretty much turned it into a desert. Charcoal is what fuels nearly all rural stoves and the ubiquitous pollo a la brasa restaurants in any big-enough town.
Going out to eat chicken is basically the only entertainment option. As a social event, a group of four orders an entire bird to be shared. I could cringe at the double foul, as an environmentalist and vegetarian, and shame my hosts, or I could accept my new-found friends' generous offer and pick and choose from the shared meal.
They were actually pleased (and humored) that I found a use for their carrot and cabbage salad, which they thought was just a pretty garnish, like a sprig of parsley next to a hamburger. Plus I downed a whole lot of French fries and Inca Kola soda, again cringing at the grease and sugar count, but knowing it could be burned off on a run later.
In the one-dish shared group meal, it's all up for grabs so pick and choose what you want.
3.) Swap with the chef
You can swap chicken wing for coleslaw with your friends, but what if you're eating alone?
Make it simple for the waitstaff by asking for specific items to replace the meat in the dish, like a hard-boiled egg (found almost universally). Do your research to find out what high-protein foodstuffs are readily available in the area, whether it's tofu in Asia or quinua in the Andes. It is a lot easier to learn the names of a few common local foods you can tolerate than trying to translate “sprouted alfalfa greens” into the local language.
Don't attempt to explain that you're vegetarian, because that assumes they know what it means. They may, as in Life of Pi, place a green leaf on the plate and pronounce, “There, now it's vegetarian.” Or worse, as the ship cook snidely explained right back, “The cow that produced this liver was vegetarian, the pigs that went into these sausages were vegetarian.”
Be the change you wish to see in the world. But go on your spiel, if you must, only after securing your meat-free meals.
Blank Menu. Photo taken by agamamedia.
Who wants to finish my fish? Photo taken by Mark Hooper. Flickr.
Pass the salad please. Photo taken by Jose Wolff. Flickr.