Note: For the four weeks between January 14th and February 11th, I'm adopting a completely vegan lifestyle. Every weekday I'll be updating my progress with a diary entry and a recipe. For past posts, check here!
Day 4: Tuesday
Breakfast: Chilaquiles with Pepitas, Charred Corn, and Black Beans/a>
Lunch: Vegetarian dim sum, bok choy with shiitake mushrooms, and brown rice from Red Egg.
Dinner: Garbanzos con Espinacas Stay tuned for the recipe tomorrow morning!
If my experiences at a meat-heavy largely American-based restaurant yesterday is any indication, picking good restaurants to be vegan in takes a bit more homework than blindly agreeing to whatever my sister picks.
Here's a good way to start: before you go, ask yourself, does the cuisine served at restaurant [Y] come from a country with a history of vegetarianism at least a couple centuries old? If the answer is yes, chances are you're off to a good start.
Why does the length of vegetarian history matter? Well technically it doesn't, but in practice I think you'll find that the longer a cuisine has had time to develop, the better it will be. Faux meats in Western countries (things like mock hot dogs or meatless burgers) are still in their infancy, and frankly, there aren't too many infant-produced substances that I'd want to stick in my mouth. In other regions of the world, on the other hand, vegetarian and vegan food has had plenty of time to develop into a full-fledged tasty cuisine.
Indian cuisine is a great place to look, though Japanese and Chinese are even better. Why? Because milk is not a traditional part of their food, which means that eggs and perhaps honey are really the only dangers you have to look out for when trying to dine vegan at a vegetarian-friendly Chinese or Japanese establishment.
Steamed Rice Rolls with Cilantro felt lacking to me without some sort of protein-based filling and the Vegetarian Fried Dumplings were abysmally mushy with not enough filling, but the Steamed Vegetable Fun Gaw had plenty of flavor and textural contrast. Buddha's Delight Rice Roll (does the name "Buddha's Delight" sound sort of pejorative to anyone else? Would a meat eater ever order a dish by that name?), despite the annoying name, is the best of the bunch. A steamed rice roll wrapped around a crisp wrapper filled with cabbage and mushrooms.
Even the lunch specials offer a couple of vegan-friendly options—Pan Fried Noodles, Braised Noodle with Black Mushroom, Pan-Fried Tofu with Seasoned Soy Sauce, and Eggplant with Garlic Sauce, for instance (just stay away from the vegetarian hot and sour soup—it's got an egg in it).
Tasting food like this, it's easy to realize that with certain cuisines, vegetarian food doesn't taste like it's missing anything precisely because it's not. These are dishes designed from the get-go without meat. They've evolved and transformed, and have turned into truly delicious final products. Not only that, but it was one of the first meals I've had in mixed company (that is, omnivores and vegans alike) in which I didn't feel like I was missing out on anything.
I must remember to seek out more of these.
P.S. Mom: I'm down to 174. Perhaps going vegan will help me to lose weight after all.
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Managing Editor of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.