Veg options available in all cuisines
Posted March 6, 2013 at 10:16 pm in Lifestyle
College is a time to try new things, whether itâs taking a class outside your major, playing Quidditch or wearing bro-tanks every day. For a lot of college students, a switch to a different diet can happen in the middle of a semester; many students, after all, have begun eating stuff beyond what Dad or Mom put on the table.
For some, this might lead to the âfreshman 15â but, for others, it can be a way to explore a new dietary regimen that doesnât consist solely of pizza and Chanoâs. Vegetarian or vegan diets, especially, are a perfect way to reset your eating habits.
Along with the health benefits (low cholesterol, more fiber, fewer calories), vegetarian or vegan diets are one of the most surefire ways to support the environment as factory farming (the way a majority of meat is produced) produces significantly more greenhouse gases than large-scale produce farms. The trend has been slowly gaining traction: As of 2012, 4 percent of Americans eat a vegan or vegetarian diet, according to a Harris Interactive Poll, up from about 1 percent 40 years ago.
Of course, any change can be a little scary. If youâre considering cutting out meat, dairy and eggs from your diet, fear not. While navigating USCâs dining halls as a person with dietary restrictions is a matter in itself, eating out can present unique challenges for vegans and vegetarians. These unique challenges have simple solutions but vary from cuisine to cuisine.
Stereotypical American food does not bode well for vegans. Places that mainly serve hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken fingers and milkshakes rarely seem to have many vegetarian, much less vegan, options. Of course, there are some surprising finds among fast-food franchises beyond fries: Fatburger and Burger King both sell veggie burgers and McDonaldâs apple pies are vegan.
Diner-type restaurants, on the other hand, can frequently be unfriendly to vegan or vegetarian diets. If the place is not a franchise, your best bet is often to ask for soup (be sure to ask the server if meat broth is used), scour the menu for some sort of meat-substitute burger or just ask for a simple sandwich consisting of grilled veggies and available garnishes.
Many of the cuisines of Latin America put an emphasis on meat, but there are almost always delicious vegan options. As long as refried beans donât include lard and black beans arenât cooked with pork products, youâll have a solid selection at most Mexican restaurants. Many places have a veggie burrito (donât forget to ask if the guacamole has dairy in it â itâs more common than you think â and specify no sour cream or cheese) or some sort of grilled veg plate. There are quite a few restaurants around L.A. that even offer vegan tamales (such as Teresaâs Mosaic CafĂ© in El Segundo). Of course, Angelenos have access to a wide variety of food that hails from South America, and many vegetable-based âside dishesâ can serve as a main element of your meal.
In Los Angeles, most restaurants seem to be Japanese, Korean, generic Chinese (though there are many places that specify province) or Thai. There are, of course, others, which often offer amazing vegetarian and vegan food, particularly those with some sort of Buddhist affiliation.
The best part about Asian food is the use of tofu. Japanese and Korean restaurants in the U.S. tend to be a bit more authentic and avoid frying the crap out of it, as many Chinese restaurants do. Japanese restaurants often have a few fish-less items (even on sushi menus) and tend to value very fresh, crisp veggies. Tempura, for example, is a fantastic comfort food (though it sometimes has egg). Korean restaurants in L.A. (especially the divier spots in Koreatown) can be a bit tricky because many will put a small amount of meat in a seemingly veggie-friendly entree. Depending on the place, you might need a translator to figure out what you can order. Chinese restaurants usually have some sort of tofu dish that is good, but again, depending on how much of a dive the place is, make sure your communication with your server is clear.
Even though Europe is geographically smaller than Asia, European food has had a greater influence on âAmericanâ cuisine, and thereâs a large number of Italian and French restaurants around the city, with a few German and even Russian places around. Italian food is actually pretty easy: Most Italian wedding soup is vegan, as is most pasta and pizza without cheese. My favorite Italian place, Eatalian Cafe, in Gardena, even has a marinara pizza that is just dough, sauce and garlic. Sorbet and sorbetto are also vegan and are always a clutch dessert.
French food, to be quite honest, often sucks for vegetarians, and is much worse for vegans. Again, soup is your friend, though watch out for French onion soup, which traditionally is made with beef broth. Sometimes ratatouille is made without butter, and, oftentimes, the clientele of nicer restaurants around the city mean some sort of vegan option is available. There arenât a whole lot of hole-in-the-wall French places, so servers tend to be more receptive to dietary needs. German food is similar in this regard â heavy on the meat â but sausage places often have at least one vegan option. WurstkĂŒche in Downtown has a particularly succulent Italian vegetarian sausage.
Food with routes in the area roughly between Greece, Iran and Egypt can be a mixed bag. Some places are heavy on shawarma or gyros, which are obviously not an option. Falafel is rarely not vegetarian and is oftentimes vegan (ask about egg), but its quality can vary widely. Hummus is always delicious, though pita sometimes contains yogurt. For food from Mediterranean areas (Greece, Turkey, Israel, Lebanon), falafel, hummus, tahini and lentils will probably yield your best bet. Cuisine that hails from inland or more southerly areas (Persian and Egyptian food especially), you can usually get some pretty awesomely spiced vegetables. Shamshiri in Westwood has delectable vegetable stew with saffron rice.
A vegetarian or vegan diet does not need to be salad and tofu 24/7 (unless youâre into that). As a vegetarian of four years with some pretty severe lactose intolerance, I rarely just munch on lettuce and carrots. This sort of diet is not for everyone but, increasingly, more and more Americans are hopping on the vegan train. Los Angeles has a plethora of great exclusively vegan restaurants, and a dietary restriction does not need to restrict your culinary adventures by any means â it often expands it. At the end of the day, the worst thing that can happen is that you skip a meal. So, go out, explore and happy eating.