The first stop on the journey to find good, wholesome food that caters to both vegan and vegetarian diners was Ethiopic restaurant, a restaurant that serves traditional Ethiopian cuisine with a twist.
Soft yellow lighting streamed down from the high vaulted ceilings, casting a romantic yet comfortable glow throughout the dining area. Spicy smells filled my nostrils as a waitress delivered a large plate of colorful cuisine. As I sat down, I felt like I was transported to East Africa with the decor and traditional dining setting. Looking at the menu, it was apparent that this would be a dining experience like none other. On one side there was the meat lovers menu featuring lamb tibs, a traditional chicken dish called doro wot, and even a goat dish. However, nestled comfortably on the other side of the menu was the veggie lovers edition. This menu was pure heaven. It featured a dish called gomen, which are greens simmered in onions garlic and olive oil. Heavenly. There was also a dish called kik alicha, which were chickpea biscuits simmered in a tomato based sauce. Even more heavenly. The best part of this experience was being able to build your own veggie platter, so you could sample all of the delicious cuisine without having to commit to only one dish, plus you got to eat with your hands.
What made this experience so vegan/ vegetarian friendly?
“All of our vegetarian options have either a tomato base or a garlic and oil base, “ the restaurant’s owner Ayida Hellemeskel said. Ethiopic Cafe prides itself on being the premiere restaurant to offer vegan cuisine, along with a traditional Ethiopian environment. “Because there are so many Muslims and vegetarians within our culture, it’s easy for us to adapt a menu that suits them,” Hellemeskel said. Being apart of that culture for just one night made me realize that there should be some form of vegan or vegetarian cuisine at every restaurant.
The next stop on the journey was Fig and Olive, a restaurant with Serbian Slavic fusion cuisine. Fig and Olive is known for its mediterranean slavic fusion cuisine, but also for their dairy free delicious desserts, perfect for all vegans and vegetarians alike. When a friend of mine told me about this restaurant and the ties he had with the head chef and owner Ben Kaygard, I immediately jumped at the chance to be apart of a culture I had never even dreamed of.
“We decided to do more of a fusion style cuisine, because slavic food is really heavy,” Kaygard said, Slavic food normally consists of heavy, salted meats, starchy foods, and lots of dairy, “We wanted to create something much lighter.”
And lighter it was.
I was not too interested in anything on the dinner menu, so I took my efforts to the dessert menu, and there I found my niche. Of all of the options, I chose a cold ground coffee bean and cocoa bean dessert served with a mint chutney. This dessert was refreshing and dairy free, but also extremely delicious. I also chose a caramel stuffed crepe. Both of these desserts were vegan and vegetarian friendly. The fact that all of these delicious, wholesome, animal product free meals were discovered at restaurants that pride themselves on cultural fusion, really made me wonder what my options were at American dining establishments.
As someone, who has been a vegetarian since the sixth grade, I for the most part had my meals established; always sticking to things that were tried and true and not really branching out. However, after discovering that I was allergic to dairy this summer, that shook me up quite a bit. So, this food journey was not only for the purposes of this assignment, but for the purposes of changing my lifestyle as well.
After posing the question of, what can I get at an American restaurant? I went to T.G.I. Friday’s to scout out my options. I was disappointed to find that my options were quite slim. When we sat down, the waiter automatically told us about the Jack Daniels full rack of ribs that were on special for that day. I asked about meatless options, and the waiter quickly recommended the Alfredo pasta. I then asked him what dairy and meat free options they had, and he told me, “we can make you a steamed vegetable platter.” It was an extreme difference going from restaurants that cater towards that category of cuisine, to this restaurant that did not offer many options.
To further my research, I then went to Ozzie’s Good Eats, where the experience was better, but still limited. I ordered the grilled salmon with balsamic glazed vegetables, which just so happened to be the only meat and dairy free option on the menu; short of ordering a platter of side dishes. This food journey was a fun experience, and an interesting look inside the discordant world of restaurants and what goes into our bodies. So, why did I have a better food experience at the foreign restaurants? I noticed that everything at Ethiopic and Fig and Olive were made to order with the freshest ingredients possible. Because of that, it is easier to monitor the ingredients that go into the food. If American restaurant chains monitored the ingredients they used, any menu item could be adapted to fit the vegan and vegetarian lifestyle.