Saturday, August 22, 2009

A vegan goes on a road trip....

Earlier this week, I found out that I was going to have to make an unplanned trip to Virginia to visit my folks. While it is always a pleasure to travel, travelling as a vegan comes with its own set of obstacles. For example, I don't believe Amtrak has any vegan offereings in their cafe car and I now know that the coffee shop in the Baltimore station doesn't offer soy milk.... regardless of the pleas of this vegan prior to her 6:10 AM departure... (why won't Dunkin Donuts get with it???)

Anyway, I shouldn't whine too much. I had planned ahead and packed my own food and a small mug of coffee. Its just that at 6- anything in the morning a person needs more than one mug! Luckily I arrived safely and without injuring myself or anyone else despite my coffee shortage.

Now...imagine my pleasure when I learned that my parents had scoped out a nearby vegan friendly restaraunt from the awesome website!! Score! Are my folks the best or what? Plus the restaurant was totally awesome.

The restaurant Nawab (pronounced Nah-Vahb), was a delightful Indian restaurant with a vegetarian menu with clearly marked vegan items. When I indicated I was a vegan, the hostess/ server quickly pointed out that they could also veganize most of the vegetarian options as well and told me not to hesitate to ask. When I ordered she even reccomended a vegan bread option (the roti). Everything about this restaurant was accomodating and perfect. My mother (who doesn't really eat "ethnic" food) asked a million questions and each one was patiently answered. My father and brother both seemed to love their meals as well. I had the Vegetable Jhalfrazie and plain roti. The dishwas good and had tons of flavor. I am a real fanatic about rice and was especially pleased to have some delicious aged basmati with my dish. This may seem silly to write about rice but still after a long train ride... it was great to have something comforting and familiar like this. The other vegan possibilities included Chana Masala, a vegetable curry and Eggplant Bartha.

The restaurant itself was clean and subdued with tables that were well spaced out and comfortable. My mother especially like the lighting on the walls and the tiles. All in all it was a great meal and I suspect that my parents will actually continue to eat here without me.

That was the high point in the day, foodwise. Dinner was at a place called Szechuan Inn. If you are a Vegan or Vegetarian..


The trouble started when we walked in the door:

Me: I am a vegan, do you have any vegetarian food on your buffet?

Hostess: No, but you can order from the menu. We have a vegetarian section.

Me: I am a very strict vegetarian. Are there any chicken stocks or fish stocks in the sauces?

Hostess: (with a slightly odd look) No, but if you tell your server she can make sure everything is all vegetables.

So the "Vegetarian Section" turns out to be an 8 item section marked simply "vegetable". It includes Ma Poo Tau Fu which is "cooked with a small amount of fresh pork". Hmm... this should have been a clue. But I see they offer Buddha's Delight which has always been 1) vegetarian 2) a combination of tofu and vegetables

You know what they say about assumptions.....

My parents order the buffet and I order steamed vegetable dumplings and Buddha's Delight. The waitress seems very perturbed that I am not eating from the buffet, so I explain that I am a vegan and what that entails. She nods, confirms my order and leaves the table. After about 3 minutes she returns to inform me that all sauces are made with chicken stock. So now my order is changed to the dumplings, rice , steamed veggies and (I assume) tofu. She still seems quite annoyed but I am still unsure why. In an attempt to make the best of this, I mentally tell myself how HEALTHY this low-sodium, low-fat meal is going to be.

Ten additional minutes later she returns to tell me that although the vegetable dumplings are on the menu, they do not actually serve them. Now I am having rice, steamed veggies and (hopefully) some tofu. The server still seems annoyed. Well, I didn't really need the dumplings anyway so thats fine by me...

The food finally arrives. I am served... white rice and steamed veggies... no tofu. Ever hopeful, I ask for some Sriracha hot sauce and I am informed that there isn't any. Instead I am told they have hot oil. The still annoyed server brings me some other (very hot) hot sauce. It turns out that this hot sauce was the highlight of my dinner.

Finally I dig in. The food is plentiful. Thanks to my lack of sauces it is healthy. Oddly it is tofu free.... Remember my thing about rice? Well I guess I am spoiled because in most Chinese restaurants I am served jasmine sticky rice, brown rice or some other high quality rice. This appeared to be Uncle Bens. Now if you are not a rice person, this wouldn't matter but.... for me it was just one more thing.

The final blow though was that as we were leaving I see a huge industrial size bottle of Sriracha hot sauce sitting on the bar!

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