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Vegetarian Restaurant Turn-Offs


waic
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While eating at the Organic Grill (a vegetarian restaurant in NY) today, a vegetarian friend asked me why many non-vegetarians have a general aversion towards vegetarian or vegan restaurants. I didn't quite know the answer.

Truth be told, I would never even consider going to a vegetarian restaurant (except Indian) unless I was actually with someone who is a vegetarian.

Although I am not one myself, I do frequently order vegetarian entrees at "regular" restaurants and generally enjoy them as much if not more than meat or fish entrees.

Why the stigma then, towards vegetarian restaurants? Is it really the taste of the food?

I'll admit that today's Miso Soup was not great (probably because of the bonito-less dashi) but I can also turn around and say that Organic Grill makes a damn good vege-burger.

So is it instead a perception or image problem that keeps non-vegetarians away? Is it the "hippie" scene that these restaurants seem to attract? Or perhaps it is the feeling of having to limit ourselves, by not having the choice or option for meat dishes...and in some cases, the blatant misrepresentation of certain dishes as meat (tempeh as "vegetarian duck").

What exactly is the beef with vegetarian restaurants?

Wai Chu

New York City

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Because vegetarian food is perceived as bland. There's also the general aversion to meat substitutes like Tofu and TVP.

Obviously, it doesn't have to be (much of India's cuisine is vegetarian, as is a lot of Middle Eastern cuisine) but that is the general perception.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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While eating at the Organic Grill (a vegetarian restaurant in NY) today, a vegetarian friend asked me why many non-vegetarians have a general aversion towards vegetarian or vegan restaurants. I didn't quite know the answer.

Truth be told, I would never even consider going to a vegetarian restaurant (except Indian) unless I was actually with someone who is a vegetarian.

Although I am not one myself, I do frequently order vegetarian entrees at "regular" restaurants and generally enjoy them as much if not more than meat or fish entrees.

Why the stigma then, towards vegetarian restaurants? Is it really the taste of the food?

I'll admit that today's Miso Soup was not great (probably because of the bonito-less dashi) but I can also turn around and say that Organic Grill makes a damn good vege-burger.

So is it instead a perception or image problem that keeps non-vegetarians away? Is it the "hippie" scene that these restaurants seem to attract? Or perhaps it is the feeling of having to limit ourselves, by not having the choice or option for meat dishes...and in some cases, the blatant misrepresentation of certain dishes as meat (tempeh as "vegetarian duck").

What exactly is the beef with vegetarian restaurants?

Simple: when non-vegetarians are asked to go to a veggie restaurant, they are confronted with menu items that invariably conjure up things like "Lentil Nut Loaf" and "Faux Turkey" or "sauteed wheat gluten"-? What fresser wants to eat anything with the word "faux" attached to it either literally or figuratively? Would a non-veggie ask a vegetarian to eat a "faux carrot?" No. This said, when I used to run the book department at Dean & Deluca a million years ago, my boss -- a man with a wonderfully refined palate -- told me repeatedly that the finest restaurant he'd ever eaten in was Greens, out in San Francisco. Forget Chez P; forget Taillevant. This guy would have walked over broken glass for anything that Deborah Madison put her hands to. But we don't generally classify her kind of veggie cooking (or Suvir Saran's veggie cooking for that matter) with the tempeh palaces that dot the city. Do we?

BeefCheeks is an author, editor, and food journalist.

"The food was terrible. And such small portions...."

--Alvy Singer

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Because vegetarian food is perceived as bland. There's also the general aversion to meat substitutes like Tofu and TVP.

Obviously, it doesn't have to be (much of India's cuisine is vegetarian, as is a lot of Middle Eastern cuisine) but that is the general perception.

In addition to the things others said,

why is there a perception that Tofu is "meat substitute",

not an ingredient in its own right.....?

My additional question in this thread:

why do so many people in the US seem to have

a strong prejudice against beans? Seen as inferior, why?

(I've lost count of the times people said to me "I don't eat /

don't want to eat beans / BEANS????" etc in an incredulous

voice...... ; but then I have the pleasure of converting them

with a simply perfect, simply easy dish of rajmah....)

Milagai

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Because vegetarian food is perceived as bland. There's also the general aversion to meat substitutes like Tofu and TVP.

Obviously, it doesn't have to be (much of India's cuisine is vegetarian, as is a lot of Middle Eastern cuisine) but that is the general perception.

Ah!! -- Perception; that is it in one sense, I find for me that sometimes the food is to political, or that like you said many different cultures of the world have vegetarian aspects to them, but I find they don not make such a big deal out of it, there might not be the anti meat thing but just some people around the world can not afford meat every day and mind you there are some health aspects to it as well, you do not have to eat meat all the time!

The environment and yes the hippie side to theses places, service lacks!!

In Vancouver the Naam has been around for ever, the longest time it was the only veggie place in van, then more ethnic places came about, but many non ethnic veg places kept falling. 24 carrot was one place, it was great, vegan and veg and great desserts, it had a beautiful interior design and was a beautiful and friendly restaurant but I think for Vancouver there just is not a big enough market to keep to many vegie places going??

just a thought

steve

Cook To Live; Live To Cook
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To most American omnivores, vegetarian food is frighteningly different than what they usually eat. Steak and potatoes does not in any way resemble a platter with falafel and tahini, delicious as those items may be. For many, the only exposure they have had to vegetarian fare may well be the cottage cheese and unseasoned steamed vegetables sometimes offered at chain restaurants. Vegetarian = healthy, bland, different food unless you know better. Given a choice between a restaurant where they are certain to find something that sounds appealing and a vegetarian restauarant where every dish is challenging and different, most will pick a non-vegetarian restaurant. I avoid most vegetarian restaurants simply because the food is often tasteless and unappealing, but not specifically because they are vegetarian but because the food just isn't very good.

Kathy

Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all. - Harriet Van Horne

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I'm not a big fan of restaurants that define their cuisine by what they will not make. Most of the examples here that I enjoy regularly are dishes served at non-vegetarian restaurants (they are instead Indian, Chinese, and so on). I don't think I've eaten in a vegetarian restaurant for two decades.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I find it very difficult to believe that anyone who knows anything about food would believe vegetarian dishes to be bland!! Pesto, bland?

Perhaps those without any knowledge of cooking or used to dishes passed down within very conservative families might feel that way, although they would probably be folk who go for unseasoned white soft food. (This is why I hate generalizations.) Perceptions of produce and dishes made without meat have changed sufficiently, I think, although attitudes towards vegetarianism as a movement have not.* Poor opinions of vegetarians persist outside of Hollywood circles and college campuses.

The problem with vegetarian restaurants is the fact that they are no longer needed.

In the early seventies in the United States, about the only cookbook written expressly for vegetarians that I could find was a small paperback published by Penguin. It was dreadful. The author clearly hadn't thumbed through Elizabeth David and probably hadn't ventured across the Channel to the lands from whence the Normans came. Adolf Hitler had that kind of food ge-ate.

Remember, that was when Italian food was lasagna and spaghetti with meatballs. My fling with vegetarianism lasted for about three months. It was the shriveled up canned mock hot dog on the grill at the July 4th picnic that did me in.

Then came Anna Thomas, and especially with The Vegetarian Epicure Book Two (1978), she made more of the country aware of changes in California and the food world that mattered to vegetarians. Roger Ebert has a nice little piece praising her somewhere online.

I am simplifying matters, of course; there are many other factors that have helped contribute to the sorry fate of vegetarian restaurants, especially outside of the vegetarian world. It may seem somewhat ironic given the popularity of the great Deborah Madison...who now eats meat. But at a time when our supermarkets stock red and yellow bell peppers, Parmigiano Reggiano, parsley with flat leaves and capers, the repertoire of vegetarian home cooks has expanded...or SHOULD be more sophisticated than it was back when there was a need for restaurants that catered specifically to their needs.

Informed vegetarians can go to any number of good American, French, Middle Eastern, Italian, Asian (etc.) establishments and find numerous choices on menus.

The only vegetarians of any major consequence nowadays are those Raw Food folk. (The one exception to that rule that springs to mind is an Indian celebrity chef who cooks but does not eat meat.) Me, I'd rather eat sushi.

*Again, generalizations are risky. Attitudes towards vegetables in particular are complicated, complex and often contradictory and conflicting. This is why we need to know more about the food cravings and daily eating habits of those who do not join egullet.

[Edited to add missing words, remove redundant one and to add footnote and content.]

Edited by Pontormo (log)

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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What exactly is the beef with vegetarian restaurants?

No beef, or pork, or lamb. Not even veal.

If enlightened non-vegetarian restaurants can offer a few alternatives for meat eschewers, should not enlightened (is there any other kind?) vegetarian restaurants include a rack of ribs or a t-bone steak on their menus for carnivores finding themselves trapped a vegetarian restaurant?

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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I agree it has to do with the (incorrect) assumption that vegetarian food is bland, but part of it is also because some (not all, of course!) vegetarians treat their dietary preferences as a religion. Hell, they treat it as something beyond religion. I mean, you don't generally have religious people proselytizing in the office -- but I had a vegetarian dude with huge posters in his cube, of a Tyrosannosaurus Rex and a list of 10 reasons why eating meat is wrong, wrong, wrong... And also a poster that explained why eating meat is the exact same thing as eating excrement...

That kinda stuff just rubs people the wrong way. It's called over-selling.

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As a vegetarian for close to a decade, I enjoyed vegetarian restaurants because of the variety of dishes they offered that were accessible to me. Furthermore, I enjoyed not having to worry about chicken stock or gelatin sneaking into my soups and desserts.

As an omnivore, I would be happy to return to a vegetarian restaurant, but I'm unlikely to decide to go to one independently. I had a lot of vegetarian restaurant food when I was a vegetarian, and don't feel the need to explore it when there are so many other, more varied options out there. I still eat and prepare vegetarian meals periodically (frequently of late, since I am pregnant and have lost some of my taste for meat as a result). I like all that "vegetarian protein stuff" like tofu, tempeh, beans, veggie burgers, seitan etc. and I still cook or order those foods.

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Gee, I dunno...maybe because I'm from South Florida, vegetarian restaurants always seemed normal to me. In fact, I had a few great meals at this little dive in downtown Miami last year, all raw foods, and I never even guessed the place was vegan and raw until my third visit. I mean, I eat so many vegetables and fruits normally, it didn't even dawn on me until I went with a new gang and they actually read the entire menu! Duh. No wonder the strawberry tart had a nut crust! Of course, the place had no name and the menu was hand written on some post cards, so I just always asked what was fresh. Maybe up North the vegetarian food tends to be bland, I haven't found it so as yet (we've only had Indian and Israeli here in NJ). In the area I grew up in vegetarian food tends to be more spicy than regular. Especially when I was a kid (a lifetime ago!). I remember a particular place that made REALLY spicy sesame seed dressing for the salad, and they also had these crunchy onion toppers for things that could scorch your tongue. Yum. Gee, I'm going to experiment this week. Anyone's welcome for spicy vegetarian fare Monday night.

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In addition to the things others said,

why is there a perception that Tofu is "meat substitute",

not an ingredient in its own right.....?

Tofu can be a critical element to the enjoyment of a number of Asian dishes, like Ma Po Dofu or Tofu Nyonya (A spicy Malaysian preparation of tofu with ground pork and fresh basil and chiles). But personally, I enjoy it the most where it plays partner to meat. It takes very well to sauces and gravies that are meat seasoned. On its own, its totally uninteresting.

Malaysia as it happens is one of those countries that has a lot of dishes with heavy vegetable content, and uses tofu, but has very little in the ways of dishes that are actually vegetarian, because virtually every vegetable dish contains some sort of dried or fermented fish (such as belacan or dried shrimp) or uses ground pork to season the dish in some way.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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Part of it, I think, is an image that vegetarians have created for themselves. A few years ago, I attended a month-long vegetarian course (4 nights a week + Sunday afternoon) that is part of the national CHIP program. I think it's Dean Ornish's program. Extremely low fat, supposedly extremely healthful and life-saving in some instances. Except this particular program was absolutely vegan, which isn't, as I understand it, necessarily the deal with Ornish's program.

They were using tofu to make "scrambled eggs". They were making "butter" out of unsalted cashews (plus other ingredients, but I don't remember what they were). Half of the food was fake something or other (tofu re-engineered to pose as something else), and as they served it to us, they raved about how wonderful it was, and how much we'd love it. Most of it was dreadful, to put it politely. How anyone could think that crap was wonderful, absolutely escaped me. I decided they were all crazy, or had never tasted any kind of good food, vegetarian or not, or they were chronic liars.

I've never eaten in a vegetarian restaurant, but I'd hesitate to enter one for fear of being served food of the ilk I've described above. I'll eat vegetarian dishes in regular restaurants.

(edited to correct spelling)

Edited by jgm (log)
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jgm seems to have the answer, in my opinion.

Some of the recipes that are given for vegetarian and vegan foods are appaling although they have improved in my lifetime.

Does anyone remember "Diet for a Small Planet"? That was really awful tasting stuff and went from bad to worse.

I realize the idea was to create foods that contained "complete protein" but it seems that it has been learned since that time that the combinations don't have to be in one dish or even one meal.

Even though I'm not a vegetarian, I worked for several years in a place that had a rather large vegetarian customer base. Most of the soups that I made there were vegan and non veggie clients never complained but often sent compliments.

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What I find off putting about a lot of vegetarian cuisine is the concious effort to have some kind of meat replacement thing, like tofu dogs and they're brethern (sp?) and are molded into faux meat.

I don't have a problem with not having meat on my plate. I like tofu without the need to disguise it. If I'm going to conciously eat something meatless, I don't want chunks of faux meat involved.

Cheryl

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What I find off putting about a lot of vegetarian cuisine is the concious effort to have some kind of meat replacement thing, like tofu dogs and they're brethern (sp?) and are molded into faux meat.

I don't have a problem with not having meat on my plate. I like tofu without the need to disguise it. If I'm going to conciously eat something meatless, I don't want chunks of faux meat involved.

It's important to distinguish between those corners of vegetarian cuisine which rely on tofu dogs, soyburgers, etc. to assuage reluctant vegetarians with middle-American food tastes, and, say, the centuries-old Asian Buddhist cuisines in which soy products are transformed into deliciously convincing meat analogues. The latter might as well be coming from a whole different planet from the former, in terms of taste, quality, aesthetic, tradition, everything.

There's a whole lot more to quality vegetarian cuisine, and a whole lot more of it going on, than those admittedly wretched tofu dogs and soyburgers. I'm not even a vegetarian, and I still find myself frustrated that a lot of people keep bringing up the bad exemplars as if they were fair or even majority representations of the whole category. Just think, if one were to similarly judge omnivore cuisine solely by encounters with the huge numbers of mediocre chain restaurants out there, one could similarly--and just as erroneously--get away with claiming that the majority of omnivore cuisine was absolutely wretched too.

Great veg. cuisine is out there. But IMO there's just a plain old lack of motivation for non-vegetarians to get over their preconceptions and seek it out.

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We live in the simulated world; hot dogs made from tofu; burgers made from non-meat ingredients to resemble meat burgers. The tendency is to mimic meat dishes rather then just being it self.

Ingredients are what make up cooking; in this discussion we all have brought up some of the same ideas, this whole simulation thing is stringing itself through many people postings. Simulating meat foods as a cook has driven me crazy over the years; making food political; people want the food they grew up on but do not want the guilt. They also do not know how to cook so a veggie burger is the way out and marketers have made millions on it. Yves right here on the Canadian West coast has made a lot of money making simulated tofu- meat products. The veg heads love em and it has turned into a big industry; a lot of 14 year olds love veggie burgers but for what reason?

I was a chef who developed many vegetarian menus and I just looked at was what was in front of me and used the teachings of classic cuisine and created many things out of all the vegetables. September it is really easy and cheap to create many wonderful things out of all that fresh local veggies and there was nothing simulating a meat dish. Each veggie had center stage and the politics stayed in the kitchen and the foods spoke for it self and like others have said up thread no meat eater’s seemed to notice or cared.

"Where's the beef!!"

steve

Edited by stovetop (log)
Cook To Live; Live To Cook
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As for Milagai's question about beans -- beans and bean dishes are often perceived as unsophisticated, probably because they are so inexpensive and end up on the tables of so many poor people.

But the US doesn't have the corner on bean prejudice. Bean soupis a legendary staple in the Congressional members' dining rooms. I know a former Congressman who was entertaining a foreign dignitary there (I think from a South American country, but don't quote me) who was quite offended at the suggestion that he eat bean soup since that was poor people's food.

Me? I love beans.

And I would be perfectly willing to try a veg restaurant if there were one in town. But I like Holly's suggestion that veg restaurants offer a meat option.

Bridget Avila

My Blog

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Respectfully, I think it's unreasonable to ask for meat options at a vegetarian restaurant. The point of a vegetarian restaurant is that there isn't any meat there, and there are often religious or ethical reasons behind that. It makes sense for "regular" restaurants to offer vegetarian options for those who are vegetarians, but since as far as I know, no-one has religious, ethical, or dietary (health) reasons to require a meat dish at every meal -- and certainly, if anyone does, it's a minuscule number of potential patrons -- it seems evident that if you want meat, you don't go to a vegetarian restaurant. And if any of you think that's unjust, try ordering pork at your local kosher or halal restaurant and see what they tell you.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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I like vegetarian food well enough, if it's prepared well. I could probably even eat vegetarian for an extended period in a place like India where it's done well. Here, though, I don't trust the food in explicitly vegetarian places to be well made, because frankly it usually isn't.

In order to sample a significant number of vegetarian places, and sort out which ones do it well, would require pretty much my entire eating-out budget (roughly, two-three times a year) for some time to come. Frankly, I don't see the point when I can do better myself at home.

I have no problem with legumes in general, I eat them more than most North Americans. Tofu I can do without, as it is a waste of mouthspace as used in most vegetarian establishments I've visited.

As for Yves and the rest of the mock-meat crowd, well...some of them are modestly palatable, but I still don't see the point. I will give Yves this, though...their Lack of Ram is one of my all-time favourite product names. :raz:

“Who loves a garden, loves a greenhouse too.” - William Cowper, The Task, Book Three

 

"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

 

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being a converted meat eater, there are a bunch of reasons I can see why I wouldn't go to a vegetarian restaurant (necessarily)

most vegetarian restaurants try to *simulate* meat and in result produce chewy-cardboardlike mess. being brought up a vegetarian, I know there are tons and tons of dishes that one doesn't need to go immitate meat. and just like steak doesn't taste like chicken, immitation whatever doesn't taste anywhere near to the real thing.

other thing about non-veg cooks trying to create veggie entrees. I understand taking this shot would bring down on me the wrath of the meat cooks. but try using more than salt and pepper. asian(oriental), southeast asian (indian sub continent), middle eastern... spices help a ton in elevating the tastes of those bland veggies

and regarding pontormo's claim of no need to have veggie only restaurants, its more to do with mental / aesthetical values. just like on the space station - despite it being more pure than the drinking water in a bottle - water recovered from human waste is not used for drinking. only drinking water from separate tanks is used.

now, I have eaten at restaurants that claim to be veggie and make all sorts of faux _____ . personally, I hate those and refuse to go again to those. but then there are ones - like a ton of them on Devon avenue in Chicago which are traditionally catering to a very small section of the society's taste. over the years, a lot more communities have begun enjoying the food there. these veg. foods are usually lacto-veggie (yes dairy) and in some rare cases lacto-ovo-veggie. either case, they cater to the dishes that are veggie to begin with and they are delicious

edited to add:

hey milagai: as per one of my buddies here they don't eat beans or get scared when you tell them about your bean consumption is because they associate eating of beans with flatulence! go figure!

Edited by liv4fud (log)
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Just to broaden things out - it's not just restaurants.

Most people, if inviting friends over, either informally or a full blown dinner party if having a vegetarian guest or guests will provide a vegetarian option. Whats wrong with cooking everyone the same thing?

I am not vegetarian, and probably never will be, but I don't actually eat a lot of meat. I'd be quite happy having a vegetarian or even vegan meal, and then maybe it might be more than an afterthought, or a bought in vegetable lasagne.

I love animals.

They are delicious.

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