For many diners, cheese with a bit of spicy meat defines Mexican food. However, that is a vastly oversimplified way to look at Mexican cuisine, and in fact, if you travel through the country, you're likely to find lots of authentic dishes and simple stews with absolutely no meat or dairy products.
If you're vegan in America, however, you may be wondering how to order vegan when you're at a Mexican restaurant. Here's some tips to help:
1. Look for Restaurants With Vegan Options
If possible, when looking for Mexican restaurants, try to find a few that have vegan options. For example, some restaurants may offer vegan hot tamale pie. Other vegan-friendly places may have tofu as an alternative to meat. If there are vegan alternatives on the menu, that makes the whole dining experience easier.
2. Opt for Beans Instead of Meat
If you can't find a Mexican restaurant in your area with vegan options, that's okay. Most restaurants will allow you to make substitutions, and with the right approach, it's easy to "veganize" your meal.
To start, consider opting for beans instead of meat. Whether you're ordering tacos, burritos, or enchiladas, most places offer a choice of meats, but beans can work just as well. Even if beans aren't listed as an option, ask the waiter if you can order them anyway. Most Mexican restaurants have rice and beans as side dishes, so they should have ample beans on hand to put in other dishes as requested.
3. Double Up the Fajita Veggies
When not in the mood for beans, ask your server to double up on the vegetables. This strategy can be especially useful with fajitas. Just hold the strips of chicken or steak, and opt for extra peppers and onions instead.
4. Hold the Cheese and Sour Cream
Remember to ask your server to hold the cheese and sour cream. Even if you hold the meat in your meal, many restaurants sprinkle these ingredients on the top of all of their dishes. So that doesn't happen, you should expressly request to have those items held.
5. Use Avocados to Soothe Spice
Cheese and sour cream soothe the spice in the meal. If you're sensitive to spice and you've just started eating vegan, you may want to ask for a lower level of spice than you normally would order if you were still eating cheese. Alternatively, you can knock back spice by mixing extra white rice into your dish or by pairing your meal with a glass of soda or a beer. Note that water typically makes spice harder.
Alternatively, ask for lots of guacamole. Guacamole is almost always vegan. It just contains mashed avocados, lime, and spices. This creamy addition can help to reduce the spiciness of your meal, and from a flavor profile, it works almost anywhere that you use sour cream.
6. Ask About Cooking Processes
If you are a strict vegan, you may want to tell your server you are a vegan. In particular, you may want to ask if there are any animal products that are not spelled out on the menu. For example, as explained above, guacamole is usually vegan. However, in some cases, chefs put a bit of yogurt in their guacamole.
Similarly, typically a bean and vegetable taco is vegan. However, this meal isn't vegan if the beans were cooked in meat stock. Similarly, in most cases, tortillas are vegan. However, if the cook uses animal lard or butter instead of vegetable oil, the tortilla is no longer vegan. Because of those issues, it's important to talk with your server about what's happening in the kitchen.
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