Vegan Takeout Tips: How To Get The Fast Food You Want with Less Frustration (and Salads)
Vegan, vegetarian, carnivore…at some point, everyone wants to eat takeout.
Whether you’re grabbing a quick bite to eat after a long day at work, you just don’t feel like cooking, or you had a bit too much fun last night and the couch + Netflix + takeout are just what you want to pacify your hangover on a Sunday afternoon, this post will guarantee you a breezy ordering experience across most takeout avenues.
Takeout is awesome and anyone who says they don’t love a good takeout now and then is lying to themselves!
As a vegan, new, seasoned, or dabbling, you’ll likely have to play hopscotch across a takeout menu to figure out what you can eat and what you’ll actually enjoy.
I’ve broken this down to the cliche varieties of takeout food that exist around most towns and cities. I’m sorry some of it is culturally generalizing and I’m not able to include every type of takeout, but this post should give you basic guidance for finding vegan takeout that you’ll be happy with.
Vegan Thai Takeout
Thai food is probably my #1 go-to when I want takeout.
I lived in Thailand for six months, so their food will always have a special place in my heart (and my mouth).
The flavors of Thai food are very rich and because so many Buddhists live in Thailand, most of their food can easily be made vegan.
Most Thai meals are vegetable heavy and can be made without an animal product, you just have to know what you’re looking for.
Things to Watch Out For in Thai Food:
This may sound obvious, but some people just don’t know what Thai food may encompass that isn’t vegan.
Some Thai dishes can be made with a fish/oyster/shrimp sauce, so you want to keep an eye out for that when ordering and clarify that you don’t want that type of sauce in your meal.
Wontons, yellow noodles, and egg rolls do contain eggs, which may seem obvious, but if you don’t know, you don’t know.
Plus, some Thai meals are topped with an egg, so be sure to note that you don’t want eggs involved at all when you’re ordering.
Things to Try:
Thai Curries are excellent Vegan Thai takeout options, especially since most are made with coconut milk, just let them know you want a vegan version.
Tofu substituting for meat is a pretty easy option when ordering Vegan Thai and most restaurants will provide that option.
Veggie spring rolls are usually vegan, so grab a bunch of those for appetizers.
Tom Kha is a great Thai soup that can be made vegan.
Som Tam (papaya salad) is a renowned Thai dish that’s typically made vegan.
Pad See-Yew or Pad-Kee-Mow (drunken noodles) are great noodle dishes that can easily be made vegan.
Coconut rice and Thai Fried Rice are also delicious options that can be made without animal products.
My personal favorite: Vegan Pad Thai (just be sure to clarify no eggs)
Vegan Chinese Takeout
Like most Thai dishes, you can get a perfectly delicious Chinese vegan meal with tons of veggies and no animal products included at all.
Authentic Chinese cuisine doesn’t actually include dairy in it at all and tofu is very commonly used, even in dishes with meat or fish.
So, asking for a dish without any animal products should be relatively easy when it comes to Vegan Chinese takeout.
Things to Watch Out For in Chinese Food:
Of course you also want to be wary of meat or fish included in a meal, but it’s the vegetarian versions of things that’ll likely stuff up a vegan’s dish.
Fish sauce is often used in Chinese entrees, so be sure to ask the restaurant you’re ordering from not to use fish sauce when cooking up your meal.
Eggs, too, are used in a lot of dishes like fried rice and some noodle dishes.
Things to Try:
Finding great vegan options when ordering Chinese won’t be hard, it’s just having the confidence to ask for the animal products to be taken out.
Here are some vegan options most Chinese takeout places will have:
Vegetable fried rice without the egg
Vegetable chow mein
Just ask for the vegan version of these dishes and the restaurant should know. If you’re worried they don’t, just inform them that you don’t eat animal products so you’d like your dish made without any meat, fish, fish sauce, or eggs.
If they want you as a repeat customer, they’ll do whatever they can to make your order as you wish.
Vegan Japanese Takeout
When people think Japanese, of course, they think sushi and sashimi. Or maybe that’s just me and my never-been-to-Japan brain.
Sushi rolls are a Japanese food staple, but they’re not exclusively for fish-lovers.
Even vegan sashimi is starting to find its way onto the market.
As a basic tip, vegetable sushi is quite common amongst the spreads of various rolls and you’d be hard pressed not to find something vegan in a Japanese restaurant.
So don’t worry too much when it comes to navigating Japanese takeout.
Most traditional Japanese cuisine is based on rice, fish, pickled vegetables, and vegetables cooked in broth, so eliminating the animal products from your Japanese takeout choice won’t be as hard as some other cultures’ options.
Like Chinese culture, Japanese people did not incorporate dairy into their traditional diets until around 30-40 years ago. In recent history, influences from the Western diet including milk, butter, and cheese, have become a widely-accepted addition to the Japanese food culture.
Things to Watch Out For in Japanese Food:
Raw & cooked fish
Fish stock (Dashi)
Tempura batter (egg yolks)
Jellies in desserts
It’s pretty easy to spot when Japanese food has an animal product in it, because they often appear as large chunks of flesh.
Miso soup, tempura, and okonomiyaki or monjayaki (types of savory pancakes), however, may be some of the most undetectable non-vegan Japanese foods.
The delicious tofu-spotted soup, known as miso, is often made with fish sauce, so if the restaurant you’re ordering from can make you a version without it, that’s great. Otherwise, steer clear!
Tempura, unfortunately, usually has egg yolks in the batter or else vegetable tempura would be a great option, too.
If you’ve found a Japanese restaurant that’s willing and able to make vegan batter, then order vegetable tempura 24/7!
The vegan pancakes: okonomiyaki or monjayaki were originally made with just flour and water, but nowadays may contain egg in them. They’re also often topped with mayonnaise, Worcester sauce, pork, squid, scallops, shrimp, clams, oysters, cheese, or tarako (cod eggs), sooo that’s all super un-vegan.
Things to Try:
Miso soup (without fish sauce)
Vegetable rolls (cucumber avocado!)
Veggie hand rolls
Vegan vegetable bowls
Vegan Japanese pancakes
Udon noodles with vegetables (clarify no fish sauce or eggs)
Vegan dishes with tempeh
Mushroom & tofu gyoza (potstickers)
Vegetable soba noodles
Vegan Bento Boxes
The things listed above are pretty easy vegan foods to get a hold of on a Japanese restaurant menu.
But, because Japanese people often pride themselves on their intricate and high-quality meals, they can also be very clever when it comes to designing unique vegan food.
Look for innovative vegan food like Japanese chick’n nuggets, adzuki milkshakes (red bean), matcha sweet potato ice cream, green tea donuts, sweet potato korokke (Japanese croquettes), and sooo much more.
Vegan Korean Takeout
Where are all you kimchi lovers at!?
Vegan Korean takeout will likely have highlights of kimchi, which is fermented & salted vegetables, for those who have no clue what I’m talking about.
Kimchi isn’t always vegan, but can certainly be made that way.
Fish sauce is usually the party pooper in the kimchi ingredients list. Boo!
Anyways, Korean food has evolved over the last few centuries, but it originates on dishes that include rice, vegetables, and meats.
According to my good friend, Wikipedia, “Traditional Korean meals are named for the number of side dishes (banchan) that accompany steam-cooked short-grain rice.” Rice, however, is not an indigenous crop to Korea, so traditional traditional meals (pre-traditional?) actually used to focus on barley and millet.
When you think Korean takeout, well Korean food in general, you’ll likely think how many side dishes can/will I eat?
Almost every Korean restaurant will have vegan options in their plethora of banchans, so you won’t have to stress about starving if you’re eating at or ordering takeout from a Korean food joint.
Commonly used ingredients of Korean food include: “sesame oil, doenjang (fermented bean paste), soy sauce, salt, garlic, ginger, pepper flakes, gochujang (fermented red chili paste) and napa cabbage.”
Things to look out for:
When it comes to ordering vegan Korean food, many dishes can be veganized. Just be upfront about being vegan and they should either point you in the direction of the vegan options on their menu or can even remove the animal products in a dish for you.
Things to try:
Vegan Pajeon (Green Onion Pancake) — usually made with eggs and cut up squid, so definitely clarify
Tofu Bibimbap (Mixed Spicy Veggies and Rice) — often served with meat and eggs, so ask for tofu replacement
Tofu Mandu (Dumplings)
Hobak Juk (Pumpkin Porridge) - usually already vegan
Baechu Kimchi (Napa Cabbage Kimchi) - double check it’s vegan
Vegetable Soondubu Chigae (tofu stew)
Korean takeout may be one of the easiest to navigate for vegans. So many dishes are filled with veggies, so don’t be afraid to ask for a meal without any animals in it.
You can’t really go wrong with Korean vegan ramen noodles, but hey, maybe that’s just me.
Vegan Vietnamese Takeout
Vietnamese food is one of the healthiest cuisines out there, so veganizing Vietnamese takeout isn’t impossible.
Vietnamese people really focus on fresh flavors harnessing spices & herbs to enhance the fragrance, taste, and color of their dishes.
Here’s a REALLY cool fact I found on Wikipedia:
“Many Vietnamese dishes include five fundamental taste senses (ngũ vị): spicy (metal), sour (wood), bitter (fire), salty (water) and sweet (earth), corresponding to five organs (ngũ tạng): gall bladder, small intestine, large intestine, stomach, and urinary bladder.”
How cool is that!?
They consider the organs impacted by the style of the meal they’re crafting.
Common ingredients include: fish sauce, shrimp paste, soy sauce, rice, fresh herbs, fruit and vegetables.
Things to look out for:
Cheese (Pho mai)
Fish sauce (Nuoc mam)
While most Vietnamese meals are developed based on a yin & yang theory, which is intended to provide balance for the body and is often “balanced” with meat or seafood, it’s not impossible to ask for it to be removed from your order.
Things to try:
Banh Xeo (rice flour pancakes)
Claypots (a dish cooked slowly in, you guessed it, a claypot) — just ask for vegan
Hotpots (volcanically hot noodle soup) — again, ask for vegan
Vegan Vietnamese spring rolls
Vegan Cau Lao (noodles & rice crackers tossed in a salad)
Vegan Banh Mi (sandwich: due to an influence of the French in Vietnam)
Vegan stir fry
Mung bean dumplings
Vegan rice porridge
Vegan bubble tea
Vegan steamed buns
There is so much intention behind Vietnamese food and they pride themselves on fresh ingredients, which vegan or not, anyone would appreciate.
Garlic, chili, turmeric, lemongrass are often used together in Vietnamese dishes and sometimes sour tamarind or mango are added in.
If you see something called “chao” on a Vietnamese menu, it’s fermented tofu that some say resembles bleu cheese. I haven’t tried it myself, but it’ll happen soon ‘cause I used to love bleu cheese.
Vegan Indian Takeout
Since most Indians are vegetarians and traditional Indian dishes are made without meat, eating vegan takeout from an Indian restaurant will only take dodging Western meat-fuelled influences on the menu.
Fun vegan fact of the Indian section of this article: Cows are considered sacred in Hinduism, so they’re not eaten in India with the exceptions of Kerala, parts of southern Tamil Nadu and the north east.
India is such a massive sub-continent, so you’ll find variety on every Indian takeout menu.
Common ingredients include: Legumes, lentils (dal), whole-wheat flour, rice, pearl millet, vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy products, and honey.
Things to look out for:
Ghee (clarified butter)
Curds (coagulated milk)
Naan (an Indian flat bread that contains cows milk and/or butter)
A traditional Indian menu may be vegetarian, but it is certainly heavy on the dairy at times.
I hate to admit this, but I was eating naan for a while when I first went vegan because I made a silly assumption it was free of animal products. I mean, it’s flat bread, how much animal-product can one cram in there? A whole lot, in fact.
The moment I found out, I swapped out naan for roti and made my sincere apologies to the memories of the animals I consumed.
I’m not perfect, but I wish I had known the truth about naan sooner.
Note: Chicken is also common in Indian dishes, so make sure you avoid ordering anything with chicken in it.
Things to try:
Seitan Vindaloo (traditionally spicy dish)
Chana Masala (chickpea-based dish)
Puri, Bhatoora, Kulcha (unleavened and/or deep fried bread)
Vegan Paneer (tofu imitating cheese)
Vegan Masoor Dal (lentil soup or stew)
Vegan Dal Chaawal (lentil soup)
Vegan Tikka Masala (curry)
Roti (another type of bread, but made vegan by default)
Malai Kofta (potato dumplings in tomato sauce)
Vegan Biryani (traditional Indian rice dish)
Vegan Kurma (curry)
Vegan Aloo Gobi (curry)
Vegan Parathas (Indian whole wheat flatbread)
Vegan Kitchari (a grain-oriented dish used for detoxing and to aid digestion)
Khichdi/Kichri (salty porridge)
Vegan Dalia (sweet porridge) - usually has ghee in it, so ensure it’s vegan
Vegan Medhu Vada (savory Indial lentil donuts)
Vegan fruit lassis (traditional Indian beverage) — usually made with yogurt, so ensure it’s vegan
The main tips I can provide here are to make sure you request your meal is made vegan by means of leaving out the dairy (ghee, butter, milk, yogurt, and cream) and, of course, any added animal products like chicken, beef, fish, mutton, lamb, etc.
Vegan Italian Takeout
Pizza, pasta, lasagna, meatballs, garlic bread…shall I go on?
If you live in the modern world, it’s likely Italian food has a special place in your heart.
Italian food usually means comfort food. Carb heavy, cheese-loaded, meat-oriented.
Italian food is a go-to for most people when it comes to ordering takeout.
Luckily these days as a vegan, you don’t have to sacrifice comfort foods to live a cruelty-free life.
Things to look out for:
Seafood (the obvious stuff + anchovies)
After traveling through Italy, I have no qualms or worries about finding vegan food.
When most Italian food is made with olive oil, you don’t have to worry about butter.
When you remove the cheese and meat, your meal will likely be vegan.
All you have to do after that, is clarify if the base of the meal you want is made with egg or not and you’ll be good to go.
If you’re really lucky and can find somewhere that makes or has vegan cheeses, you likely won’t need to worry and can have just about any Italian dish sans cruelty.
Things to try:
Vegan pizza (either with vegan cheese or a veggie pizza with no cheese at all)
Vegan spaghetti dishes (pasta marinara, vegan penne a la vodka,
Orecchiette (a popular pasta shape in Italy)
Vegan tria (flat pasta made without eggs)
Pucce (wood-fired oven sandwich)
Frisa (barley rusks soaked in water and olive oil - aka dakos in Greece, but with no cheese in Italy)
Fagioli e cime di rapa alla barese (leafy green & legume combo)
Ciccio Vegetariano (like pizza, but without the cheese & tomato sauce)
Ceca Mariti (bean soup)
Vegan Strazzate (almond-flavored cookies)
If Domino’s can get on board with vegan cheese, most pizza places that haven’t yet adopted a dairy-free cheese won’t be far behind.
Traditional Italian restaurants by default can make a lot of vegan meals since the essence of their food is carbs, tomatoes, and veggies.
When you remove the cheese, meat, and/or fish, your dish will most certainly still be fantastic and full of flavor.
Vegan American Takeout
American cuisine certainly has its classic staples of burgers, ribs, hot dogs, wings, seafood, apple pie, and doughnuts, but it’s also a category of food that is quite influenced by indigenous culture & other foods from around the world.
Because the general American menu spans such a large landmass, there are tons of varieties situated in pockets around the nation.
In the northeast, you’ll find a big seafood influence with clam chowders, lobster bakes & stews, lobster rolls, clam chowders, surf & turf, crab cakes, and seafood soups.
You’ll also notice a big Italian and Jewish influence with pizza, bagels, and fresh bread. Don’t forget Philly cheesesteaks, Boston cream pies, turkey sandwiches, chicken pot pie, Eggs Benedict, and any egg sandwich (bacon, egg, and cheese was an old favorite of mine).
Midwest, you’ll probably find ruebens, cheese dogs, corn dogs, corned beef, cheese fries, pot roast, prime rib, and other barbecue-style foods.
Down south, you’ll surely encounter po-boys, grits, country ham, hushpuppies, buttermilk biscuits, succotash, pan-fried chicken, fried catfish, gravy, fried green tomatoes, and Creole-influenced foods.
Oh! Don’t forget chicken and waffles…wherever they may have originated.
Out west, with a Mexican and Latin influence, you’ll come to find burritos, tacos, enchiladas, fajitas, empanadas, etc., but I’ll address this wonderful category in the next section.
You’ll likely also find a melting pot of influence from Greek, Mediterranean, and Asian cultures, which may arrive as sushi, wraps, and salads.
That’s a lotta food!
Okay, let’s try to help you with the takeout side of things here.
What to look out for:
It’s not a secret that the American diet isn’t the healthiest one on the list, however, finding American-style vegan food is becoming easier and easier.
If you find an American-style takeout joint, indicate that you’re vegan so they don’t give you any foods that include animal products or have been contaminated with them.
Depending on your strictness, you may find that any fried food may be cooked in the same frialator as animal products.
Be sure to ask before you order.
What to try:
All things vegan!
Vegan wings (usually cauliflower)
Vegan sausages and hot dogs
Vegan cheese fries
Vegan chicken & waffles (yes, it exists)
Vegan seafood (vegan lobster rolls are actually a thing)
Vegan chick’n nuggets
When navigating American cuisine to get to the vegan takeout you’re after, the best tip I can give is just to ask if what you’re hoping to order is vegan or can be made vegan.
Items may include milk powder when you absolutely don’t expect it, other things may have traces of shellfish, or you could run into the “this may include beef or chicken stock” issue.
American food is usually highly processed and deeply fried, which doesn’t always have to do with the vegan factor, so read labels, ask questions, and get creative if you want a cruelty free, American-style meal.
Vegan Mexican, Carribean, & Latin Takeout
Maybe because I grew up in New York with some amazing Mexican men teaching me how to cook, I’ve got a soft spot for Latin American food.
Since a lot — not all — Mexican food is a similar combination of food presented in various ways, finding vegan versions isn’t actually that hard.
If you’ve got fresh or cooked veggies, salsa, guacamole, rice, and a tortilla of any size, you can make burritos, tacos, enchiladas, chilaquiles, quesadillas, tostadas, taquitos, and fajitas. Of course, if you have vegan cheese and vegan sour cream, you’re golden.
Other Mexican, Caribbean, and Latin American foods include nachos, arepas, soups, bowls, salads, chili, rice combinations, cakes, pupusas, tamales, tomatillos, empanadas, escabeche, jerk ____ (fill in the blank cause you can jerk a lot — no puns intended here), patties, plantains, sweet potatoes, fritters, yam, breadfruit, callaloo, pepperpot, and a ton of seafood options that I’m not going to list.
Things to look out for:
Things to try:
Vegan burritos, tacos, nachos, enchiladas, empanadas, taquitos, quesadillas, chilaquiles, tostadas, fajitas, tostadas, chili, tamales
Vegan beans & rice
Vegan jerk cauliflower
Vegan Caribbean tofu
Vegan tropical smoothies
Vegan banana porridge
Vegan Jamaican patties
Vegan Mexican rice pudding
Mexican, Caribbean, and Latin American foods have so many differences and so many overlaps. Each Latin American country will have a unique style to their food, which will show up differently on takeout menus.
Since a lot of food from Central America, South America, and the Caribbean are based on fresh ingredients and meals assembled on the spot (for the most part), it’ll be relatively easy to get vegan versions.
Unless you’re looking for soups, stews, patties, puddings, ceviche, and smoothies, you can probably ask the restaurant you’re ordering from to create a vegan version of what you’d like.
The rest of the options may be pre-made, but everything else is usually assembled sight-on-scene since everyone likes their burritos, tacos, and quesadillas made differently, so asking for a meat-free version shouldn’t be the end of the world.
Do you feel like a vegan takeout pro yet!?
If you believe I’ve missed anything (which I’m sure I have), please let me know in the comments below or write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.