March 19, 2008

The Vegas Vegan Does San Diego

Traveling & eating at the same time can be a scary prospect for a vegan. At home, you know your favorite restaurants, or if you're trying some place new, at least you know you're guaranteed your next meal will be more well-rounded because you'll be cooking it for yourself. But what if you're taking a 3-day trip to a strange new land? I've had trouble in the past with eating a well balanced diet while on vacation (once I almost passed out from lack of nutrition after a 5-day trip to Washington DC) and I wasn't about to let it happen this time.

We planned a 3-day trip to San Diego to visit the zoo & wild animal park. And in all the excitement of making hotel reservations, travel plans and eventually a "soft" itinerary, I realized that the meal planning had fallen by the wayside. What will this vegan eat while on vacation? Paying for 3 meals each day at restaurants is totally out of our budget. So the solution was simple: PACK YOUR OWN FOOD!!

For myself, I brought Odwalla Bars for breakfasts & lunches. For Andrew & Matt I packed cereal bars, a jar of peanut butter, 6 banansa and a loaf of whole wheat bread. Problem solved: 2 meals per day for all 3 people were provided by ourselves. I think I did ok with the Odwalla + banana combination: I was satisfied & fueled. Probably not the best decision in the world, but it seemed to work.

We decided that we would eat out every evening for supper, though, and here's where the Vegas Vegan both shined & failed in her task. You can be the judges...

Day 1: We stayed in a Motel 6 in Escondido, CA, just north of San Diego. Our first evening we walked across the street from our motel to "Panda Express."

-=Edit=- This portion of the blog entry has been recanted thanks to an email from a fellow vegan in Vegas who pointed out that Panda does not offer any vegetarian choices. At this moment, even a couple of months later, I am feeling betrayed & unclean knowing that I ate a stir fry that was chicken base. I am disgusted at myself for not being as informed as I should have been. Now I am questioning all food I have eaten out in public. What else have I consumed and not known it?? Thanks to MS for bringing this to my attention. For better or for worse, I learn something new every day about Vegan choices. In the words of GI Joe: "Knowing is half the battle."


Day 2: Tuesday evening supper. Matt decided he wanted to go some place "nice" on our vacation. Unfortunately, he'd picked out a Sushi place via the internet before we arrived in Escondido, and after arrival realized just how far we'd have to drive to get there. We had to change our plans, so we asked the people at the front desk for some suggestions. They said there was a great little American Grill not far called Jag's. There's a menu online which says they have "tomato & basil over pasta" and that was enough for me to give the thumb's up. Sure, I'll go American if there's at least one thing for me. And what the heck, pasta is always a good thing to bulk up on when you're doing as much walking as we were. So we hopped in the car & drove from Escondido to Valley Center, about 20 minutes away.

Upon arrival, it was a bit frightening - where the hell were we?! Um, pretty much the middle of no where. But, the website is pretty hip, so it must be ok. Walking in, it was a 50's style restaurant themed toward the local high school's sports teams. "Jag's" being the home team's mascot: A Jaguar. We took a booth near the front end of a Jaguar (car) sticking out from the wall & opened the menu. Um... no tomato/basil/pasta. I politely asked the waitress where it was! She said the online menu is old - they haven't served that dish in at least 2 years. (I refrained from commenting on how they should update their website more than once a decade) She asked if I'd like spaghetti with butter, which I wouldn't have accepted as an "alternative" even if I did eat dairy! Who goes out for that crap? I settled on the fried vegetable appetizer. (don't say it... I'm getting to that part...)

Now, I haven't really had "fried" food in ages. I mean, as a vegan, when does one really deep fry anything? Not often. But man does grease taste good sometimes. I devoured a bunch of fried green beans and some mushrooms, zuchinni & sweet corn. Matt snitched a sweet corn nublet & said, "mm, that tastes kinda buttery." [screeeeeeeeech]

"Really? Do you think there's butter in it?" I put down my fork, and my face must have turned pasty white.

Matt quickly regrouped by saying, "I'm sure it's just the corn itself that tastes sweet. Don't worry honey, it's ok."

I'm sure he was right because there's no way the batter would have stuck to the corn if it had been buttered....

The batter? "Honey, what's in this batter?" It was his turn to go white.

"Well, flour, bread crumbs, and probably some eggs...." Well, crapola. There goes my appetite. Was I really that stupid to forget that there's probably egg in batter? I know there's egg in tempura batter which is why I avoid it at Asian restaurants, so why would I overlook this one detail at this place? I decided that I wouldn't beat myself up over it. It was a mistake, an oversight, I wasn't going to let it ruin my evening. But it did ruin my appetite. I was done. Matt finished the rest of my plate.

The creepiest part, I learned, about this restaurant was that it used to be a turkey farm/slaughterhouse. Yikes. It said on the menu the farmer that owned the land during WWII raised his own turkeys to feed his workers. They slaughtered the turkeys right there - and fascinating enough the brackets on the ceiling (now used as decoration) used to hold the line that carried the birds to slaughter. The original building had been knocked down to make way for the place we were now sitting in, and though we were assured there were no turkey ghosts, there were turkey tracks that mysteriously appeared in the freshly poured cement in the kitchen. Right there & then I decided that this was no place for a vegan. The beedy eyes of all those slaughtered turkeys were upon me & there little turkey voices were whispering, "hypocrite....." to me all evening. I have never breathed so deep as when we walked out of that place to reach the car.


Day 3: After a long day at the Wild Animal Park, it was time to head home. We planned to stop at a place that was featured on the Food Network: The Mad Greek in Baker, CA. Mediterranean seems to be one of the easiest ways to eat vegan these days. Hummus is always an easy, high protein, fix. And this was sure to deliver.

And there ya go! Hummus & pita in hand, I was filling a belly that was mildly rumbling after the failed meal the night before. I don't know about you, but one bad supper leaves me hungry for days afterward. But that hummus filled me up right! The usual ingredients in hummus are: chick peas, olive oil, lemon, garlic & tahini. Not very difficult. BUT beware, some places actually put yogurt into their hummus, so be sure to ask first before diving in. I did ask to confirm the ingredients before ordering.

I don't know what to say about the Mad Greek except that the hummus was worth the trip to Baker! The atmosphere was more like a fast-food hamburger joint - ordering at the counter & taking your number back to your vinyl booth. It was clean, efficient and friendly. But most importantly, they had great hummus topped w/paprika, olive oil & calamata olives. Their pita was warm & soft (pita is made w/flour, yeast, sugar, salt, olive oil & water, not an egg bread) and filled my belly up right!

Unfortunately, the hummus & pita was the only item available for vegans. It may be possible to find a few other options as a lacto-ovo-vegetarian, but I was not specifically looking for those items...

So if you're on Rt. 15 traveling through southern Californina between LA & LV, be sure to stop at The Mad Greek!! Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives


In all, traveling as a vegan wasn't too difficult, but it was more stressful than I'd anticipated. Mostly, that was my fault. I learned a few things: like ask what ingredients are in everything and assume nothing, because no one else cares what you put in your body. Only you care what you eat.

Happy Travels!