Recently I travelled to LA for a work event with my husband.
The USA is a land of big things – big hopes, big opportunities, big cars, big meals and big people! Three years ago in the USA, I gained 3kg in 3 weeks.
As a 95% vegan*, and committed plant-based eater, I hoped to fare better this time.
We stayed in a fabulous place in LA – the Wilshire in Beverley Hills. An old but fully refurbished hotel. It was heaven!
We ate breakfast each day at the hotel (rather processed fare, but you could get around it with the copious quantities of fruit, and especially fresh berries), but the dinner events at the hotel (2) really surprised me.
Clearly, American chefs, or at least American chefs in Beverley Hills, really ‘get’ vegan.
They understand vegans are hungry people like everyone else and that a vegan meal is not a salad, or a plate of steamed vegetables. In the USA, the waiter hears ‘vegan’ and they know exactly the sort of fare you are looking for: a meal with a protein centre, such as beans, lentils, tofu or a protein-rich wholegrain such as quinoa, plus vegetables of several varieties, and preferably a sauce, so it feels like a unified meal, not a selection of leftovers.
Great American Vegan Meals I Had in California
Some of the marvellous meals I had in California were
- salad with edamame (at the Dolby Theater, Hollywood – shown at top)
- bean salads
- bean soups
- quinoa bowls with tofu and salad
- Indian dhal
- Arabic bean dips
- delectable Arabic eggplant meals
- wonderful Mexican black bean burgers
- sofritas from a Chipotle Mexican Grill. Sofritas are like scrambled tofu with a smokey chilli flavour.
The best salad I had was at Santa Monica Beach. At this salad restaurant, ‘Simply Salads’, you order a leaf (I ordered kale), 5 extras (I ordered sunflower seeds, cucumber, carrot, chickpeas and apple) and a sauce (I ordered balsamic vinegar). They take a giant (XXL family sized) salad bowl, and get a curved salad chopper called an ‘oolu’ and chop the whole lot with dressing inside this giant bowl with both hands. This reduces its size, whereby they stuff it all into a individual size salad bowl with a lid and send you out the door with serviette and fork. It took me 2 meals to eat it all, and felt I had definitely got my antioxidants for the day!
I know to bring my own herbal teabags on planes, and stockpile more from hotel serveries. I know to always order the ‘vegan meal’ on planes, but only eat whatever is unprocessed and just drink water or herbal tea the rest of the time, and store extra fruit in my carry on – it often comes in handy when there is a long airline queue.
However, nothing had adequately prepared me for American Airlines.
What I did not know but have now learned the hard way is – American Airlines (a domestic carrier) does not serve meals, even for a 9 hour flight to Hawaii from Dallas). They serve processed snacks (if they haven’t run out by the time the trolley reaches your aisle). That means chips, hummus from powdered concentrate (better than nothing), and meaty fare like meat sandwiches.
For our first flight with American, we left our hotel in California at 5 AM to catch a plane to Dallas. It was delayed by 2 1/2 hrs, and the airport domestic lounge had only cakes and pastries, salted nuts, chocolate bars and coffee shops. I was able to buy an apple and that’s all I had for the 5 hour flight. On landing, I was able to purchase a banana while we awaited our rental car, and reached our hotel after 3PM.
But I had learned my lesson. Although we believed American Airlines would serve a meal on the 9 hr flight to Hawaii – it was exactly the same fare as on the trip to Dallas. just in case, I had purchased not one but two salads with beans and lentils in each from Starbucks at the airport, plus several pieces of fruit. This tided me over. Americans on the plane brought out eskies and ate whole meals they had brought along. Needless to say, on arriving in Hawaii, we were all starving.
Great Food in Texas
- Terrific Mexican food: sizzling grilled vegetables with
- made-from-scratch hot chilli and tomato sauces
- ‘Horchata’, a wonderful drink made from soaked rice, water and cinnamon (and some sugar, with I could have done without but was very refreshing and tasty in the heat).
I also cooked several times at my sister’s house. Several of her family are practically vegan themselves, so that was very easy. She had a pressure cooker in which she cooked beans and other staples in a minuscule amount of time.
Asian food is simply everywhere. Especially in Waikiki, a great many people are of Asian descent. It is real Japanese, real Vietnamese, real Korean food, as it is such a multicultural place. Finding vegan food was the easiest thing and I enjoyed so many Asian flavours. The tropical fruit is delicious, and juice bars are everywhere.
Beware the juices served by many hotels – they come from a concentrate which is mixed with water, then like cordial, are dispensed from a large tapped dispenser. It’s more of a sugary drink than real fruit juice.
In Hawaii I first encountered Gardein – a meat substitute that has won several vegan prizes. This product (which I think is soy-based) is made to look like any type of meat, and served in the same way meat is served. I didn’t like it much, but it was great to have the choice.
That’s my food story in the US this time. Good food availability was high, and as long as I practiced eating only when hungry, it all went well. (And this time I lost 1 ½ kg on the trip.)
*95% vegan? Yes, I do eat honey, and I also eat a small serve of freshly caught fish 2 – 3 times a year.