If a member in a family or group is lactose intolerant, it is sometimes wrongly assumed that the whole group has to go dairy-free when eating out to avoid any complications or simply out of a sense of solidarity. This might mean that some members in the family or group have to compromise on the choice of cuisine, restaurant or the type of dishes that are ordered. While choosing to go dairy-free as a group out of deference to someone who is lactose intolerant is admirable, it is not really necessary nor is it difficult for a lactose intolerant person to eat out with others who are not.
Lactose intolerance is not a killjoy. It’s not even an inconvenience if you consider it as a choice. After all, those who are vegans chose to go dairy-free out of choice and not because they have to. If you are careful you can enjoy eating out as much as anybody else despite being lactose intolerant. In fact, when you follow a dairy-free diet while ordering food in a restaurant, you are actually making healthier choices.
You will choose quality.
Whether it is just having a cup of coffee or afternoon tea, or going for a full course dinner, if you want to be dairy-free, then you will naturally choose a restaurant that is classy and reputable. As more and more restaurants become aware of not only food intolerances and allergies but also recognise the discerning taste choices of their patrons, everything from the way menus are designed to the way food is served is changing.
For instance, most restaurants will naturally serve black tea or black coffee with milk or creamer and sugar separately. Similarly, it is becoming customary for salad dressings which may contain cream to be usually served on the side or to give every individual patron the choice to garnish an otherwise dairy-free dish with grated cheese after it is served.
Place your order with care.
A few simple tips will help you to steer clear of dishes that contain dairy when you are eating out. Read the menu carefully while ordering and if in doubt, ask your waiter if a particular dish contains any dairy ingredients. The knowledge and awareness of the wait staff is another indication of the class and quality of the dining establishment.
If the menu has a vegan section, you can simply order from it. Otherwise, ordering from a vegetarian menu is also fairly safe unless you are ordering a dish with potatoes such as baked or mashed, which may contain sour cream, butter or cheese. Even if you are ordering meat, you can do so if the menu specifies it as kosher because then meat and dairy products are strictly kept separate.
A simple way to avoid any inadvertent dairy ingredient is to avoid fried food. Most fried food contains unaccounted for ingredients which may contain butter. Even otherwise milk or dairy products tend to get mixed up in the batter or during frying. Keep in mind that any kind of pancake and omelette or even scrambled eggs may generally contain milk or dairy products.
Choose salads over soups unless the menu specifies a vegan soup which contains no cream. When placing the order for a salad, make sure that you specify that dressings are served on the side. This way, if you find out that the dressing contains cream after it is served, you can still avoid it while enjoying the salad without it. If you do order a vegetable soup or a chicken noodle soup, confirm with the serving staff that it is dairy-free.
Go East Asian or Mediterranean.
Most East Asian cuisines such as Chinese, Japanese, Thai or Vietnamese are virtually dairy-free. However, be careful when it comes to Indian cuisine since the cooking medium is often ghee, a clarified form of butter. Most of the dishes in Mediterranean cuisines are cooked in olive oil and the base for sauces is generally olive oil rather cream.
You may already have realised that by going dairy-free, you are actually making healthy culinary choices which many people who are not lactose intolerant would make. So, neither are the choices limited nor are they difficult for someone who is lactose intolerant while eating out. You just have to choose your restaurant and also place your order with care.
Last but not the least, desserts are generally considered no-go when a person is lactose intolerant, since most choices include ice creams or pastries which contain dairy. However, this is no longer true. A lactose intolerant person does not have to stick to a fruit bowl for dessert. A large number of dairy-free desserts, especially ice creams, are now readily available. At many restaurants, it has become the norm to offer ice creams made from coconut milk or almond milk or soy milk.