Vegan and Vegetarian Dining Archives

January 15, 2010

A Vegan Adventure at 'Ohana

by Kitty Smith

I just returned from a most wonderful Walt Disney World vacation. As a vegan, there were some challenges with meals, but one meal was so amazingly outstanding that it deserves a whole report by itself. On Thursday December 10th, I had the best meal of my life - a seven course vegan feast at 'Ohana.

Other vegetarians and vegans might wonder why I'd even attempt a meal at an establishment known for its meat-fest, but I had heard that Chef TJ (Tjetjep Sudiswa) was now working there - and anywhere he's cooking, I'll be eating. His name alone would have brought me here, but I had also heard that he was making a special effort here to treat vegans to something truly special. Even knowing that, nothing could have prepared me for the meal I was about to enjoy.

We were seated at a table near the window, with an awesome view of the Grand Floridian, and the Magic Kingdom. Our meal was too early for the fireworks, but I can only imagine how cool it must be to watch them from here. The view was gorgeous! Shortly after we were seated, Chef TJ came to greet me, and after a couple of food-specific questions, he asked me if I was ready for my adventure. And boy was I ever! I had come hungry, and excited, with camera and notebook in hand.

To get me started, Chef TJ brought out a nice large plate of fried Pita chips, with a nice large scoop of red pepper hummus, and Baba Ghanoush. If I didn't know more food was coming, I could have easily eaten this whole plate! It was so good!

Pita Chips with Red Pepper Hummus and Baba Ghanoush

Next came the salad course. Since Chef TJ doesn't do anything simple, this was not your average salad. This one was wrapped in a sesame rice "paper", and served in a wine glass. It was designed to be eaten with your hands, as Chef TJ insisted I do - very unique, and very tasty. I'm not sure of the dressing he used (some sort of vinaigrette, light and full of flavor), but it was wonderful! The only problem, if you can call it that, is that the dressing tended to fall to the bottom, which only meant that each bite was better than the last.

Mixed Greens in Sesame Rice Paper

At this point, Chef TJ (who continually checked to make sure I was happy and that all was well) pointed out that the noodles and broccoli served with the regular meal were also vegan. I tried just enough to tell you that they were also quite delicious. I probably could have made a small meal from that alone, but Chef TJ wasn't about to let me settle! (I'm calling this a seven-course meal, but truly it would have been eight or nine, with the noodles and broccoli.)

Lo Mein Noodles Tossed in Teriyaki Sauce with Fresh Vegetables, and Seasoned Broccoli

Next course, soup. This was quite unusual - a ginger-based broth, with crushed red pepper, watercress and peanuts. The red pepper definitely gave it some kick, and veggies and peanuts made it quite filling. I must confess that, while very tasty, only ate about half of it. This was already one of the largest meals I'd ever had, and I hadn't even got to the entrée yet.

Ginger Soup with Crushed Red Pepper, Watercress and Peanuts

Ahhh... entrée at last, or so I thought! This next dish was actually my favorite. I believe that Chef TJ called it Tofu chips with Swiss chard. Somehow, he had managed to cut the tofu into small, very thin slices and fried it, giving it the most wonderful chewy texture. Oh what I wouldn't give to be able to do that to tofu! The Swiss chard was the perfect accompaniment. He also included two sauces - one a bit spicy, the other a bit sweet. However, the tofu was so deliciously marinated already that I found the sauces a bit over-kill. I just can't rave enough about this dish! It was heavenly!

Fried Tofu Chips with Swiss Chard

Just as I'm thinking I can now die happy, Chef TJ comes out with yet another appetizer. You mean I haven't gotten to the main course yet?! This one was a wonderfully prepared Bok Choy with mushrooms, some ginger, perhaps some red pepper? It had a little heat. There were also what seemed to be tiny little fried potatoes - like itty-bitty French fries. I like bok choy and was not disappointed with this dish.

Bok Choy Appetizer

Finally, Chef TJ arrives with the entrée - a selection of mixed veggies, tofu, a scoop of white rice, some tempura broccoli and cauliflower, topped with rice straws. He told me that the tempura was coated with just flour, baking soda and Hawaiian beer. Whatever it was, it worked! The whole dish had tons of flavor (most of which I sadly can't identify). It was just the right level of "spicy". Really, it was a wonderful dish and my only disappointment was that I was already too full to fully appreciate it. (For the record, even my non-vegan hubby pronounced it quite tasty. And the woman at the next table was so impressed that she asked if she could take a picture - to share with a vegetarian friend who had declined the invitation.)

Tofu and Mixed Vegetables, with Rice, Tempura Broccoli and Cauliflower

I have no idea how I managed, but since dessert is such a rare treat for a vegan, I did actually manage to tackle the last dish. I'm sure my description won't do it justice, but I believe Chef TJ described it as "Pina colada, with lychees and mint, and a surprise in the middle". The surprise actually turned out to be chocolate Tofutti. There were also bits of banana and some raspberries. It was quite a medley of flavor, but oh so delicious! It was the perfect ending to the most amazing meal I've ever had.

Pina Colada with Lychees and Mint and Chocolate Surprise Center

In short, if you're a vegetarian or vegan who's been afraid to try 'Ohana, I suggest you reconsider - and tell Chef TJ his biggest fan says "hi"!

AllEars Note: Every experience at Walt Disney World with special dining is different. Each chef does what they can given the ingredients and time they have at any given time. Please do not go to Ohana expecting this will be your meal if you are vegan.

October 13, 2008

Vegan Dining at Walt Disney World

The Bashful Vegan

Hi! My name is Kitty, and I'm a vegan. I'm also terribly, seriously, majorly bashful which is not very convenient when you're a vegan. It's near impossible to eat out as a vegan without attracting some attention, or at the very least, getting a confused look from a server. All of which has nothing whatsoever to do with Walt Disney World, except that it does make my trips to the world's most popular vacation destination a little interesting.


Despite my "challenges", I go to Walt Disney World every chance I get, which isn't nearly as often as I would like, but I guess we can't all live in Florida. I usually manage at least one trip a year, along with my "Disney tolerant" omnivorous hubby. He's a bit bashful, too, though he eats a more normal diet.

I was a vegetarian (still ate dairy and eggs) when I made my first trip to Walt Disney World, almost 11 years ago. I was a little worried about what I would eat, but I shouldn't have been. There were so many options for lacto-ovo's that it wasn't even an issue. My expectations weren't very high, so I was pleasantly surprised that I could find more than just soy burgers and fries.

My first trip as a vegan (about 8 years ago) was more of an adventure. Okay, that's putting it nicely. It was rough. I was still new to the vegan scene, and suffered pretty badly from Mickey-ice-cream-bar-envy. The soy burgers and fries were still an option, and the sit-down restaurants did try to cater to me, but it didn't feel like a vacation without all the sweets and treats. (I have since learned to curb my sweet tooth, but at that point, I still associated vacations with lots of desserts.) So I vowed to be prepared before my second vegan trip. The following are some of the tips and tricks I learned while planning my own trips.

My first tip is especially helpful for newer vegans - ones who aren't sure how they will manage without sweets (ice cream, cookies and churros, oh my!). Bring treats from home. Seriously, pack an extra suitcase full of vegan cookies and candies, energy bars"� anything and everything you might eat at home as a vegan treat. (Okay, that soy ice cream might not travel so well, but there are lots of other options.) If the suitcase seems like a hassle, you could also pack up a box of goodies and have it shipped to your hotel.

Or, you could order some goodies from an online source (Vegan Essentials and Pangea are both good options), and have them shipped directly to your hotel. I can't stress this enough - if you're a new vegan, or just a new "Disney" vegan, having those comfort foods can seriously make the difference between the vacation of your dreams, and a big disappointment.

Once you arrive, make sure you always have some of these treats with you, in your bag or backpack. Disney does have a policy about not bringing food into the parks, but in my experience, they have no problem at all with a few snacks - and if they say anything at all, just explain that you're a vegan and this is required for your special diet. (I always have snacks with me, and I have never been questioned - not even once.)

Now, this might sound like a contradiction, but there are a surprising number of vegan treats available at Walt Disney World (and I think I've found all of them!). I love sharing them with others, and I will share them with you, but I still recommend treats from home. I've heard too many vegans say that they couldn't find anything to eat, and it affected their trip. Why take the chance, when a handful of your favorite vegan candy or a vegan energy bar will solve the problem? It's amazing what a difference the little things can make.

My second tip really applies to everyone, but is especially important for vegans: don't wait until you are starved to go look for food. In general, people tend to get grumpy, or at least not feel at the top of their game, when they get hungry. If you can't get to a restaurant right away, and you've got that rumbly in your tumbly, then it's time to hit those snacks I talked about. Otherwise, look for food before it becomes urgent, and be prepared to settle for a second choice. If you're planning a sit-down restaurant, odds are very good that you will eat, and probably eat very well. However, if this is one of those counter-service grab-n-go meals, then you might need a little extra time. There are more options than you might think, even at the counter-service places, but some of them require a little thought and creativity.

Which brings me to my third tip: eat at non-traditional times. In other words, avoid the rush and try to eat either a little earlier or a little later than the rest of the world. Eating as a vegan almost always requires some "speaking up", and I find this so much easier if I'm not holding up a crowd at the time. My meals sometimes require a little extra effort, and for me, there's nothing worse than feeling like I'm a bother, or that I'm keeping others waiting. Hubby and I generally try to eat early - lunch around 11:00am, and dinner around 5:00pm. We've found that this works really well at Walt Disney World.

This fourth tip I've shared with quite a few other vegetarians and vegans who have contacted me: for any sit-down restaurants you plan to eat at, call the restaurant 72 hours in advance and ask to speak to a chef. By doing this, you will have a better idea what to expect when you dine, and you also give the chef time to acquire any special ingredients they might need to make your meal something to remember. And this is really great advice. The problem is that I'm too bashful to actually do this myself. Yes, I'm finally going to admit it: I have never actually done this. I have mentioned that I'm a vegan when making reservations, and I've mentioned it when I got to the restaurant, but I have never called a restaurant directly and spoken to a chef.

So how do I manage when I'm too bashful to speak up?

Well, there options, even without special requests, but they are very limited.

Soy burgers and Disney fries (but not the ones clearly marked as "McDonald's) are vegan as is - no special request required.

There are fruit carts in every park, and a number of other snacks which are vegan.

The popcorn, despite its buttery appearance and taste, is actually vegan.

The soft pretzels and roasted nuts are safe (even the tasty cinnamon-glazed almonds!). But it would be tough to get through a whole vacation with only these few things.

There are several things that have helped - the biggest one being the cast members themselves. For starters, I am continually amazed by the number of cast members that already understand the term "vegan". If you say you're a vegetarian, many of them will ask "lacto-ovo or vegan?". Not having to explain this saves a lot of time of trouble - and for me, stress. Also, they really truly seem to want to make your trip special. Disney tries hard to accommodate everyone. I routinely have to make modifications, even at counter-service places, and it's almost never an issue. They seem prepared for it. They don't even look at me like I'm from another planet (which I get a lot in the "real world.) Occasionally I am told that there will be an additional wait - which I am always prepared for (thanks to my second tip - don't wait until you're starved).

Knowing what is possible, and what to expect also helps. It's important to keep in mind that most places will do their best to match any request, but they can only work with what they've got. In other words, most places will be happy to prepare you a salad minus chicken and cheese, but they can't substitute it with grilled tofu if they don't have any tofu in their kitchen.

That's where the 72 hours notice may help with a sit-down restaurant. The chefs at these places almost seem to thrive on the challenge of preparing something you will enjoy. I have had some extraordinary meals at Disney's sit-down restaurants. With counter-service, though, I've found that it's better to have a plan before I get in line. Even at the more casual places, they will most often work with me, but the creativity and knowledge is lacking. I need to know exactly what I want, and make requests that I know they can accommodate (such as leaving the chicken and cheese off of a salad, or ordering a fruit plate without the yogurt dipping sauce).

With these tips in mind, even a Disney vegan newbie can have the trip of a lifetime. For me, being a vegan, even a bashful vegan, is no longer an issue at Walt Disney World. Well, being bashful will always be an issue, but I'm working on that. (I'll never be volunteering for Indiana Jones' Stunt Spectacular, but I do plan to finally get up the guts to meet my hero, Mickey Mouse" one of these days.)

Boma Dinner: Marinated tofu over a corn salsa
Marinated tofu over a corn salsa

Boma Dessert: Vanilla soy ice cream with raspberries and a vegan chocolate chip cookie.
Vanilla soy ice cream with raspberries and a vegan chocolate chip cookie

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About Vegan and Vegetarian Dining

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to All Ears® Guest Blog in the Vegan and Vegetarian Dining category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Tutto Italia is the previous category.

Whispering Canyon Cafe is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.