About a year ago, I went dairy-free by accident. Monkey and I were camping for a couple weeks, and dairy doesn’t keep well in summery tents, so I wasn’t eating any. Oddly, my stomach felt loads better than normal. After the trip, I got weird stomach aches, so this time I went dairy-free on purpose, and that solved it – I hadn’t even realized that there was a problem until it was solved; I just got used to feeling bloated and uncomfortable after every dairy-tastic meal. Allergies and intolerances can develop later in life, and acknowledging mine made me feel much better.
Now I eat a nearly vegan diet: I don’t eat meat, I avoid eggs for ethical reasons, but eat them when it’s more convenient to in a group; I eat some goat’s cheese (it doesn’t bother me like cow’s milk), and I eat ice cream (not enough dairy to give me a tummy ache). I’m also not super fussy about traces of eggs/milk, or if my veggie burger is cooked on the same grill as meat.
Some people have asked me for dairy-free advice, so here is my master list!
My Favourite Dairy Substitutes
- Almond milk – for plain drinking, cereal, and sauces
- Oat milk and rice milk – best milks for hot drinks
- Soy milk – for cooking and smoothies; has the most nutrition, but isn’t as nice to drink plain
- Daiya cheese – best grated (on nachos or baked potatoes) or with tomatoes, basil, and oil, but has a distinct taste on its own
- Tofutti sour cream – even better than normal sour cream!
- Almond ice cream – the best store-bought substitute for ice cream. I find coconut too sweet and soy not sweet enough – this is just right.
- Nutritional yeast – an excellent source of Vitamin B12, these cheesy flakes are often used in salads and sauces for an authentic-tasting replacement
My Favourite Dairy-Free Recipes
I feel most at ease when I call the restaurant beforehand to ask if they have a vegan option, or at least vegetarian non-dairy. They always do, in my experience, but occasionally you have to make a request ahead of time. Another trick is to order a combination of appetizers and/or side dishes. Side veggies are surprisingly yum!
Mexican – Most dishes have cheese, but you’re safe with customizing a tostada, taco, or burrito. They’ll look at you funny if you ask for a cheese-less quesadilla.
Asian – Generally dairy free! Over 90% of East Asians are lactose intolerant [this infographic is fascinating!].
Indian – Some dishes contain milk and yoghurt, but Indian restaurants are often 100% vegan too.
French – They do love their cheese. If you eat meat, you’ll be fine. If you’re vegetarian, go for a plate of seasonal vegetables, which they cook especially well – sometimes it’s offered as a side dish, sometimes you’ll have to request something special.
English – Vegetarians are usually safe with a veggie full English breakfast, but traditional pub fare is often meat-y or cheesy. If cheese-less nut roast is on the menu, go for it.
Pizza – Cheese-less pizza can be absolutely delicious with the right toppings (my favourite combo: pineapples and loads of veggies), but you have to ask: does no cheese mean dry and boring? Make sure there is enough tomato sauce and other stuff to make it worthwhile; sometimes I order cheese-less pizza and it comes out as basically a piece of circular bread. Ask questions.
Consult HappyCow for vegan, vegetarian, and veg-friendly restaurants and supermarkets around the world. Even if you do eat meat, vegan restaurants often mean creative dairy substitutions, so you can try dishes you usually don’t get. Some of my favourites:
- New York, NY – Blossom has the best Caesar salad, according to Molly
- Boston and Cambridge, MA – Flour Bakery marks gluten free, dairy free, and vegan, and has some of the most scrumptious baked goods around
- Cambridge, MA – O2 Yoga for vegan nachos and donuts
- Cambridge, MA – Veggie Galaxy is a vegetarian diner, and the whole menu is vegan-friendly – as are their cakes and desserts.
- New Haven, CT – Claire’s Corner Copia‘s veggie burger is what convinced me that going vegetarian was a good idea. Their delicious vegan cake is pictured above.
- Seattle, WA – Portage Bay Café has yummy vegan options. So do most places in Seattle actually.
- Seattle, WA – Tilth is a fine local dining experience, offering a vegan tasting menu alongside its normal one, and home to the best soup I’ve ever sampled.
- London, UK – Food for Thought is my go-to takeaway or quick eating veggie/vegan stop in Covent Garden
- London, UK – InSpiral has the best vegan ice cream (cashew-based), along with other clever vegan and raw meals and desserts
- London, UK – Tibits has a fabulous vegetarian and vegan buffet with the most plush seating
- Oxford, UK – Alpha Bar, Will’s Deli, and Vaults & Garden share ownership and all offer healthy seasonal food, with a meat, vegetarian, and vegan option every day.
What are your best dairy-free secrets?