A Historical past of Vegan Restaurant Meals, From 1850 to 2023

In the event you had been vegan within the Nineteenth century, what may you will have ordered off a restaurant menu? And the way would your choices have improved over time? New York Public Library’s historic menu assortment may also help reply these questions. The gathering holds nearly 50,000 menus from eating places and accommodations throughout america, a couple of quarter of which have been digitized and transcribed so the general public can browse them on-line.

“I feel menus are fascinating cultural artifacts that assist us perceive immigration, city growth, [and] meals historical past,” mentioned Rebecca Federman, who has labored with the menus on the library for greater than a decade and now manages the gathering. “However in a bigger context, they will reveal much more.”

As only a few examples, Federman mentioned modern cooks have consulted the gathering for inspiration, and authors have used it in quest of particulars to incorporate of their works of historic fiction. A marine biologist as soon as searched the menus for clues about modifications in wild fish populations.

You’d most likely anticipate to see dramatic modifications in vegan delicacies over the past 173 years. With the NYPL menu assortment, we are able to see precisely how and when it developed.

VegNews.1854menu_cropA resort’s dinner menu from 1854

1850 to 1870: Vegan sides and snacks

The gathering’s earliest menus didn’t give lots of element. Their choices sound extra like a grocery listing, with dishes listed plainly, together with “oranges, figs, beets, or squash.”

Among the many menus from the mid-Nineteenth century, none seem to supply a meatless entrée. However in the event you traveled again in time to this period, you possibly can most likely nonetheless discover sufficient to fill you up. Select a fundamental carb corresponding to boiled rice or dry toast, pair it with greens and spreads à la plain celery, radish relish, or plum preserves, prime all of it off with walnuts for some crunch, and also you’ve bought your self a meal, even when barely incohesive. 

Vegnews.1881menu_cropLodge foyer menu from 1881

1870 to 1900: There’s at all times salad

Menus from the late Nineteenth century nonetheless provided loads of scorching vegetable aspect dishes, nevertheless it looks as if extra curiosity in salads and relishes (chilly greens) emerged throughout this time. Chicory and cucumber salad would have been refreshing on a summer season day, or in the event you actually wished to chill off, you may go along with frozen tomatoes and lettuce.

Additionally throughout this time, reigning supreme amongst sides have been potatoes—which to at the present time are nonetheless a vegan’s finest pal at a non-vegan restaurant. Plain potatoes have been ready in each type conceivable, together with fried, griddled, mashed, boiled, and ribboned.

Dairy-free frozen desserts have been additionally frequent throughout this time. Vegans may have handled themselves to sorbet aux groseilles (currants) or younger America sorbet (the jury continues to be out on what that is precisely, so finest to ask the waiter if this taste ever reappears on a menu).

vegnews.1900menu_cropPure Meals Ca

1900 to 1950: The daybreak of plant-based meats

Among the many library’s menus which were digitized to this point, the phrase “vegetarian” first appeared in 1900 on the menu of a Chicago restaurant known as Pure Meals Cafe. The restaurant’s identify was in reference to the pure meals motion of the time, which raised consciousness of the scandals within the meat trade. It’s unsure which dishes would have contained dairy or eggs at Pure Meals Cafe, nevertheless it’s clear that none of them contained meat. The breaded mock rooster and vegetarian meat sandwich are significantly intriguing.

Vegetable set plates turned considerably frequent when meat was rationed throughout World Conflict II. Wartime lunch counters across the nation listed choices corresponding to a Vegetarian Platter with fried tomato and Contemporary Vegetable Plate. Let’s not neglect this was additionally the time of the Despair Cake—also referred to as Loopy Cake or Wacky Cake—which is an unintentionally vegan cake invented within the Forties when commodities corresponding to eggs and butter have been rationed. 


1950 to 1970: Going international

The general menu assortment reveals a heavy reliance on English, French, and German delicacies because the earliest years on file, however broader range had develop into commonplace by the mid-Twentieth century.

On the Italian American eating places that have been in style by this time, vegan diners may have chosen vermicelli in scarpara sauce or a bunch of other forms of pasta in tomato-based sauces. Kosher eating places have been typically meatless, and although many dishes contained dairy, there have been prone to be at the least a couple of that have been freed from animal merchandise.

The avocado—a mainstay of as we speak’s vegan way of life—made its debut on the menus of this period. Varied eateries served them in an avocado sandwich; romaine, grapefruit, and avocado salad; and as their very own aspect dish—halved avocado with fruit salad.

Vegnews.199Zen Palate

1970 to 2010: The good American tofu increase

Lastly, by the late Twentieth and early twenty first centuries, there was a breakthrough. One may nearly anticipate finding a couple of deliberately vegan choices at most eating places, at the least in greater cities. And significantly at eating places serving meals influenced by Asian cuisines.

Among the many digitized menus, tofu’s first look is on a 1984 menu from a Thai-American restaurant in Minneapolis known as The King and I which continues to be in operation as we speak. In its earliest days, The King and I served fried tofu with candy and bitter sauce, mock duck and vegetable stir fry, and vegetarian curry with creamy coconut milk. 

Sushi eating places like Genroku Sushi in New York served kappa-maki (a fundamental cucumber roll) and oshinko (pickled radish roll). Chinese language-American eating places normally had quite a few vegetable-based dishes that dialed up the umami with soy sauce as an alternative of meat, corresponding to black mushroom with inexperienced kale, bean curds with snow peas, and vegetarian sauté.

The variety of completely vegan eating places began to climb within the Nineties. For instance, Zen Palate in Westbury, NY, served advanced, modern dishes corresponding to Shredded Melody—shredded soy gluten sautéed with celery, carrots, zucchini, and pine nuts in a spicy-sweet sauce with taro spring rolls and brown rice. 

Throughout these years, different American eating places honed the dishes which have develop into a number of the staples of our time, like veggie burgers, veggie lasagnas, and meatless chilis. Whereas not included in these archives, Canoga Park, CA’s Observe Your Coronary heart Market & Cafe began cranking out its famed Avocado, Tomato, and Sprouts sandwich amongst different vegan-friendly gadgets since 1970. 

Vegnews.ScreamersScreamer’s Pizzeria

2010 to as we speak: Countless potentialities

The defining shift of vegan eating is the emergence of fully vegan eating places, devoted vegan menus, and the elevated abundance of plant-based options that may be present in each vegan and non-vegan institutions. 

Pizza is among the most progressive ideas to have adopted vegan choices. Going vegan now not mandates giving up this favourite meals, as vegan cheese and even plant-based meats have discovered their manner onto unbiased and chain pizzerias. “There’s no excuse anymore,” mentioned Pleasure Strang, govt chef at Screamer’s Pizzeria, which gained the 2023 VegNews Veggie Award for Greatest Vegan Pizzeria.

“We’ve come to this point which you can be vegan and nonetheless take pleasure in every little thing you wished to take pleasure in, together with pizza,” she mentioned.

Strang remembers the mid-2010s in New York when vegans would now not settle for cheese-less crust with greens as correct pizza. The demand for higher toppings and plant-based cheese led to the start of Screamer’s in Brooklyn. With house-made almond ricotta, seitan sausage, buffalo cauliflower, and an array of different reimagined toppings, Screamer’s provides a hopeful outlook for the subsequent period of American pizzerias.

Vegnews.RavensStrudel_cropRaven’s Restaurant


Over on the West Coast, The Ravens Restaurant at The Stanford Inn by the Sea in Mendocino, CA elevates vegan delicacies to a complicated, fine-dining expertise. Lots of the components are organically grown in a backyard on-site. 

Celeb chef Matthew Kenney has additionally been a pioneer in vegan superb eating, launching stylish plant-based eating places worldwide. Even omnivorous eating places have come to the sunshine, as evident by Eleven Madison Park’s stunning but celebrated shift to remodel its omnivorous tasting menu to a very vegan one. 

Vegan eating has come a good distance from frozen tomatoes with lettuce, and it’s evolving at a speedy tempo. We will’t wait to see (and style) what the subsequent few a long time will carry. 

For extra vegan historical past, learn: