African Etiquette For Vegetarians & Plant-Based

So, you don’t eat meat or fish…and you live in Africa? Wahala dey for you oh! Just kidding. On a serious note, plant based meat alternatives are not popular with vegetarian African food. In this article, get an African etiquette guide on ordering food in Liberia or anywhere else in Africa. Authentic African food remains delicious without animal proteins; however, the public’s  view says otherwise. How do you order at restaurants and coal bowl shops? Can you order off-menu? What phrases do you tell the cook/waitress? How do you respond to blunt questions? Hopefully, this guide will answer you.

African etiquette tips and how Vegetarian African food makes like lush.
Know the unspoken rules

Firstly, this guide is not about how to hold your spoon and fork, nor will it teach you dinnerware table setting. Rather, it is about table manners, and how to engage with the servers, cooks/chefs, and handle people’s reactions to your food preferences. Whether you are a local, diasporan, or tourist, our African etiquette guide shall prove valuable to you. 

Did you know the vegetarian African food lifestyle allows you to order off-menu food in Liberia? Read the following for African Etiquette when eating out:

Off-Menu No-meat African Dining Etiquette 1: Don’t Stress The Server/Waiter

Concerning food in Liberia, the coal bowl shops’ servers are children (5+) and teens. Do not be alarmed. In certain instances, teens can be the cook/chef. Because vegetarian African food does not have plant based meat alternatives, try not to over-explain your diet preferences. Cooks and servers (minors) generally understand authentic African food, but not the jargon like ‘vegetarianism,’ ‘veganism,’ or ‘plant-based.’ Remember, your server might be a child/minor, and they work to sustain themselves which is why it is important not to stress them with foreign terms. 

  • PRO-TIP:Use Simple Words or Phrases to Order Authentic African Food 

Say this, “I want [soup/stew name], don’t add meat, or fish, or egg.” Similarly, you could say, “I want plain soup with rice, or plain soup with fufu.” This African etiquette tip is more so both parties can understand each other. We provided detailed insight on African fast food eateries and restaurants, so you will know how fresh the food is based on the establishment type. After the waiter has this information, they repeat it to the chef or cook who will then plate your meal. It is very important to say, “I don’t want meat, fish, sausage, or egg.” Some coal bowl shop cooks can accommodate, but don’t count on it.

This is what a coal bowl shop looks like. Vegetarian African food is not hard to find if you know how to ask for what you want.
Coal bowl shop

Off-Menu Plant based African Dining Etiquette 2: Prepare for questions

Generally, African dining requires polite table manners. When you’ve placed your order, the cook will likely send the server/minor to double check and ask about other options they can serve you. Or, the host herself will come to ask again, or perhaps ask you if you are sick. Remember the first rule: Do not stress the cook, keep explanations simple. You could answer, “Yes, I’m sick,” or, “I don’t like meat or fish,” or, “Animal food is against my law.” The latter is understood on a spiritual level; most Africans understand when a person has a spiritual food law. They must follow it, or dire consequence ensues. Giving any of these answers, the cook will not pry. Also, sick doesn’t mean kolomental 😊.

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Off-Menu Plant based African Dining Etiquette 3: Crisis Reaction

At this stage, the minor/waiter has plated and served you your nice authentic African food. But there are small chunks of animal protein in the soup/stew. Do not be alarmed, get vexed or yell at the minor/waiter when traces of meat or fish are in your soup/stew. This is not a mistake; it is a guilt thing. The cook or server feels bad and thinks they are cheating you if they do not add small amounts of meat or fish. They pity you. What do you do when this happens? Simply remove the animal proteins and put them aside. You could offer them to the minor/server. Food in Liberia is delicious but plant-based meat alternatives are not available. 

Congrats! now you are closer to being prepared to thrive on the plant-based lifestyle! Dissimilar from coal bowl food in Liberia, popular restaurants in Liberia might have enjoyable vegetarian African food options that are on-menu. Hotel-based restaurants in Monrovia, Liberia have big portions which are evident from the price tags. 

At hotel-based restaurants, you are not guaranteed local authentic African food

The following African etiquette is how to order your no meat food at hotel based restaurants:

On-Menu Vegetarian African Food Ordering Tip 1: Use Simple Terms

A big restaurant will likely not have a minor as the server. Instead, waiters are teens and adults. Regardless of the waiter’s age, use simple terms to order the food you want. Regardless of age, ‘vegetarianism,’ ‘plant based,’ or ‘veganism’ is not popular as there are less plant based meat alternatives. Be gentle and kind in explaining and be patient as they go back a couple of times to check with the cook/chef. Feel confident to instruct what animal protein you want removed; they do their best to accommodate dietary preferences. If the restaurant has diaspora clientele, they might know western food fare, not plant based meat alternatives. Don’t stress them with food ideology.

On-Menu African Dining Etiquette Tip 2: Must you involve the manager?

Some cooks, chefs, and waiters aim to please and will say YES even if they don’t know what you are talking about. For example, lettuce or spinach might be available in a given hotel-based restaurant but the waiter/server may not know and you could get cabbage leaves. Calling on the manager to confirm your food preferences reflects badly on the wait staff and causes stress to the people serving your food. In terms of ‘saving face’ and mannerism, it reflects poorly on the guest as well to involve the manager. On the upside, certain servers are worldly and may know of veganism and will ask you questions to educate themselves or to impress you; engage as you feel comfortable to. Be careful not to be perceived as ‘I am better than you‘ in your explanation, and don’t give off such vibes when ordering no-meat and  no-fish food.

Learn the dos and don'ts about coal bowl as it applies to Vegetarian African food, African etiquette, food in Liberia, and authentic African food.

From experience, what would you add? What was your experience when dining out in a particular African country? Comment below. I am on a journey to learn about Africa through plant-based foods, are you interested in receiving our monthly recipes notification ?  Curious about a no-meat food lifestyle? Check out our Instagram page for real-life inspirations 😊.

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