The Vegetarian Resource Group Blog

Vegan Options at Big Bowl® Chinese and Thai in Illinois, Minnesota, and Virginia

Posted on September 26, 2017 by The VRG Blog Editor

big bowl
By Jeanne Yacoubou, MS

With seven locations in Illinois, Minnesota, and Virginia, Big Bowl offers several vegan items on its menu as well as a stir-fry bar. The menu displays a “V” icon next to entrées that are vegetarian.

The VRG contacted Laura Nessel, the Director of Marketing & Sales at Big Bowl, in July-September 2017 for more information on their vegan menu options:

Here is what we discovered:

Q: How do you define “vegetarian” for your menu icon?
A: Items that do not have any meat product.

Q: When you say that the vegetarian items contain “no meat”: Are fish, seafood and poultry, along with any ingredient derived from them such as animal flavors or gelatin, included in “no meat”?
A: Yes, the “no meat” refers to items that do not contain fish, seafood, poultry, chicken, etc. which includes chicken stock and/or fish sauce…

Q: Do you consider egg and milk as vegetarian?
A: We DO NOT consider egg and milk as vegetarian but egg and milk can be taken out of most dishes besides the desserts.

Q: Is there any dairy in any of your menu options?
A: Yes, only in the desserts

Q: Is honey in any of your dishes?
A: Yes, it is used in our BBQ hoisin sauce which is served with our Chicken Lettuce Wraps, Vietnamese Chicken Soup and BBQ Pork Fried Rice entrée.

Q: Which items (especially sauces) have added sugar? Do you know if it’s cane and/or beet sugar?
A: All sauces have added sugar. If someone cannot have sugar we can make the dish with soy sauce. The only other options for a guest who cannot have sugar are steamed vegetables (plain or with soy sauce) and white or brown rice.

We use cane sugar.

Q: What are the ingredients for the homemade peanut sauce for the Sesame Peanut Noodles?
A: Peanuts, peanut oil (ground peanuts, canola oil), garlic, ginger, Thai chilies, Fresno peppers, salt, sugar, black tea, dried chilies, soy sauce, mushroom soy, rice wine vinegar, red wine vinegar, Sichuan peppercorns, sesame oil, Sichuan oil

Q: What are the ingredients in the sesame vinaigrette?
A: San J® tamari, Dijon mustard, rice vinegar, red wine vinegar, sugar, mustard powder, kosher salt, canola oil, sesame oil

Q: Which sauces (on the stir-fry menu) can be made vegetarian? Which contain added sugar?
A: Mushroom Shanghai Ginger Garlic, Thai Green Curry, Orange Sauce, Sichuan Sauce and Kung Pao can all be made vegetarian. All sauces have added sugar that cannot be removed.

Q: What are the ingredients in the vegetarian sauces listed on the stir-fry menu?
A: Mushroom Shanghai Ginger Garlic- vegetable shanghai sauce (soy sauce, mushroom soy, vegetarian oyster sauce, sugar), garlic, ginger, vegetable broth, cornstarch

Thai Green Curry- San J tamari, lemongrass, ginger, garlic, yellow onions, Serrano chilies, green pepper, habanero, fennel seeds, coriander, cumin, black pepper, cloves, nutmeg, turmeric, kosher salt, sugar, lemon zest, cilantro stems, canola oil, coconut milk, water

Orange Sauce-soy sauce, lemon juice, sugar, water

Sichuan Sauce- soy sauce, sugar, lan chi chili paste, hoisen sauce, red wine vinegar, vegetable broth

Kung Pao- red wine vinegar, mushroom soy, soy sauce, hoisen sauce, lan chi chili sauce, bean sauce, sugar, vegetable broth

Q: Has the red wine vinegar in the Peanut Sauce and Kung Pao Sauce been clarified (i.e., made clear) with an animal product such as gelatin or albumen? [VRG Note: This may occur in wine processing.]
A: No, it is not clarified with any animal products.

Q: Are there any differences between the Orange, Kung Pao and Sichuan vegetarian sauces and the sauces with the same names listed just above the vegetarian sauces list on the stir fry bar menu? (In other words, do you have two separate versions of these sauces?)
A: Yes. The base for these sauces all start out as the same (which are vegetarian) but to make them into a thinner sauce consistency we add chicken stock. For the “vegetarian” section of the stir fry we use vegetable stock instead.

Q: Are there any animal flavors or broths used to prepare the rice, vegetables or the tofu in the Thai Green Vegetable Curry with Tofu?
A: This is vegetarian as well as vegan just how it is…No animal flavors or broths used.

Q: What is in the Yellow Curry Vegetable with Tofu that makes it non-vegetarian? Can this dish be made vegetarian?
A: There is fish sauce in the curry paste used to make the sauce. It cannot be made vegetarian.

Q: Can the Thai Hot Pepper or the Pad See Ew be made vegetarian? Can tofu be substituted?
A: Unfortunately, no to both. The thai hot pepper sauce contains fish sauce and the pad see ew contains oyster sauce.

Q: Are the vegetables and tofu prepared away from all meats with sanitized utensils on clean surfaces?
A: Yes, although we don’t have a dedicated kitchen for preparing vegetarian items. Whenever a new prep task begins, all equipment is washed and sanitized.

Q: Is there any coating on the tofu? Is it plain to begin with or pre-seasoned? Are your answers true for all tofu including that in your dishes as well as at the stir fry bar?
A: There is no coating on the tofu; it is plain to begin with. Tofu for all dishes is plain with the exception of the vegetable fried rice (tofu is coated in cornstarch and sesame seeds and fried). But for the fried rice we can make the tofu plain.

Q: How is the tofu prepared for the stir fry bar? Is this preparation the same for the tofu in some of your other dishes?
A: For the stir fry bar it is plain (no seasoning). See above answer for other menu items.

Q: Is the tofu sautéed in fresh oil unshared with non-vegetarian menu items? Do you serve it uncooked?
A: Yes, it is sautéed in fresh oil. We DO NOT serve it uncooked.

Q: What is it about the Spicy Sichuan Green Beans that makes them non-vegetarian?
A: The green beans are fried in a fryer that is used for other meat products. They cannot be prepared vegetarian.

Q: Does the vegetable fried rice contain animal ingredients or egg? Can it be made without it?
A: It does contain eggs, which CAN be removed. Our fried rice also does contain oyster sauce but we can prepare it for vegetarians using a vegetarian oyster sauce upon request.

Q: Does the Pad Thai contain egg? Can it be made without it?
A: Yes, it does contain eggs, they CAN be removed. Please note that the Pad Thai sauce contains fish sauce which CANNOT be removed, therefore this dish cannot be made vegetarian.

Q: Do you use oyster sauce (or something similar) in any of your dishes?
A: Most of our Chinese dishes have oyster sauce as well as chicken broth but we can make most of the sauces vegetarian upon request using a vegetarian oyster sauce and vegetable broth.

Q: What are the ingredients in the Vegetable Potstickers and the Vegetable Dumplings?
A: They contain bok choy, scallions, mushrooms, cilantro, basil, carrots, cabbage, ginger, soy bean, corn starch, bamboo shoots, sesame and canola oil, soy sauce and sugar.

Q: Do the Potstickers and Dumplings have an outer breading of some type? If so, what is its ingredients?
A:The ingredients in the flour wrapper for the Dumplings and Potstickers consist of wheat flour, water, wheat gluten, cornstarch and salt.

Q: How are the Potstickers cooked? If they are fried, is the frying oil shared with meat or fish?
A: The Potstickers are pan-seared on a griddle in oil that is solely used for the Potstickers.

Q: How are the Dumplings prepared?
A: The Dumplings are steamed.

Q: Has the rice wine vinaigrette in the Vegetable Summer Rolls been clarified with an animal ingredient such as gelatin or albumen?
A: No. The sauce is vegetarian and vegan. It contains rice wine vinegar, sugar, salt, sesame and canola oil and thai chilies.

Q: What are the ingredients in the outer wrap of the Summer Rolls?
A: Tapioca starch, rice starch, salt, water

Q: Do you have any plans to expand into other states and/or open restaurants in other parts of the three states you’re currently in?
A: Not at this time.

Here’s a listing of meatless menu options without dairy or egg at Big Bowl based on information that we’ve received from this restaurant chain:

Vegetable Potstickers*
Vegetable Dumplings*
Steamed Edamame
Vegetable Summer Roll
Sesame Peanut Noodles
House Mixed Greens Salad
Fried Rice
Vegetable Fried Rice** with Crispy Garlic Tofu
Thai Green Vegetable Curry with Tofu
Stir Fry Bar
Mushroom Shanghai Ginger Garlic
Thai Green Curry
Orange Sauce
Sichuan Sauce
Kung Pao

* = Unknown sugar processing (filling)
** = Upon special request only

The contents of this posting, our website and our other publications, including Vegetarian Journal, are not intended to provide personal medical advice. Medical advice should be obtained from a qualified health professional. We often depend on product and ingredient information from company statements. It is impossible to be 100% sure about a statement, info can change, people have different views, and mistakes can be made. Please use your best judgement about whether a product is suitable for you. To be sure, do further research or confirmation on your own.

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