Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Why fake meat is such a treat

While faux fish, sweet and sour tofu “chicken” and vegetarian Peking duck might sound like an odd choice for somebody who has sworn off meat, I am one of those vegetarians who enjoy the variety of dishes that a pretend meat menu has to offer.

So here I am, staring at the menu without knowing quite where to begin. It’s difficult to choose between the fish, sweet and sour chicken and the Peking duck, and to be honest, I’m not used to this much choice. You see, I normally get to choose between the stir fried vegetables with tofu or the stir fried vegetables with cashew nuts.

I order the Peking Duck with the self-conscious excitement of a teenager ordering their first beer. The truth is – I had never seen Peking Duck before, and was keen to be involved in the unique process involved in its preparation and consumption.

I got involved in the not-meat dining experience a few years ago when I worked near a Thai vegetarian lunch cafe. It began as a bit of a laugh – doing lunch with my brother and ordering the “chicken” or “fish” with a rebellious delight. I liked the fact that I suddenly had the same range as anyone else in a restaurant. It felt luxurious, and a bit naughty to be able to order anything I wanted.

I also liked the fact that the restaurant had vegetarian “propaganda” on the walls – quoting from Gandhi and Einstein as to the health and ethical merits of a vegetarian diet. I managed to bring a number of friends and colleagues to that cafe over the years that I worked in the city, and perhaps a part of me was hoping to win them over.

But I’ve got a lot of criticism for frequenting these types of places. “Why would a real vegetarian want to eat something that resembles meat?” they ask me. The truth is that I don’t like the smell or taste of meat, but these fake meats are different enough in smell and taste to be pleasant, but similar enough that I feel “involved” in the mainstream dining experience. I get the best of both worlds.

Photo: With permission from

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