Monday, October 6, 2008

Vegetarian restaurants in Hong Kong

Night time image of a vast new development in HK that looks almost toy-like from a distance, or maybe as if it came from a 'Sim City' game...Hello Gentle Reader,

**DISCLAIMER  This is the weekly "longer" post from your humble scribe.  Before you go into your meeting, do something important first.  Read this post, now, as it is food related and may not stay fresh... DISCLAIMER END**

As you know, your heroine, hero, and scribe now reside at the confluence of Cantonese cuisine and Cantonese wealth.

Like ancient Romans, modern Cantonese delight in finding new, unusual things to eat.

Yesterday we took you, in an aside, to the notion of bird's nest soup

I thought that we could continue to explore the world of food today.

With as many people as there are in Hong Kong (the top picture is of a complex that we almost moved into here in Kowloon, and is NOT made of lego) there is a great diversity of cuisines and a diversity of views on the subjective concept of what is pleasant...

First though, for the squeamish, I need to give you some background.

You see, Gentle Reader, Regina is a fan of what one eminent German culinary scholar calls "Hamsterfutaessen" or "hamster food eating".  

To forestall you from reaching the wrong conclusion, I note quickly that although certain South American nations include hamsters (or at least guinea pigs) in their national cuisines (easy to grow, herd, and capture I believe are the salient details here), Regina does not eat hamsters.

No, Regina deprives hamsters of food.

Like Buddhists, Regina has something against plants which, I guess, is why she eats them (for clarity, she eats plants, not Buddhists) (and this, therefore, is the manner in which she deprives hamsters of food).

Regina eats all plants in numerous ways. 


Freshly slaughtered. 

Sauteed in oil. 

With their skins removed. 

Or on. 

Or doused in vinegar or salt...



Your heroine is just built that way.

She is a vegetarian, after all.


(Regina also eats cheese, fish, eggs, and that sort of stuff.  She will eat cow juice from the breast, but, strangely, (to the scribe, at least) not jus de boeuf.)  

Anyways, while these habits are obviously bizarre to a good many of you, gentle Readers, many Chinese (those Buddhists again) are big fans of vegetarianism, so your Heroine is quite happy here.

So, today's discussion, in the wide world of food, will look at vegetarian restaurants in Hong Kong.

First, you need to be prepared for the difference between vegetarian restaurants here and in the rest of the world.  

I shall assist you and be your cicerone.

In North America, vegetarian restaurants will describe their food choices as "macrobiotic wonders", or "a delicacy of  bean sprouts, shredded beet and a hint of julienned carrot", or maybe even "12 grain veggie burgers".  That sort of thing.

In Germany, vegetarian restaurants don't really exist (it is Germany, land of Wurst) but restaurants may describe their vegetarian wares as "cheese and falafel rollo", or maybe "plastik fleisch Frikadellen". 

For clarity, a frikadellen is a hamburger with no bun, condiments, or veggies--I think it was originally called a Marshall Plan Burger, but the name was changed for marketing purposes.

In France, of course, it is hard to find vegetarian fare. If you don't like what they are serving, they simply send you out of the restaurant.  Or they serve you horse and tell you in a withering voice that, really, it is vegetarian while they mutter under their breath about foreigners with the IQs and culinary aptitudes of a flaccid turnip.

Which brings us back to Hong Kong (not that HK in any way resembles a turnip, especially not a flaccid turnip) and the vegetarian restaurants here.

Now that you know what vegetarian restaurants in Hong Kong are not, you need to look inside one.

Your first step is literal; you step down the stairs into the vegetarian restaurant. 

For some reason they are usually in the basement.  Below root level.  Something primal is at work here.

And then your server presents you with the menu.

Your first surprise, should you be so gauche, (which dear Reader, I know that you would never be, so I was gauche on your behalf, just to be able to tell you) is to notice that this place is (always) far more expensive then any comparable non-vegetarian restaurant.  

Even the bowl of rice costs more than in a non-vegetarian restaurant. 


Then you look at the descriptions of the foods they serve.

As usual, in a Chinese restaurant, dishes are categorized according to a system consisting of either (1) naming the major ingredient in the dish or (2) naming the representative cooking technique used to create the dish.  

So, culinary masterpieces might be listed under titles like "beef dishes", "celestial phoenix (chicken) dishes", or "pork dishes".  Or, things might be categorized under titles such as "deep fried foods", "steamed foods", or "foods fermented by the foot prints of a thousand cockroaches".


So then you might be as surprised as your humble scribe was to be in a strict vegetarian restaurant and to see dishes like "Succulent abalone with triple fungus delight" or "Steamed Carp" or "Filet of Beef" or "Cheek of Pork".  

What? I thought this was a vegetarian restaurant?  

The prices seem to be vegetarian prices... 

Then we realize that almost everything is a meat dish, but, and here is the kicker, nothing is actually made of meat.

Everything is soybean or beancurd or other products that have been nipped, tucked, sauteed, marinated, pounded, folded, braised, sauteed again, chemically altered, spiced, diced, re-formed and shaped to seem just like soybean or beancurd or other products that have been nipped, tucked, sauteed, marinated, pounded, folded, braised, sauteed again, chemically altered, spiced, diced, re-formed and shaped to sort of resemble abalone, beef, or pork, or celestial phoenix. 

Which, of course, explains the price differential.  Doesn't it?

Picture of Cantonese-style BBQ Pork (sans pork); 'the Finn' did not, at first, believe that there was no meat (NOTE, as per verbal agreement, it is hereby noted that this photo was taken with a Nokia telephone.
Picture of Fish wrapped in noodles (sans fish); 'the Finn' did not, at first, believe that there was no fish (NOTE, as per verbal agreement, it is hereby noted that this photo was taken with a Nokia telephone.
So its actually kinda fun, but not what you'd be expecting, which is why I thought I should warn you first.

An anecdote highlights the dangers for the vegetarian novitiate.

Yesterday we took "the Finn" to a vegetarian restaurant that we quite like. 

Some French ladies were in the restaurant and were obviously having some difficulties.

The French ladies, overhearing your Heroine conversing with the server in Cantonese, looked over hopefully--we were foreigners after all.  In his best Genevois French, your humble scribe asked the ladies if they needed any assistance. 

The French ladies asked your scribe to tell the restaurant staff that they wanted sharkfin soup with pumpkin, minus the sharkfin.  

This would be like having French onion soup, au gratin, without the onions... 

Your humble scribe quickly grasped that the French ladies did not want to support the horrific global trade in shark fins which yields, per shark, a couple of kilos of shark fin and one waste shark (less his/her dorsal fin).

Your humble scribe thought this was an admirable sentiment, but it also betrayed a slight lack of clarity about the concept of entering and eating in a clearly marked vegetarian restaurant.  

Your humble scribe endeavoured to explain the meaning of vegetarian restaurants--it is not just carrots and parsley--to the French ladies. 

And that was the genesis of today's post.

Also, Cantonese cuisine is actually very mild, so it is Finnish-friendly (Finns have slight difficulties with spices as "the Finn" has evinced while gently sobbing his way through a green Thai curry at our last home in Geneva).

We really like the vegetarian place which we took "the Finn" to.  Many of you share the chance of trying it out too...  

But you have to come visit us first. 

Now go into that meeting with a smile on your face and tell all your friends, acquaintances, and loved ones to check out the blog. Your humble scribe's happiness is (partially) directly correlated with ever-increasing readership numbers.

Heck, tell your rivals to check out the blog.  Tell them to dig through the archives like a sow after white truffles in Alba (Italy).

Remember, all updates are archived.  If you can get your rivals digging into and through the archive, you can gain a time jump on them on current projects.


Your friendly scribe,
Chris (with your heroine Regina somewhere nearby and a laconic Pommes lazing away, blurring the distinctions between night and day)


simmers said...
pretty eye-opening. Especially for the soup lovers!

Sepiru Chris said...

Regina was in Sri Lanka a few years ago for business, and took some time to explore and to wander around a town.

She discovered a pier that appeared to be the epicenter of the Sri Lankan shark fins industry and was appalled by the magnitude of the waste and the destruction.

In our minds, the only acceptable shark fin soup is vegetarian shark fin soup, such as in the restaurant in the posting, where only bean curd is harmed.