Sunday, August 28, 2011
Buddhists Know How to Vegan: Golden Era Vegetarian, San Francisco
Let's be honest here. If you're a vegetarian, or even more astonishingly, vegan, you limit yourself from an incredible diversity of food out there. Whatever their reasons for not eating meat, I don't know any vegetarians who can deny the appeal of meat and animal products. I generally have a live and let live attitude towards vegetarians, but my personal stance is that if you're going to be a vegetarian, then give up on the meat substitutes and embrace cuisines that are traditionally vegetarian.
There are plenty of cultures that are vegetarian, either by ideology or necessity. A good example of perfectly acceptable vegan cuisine would be Ethiopian. Many of the traditional dishes have been refined over generations without meat. Indian cuisine is also very amenable to vegetarian options. An example of bad vegetarian food is fake meat, which tends to predominate Western cuisines. I'm just generally against food posing as something else, such as the M Cafe muffaletta. Tofurkey, Boca burgers, soy cheese, fakon, fake meat is usually awful. If you're going to be a vegetarian, then embrace vegetables, grains, legumes, fruits, all the diversity that the Earth has to offer. Stop trying to recapture something (meat and cheese mostly) that you've voluntarily given up.
There is one exception. Instead of merely tolerating it, I completely embrace Buddhist vegetarian cooking. True, Buddhist cuisine has fake meat too, usually in the form of soy and wheat gluten, but it has perfected the form over hundreds of years. You'd be shocked at how indistinguishable some dishes are to their carnivorous cousins. Usually my Buddhist vegetarian experience is Chinese, but I had an opportunity to explore Vietnamese vegetarian at Golden Era in San Francisco.
The menu consists of common Vietnamese dishes, pho, bun hue, lemongrass chicken (pictured above). In fact, hardly anything from the menu identified the restaurant as vegan. I had the lemongrass chicken, which tasted a little more like pork than chicken, but still tasted meaty nonetheless. It was delicious and it made me think that I could be a vegetarian if I had easy access to this kind of food. The only thing I was a little suspicious of was the fish sauce. As you can imagine, it's very hard to get the fishy flavor without any fish. Instead, it was sweeter than usual and relied on more of a vinegar base than fish.
If you didn't think you could be a vegetarian before, I implore you to search out cuisines that specialize in vegetarian cooking. You really don't need fake burgers and hot dogs, which are often super processed and not any healthier for you. Embrace the flavors and ingredients of the Earth. And if you really need that meat fix, go with people who know what they're doing.
Golden Era Vegetarian
572 O'Farrell St
Btwn Leavenworth & Jones St