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Gifted Gourmet

"Faux" foods in vegetarian restaurants ...

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If you should happen, for whatever reason, to visit a vegetarian restaurant as I occasionally do, you may have noticed that some of them seem to be heavy on "faux" foods which mimic meats (beef, even lamb!) and chicken or even fish (fake shrimp and fake lobster!). Of course, these dishes are made of tofu, gluten, and soy protein, etc.

So, with that thought in mind:

#1) would you order the "faux" replications or

#2) simply prefer to order dishes which are not "copies" at all but original, creative vegetarian offerings?

Examples which stand out in your mind?

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I am not a vegetarian, but I feel that I can still put in my $.02 ...

I find it hypocritical for vegetarians (especially vegans) to eat these faux foods. If you don't eat meat because you find it cruel, then you should not eat tofu ribs, vegetarian chili, or soy lunchmeat. :wacko:

These foods are fine as they are made, just come up with different names for them.

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I find it hypocritical for vegetarians (especially vegans) to eat these faux foods. 

But hypocritical if no animal loses its life? :rolleyes:

Are Bacos to be damned to Hell for all eternity because they look and taste like the original product?

Is "second best" okay?

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I'm not here to argue with you. You asked for opinions, and you got one.

If you need me to explain myself, I'll try with a question.

Why is it not OK for a vegan to eat baby back ribs, but OK to eat tofu ribs? Not only is it an oxymoron, but isn't it perpetrating the whole evil meat industry? :hmmm:

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There are many Buddhist-influenced vegetarian Chinese restaurants that use faux meats. While they range widely in quality, I used to greatly enjoy one in Atlanta. In some cases I find the faux meats tastier than the real thing, and the textures can be excellent. You could possibly look at these dishes as authentic rather than faux copies, because I believe they stem from a culinary tradition in Asia.

To answer your question, I usually would rather have the faux meats than a simple vegetarian dish in east-Asian food. In fact, the best Thai dishes I've ever had used seitan as the "meat," which was wonderful because it soaked up the spicy coconut-milk curries.

But it shouldn't be taken too far. I'm not a big fan of many vegetarian restaurants. I'd much rather have a falafel sandwich or an Indian vegetable dish than a tofu dog or Tofurky. I don't think it's hard at all being a vegetarian. There are tons of delicious things to eat without stretching culinary imaginations.

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I'm not a vegetarian at all, but when eating vegetarian, until recently, I'd always opted for #2. There are many cuisines (particularly, Indian, Ethiopian, and Italian) that offer amazing vegetarian, and even vegan dishes where the lack of meat is no lack at all. And I'd just never tasted any meat replica product that I enjoyed. But then, some friends took me to NV Vegetarian Resturaunt in Woodland (CA), and I have to say that I was amazed how things have changed. The lemon chicken, an entirely vegan product, was amazing. Seriously, the texture and taste were fabulous. And I've had cream pies made with tofu that have been wonderful. I still prefer real cream.

I can see what people are saying about eating simulated meat being fairly hypocritical, but it's certainly not hurting anyone, so I don't see that it really matters. And, I would posit that most vegetarians started out as meat eaters, so if they can get the taste through a soy product, it's all the easier for them to keep vegetarian.

That said, there are still a lot of disgusting faux products. Soy cheese, fake pepperoni, and fake sausage are disgusting, IMO. Almond cheese is okay, but not great. So, when I invite those friends over for pizza night, I stick with the real thing and leave them to top their pizzas with the fake stuff.

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I basically agree with plk. I love South Indian vegetarian foods, which aren't mock-meat at all, but also have had terrific Chinese vegetarian food that mimics meats. (I have a strange feeling of deja vu -- didn't we have this thread before?)

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In general I would prefer unique vegetarian dishes that don't try to mimic real meat, but that is just because I have no problem eating real meat, and enjoy the change of pace that traditional vegetarian dishes from other cultures can bring.

jBo -

I don't see how eating tofu ribs could be seen as hypocritical. If someone wants to become vegetarian because they don't believe in killing animals for their food, does that mean they also have to give up enjoying the taste or ribs? I mean, tofu ribs don't kill any sentient beings, and if they taste good to whoever is eating them, what is wrong with that?

I am on a low-carb diet, and I see people around here from time to time mention that they think LC products are a travesty... I have the same question, why? I mean, no one is forcing you to eat them. I made a lifestyle choice for my health, but that doesn't mean I don't occasionally like the taste of bread, sugar, or etc. So if I want to make bread from LC ingredients, or a dessert using sugar-substitutes that I enjoy, does that make me a hypocrite?

In much the same way I didn't start on this way of eating because I hate carbs, most vegetarians don't start down that path because they hate the taste of meat (though I know some who do). So, if someone likes turkey, doesn't want to have a bird killed for their T-day dinner, but enjoys the taste of tofurkey, I say more power to them.

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It has more to do with availability and imagination, methinks.

I stay away from foods that are trying to be something that they're not. This includes fat-free versions of foods that are meant to be rich and fatty, and isolated soy proteins fashioned into nasty meat substitutes. This is because there are so many wonderful naturally vegetarian offerings out there in the first place.

I'm not a vegetarian anymore, but when I was, I opted for wholesome, self-actualized foods (think Deborah Madison). I made lots of amazing salads and quiche and curries and ice cream. I use the exact same attitude towards my food now, and I eat meat.

In those days, I would no sooner eat Tofurkey with soy cheese and Nayonnaise on Atkins bread followed by Rice Dream than I would sit down to a bowl of Spam and processed cheese and minute rice now.

Vegetarian-friendly meat substitutes foods aren't any different from paltry real-food substitutes like Splenda or whatever. They're processed convenience foods. How are they different?

I say stick to foods that taste like food.

Like ribeye steaks...mmm. Or cucumbers.

edited for spelling.


Edited by Verjuice (log)

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I think I ate too many Boca Burgers at one point, because now the texture of soy fake meat really irritates me. I still like Dr. Praeger's burgers and other vegetarian burgers that have different kinds of vegetables in them, but too much of that soy texture and it's a turn-off. So, if I'm going to eat soy, I'll have tofu (or soybeans).

I do like Quorn for when I have a craving for those junky chicken nuggets. The Quorn ones taste very much the same and they're not as fattening. In fact, the nuggets are pretty much a vehicle for dipping sauce anyway, and the less fatty Quorn nuggets actually work better for that.

In a restaurant I wouldn't get a fake-meat dish unless it looked really interesting and was not made with soy.

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It has more to do with availability and imagination, methinks.

I stay away from foods that are trying to be something that they're not. This includes fat-free versions of foods that are meant to be rich and fatty, and isolated soy proteins fashioned into nasty meat substitutes. This is because there are so many wonderful naturally vegetarian offerings out there in the first place.

I'm not a vegetarian anymore, but when I was, I opted for wholesome, self-actualized foods (think Deborah Madison). I made lots of amazing salads and quiche and curries and ice cream. I use the exact same attitude towards my food now, and I eat meat.

In those days, I would no sooner eat Tofurkey with soy cheese and Nayonnaise on Atkins bread  followed by Rice Dream than I would sit down to a bowl of Spam and processed cheese and minute rice now.

Vegetarian-friendly meat substitutes foods aren't any different from paltry real-food substitutes like Splenda or whatever. They're processed convenience foods. How are they different?

I say stick to foods that taste like food.

Like ribeye steaks...mmm. Or cucumbers.

edited for spelling.

Well said, Verjuice.

I'm not a vegetarian but I often serve meatless meals. I like the Madison books along with the rest of the Greens books. I like tofu dishes but prefer them cooked in the oriental style where they originated.

I cooked at a restaurant where we often had vegetarian and vegan customers so most of my soups were vegan and we always had a vegan or vegetarian special. I never used fake meats or cheeses in any of the dishes and they were well received, even by non-vegetarians.

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I want to eat whatever tastes good. I have had some good budhist chinese food that had the faux dishes you area talking about, and when done well, it is an art form. :) To this day, the best wonton soup I've ever had (meat or veggie) was at one such place in Flushing, Queens (NYC). The place is long gone now.

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I think faux meats are available for convenience. Many families are a mix of vegetarians and nonvegetarians, and mealtime can be simpler if the person cooking can make real ribs and faux ribs, rather than real ribs and something completely different.

Without faux meat as a substitution there are many cookbooks that are rendered useless, and many favorite comfort foods a vegetarian would have to give up forever. Besides, vegetarians still need their protein and these faux meats are often a good source of protein.

In a restaurant, however, I would much prefer something without faux meats. I'd rather pay for the creativity of the chef. Maybe have a few standards on the menu like a veggie burger, but for the rest of the menu I would prefer original dishes.

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I'm in the hippie food business, but i gotta say that gluten is H-e-double hockey sticks on your gastro-intestinal tract. Remember people, it's nature's rubber bands.

I'm not going to get into this fake-meat debate though; live and let live and eat what you like.

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I'm not a vegetarian and never will be.

However I have had vegetarian meals. I prefer things like falafel & Indian dishes that don't have "faux meats" rather than stuff like seitan and tofu burgers.

Some soy burgers aren't too bad though. But as far as I'm concerned, they'll never be as good as the real thing.

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There are many Buddhist-influenced vegetarian Chinese restaurants that use faux meats. While they range widely in quality, I used to greatly enjoy one in Atlanta.  In some cases I find the faux meats tastier than the real thing, and the textures can be excellent. You could possibly look at these dishes as authentic rather than faux copies, because I believe they stem from a culinary tradition in Asia.

In Malaysia, my favourite 'faux meat' dishes were lamb curry (the lamb is made from shitake mushroom stalks), stir-fried kidneys (not sure what they're made of, but i think it's gluten), crispy roasted duck/goose (made of yuba) and shrimp fritters (which were just kinda like crispy yuba spring rolls in the shape of a shrimp). While these dishes may have been trying to simulate meat, my family went to eat at vegetarian Chinese restaurants not so much because we craved an alternative to meat, but rather it was just that the dishes tasted so darned good!

I think 'faux meat' is ok as long as one doesn't try too hard to synthetically transform something vegetarian to look like something that's not, which I think Asian vegetarian cuisine does a lot less of.

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There's a great Buddhist tradition of "fake meats." I'd order these foods any day in Buddhist vegetarian restaurants.

In Honolulu, there's also a small shop that sells some of these fake meats, frozen, mostly made in Taiwan (I've forgotten the brand name). Some of these products are truly amazing -- including mock char shu (Chinese roast "pork") that looks and tastes as good as the real thing, and a fake salmon steak (complete with "skin" made from seaweed) that tasted so "fishy" it was almost unbearable.

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I would go for either. As long as it tastes good. The only problem I have with faux meat is if the person was an unwilling vegetarian and required the faux to be willing to eat it. Everyone here who's ever dated a vegetarian, has most probably lived through this.

I have a buddy who once said that the greens that they put on your plate beside the potato and meat is what te meat ate. The better the veggie sides, the better that steak-to-be ate annd ultimately tastes.

Odd. But, kinda makes sense to me.

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I guess that in the final account, I like seeing what "from scratch" creative and innovative vegetarian offerings a place can offer .. thinking here particularly about the restaurant in San Francisco Greens... and, of course, Millennium Restaurant

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If I were vegetarian, I would go with the second option. #2) simply prefer to order dishes which are not "copies" at all but original, creative vegetarian offerings....

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I am vegetarian, and I definitely prefer "real" ingredients to fake ones.

I have never been able to bring myself to serve fake "meat" to guests:

it's too fake for the meaters and too real for the herbies.

What's the point. It's easier to serve eggplant or mushrooms

than to have to explain to everyone what those little cubes of "material"

are, even if they were once a soybean.

That said, when we were kids my mom fed us soy chunks often,

as they were being marketed in India as a cheap and healthy food

for vegetarians (and boy, they were even way cheaper than dal)

so we got a lot of it.

Amma is a splendiferous cook so eating the dishes was never a problem,

and the soy chunks occupy their own place in my mind, as neither meat

nor fake, i.e. they are their own entity (am I making any sense)

so I give them to my kids, who like them lots too.

Also my kids like fake "chicken" nuggets. Who knows what the "real"

ones are made of anyway? It's just a cheap and easy junk food for all....

Milagai

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