Fake meat

I read (most of) Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals while I was on holiday in Malaysia, while eating my way to using a new notch on my belt. It made me think more closely about what I choose to eat, but ultimately, it hasn’t really made me change the way I eat. I’m an unapologetic omnivore.

White Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant
185 Victoria St, West Melbourne
Phone: 9326 6040

So when Bryan and Lauren recently (re)visited White Lotus and raved about the faux meat dishes, I knew this was something I also wanted to re-investigate. These ‘fake meats’ have been made for centuries by Buddhists, who are strict vegetarians. They’re made of different manipulations of beans and grains, like tofu, tempeh and glutens, and you know what? They do lack that satisfaction that comes with smashing a rare eye fillet steak or a bucket of fried chicken, but at times, they’re a pretty close facsimile.

I met up with two members of the Delta Force Five for dinner at White Lotus, and let’s say I was a little trepidatious. The place is only open three night a week, and looks like it may have opened in the eighties, and not have been renovated since. The lighting is a little dim, making the overall effect dingy, but the service is friendly, and as you’ll see, the food is interesting. Apologies for the god awful photos, but as I said, the place was dingy.

We started by sharing some mixed entrees. Spring rolls and wontons – the vegetarian versions of which are nothing new – and fried taro cutlets. These were awesome. Seriously, taro is probably one of the most under-rated vegeatbles around. Potatoes got nothing on the density of that starch.
image At Ms K’s request, we got the Sweet and Sour ‘Pork’, an Aussie Chinese classic, and one that is dear to my own heart. Unfortunately, it wasn’t so great. Funnily, what let it down wasn’t so much the fake pork. While that wasn’t amazing, it wasn’t offensive, either. What let the dish down was the batter, which was already a bit soggy by the time it arrived at the table. I would have thought such masters with glutens and flours would be able to mix together a great batter which stays crunchy!
image Ms N insisted we order the ma po tofu, which was really quite good. The replacement for the pork mince was something like TVP, but this didn’t really detract much from the dish, which is all about the tofu and the spicy sauce anyway. This is definitely not the best ma po tofu I’ve had in Melbourne, but it’s passable.
image Finally, I ordered the roast ‘duck’, because I’d heard of the amazing textures in this dish. Three different treatments of non-meat had been combined to create the meat, crispy skin, and even subcutaneous fat layer of the roast ‘duck’. The flavour wasn’t quite there, but texturally, this was amazing. A couple at another table came in, and just ordered two serves of the roast ‘duck’ and rice, and I can see why. I wouldn’t share this if I didn’t have to.
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White Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Yong Green Food
421 Brunswick, Fitzroy
Phone: 9417 3338

A few nights later, I caught up with my old housemate Le Singe. I’d heard a lot about Yong Green Food, especially the ‘rawsagne’, but in the end it was too cold and gloomy a night for raw food that hadn’t been heated above 40 degrees. So we started by sharing the mung bean pancake, which was really quite enjoyable. It wasn’t as thin as a crepe, but not really pancake thickness either; maybe as thick as a pancake made using plain flour. You could taste the mung beans, which reminded me a little of banh xeo, and the flavour gave me the overall impression of being healthy, though not in a bad way, like spirulina. The dipping sauce was a bit meh.
image Yong Green Food is primarily vegetarian, with a heavy Asian slant to the menu, but given the name and the cute little waitresses who all had similar bob haircuts, I’d say there’s a pretty strong Korean bias happening there. So I thought I’d try the Korean BBQ dish, which was sliced soy ‘beef’ with vegetables and rice.
image While there was nothing offensive about this dish – it was perfectly edible – it was pretty disappointing. The ‘beef’ didn’t have even the slightest hint of being grilled, so the term ‘BBQ’ was a pretty outlandish claim. There was also a lack of spice, which again was a bit baffling.

Le Singe had the teriyaki chicken, which she quite enjoyed.
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We had arrived quite early, because I had a soccer game late in the evening, and gobbled up our food by about 7:30. We were promptly given the bill, which we settled, and then we continued to chat away. A few minutes later, one of the waitresses came over and asked us to leave, because they had people waiting for a table. Now I understand the need to turn tables over, and not keep people waiting, but unless you’re clearly advertising specific seating times, I think asking customers to leave once they’re finished is pretty bad form. It was a disappointing end to a somewhat disappointing meal, really. I probably won’t be back anytime soon.
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Yong Green Food on Urbanspoon

Woo-Ga

270 Victoria St, North Melbourne
Phone: 9328 1221

For those of you who are regular readers, you’ll know how much I love a Korean BBQ. So this will be the first of a series of three reviews of the North Melbourne Victoria Street mini-Seoul Korean BBQ restaurants.

I went to Woo-Ga recently with a friend, who is by my books an expert on Japanese food and culture, but surprisingly had never had Korean BBQ before! I mean surely the rules of geographic proximity mean you sample cuisines which exist near your object of cultural obsession, right? Anyway, I digress in a rather verbose way. More about the food!


We ordered the Combo Set A (which serves 2-3) and includes a big beef rib, scotch fillet, a spicy kim chi and tofu soup.

It also came with the obligatory kim chi side dishes, and rice, but the rice wasn’t mentioned in the set, so we foolishly also ordered the ‘healthy mixed rice’. This was pretty much a bi bim bap only with a less fatty cut of meat, I guess. Oh, and it was in a stainless steel bowl, instead of a stone one. I wonder if that makes it healthier? In any case, it was still tasty.

Woo-Ga’s pretty great value – especially if you order one of the combo sets – and any place where you cook at the table is going to be fun. I’ll definitely be going back, after I try its more popular neighbour Hallah, and revisit the cousin down the street, Toodouri. Penny from jeroxie.com also enjoyed her visit – see here for much better photos!

Wooga Korean Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Seoulia Korean BBQ Buffet!

980 Whitehorse Rd
Box Hill
Phone: 9899 2696

It was my mother’s birthday yesterday, so the family decided to go out for dinner together. Now, being of a migrant working class come small business owner heritage, my family tends to eschew fancy expensive restaurants in favour of flavour and reasonable prices. And we’re certainly no strangers to buffets nor at-table cooking. Yet my parents were restauranteurs for over twenty years of their lives, so let’s just say they have certain standards. So when my sister suggested Korean BBQ, I was pretty sure we were on a winner. And when a little online research found Seoulia, I just knew we’d nailed it.

We arrived to find the place abuzz, but not full, with people sitting around massive boar-shaped grills, with lowered extraction fans not doing all that much to extract away the smell of grilling meats.


It wasn’t long before we’d loaded up our piggy with various bits of bulgogi, calamari and baby octopus as well.


Of course, we also grabbed some of the mountains of kim chi at the buffet.


Pro tips: the best things on offer are the beef bulgogi, and the marinated chicken giblets. Oh. My. God. I could eat those giblets all day. The chicken ribs are also good. And for those craving a little vegetable matter to go with so much animal flesh, there are mushrooms to grill, and it helps to grab lots of cucumber to munch while waiting for the meat to cook. Also, bulgogi is awesome when wrapped in lettuce (that might be my Vietnamese food heritage coming through).

When we were finally finished (and stuffed) with the meat, the waiters came and removed the massive steel boar plate, to reveal that it was in fact resting on three little mini cast-iron piggies. Too cute!

We cleansed our palates with copious orange slices and I had a cone with a scoop of chocolate ice cream – all included in the buffet!

The logistical details – Seoulia has two sittings per evening (each officially lasting for 1 1/2 hours, but with a two hour maximum, apparently – don’t worry, you’ll be well stuffed within an hour) and costs $26.50 per head ($29.50 on weekends, I think). You pay for everything in advance (including drinks – they have beer and soju, but I’m not sure abut wine) which felt a little funny, but I guess is generally how a buffet works. Oh, and there’s a $10 wastage fee if you don’t finish the meat you take from the buffet to your table, so don’t stock up on things in bulk, just make multiple trips. The tables were a little cramped, but the service was efficient.