Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Mock Meat

I always used to think Chinese were good cooks - and they may be, at least as far as ordinary food is concerned. But when it comes to vegetarian cooking they are hopeless. All Chinese monks and nuns are strictly vegetarian as are many more serious lay people and many nominal Chinese Buddhists will eat vegetarian food on special religious days. But if you are expecting a fresh bright salad, a tasty veggie pie or baked stuffed tomatoes you will be very disappointed. Chinese vegetarian cooking consists of vegetables that have been boiled to oblivion, rubbery dried mushrooms, oodles of oil, tons of MSG and strangest of all, soya bean paste that has been prepared to look like meat. It is quite amazing how realistic they are able to make what they call 'mock' fried chicken, 'mock' shrimps, 'mock' sliced duck and 'mock' abalone. But while it all looks just like the real thing it is tasteless (and hence all the MSG). It also points to a rather strange attitude to vegetarianism. Why decide not to eat meat and then dress up all your food so that it look like meat? I used to joke to my friends that if I ever disrobed I was going to start a restaurant where all the food was made of meat but prepared so as to look like vegetables.


Arun said...

I'm sorry you've had such an unpleasant experience with Chinese vegetarian food! Here in Southern California, we enjoy the luxury of several highly-regarded Chinese vegetarian restaurants (such as this one and this one). I can definitely sympathize with your amusement with "mock" foods. A vivid memory for me is when my parents once brought home fake bacon -- it certainly smelled like the real thing, but I wasn't going to touch it. As with your own judgment, I was perplexed by why my parents would want to eat a mimicry of what they'd otherwise sworn to avoid. Many years later, I now understand that sometimes people just want to fit in. Much of my own cooking contains fake meat, which I conjure up from specially-prepared tofu with a mixture of spices and a dash of the beloved Maggi sauce that makes it taste as though it's bursting with protein (which I suppose it already is). Perhaps the simplest way we can continue to recreate the most beloved of our Chinese and Southeast Asian dishes (and I speak as one of Chinese descent) is to attempt a substitute for "the real thing". As for the quality our local Californian restaurants, I once took a friend who afterwards couldn't believe that the fish he'd eaten was fake; he swore it was the real thing. Perhaps to each his own.

yamizi said...

Good Chinese Mahayana monks like my refuge teacher do not take all the mock meat stuff. When I offer my dana to him, he often remind me just to get him 'some rice and simple veg, don't get me those mock stuff which is not healthy!'

NUSBS Alumni said...

Dear yamizi, how does your chinese Mahayana monk's thoughts that mock meat is not healthy makes him a good monk?

While it is good to be a vegetarian (I am working towards being one), I am not sure we need to utilise all the tools of embarrassment, guilt and pity to get people to be vegetarian, or for that matter, to be a leafy vegetarian and not a mock vegetarian.

yamizi said...

NUSBS Alumni,

There are 2 reasons why I think my refuge teacher is a good monk in terms of his view on vegetarianism.

1. Most mock meat are still made out of gluten. To our understanding, too much gluten is not healthy to the body.

2. It is still quite pointless if you're eating a substitute yet attach to its taste. Of course it is not easy for one to be a 'leafy vegetarian' (as what you'd mentioned), but I see the effort that my refuge teacher had put in.

Therefore I find that my refuge teacher is mindful to what he is observing and making no excuses from attempting his best to keep to his Mahayana precepts.

At least he's better than certain monks who still eat fried rice at 10pm.

Soe Min said...

I don't think we need to "get" people to be vegetarian. It is a personal choice. Bhante once pointed out that the 5 precepts have an "avoid negative actions" part and also the "encouraging positive actions" part. Likewise seeing both the goodness of an action and negatives of an opposing action, we can make a sincere and hopefully wiser choice.

David ( said...

I actually like some of the mock meats! Some are too realistic and look and feel just like meat and I avoid those. But for some meat eaters who want to become vegetarian, one of the things holding them from being fully vegetarian is the taste, texture, look, etc. and for them the mock meats may be good.

In the U.S. they have vegetarian deli slices and meat eaters have said that they cannot tell the difference in texture, look, and taste.

Ayya Khema was a vegetarian and once at Hsi Lai in Los Angeles questioned the mock meats, finding it hard to believe they were vegetarian. (She did eat it when she was assured it was vegetarian.)

may said...

Nice post! The same thing have amused me too - why insist on being a vegetarian and then eating food that is made to taste or look like meat. Its just so amusing and contradicting.