Vegetarian Chinese - specific dish recs?
I've been eating Chinese with vegetarians lately, and we've tried Kingdom of Vegetarians, Su Xing House, and Charles Plaza. We're also planning to go to New Harmony. (Too bad Cherry Street closed before we could try it.) I'm not a vegetarian, but I love fake meat...when it's cooked well. However, I've been extremely disappointed with center city choices.
Kingdom of Vegetarians
* fish-fragrance eggplant (I think they call it garlic sauce eggplant here): much too sweet, and had carrots - gross.
* beancurd rolls: gloppy sauce, unremarkable vegetable filling
* sesame chicken: way too sweet, I don't know what I was expecting but it tasted like American Chinese - fried "chicken" balls with sweet broccoli (ugh)
Su Xing House (the most expensive of the three)
* crispy soy bean protein steak: I specifically asked the waitress, "Is this sweet?" "No, not at all." WRONG! The "steak" was white and had the consistency of seafood more than steak. I thought the greens in the dish were incompatible with the soy.
* dry bean curd with spiral seaweed: The dry bean curd was cubed, not julienned (si) like I've usually had it. This dish was very disappointing; the bean curd and seaweed were thrown together in some sort of flavorless sauce. Some of the bean curd was scorched - evidence of careless cooking.
* beef with green pepper
* kung pao chicken
* seitan with squash in black bean sauce (really the squash was zucchini)
* some sort of ham with vegetables
* "szechuan" eggplant - SWEET not spicy! Not even a little spice!
These dishes all tasted the same, excepting the eggplant. The fake meat tasted like fake meat, not like the flavors of the dish (not that those were great either). Fake meat is supposed to be a flavor 'sponge', just like beancurd.
I know vegetarian Chinese can be so much better than what I've listed so far. Please help - I would appreciate specific dish recommendations. Center city is the most convenient location.
At Su Xing, we liked the pepper steak, and the fake spicy shrimp dish (listed as some kidn of spicy 'rolls'). At New Harmony, I love the steamed dim sum (the $10 platter, not the all-you-can-eat, so you can take home the leftovers). The old Harmony had really good soups, but I haven't tried them from the new one yet. Thank you.
I have to respectfully disagree with one of your comments. I don't think that fake meat is supposed to hold the same place in a dish that tofu/beancurd does, i.e. the flavor sponge idea. Just as chicken, beef, or any other meat derived from an animal typically is not added to a dish just to absorb the flavors of the other components of the meal, (if nothing else I think meats are likely just too expensive to serve this purpose), fake meat, in my mind anyway, is supposed to have an assertive enough flavor and texture to stand on its own and also not rely on the other components in the dish. I don't think that it is supposed to just melt into the dish without notice. Obviously, this doesn't excuse the fact that the dishes all tasted the same and that none were particularly noteworthy--just something to think about. In my mind, part of what many vegetarians dislike about fake meat is that it is designed to simulate meat and not act like tofu/beancurd. I don't have an issue eating fake meat, despite my dislike of real meat, but I can understand where these feelings of distaste for fake meat stem from.
Regarding where to go--I am a long-time vegetarian and can't seem to get myself to stray from Singapore. I've tried several dishes there including Moo Shu pork, General Tsos chicken, Beef and Broccoli, etc, with the only I didn't like being a duck dish. I've taken several non-vegetarian friends there and all have enjoyed it. The owners are extremely friendly, and often comp me various appetizers, etc as a sign that they both acknowledge and appreciate my returned business.
Anyway, just my two cents on the matter...it would be interesting to see what others things. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that it is my understanding that authentic Chinese of any variety is difficult to find. When you throw in the parameters of authentic Chinese utilizing fake meat you'll likely have an incredibly difficult time finding anything that fits the bill. Good luck!
re: Laura D.
Thanks for the thoughtful response, Laura. My point was not really that fake meat is supposed to disappear into the dish, but rather that it should take on the flavor of the seasonings in the dish. Just like I find unseasoned real meat really boring, I wouldn't like wheat gluten or seitan if it were cooked by itself. I still remember a fake meat dish I had about 15 years ago that was excellent, mainly because the fake meat absorbed so much flavor from whatever other ingredients were used - it was some sort of "beef" and didn't taste quite like beef but definitely didn't blend into the background either. I think fake meat can be even better than real meat in this regard, because real meat is too strong tasting to incorporate as much non-meat tastes.
By the way, in my opinion you're not going to get "authentic" Chinese if you keep ordering General Tso's! ;)
I think I now have a better understanding of what you meant by the fake meat absorbing the flavors, etc.--thanks for clarifying! And, you are correct--I definitely realize General Tso's isn't authentic, but that's okay because sometimes it seems appropriate to sacrifice authenticism for great taste!