Ba Ren or Dede in San Diego
I might be going to either Ba Ren or Dede this weekend, but need to know if either are particularly vegetarian-friendly. Other than ma po tofu, will there be other dishes to choose from? Will they have meat-surprises, as in a dish of green beans but also involving ground beef? How about meat stocks?
Also, what are some of the must-have's that we should sample?
I think that as a general rule, eating at any restaurant that is not specifically making a point to offer vegan or vegetarian dishes, that you ultimately will never know for sure that the dishes are made entirely free of meat.
Asian restaurants in particular tend to be a big one to watch out for. For instance, when ordering that delicious Tom Yum soup at any number of Thai restaurants, 9 times out of 10 the server will tell you that there isn't any meat in the soup, even though the broth is almost always made using fish oil or shrimp powder. Same goes for Mexican joints where they use the same fryer to make everything. So, even if they tell you that they don't use lard in the beans or tortillas, when you get the tortilla chips or anything else deep fried, you're pretty much eating meat-flavored fried tortillas.
As for Ba Ren or Dede, of course you can get several dishes without meat.
But again you run into trouble when you consider that the woks that they use in the kitchen are usually used for everything coming out of the kitchen, and that the soups and sauces are very very rarely made without at least some sort of chicken or other stock. Same goes for sauces made with that slight amount of oyster or other fish sauce.
It's also worth noting that a large number of vegetarians aren't as strict as non-vegetarians seem to think they are. I know a lot of vegetarians who have no problem with chicken stock, fish sauce, or meat-flavored tortillas. Some vegetarians are really uptight about that, but not all.
I think I prefer Dede's, its a bit more cozy. I think there were quite a few things that I enjoyed that didnt have meat in. The stir fried greens were very tasty, I really enjoyed the green beans but dont remember there being any pork in them. I also really enjoyed the cold appetizers. There was also one with peanuts in that was really tasty.
Most of my favourites have fish in though, spicy shrimp and the fried fish.
A quick word of warning about Mapo Tofu - both restaurants make it with ground pork - so make sure to request it made vegetarian.
Both restaurants are vegetarian friendly, but because the dishes served are made in the traditional fashion, dishes like the dry fried green beans will have ground pork. Like the Mapo Tofu, you will have to reqtest it made vegetarian.
Are you strict vegetarian, or do you eat fish?
Haven't been to Dede's, but I know that Ba Ren has a pretty sizable menu of vegetarian items. Family Style Tofu (think that's the name, might be Country Style) is good, as is the Ma-Po Tofu. They also have straight vegetable dishes without meat.
There are three cold appetizers in the front case that are vegetarian which should not be missed: bamboo shoots, seaweed salad, and wood ear mushrooms dressed with spicy sesame oil.