Vegetarian Chinese food to ring in Lunar New Year in Vancouver

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      In the Chinese tradition, the Lunar New Year is all about positive new beginnings. Starting this Sunday (February 10) and for the two weeks that follow, we will greet the Year of the Snake—and each other—with wishes of prosperity, good health, long life, and not least the fulfillment of one’s wishes and desires.

      On New Year’s Day (Sunday, February 10) in particular, this bounty of goodwill is supposed to extend to all creatures on earth. Many will observe a Buddhist-inspired custom of amnesty and abstain from eating meat in honour of the animals that give themselves for our food. The more devout may even take part in the age-old ritual of animal release, or fang sheng, which means “to liberate a life”.

      During the ritual, birds, fish, and other critters often otherwise destined for the wok are released. The celebrants get to experience the pure joy of virtuous compassion and accrue merit points for lives after and beyond, and the animals get a free pass. It’s win-win—except that in this modern world of global food systems, animal release can mean introducing invasive species into local ecosystems, with disastrous results. Also, ironically, this well-intentioned gesture has been known to lead to acts of cruelty. In Thailand, I saw birds caught up in the vicious circle of being peddled in cages for release at a temple, than trapped again in a nearby rice field to be resold.

      So for my money and health, I’m going vegetarian for the day.

      One option is to head for a Buddhist vegetarian restaurant. My current haunt is Bodhi Choi Heung (3932 Fraser Street). It’s one of the older of its kind in Vancouver (read: the décor is a bit dated), but it serves some of the best Cantonese vegetarian fare. As at other “Buddhist vegetarian” restaurants, the menu is dotted with mock meats ranging from chicken to duck to lamb, as well as shrimp and oyster, all ingeniously crafted from gluten and soybean products to resemble the original version in texture and flavour.

      These curious references are meant to attract, appease, and possibly convert wary meat lovers, and they succeed because they lend scope and variety to the menu. Think of a familiar dish you like to have at a Cantonese restaurant and you’re likely to find its meatless doppelgänger here. For example, try the taro and vegetarian lamb in coconut curry hot pot, or the salted fish, diced chicken, and tofu hot pot with eggplant. You’ll find them as tasty and comforting as the meaty versions, although the “lamb” is actually braised fried gluten and the “chicken” pressed tofu.

      Po Kong (1334 Kingsway)—the transplanted, renamed reincarnation of former Main Street favourite Bo Kong—is another top pick. Go there with a few like-minded friends and order the dinner for eight, which includes an elegant bamboo mushroom and faux shark fin soup, a sizzling black pepper “beef”, and an auspicious fried rice with pine nuts.

      For something less traditional, 3G Vegetarian Restaurant (3424 Cambie Street) offers an interesting mix of pan-Pacific dishes that hail from Japan (tempura, udon), Indonesia (a soup noodle with veggies), Thailand (tom yum soup), and even California (a salad). They also offer all-day dim sum and small plates between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. So if you don’t want to commit to dinner this New Year’s Day, go for lunch and be sure to try the intriguingly textured vegetarian chicken drumsticks fried with salt and pepper, the excellent steamed glutinous rice with “chicken” (packets wrapped in bamboo leaves), and the abalone mushroom with vegetables. Call ahead and ask about their set banquet menu, which promises to be more traditional in style.

      Vegetarian options are also abundant at many Chinese restaurants that don’t focus exclusively on vegetarian fare. At the Jade Seafood Restaurant (8511 Alexandra Road, Richmond), more than a dozen vegetarian appetizers are available. Highlights include eggplant in sweet-and sour sauce, sautéed lotus root, and Buddha’s Feast with bamboo mushrooms. You can also select a mushroom dumpling scented with truffle oil from the dim sum menu or a mixed mushroom chow mein from the “tapas” menu. For a sweet finish, I recommend the almond milk with sesame glutinous-rice dumplings. (The above dishes are vegetarian but not vegan; they will make them vegan upon request.)

      For more posh presentations, chef Sam Leung of Dynasty Seafood Restaurant (108–777 West Broadway) has been working on a dish of deep-fried bean curd stuffed with vegetables that’s shaped like a bracelet of Buddhist prayer beads; it comes with a tomato and cucumber salsa. He’s also created a stewed tomato stuffed with wild rice served in a thickened mushroom consommé, and a toothsome, stir-fried luo han zhai (braised mixed vegetables) that departs from the usually mushy renditions of this iconic Buddhist dish.

      So go forth with compassion in your heart and eat your vegetables. May the Year of the Snake bring you good health.

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      14 Comments

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      Mimi

      Feb 6, 2013 at 3:43pm

      Jade Seafood Restaurant and Dynasty Seafood restaurant both sell shark fins, and DNA tests have proved that 86% of the shark fins sold in Richmond and Vancouver are from Endangered, Threatened and Vulnerable species!! Those restaurants do NOT deserve your business! Many shark fins are as endangered as Rhinos and Tigers, would you eat there if they were serving those parts? BOYCOTT restaurants that serve shark fins.

      Sorelle

      Feb 6, 2013 at 3:50pm

      Don't forget Panz Veggie on Hornby near Pacific downtown, they are an awesome Chinese vegan restaurant!

      Stacia Leyes

      Feb 6, 2013 at 4:29pm

      Please do not promote restaurants that sell endangered species.

      David Chung, who owns the Jade Seafood Restaurant and is the head of the B.C. Asian Restaurant and Cafe Owners Association, plans on petitioning, protesting, and suing the municipal government if a shark-fin ban in Vancouver, Richmond, and Burnaby is brought in.

      Sharks are becoming extinct!

      8 reasons for banning the SHARK FIN TRADE Canada wide:

      1. The practice of shark-finning, where live sharks have their fins cut off and dumped back into the ocean, is cruel, uncivilized and barbaric.

      2. Many shark species are critically endangered, e.g. The scalloped Hammerhead and the Great Hammerhead, which have been 99% wiped out.

      3. Upwards of 75 million sharks - a recent study concluding upon over 100 million - are finned around the world every year.

      4. Sharks, being slow reproducers - many with only a handful of offspring per year- and some not reaching sexual maturity until ages 10-20 years of age, simply cannot withstand this scale of carnage. If we delay for one year, it may mean losing one or more species.

      5. The opposition says that sharks are predators, so if they are removed, there would be more fish for humans. This is an over-simplistic, patently erroneous, and likely deliberately delusional view. Marine ecology has it that there are not two, but five or six Trophic Levels of predators and prey - phytoplankton, zooplankton, small fish, medium-small fish, medium-large fish, large fish and marine mammals. Sharks being top predators prey mainly on medium fish, which in turn prey on small fish. If the sharks are exterminated, the medium fish will temporarily overpopulate and over-prey on the small fish, causing the entire marine ecosystem to collapse.

      6. Almost all nations with a coastline engage in shark-finning, though on paper it is often illegal. Thus, shark-finning is by and large a poaching activity. Poachers care not an iota for endangered species, and keep no records. In other words, there is no way of telling which fin in Chinatown has come from what species short of a fin-by-fin DNA analysis, which obviously is a financial and technical impossibility.

      7. DNA surveys of shark fins have consistently turned up similar results - that the majority of randomly collected samples belong to endangered and threatened species. Two years back, the Vancouver Sun and the World Wildlife Fund

      Carol

      Feb 6, 2013 at 4:33pm

      I would never eat at a restaurant that serves shark fins, especially Jade Seafood and Dynasty, I don't care how much vegetarian food is on their menu.

      James

      Feb 6, 2013 at 4:42pm

      Just a tip for the Buddists, Jade seafood restaurant owner was on tv and on the paper recently strongly defending shark fin soup. Not long after results came in that 76% of shark fins available in Vancouver were from endengered species. Perhaps choosing a restaurant that doesn't serves endangered animals might be a good idea.

      Lola

      Feb 6, 2013 at 4:55pm

      I'm shocked that you're mentioning Jade and Dynasty of all places in an article about compassionate dining! These two restaurants are among the most egregiously cruel in the lower mainland since they continue to serve shark fin soup. As we have recently seen, merchants have no idea where these fins are coming from and in many cases they are from endangered species. Bad judgement call to include these houses of horrors in an article about vegetarianism. Jade and Dynasty are disgraces to the great name of traditional Chinese cuisine.

      Lola

      Feb 6, 2013 at 11:19pm

      Why are you censoring all of the comments that people are posting? I have half a dozen friends that have commented on this posting, all of whom did so within the guidelines of your terms of service. So why are you censoring the public's response to the article?

      Martin Dunphy

      Feb 7, 2013 at 12:05am

      Lola:

      Only one post was deleted for violating Georgia Straight guidelines.
      Since you are personally acquainted with all the posters, you are undoubtedly aware of this.

      Peter Fricker

      Feb 7, 2013 at 9:26am

      While the focus on vegetarianism is welcome, the promotion of restaurants serving shark fin undermines the whole point of ethical eating and respect for animals.

      Mimi

      Feb 7, 2013 at 1:20pm

      Martin, that is odd you would say she is personally acquainted with all of the posters, I do not know this person and yet I feel the same way. You know people who have a problem with shark fin soup are not a group of extreme environmentalists, we are simply people who pay attention to science, and happen to have a sense of compassion. There are more of us out there than a group of friends/protesters etc.

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