Lunar New Year is just around the corner (February 5), and many Chinese restaurants around town have been preparing special festive menus weeks in advance. There won’t be any shortage of meat and seafood items during this holiday known for big feasts, especially because fish and pork dishes carry prosperous meanings.
But according to Buddhist beliefs, eating a vegetarian meal on the first day of the lunar calendar can bring good luck for the rest of the year. Religion aside, vegetarian and vegan Chinese dishes can also be very tasty and as auspicious as their nonvegetarian counterparts.
From Szechuan boiled vegan bean-curd “fish” to soya nuggets with sweet-and-sour sauce, and from deep-fried crispy vegetarian “drumsticks” to glutinous rice balls, here are some delicious items for Lunar New Year served up in Asian vegetarian and vegan spots around Metro Vancouver.
Po Kong Vegetarian Restaurant (1334 Kingsway)
This no-fuss spot is one of the city’s most popular Chinese vegetarian eateries, attracting guests from near and far with its mouthwatering culinary creations. It has a long history and has built up a loyal customer base over the years (even when Asian vegetarian food wasn’t as appreciated in the region).
“There are more and more Chinese people who enjoy vegetarian food,” David Chau, co-owner of Po Kong, told the Georgia Straight at his Vancouver restaurant. “Even if they aren’t religious, many of them will eat vegetarian food on the first and 15th day of the lunar calendar.”
Chau emphasizes that the first day of the lunar year is very important, because eating a vegetarian dish gives individuals a lucky start to the year. It’s one of the reasons why he expects to be working overtime on February 5—the first day of the Year of the Pig.
The festive dishes with lucky connotations that will be offered at Po Kong include Gung Hei Fat Choi, its name a Chinese New Year greeting that translates to “Congratulations and be prosperous,” made with bean-curd skin, mushrooms, and dried black moss. Another item is fu gwai san bo, which translates to “wealthy three treasures” and is made with bamboo pith wrapped around mushrooms and paired with dried black moss.
“Besides being eco-friendly and healthy, vegetarian food is a great alternative for Lunar New Year meals because the first day of the year is an important date, and it doesn’t hurt to start eating healthy early on in the year,” Chau said.
Panz Veggie (3485 Fraser Street)
Livia Panz is often a one-woman show at her well-loved vegan restaurant in Fraserhood. As the chef and owner of Panz Veggie, she gets to make all the decisions when it comes to what will be offered on the menu—that’s why guests can always find locally sourced and ethical dishes here.
Lunar New Year is just around the corner, and Panz expects that many people will order an all-time favourite at her eatery. “After all these years, a dish called Buddha’s Feast has always been the bestseller,” the restaurateur told the Straight in a phone interview. “It has a special meaning: purity. Nonreligious people still enjoy this dish because of the ingredients that I add in there.”
Her version of Buddha’s Feast features Chinese yam, napa cabbage, white fungi, dark fungi, extra-extra-firm tofu, and chickpeas, among other things.
Another signature creation that is usually ordered for the holiday is soya nuggets with sweet-and-sour sauce on multigrain fried rice. Besides being full of flavour, this dish is also popular because it alludes to gold nuggets—a token of luck for the new year.
“Over the whole year, people have stuffed themselves with so much meat,” Panz said. “Starting with a fresh, clean vegetable meal during the first day of the celebration is always good, to flush out the grease.”
4 Stones Vegetarian Cuisine (160–7771 Westminster Highway, Richmond)
Lei Shih wasn’t always a vegetarian chef. He started out in a Szechuan restaurant making all kinds of meat and seafood plates, but the tables eventually turned for him, and soon enough he became a fully-fledged veggie-forward cook.
Shih is the chef and owner of 4 Stones Vegetarian, a Taiwanese meatless restaurant in Richmond previously known as Simply Vegetarian. “We see an increase in the number of vegetarians in Metro Vancouver,” he told the Straight by phone. “We’ve been living here for 20 years and we observe a lot of nonvegetarian people become willing to try vegetarian.”
He thinks customers continue to visit his eatery after all these years because he offers tasty vegetarian options. One of his signature items is a housemade veggie-meat product that features soy protein, gluten, egg white, and whey protein.
For Lunar New Year, guests will be able to find various dishes that feature this special ingredient. The Taiwanese gua bao (cut bun) is an auspicious item to order, because it resembles a tiger eating a slab of meat, which symbolizes bad luck being eaten away. Steamed dumplings can also bring good fortune for the year, since its takes on the shape of ancient Chinese gold.
Fish has always been a popular item at Chinese restaurants during this lunar holiday, because its Chinese name, yu, sounds similar to the word for abundance. If you’re looking for an abundance of wealth, health, and good luck for the Year of the Pig, go for this restaurant’s vegan bean-curd fish that showcases Szechuan flavours.
“Some people may only eat vegetarian once a year, and it would be on the first day of Lunar New Year. It all ties in with Buddhist beliefs,” Shih explained. “For people who aren’t religious, it’s just good food. It’s a healthier alternative, and it’s something new to try.”