Luncheon meat, chicken sausage, fish balls, meat balls… when reviewing the menu at Xuxiangzhai Vegetarian Restaurant, you can't help but think something's not quite right. But actually, the "pork skin is made of konjac (similar to yams) and seaweed extract, the fat-like part in the middle is completely made of konjac, and the lean part is made of oats," Du Wei, executive manager of the restaurant explained, pointing at a slice of something best translated as "fresh streaky pork." The other "meat" ingredients are all made of wheat, soy, konjac, oats and seaweed extract, and each bears a striking resemblance to the real deal, both in appearance and flavor.
Xuxiangzhai began serving vegetarian hotpot, in addition to their other dishes, four years ago, according to Du. In winter, more than 50 percent of restaurant guests are there to eat the hotpot.
While it's easy enough for vegetarians to visit standard hotpot restaurants and simply order vegetables only, it can be much harder to fi nd a delicious vegetarian broth. There are usually three types of soup mix: mushroom, shachajiang (a kind of barbeque sauce) and red spicy soup. Among them, the most popular is the mushroom soup mix. It's low in cholesterol – good news for a population increasingly plagued by cholesterol issues – and rich in vitamins and minerals that can help prevent disease and, some say, delay aging.
Vegetarian restaurants usually use mushroom powder to concoct the mushroom soup mix. "Our mushroom powder is from Yunnan Province," Du explained. "We mix eight types of mushrooms, including boletus, thelepora and sarcodon aspratum, which are valuable and healthy mushrooms." Besides that, they contain several essential amino acids and trace elements, and can dispel cold and clear energy meridians, as well as relieve anemia, physical weakness, dizziness and tinnitus. For extra fl avor, nerve-soothing koumo (a dried mushroom produced in Zhangjiakou, northwest Hebei province) is also added.
Shachajiang soup is more straightforward, using a type of barbeque sauce of the same name that caters to the tastes of Southwesterners. Shachajiang is a pale-brown, paste-like sauce, with f avors of garlic, onion, peanuts, fresh soy sauce and – pay attention here, vegetarians – shrimp. Check with your server to see if their restaurant's version of shachajiang uses real crustaceans.
Red spicy soup is a Sichuan-style broth that, unlike its usual counterpart in meatier restaurants, uses no beef tallow or any other animal-related products. A proper red spicy soup uses fresh prickly ash seed, which is fried in hot oil to produce a unique spicy flavor.
Dishes for dunking in the hotpot include the fake meats mentioned above, as well as seasonal vegetables, tofu, deep fried bean curd, oily tofu skin (youpi) and a selection of mushrooms, including shaggy ink cap (coprinus comatus), velvet foot (fl ammulina), oyster mushrooms and the ever regal king oyster mushrooms (pleurotus eryngii).
"In our restaurant, we also have imitated lamb shashlik, which is made of lion's mane mushroom (hericium erinaceus). This mushroom has a similar texture to lamb, with a fi brous texture, and it tastes just like the real lamb shashlik," Du said. Finally, vegetarians can indulge in one of China's most popular cuisines, guilt-free.
Vegetarian restaurants in Beijing
Xuxiangzhai Vegetarian Restaurant 叙香斋素食馆
The restaurant has a main dining hall with a capacity for 126 guests, and five private dining rooms that can hold 80 happy eaters. The dining hall has a vegetarian bu. et for 68 yuan per guest, including more than 100 vegetarian dishes and hotpot. Xuxiangzhai also features imitation meat dishes, like vegetarian braised pork ribs and gulaorou (sweet and sour pork) for about 30 yuan per plate.
Address: No. 26-1 Guozijian Street, Dongcheng District 东城区国子监大街甲26-1号
Tel: 6404-6568; 6404-6516
Gongdelin Vegetarian Restaurant 功德林素食饭庄
Renowned for eschewing both meat and eggs, this restaurant uses spicy flavors and cooking wine in its dishes. Gongdelin can hold around 300 guests in its two large dining halls and five private dining rooms. Gongdelin specializes in Yangzhou cuisine, which emphasizes using original juices from raw materials and pays attention to adjusting diners' levels of fire, weakness or strength according to individual needs. Chefs here are adept at simmering and stewing, and dishes are usually moderately savory. Gongdelin features imitation meat and fish dishes, like stewed mandarin fish (made of soy protein and konjac).
Prices for most dishes range from 30 to 70 yuan.
Address: No. 158 South Qianmen Avenue, Chongwen District 崇文区前门南大街158号
Tel: 6702-0867; 6511-2542
Jingxinlian Vegetarian Restaurant 净心莲素食餐厅
Like Gongdelin, Jingxinlian also avoids meat and eggs. The restaurant has one large dining hall and nine private rooms that can hold 200 guests. Jingxinlian pays a great deal of attention to the appearance of dishes, most of which are quite eyecatching. Their signature sashimi platter looks exactly like the real thing, but in reality this sashimi is made of konjac and seaweed extract. Dishes here are quite expensive; the sashimi costs more than 100 yuan, and vegetarian shuizhuyu (oil-boiled fish with chili and prickly ash seeds) is 80 yuan.
Address: No. 158 South Qianmen Avenue, Chongwen District 朝阳区农展馆南里12号
Tel: 6592-3627; 8703-6669
Source: Global Times