Classic Asian Vegan Dishes
Vegetarianism is a practice that is slowly becoming more popular nowadays. There are numerous reasons as to why one chooses to follow this practice, as varied as the different types of vegetarianism itself, but usually it (the reason) is related to either, morality, religion, health or taste. If you are a vegetarian planning a trip to Asia, your choice of food can be quite limited, and there are cultural differences that can often leave one confused.
In Indonesia for example, the local word for meat is daging, which excludes poultry. So when one asks for food that does not include meat, you are often served with chicken instead. In many Thai and Vietnamese dishes, fish sauces are often the main source of flavor – the dishes won’t taste right without them. Fortunately, there are some classic local dishes that, with a few wiggle rooms here and there, can still qualify as vegan. Here they are for your perusal.
Judging from the various types of dumplings available and the differing reasons to savor them, we Asians definitely love our dumplings. There are steamed, deep-fried and stir-fried dumplings, and even one which you savor by first drinking the soup inside it through a straw, before eating it. Now fortunately, this also means you can often find a vegetarian dumpling variety. They are usually filled with dried mushrooms, tofu, rice vermicelli and chopped vegetables, all that goodness stuffed inside a flour wrapper and cooked by way of your preference.
Gado Gado (Indonesian Salad)
This Indonesian salad is a classic dish that has survived through the generations, with each local provinces and traditions adding their own mix of influences into the recipe. The basic ingredients however, are generally the same – a mixture of both cooked and raw vegetables, with fried tofu and boiled eggs, topped with a peanut sauce. Some prefer adding sweet soy sauce mixed into the peanut sauce, while others prefer a dash of spice and chili into theirs. Be warned however, that those chilies can make this delightful dish extremely spicy!
Som Tam (Papaya Salad)
Originally from Laos, this dish has spread through to Northeastern Thailand, combining the four main tastes of Lao/Thai cuisine – sour lime, hot chili, salty fish sauce, and sweetness added by palm sugar. It’s made from shredded unripened papaya, tomatoes, garlic, carrots, string beans, with a mixture of lime juice, palm sugar and fish sauce for the flavoring, topped with roasted peanuts and tiny dried shrimps. You can skip the shrimps, but missing out on the fish sauce would very likely alter the taste too much.
Vietnamese Spring Rolls
Filled with all kinds of goodness from rice vermicelli, fried tofu, lettuce, bean sprouts and cilantro, this tasty appetizer is a crowd favorite. They are a refreshing change from the usual deep-fried variety, and usually served with chili sauce, oyster sauce, or a combination of both. Be sure however, to ask for the vegetarian variety – the version with shrimp are quite popular, and there are other meaty versions as well.
Some people will find similarities between this local favorite with that of the Vietnamese Spring Rolls, but as an avid fan of both, I can definitely tell you they are different inside out. The ingredients of Popiah are cooked vegetables, while that of the Vietnamese Spring Rolls are fresh raw vegetables. Popiahs are wafter-thin crepes wrapped around braised shredded vegetables, bean sprouts and garlic, with a dash of oyster sauce and chili, according to preference. Be warned however, that some stalls may add pork lard or fried fish skin to add crispiness into the popiah.
This fruit and vegetable salad dish is common in Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia, where the term “rojak” simply means “mixture”. Fruit rojak typically consists of slices of assorted tropical fruits, such as pineaple, mangoes, cucumber, sweet potato and others, topped with a sweet and spicy dressing made out of water, palm sugar, tamarind, shrimp paste and chili sauce. The vegetable version of this dish usually contains fried dough fritters, bean curds, hard boiled eggs, bean sprouts and cucumber mixed with a sweet thick and slightly spicy peanut sauce.
About the Author. Nikolas Tjhin. A graphic and web designer in its previous incarnation, Nik’s journeyman career has seen him do work for various creative studios in Wisconsin, Minneapolis, Singapore and Jakarta. Now, he’s settled down for the time being and focusing his efforts as the editor of an Asia travel zine, Unearthing Asia.
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