"I have the simplest tastes. I am simply satisfied with the best." - Oscar Wilde

"I came, I saw, I ate." - Au Gourmand

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Vegan and vegetarian Cuisine in Taiwan (Part 2 of 4)

My omnivore self was put to test for the second time at 衆流素食 (zhong-liou-xu-shi). We ordered a kind of cactus with passion fruit sauce, squid sashimi, braised fish with 樹子 (xu-tsu, type of indigenous fruits, which are bit like the leftover soybean after making soy sauce, which is used in many cooking – yes, I know you have no idea what I am talking about; this blog is not for the uninitiated), stewed dried bamboo shoot with 香椿 (xian-chuang), a crazy Taiwanese herb which I will explain more below, soup dumplings with 糸瓜 (si-gua, a type of melon) and sautéed vegetables. Now, we are talking about serious and quite inventive vegan cuisine (and I will skip the more mundane items, such as the sautéed vegetables), and let me start from the first wondrous eye-opener: The squid sashimi.

Squid Sashimi in a Melon Bowl and Cactus with Passion Fruit Sauce

The squid was made of konnyaku, supposedly. It had the perfect texture of raw squid, but the wonder did not cease here. This sashimi of allegedly fake squid had a squid taste. It really did. You don’t believe me? OK, I am willing to consider that maybe I was just shocked into believing by the supreme reality of the appearance and texture. However, my mouth assures you that it had a fishy taste.

The second wonder was the stewed, dried bamboo shoots with 香椿.

Stewed Dried Bamboo Shoot with 香椿
I took a scoop and put it in my mouth and I was totally dumbfounded: Why do I taste lamb? This herb, 香椿, confirmed by my vegetarian host so that I was not high on something else as to mistake its taste, had a lamby taste! The reason that I actually disliked the dish was because it was too lamby… believe it or not. My host told me that the first time she tried it in a fried rice, her rice was so lamby and gamey that she almost suspected that the pan used to fry the rice was actually used to cook lamb before her dish (but she were dining in a vegan restaurant). So, in Taiwan, a.k.a. “the treasure island”, you can grow herbs which taste just like lamb (and a very lamby lamb at that). Crazy island…

The third wonder of the day was the braised fish with樹子.

Very simply put, it was “fish.” Do I need to say more? The “fish” was probably made of taro (I am new to this game of guessing what my “fish” is made of, OK?) and it had seaweed wrapped around each slice of the “fish fillet.” My amateur educated guess would be that this piece of seaweed gives the “fish” its “fishiness, although this does not explain the squid, sorry, the fake squid. Once this “fish” was stewed with this indigenous Taiwanese fruit (no, it is not fishy fruit; one lamby herb is enough for one country, no?), which has a very strong flavor and umami (this word has got to be standard culinary word by now, right?), you have a beautiful braised fish. Do not frown until you have eaten it: the taro even gave it the fiberish texture of fish, if you know what I mean?

One word on the service: Our waitress, looking more porcine than vegan, together with a manager-looking woman with a heart not quite Buddhist, hurried us through the meal since the kitchen was closing swiftly at 8:45PM. It is healthy to be a vegan, no?

My Quest in Taiwan will continue tomorrow… Stay tuned.

Restaurant Info:

衆流素食:  台北市龍江路102號1樓 (02-2516-5757 )

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