My beef with vegetarian cuisine is simple. There is so much fakery. Tastes like real meat! Hotdogs made from plants! Sisig without pork! I mean, if we are to eat meatless, lets go meatless, and not approximate the taste of meat. I think its funny that we have serve vegetables in other forms, considering that they have their own values don’t they, we shouldn’t package them as something else. I mean, let me eat my carrots and not carrots looking like sausages, which some vegetarian restaurants do.
I guess, this phenomenon of meatless meats that taste and look like meat came about to attract people who grew up eating beef and pork and chicken who may want, for one reason or the other, to go vegetarian.
There are people, indeed, who are squeamish about eating vegan, used as they have been to real meat since they were born. I also know of friends who cannot not eat meat in their meals, otherwise they go hungry fast. In our culture where meats are served in our banquets, we have come to associate them with prosperity and sense of being uppity. Let’s make that simpler: in lechon country, vegetables are second-, even third-class citizens.
Vegetables we have relegated mostly to side dishes, oftentimes as salad or as enhancers of our meats. We’ve been convinced that meats should be the main feature of our meals that it is not unusual for people to ask, “Wala sud-an? No viand?” when they sit down on their dining tables and do not find any meat dish. There are also some of us who pick out the meats in the dishes and put aside the vegetables in them.
Well, some of that is changing. I and some of my friends have been discovering exciting vegetable dishes that do not fake things. At the cafeteria of the Bacolod Adventist Medical Center in Bacolod, where diet is an article of faith, there are vegetarian dishes that are not exactly exotic or too strange for our tables.
There is fried broccoli – exquisite flowerettes of the vegetable that are dipped in batter and deep fried. There is also fried mushroom – tender mushrooms wrapped in batter and fried.
And then there is the lumpia and its variations: chopped heart of palm with sprouts and carrots and beans and maybe even peanuts, all wrapped and fried. Or different vegetables sauced and wrapped in fresh crepe-like wrappers. Or hubad, naked lumpia, which is just vegetables without the wrapping.
There is also lettuce cups: sautéed tofu and veggies served in lettuce leaves.
There are sauces that go with these, but I like them as they are, the better to highlight the different flavors of the veggies, without the sour or sweet distractions of the dips.
There are also the traditional vegetable dishes that have been given the vegan treatment [read: the meats removed]: chopped banana pith in monggo; sautéed eggplant with eggs; shavings of bamboo shoots in coconut milk without the crabs, even the Bicolano pangat, minus all the meats; or laswa, sans the shrimps.
Without the meats, these dishes highlight the natural flavors of the vegetables, reminding us that, well, like meat, vegetables have their own inimitable and distinctive tastes and flavors, we shouldn’t tamper them and pass them off as something else. Meat is meat, vegetable is vegetable and eating them could give us joy and pleasure in equal measure. No need to hide them for what they really are.*