Tag Archives: Vegetarian Food

A Love for Liangpi

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Image courtesy of this blog. https://wifemothereventplanner.com/2013/03/07/big-mac-without-the-mac/

 

“Can I have a Whopper with Cheese, only hold the meat patty.” I crossed my arms. “I would also like …”

“Excuse me.” The Morgantown, West Virginia, Burger King cashier shot me a look that actively mingled confusion with disgust. “What did you just order?”

“Whopper with cheese, minus the meat.”

“So, um, you don’t want a burger without the actual burger?”

“Exactly.”

“You just want condiments and cheese in a bun?”

“Yep.” I nodded slightly. “And fries. I want French fries, too – with a Diet Coke.”

“Um, okay.” She tapped the order into her register.

I saw her mouth the word weirdo under her breath while slightly shaking her head. I really didn’t care. This whole scenario played out multiple times during the 1990’s and my years as a university student in Appalachia. This wasn’t the first time I ordered a tomato, pickle, onion, and cheese sandwich from a fast food joint. It wasn’t the last, either.

You see, I used to be a vegetarian. The reasons are best saved for another time, but in retrospect, they were more out of punk rock vanity than concerns over my health.  I was a very bad vegetarian who consistently made poor dietary choices. Instead of evaluating the nutritional content of my food, I just ate a lot of eggs, steamed vegetables, cheese, and faux meat. Not Dogs? Yup, always in a bun and usually smothered in coleslaw. Fake ham? Absolutely! Especially if I wrapped it around a breaded cheese stick and dipped it into a barbecue sauce. Most of my diet consisted of easily microwaved GMO soy-based foods like Morning Star Farms. In short, I ate a lot of junk food.

One day, I woke up and realized that the counter cultural idealism of my twenties didn’t make for healthy living. Actually, I realized I was a clueless idiot. So, I stopped being a vegetarian who used to call strawberry ice cream dinner, and I eased myself back into sensible, balanced meat consumption. Fish without bones first, followed by poultry, pork, and beef. Now, many people can argue that I have many dreadful habits – rampant neurosis, heavy drinking, saying I am going to go to the gym while never going, and incessant chain smoking, for example.  Correcting all of that is an ongoing work in progress. It is work. It is in progress. I promise.  And, while I am no longer a vegetarian and never will be one again, I still have the upmost respect for people who have made that choice and know how to do it the right way. I also still enjoy eating proper vegetarian and vegan foods from time to time.

I know the challenges that come with it, especially when you are travelling and cannot cook for yourself. I also know that maintaining that lifestyle choice in China is not particularly easy. Being a vegan here is even worse. Sometimes, even a vegetable-only dish has been cooked in or is swimming in pork fat. Noodle soups are even more deceptive. Do you know what was used to make the base broth? Can you be absolutely sure when you are starving, in a Chinese city you don’t recognize due to travel, and walk into a restaurant? Can you ask a restaurant owner if something has an animal by-product in it without coming off like a complete jerk who is using his phone as a translator? Sometimes, that is easier said than done.

I thought about this while between classes at Hohai University, recently. There are plenty of small restaurants between that school’s west gate and Xinbei Wanda Plaza. Like all eateries, some of them survive and some do not last six months. Needless to say, I eat dinner in this area a lot because it’s right next to where I work. It was in one of these places where I stared at a plate of noodles and realized I was eating something totally vegan without realizing it. It was a dish called 凉皮 liángpí.

Yes, the two quail eggs are not exactly vegan friendly, but they can be picked out, and most basic liangpi dishes do not have them.
Yes, the two quail eggs are not exactly vegan friendly, but they can be picked out, and most basic liangpi dishes do not have them.

 

The Chinese for that literally translates as “cold skin.” Yeah, I know. It sounds rather disgusting – as if you are eating something that has been flayed off of a person or animal. Only, it isn’t that. In my experience, the character 皮usually refers to a sheet of something very thin in texture. For example, 豆腐皮 dòufu pí literally translates as “tofu skin” and is a common add-on ingredient in hotpot places and other restaurants that allow you to customize.

So, what exactly is liangpi? It’s a cold and wide rice noodle served in vinegar. Sometimes, chili oil can be added to spice things up. Typically, shredded cucumber, spongy tofu, and crunchy peanuts are involved. Since it is served cold, it’s usually best ate during hot weather. This dish originally comes from Shaanxi, but it is now so popular and widespread, it can be found nearly anywhere in small restaurants or as street food. It’s also relatively cheap. So, for vegans and vegetarians alike, this is a potentially a quick and easy lunch choice.

However, since liangpi has spread all over Changzhou, there are multiple variations and a lot of them have meat added. Some of the these options can include…

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Lean beef.

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Shredded chicken.

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Ground pork.

Really, cold rice noodles are an extremely versatile dish — from it’s vegan friendly base to just about anything the shop in question likes to add to fill out their menu board. This is why I am not really providing a map location. This dish really is that widespread throughout the city. However, there was one place where, between my Hohai classes, I had a blast from the past.

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This is 农少爷 nóng shàoyé. It focuses more on the Xian variety of liangpi. It recently opened, and I see a lot of university students crammed in here during dinner and lunch rushes. Their “Chinese hamburger” sandwich 肉夹馍 ròu jiā mó is excellent. However, while exploring their menu over multiple days, I ran into this.

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It is 蔬菜夹馍 shūcài jiā mó — a bun stuffed with vegetables.Biting into this made me think of 20 years ago, during a different time and a different life. A time where I walked into Burger Kings and asked for a hamburger-without-actual-hamburgers. I was young with a huge vinyl record collection of punk rock and death metal albums with titles like Save for Your Doomed Future. If I could talk to that kid, I would tell him that his future — while having some devastating rock bottom moments — isn’t all that bad.

Max & Salad Lives!

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A year or two back, it seemed like salad related places were sprouting up across Changzhou. It was likely a fad, and like all trends, the sudden spread of salad shops came to an end. For a while, it seemed like Max and Salad was one of the casualties. It used to be located in the basement of downtown’s Injoy Plaza. Then, one day, there was a lock on the door. It’s a typical restaurant closure — one day it was serving patrons, and the next it wasn’t.

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A few weeks ago, I discovered that it hadn’t really gone away. It was simply relocating to a smaller, cheaper space on the exterior of Laimeng. The difference between this place and, let’s say, Eco or Evergreen, is that this is a true salad bar where you can pick your ingredients.

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The set up is the same as before. You choose what you want by grabbing tokens that correspond with ingredients on display. These tokens have internal RFID chips inside. Once you have made your selections, you hand your pile of tokens to the cashier. She runs them over a scanner, and an order for your own, special, unique salad is generated. Obviously, you pay after that. The other places have set menus. They are good, but they do not allow you to indulge in whatever whims you may have in created something personalized. The other thing is this: Evergreen is a locally owned, and Max and Salad is a chain with locations in other Chinese cities.  Either way, some vegetarians and vegans might be glad to know one of their dining options didn’t exactly just go away for good.

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As stated earlier, this is on the exterior of Laimeng and on a side street that is very close to Nandajie. It’s not that far from where the old Base Bar used to be, and the Band of Brothers DVD shop is across the street.

A Non-Salad Vegetarian Dining Option

 

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Back in America, there are vegetarian restaurants that can duplicate the taste and texture of most meat dishes by using soy, tempeh, and other bean-based protein staples. So, as you can imagine, there were and still are such things as faux sausages, fake cold cuts, imitation chicken, and so on. One restaurant in Richmond, Virginia, even went so far as to create a faux lobster that you had to break open with a hammer — you know, to replicate the experience of eating a real one. Even some of the most hardcore vegans in that city, back then, thought it was the height of absurdity.

I was reminded of this bit of silliness while eating lunch with a friend in Xinbei. This place is completely vegetarian friendly, and that attitude is reflected in the place’s English name / slogan. It’s not very subtle: “Be A Vegetarian.” The Chinese name is 丰系人良.This restaurant’s existence may come as a pleasant surprise to those who are still mourning the loss of Salad Stuff in the Xinbei media tower complex. It has usually been thought that being a vegetarian in Changzhou is to be faced with limited options. This place, however, can be seen as a welcome alternative to those tiring of eating salads all the time.

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Some of their set meals feature the sort of faux meat you would find in vegetarian cafes in America.

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And others are just straight up veggie dishes, like the above mushroom medley. Some of the food here is even vegan friendly. There is also something for a vegetarian’s meat eating dining partner.

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The yellow curry beef here is good in a light, sweet sort of way. The other thing here, now, involves the trendiness that is Wechat.

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There is no paper menu. You have to scan a QR code to get to one on Wechat.

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Obviously, this means there are pictures of the food. Plus, if you wanted to translate the Chinese, you could simply take a screenshot and feed it into Baidu Translate on your phone.  This set up allows you to pay with your Wechat wallet.

With good quality food, extremely reasonable prices, and lots of convenience, this place is worth multiple visits. It can be found on Daduhe Road after it intersects with Huishan Road going eastwards. Essentially, its on a east-west street parallel with the southern part of Hohai University, and it’s not too far of a walk from Xinbei Wanda Plaza.

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More Vegetarian Things at Istanbul Restaurant

When I was a vegetarian, Turkish and Greek places were usually a staple of eating out. It was for one simple reason: falafel. This involves ground chickpeas formed into balls and fried. My experience eating this usually involved having a few of them shoved into split pita bread with lettuce, tomato, and tzatziki sauce.  Sometimes, hummus would be used as a condiment instead if tzatziki. Both options suited me just fine. Honestly, it really was the veggie alternative to a gyro or a doner for me. So, you can imagine the excitement I felt recently when I walked into Istanbul Restaurant for lunch recently and saw that they added falafel to their menu.

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I really enjoyed the falafel — it was crispy on the outside and moist on the inside, and it wasn’t too spicy. Falafel usually fails for me when it tastes gritty, and this had a very smooth texture.  However, I have to say I didn’t enjoy having thousand island salad dressing as a dipping sauce. But, that’s easily fixed. I ordered a delicious “usual.” Whenever I go to Istanbul Restaurant, I have to have …

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Hummus. I found myself dipping my falafel into my hummus and ignoring the thousand island altogether. And let me be honest. I like thousand island sometimes on a salad, but not with Turkish food. Not at all. The two just don’t go together in my head at all. Istanbul does so many other good and saucy appetizers that it would be a good idea to pair their falafel with any of those while ordering. A few other new menu also things surprised me.

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The place now has a Turkish version of cheese sticks. This particular item has a very soft cheese mixed with parsley. Then, it’s wrapped into thin pastry dough and fried. This is a stark reminder, though, that just because something is “vegetarian friendly” doesn’t make it quite “health food.” I noticed one or two more veggie friendly things on the new menu, but I didn’t have the time or money to try them all.

One things I love about Istanbul Restaurant is that they always seem to be willing to try new things while keeping the items their patrons love, like the pide, or Turkish pizza as it might be more commonly called. That bit of yumminess is always a reason for a return visit.

Green Salad Apparently Dead

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Vegetarians may have one less dining option in Changzhou. Green Salad was one of three actual salad bars in the city where a patron could pick and choose their own ingredients. The other two were Salad Stuff in Xinbei and Max and Salad in the basement of Zhonglou’s Injoy shopping mall. Most of the other salad eateries in Changzhou are menu orientated or strictly for delivery.

It usually is sad to see a western-friendly eatery disappear. But some of the people who ate at Green Salad could possibly understand how it could have gone under. Every time I went there, the tables were empty. No customers equals no profit. Quite often, I ordered a salad and the prep cook added stuff I didn’t ask for. The menu had lots of really bad Chinglish that made it hard to comprehend, and some of the prices per portion size were too high for something skimpy. For example, a few RMB for two slices of tomato. However, perhaps the biggest thing could have been competition. For a time, Green Salad was the only salad bar downtown. It’s closest competitor was near the media tower in Xinbei. However, Max and Salad opened less than a city block away, and Green Salad was clearly of lesser quality. Also, Eco — a menu orientated salad place — relocated from Wujin to across the street from Injoy. If you have three salad places clustered together, the nature of business suggests one of them will likely not last.

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Istanbul Restaurant is Slightly Vegan Friendly

Changzhou isn’t the most accommodating place for vegans or vegetarians. Some dishes may look like it contains only vegetables, but quite often pork stock may be used while the dish is being stewed or stir fried. Quite often, people with special dietary needs are often stuck with either Kaffa in Wujin or Indian Kitchen in Xinbei. So, when a restaurant changes its menu to include something friendly to vegans, it should be commended.

Such is the case with Istanbul Restaurant in Xinbei. Yes, the place is more well known for donor kebab dishes and other Turkish specialties. Upon my last visit, I noticed that some of the menu pages have been pulled out and replaced. Three of the new items are indeed vegan friendly — as in not only is meat not involved, but diary has been excluded as well.

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This includes a warm white bean appetizer. The legumes are served in a thin and light tomato sauce with bits of garlic. Another side dish includes cold green beans with onions in a lemon based sauce. Plus, there is now an entree of saute mushrooms with green peppers and rice. This, like the white beans, comes in a tomato based sauce.

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There are still salads available from the older menu. Also, the red lentil soup hasn’t gone anywhere. Of course, there is vegetarian pide (Turkish pizza) for those who can eat dairy and gluten. If there were one thing to be constructively critical about,  its that some of these menu items tend to be a little pricey compared to portions of what is actually being served. And while it might not be the most awesome vegan food around, it is still a new option in a city where the pickings are slim at best. After all, Changzhou is not Shanghai, and western options are more limited, comparatively speaking.

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Istanbul Restaurant is conveniently located on Taihu Road 太湖路 and in walking distance from the Wanda Plaza BRT stop. If you pass Zoo Coffee, you have walked too far.

Cian Still in Progress

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Most westerners tend to think the elderly are well taken care of in China. This is because the structure of family in the Middle Kingdom is much different than in west. Quite often, you see grandparents taking care of their grandchildren and often live with their children. This is not always the case. For example, what if you do not have children? Who takes care of you then?

China has old folks homes just like America and Europe do. Sometimes, they tend to be in Buddhist temples, however. It’s a growing trend, as China Daily points out — especially since the population of the elderly is growing due to now cancelled one child policy. This could also be why more temples are being built. This could also be why a great many current temples are having new additions being constructed. Most temples I have been to in Changzhou has some building activity going on.

One such ongoing project is Cian Temple on Wunan Road. This would be very close to the College Town area of Wujin. Wunan runs a parallel to Mingxin Road, where the southern gates of three colleges are located.  It’s essentially one street down. I first learned of the construction two years ago. I had just bought my first eBike and I had gone on my first bit of cruising and exploring. Since then, out of curiosity, I have returned there from time to time to see how the construction has progressed.

Screenshot_2016-06-11-21-05-55-04[1]Two friends recently went there, and one of them shared her experiences. As a result, I was intrigued as to whether the temple was finally open. So, I went there myself. The answer is “sort of.” It is semi-open. There is a hall with a giant gold Buddha. There are a few other places to pray. The place where people often burn joss paper to remember their dearly departed has definitely looked used. However, there are still buildings that are unused and empty. One of the main display halls still has active building with construction workers. My two friends didn’t see this, because they were given a tour by a monk. I just walked around, alone and unguided.

Doing that, however, came at the expense of a lot of information. My two friends got to see the old folks home and I didn’t. The rooms and facilities are all new. Even more, there is a vegetarian restaurant there too. However, it’s more like a cafeteria and the dining times are fixed for only half hour servings. Guests of the temple are welcome to eat there for a 5 RMB minimum donation. Essentially, you are eating with the old people who live there, as one of my two friends pointed out. The tables are segregated into male and female only, and there is no talking. One of my friends noted that the food seemed like light and easy vegetarian fare. Things like tofu and vegetables. Easy to eat again, but it comes at the expense of thinking you might be taking food from somebody else. It’s easy to see how somebody might be skeptical about going. It’s not a culinary destination.

As a religious attraction, it would be interesting to visit. The buildings are ornate with red and gold colors. The are a number of five headed dragons and other mythical creatures to be seen. You can also see a small statue of Wei Tuo 韦陀 and his middle finger. But the truth is this, as a cultural site it is not finished the way Baolin, also in Wujin’s Hutang area, almost is. All this means for me, personally, I will be going back in six months time to see how it has changed. It seems to be an ongoing story for me and  Cian Temple for years now.

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Indian Vegetarian Fare at Kaffe

Three vegetarian dishes with the obligatory rice to soak up the sauce!

Recently, I took a very dear and very close friend to Kaffe. It’s an Indian Cafe near the Wujin TV Tower and Xintiandi Park. It’s easy to get to on the B11 BRT bus. The Indian guys that run the place are super friendly, and they have no problem reducing the spiciness level to your preference. Let’s just say that, once, I ate lamb vindaloo there had both sweat dripping from my face and tears pouring from my eyes. And I couldn’t stop eating! I never knew both intense, agonizing, and excruciating pain and deliciousness could coexist! Point: I have never had a bad meal there. And good restaurants are meant to be shared.

More importantly, my friend is a vegetarian and new to Wujin, and I wanted to show her an eatery potentially friendly to her lifestyle choices. So, what did we eat? This is the point where I curse the flash on my Huawei phone’s camera. It renders food in a most unappetizing light — especially when it comes to saucy dishes. You can clearly see that in the above photo.

Anyhow, back to the point. What did we eat? I chose to defer to my friend’s vegetarianism. While I currently eat meat, I once was a vegetarian for a large part of my life.  Meat can always be foregone for the sake of pleasant company. And besides, part of me misses being moral certainty of being vegetarian. Besides, I enjoy vegetarian food anyway. So, onto the food….

There is one dish I can’t remember the Indian name for. It’s listed under “Snacks” and it’s chick peas, potatoes, and other vegetables with a drizzle of plain yogurt.  In my mind, I have always called it “Indian Potato Salad.”  Because, well, that’s what it is … a type of potato salad. There was also  mixed vegetable curry, but if your inclinations slant towards “vegan” this dish might not be for you. It has paneer in it; that is, dense, slightly sweet, cubes of Indian cheese.  I didn’t know that when we ordered. The last thing we shared was chana masala — a delicious chickpea dish easily found in most Indian restaurants back in America..

You could say we ordered two thirds of all the vegetarian options available. Kaffe’s menu is not that vast, and that’s not a complaint. I’d rather a restaurant do a limited number of things well than dozens of things poorly.