Vegetarian Pork – 72 of 365

Vegetarian Sweet and Sour Pork

An English language commercial for PETA belting out of a clothing store’s sidewalk speaker seemed so incongruous with the very local surroundings far from Saigon’s touristland.  And how ironic that only steps away vendors oblivious to PETA’s message hacked away at various animal parts.   I highly doubt the lady cutting up the foul smelling fish had any inkling either what this this online streaming radio station was advertising to her stretch of sidewalk.  I even spotted a roasted dog atop a wooden table just awaiting its final resting place at the dinner table within earshot of this public service announcement asking for an end to animal cruelty.

Even more ironic was the tune next up on the play list…Life Goes On by the Beatles.  Hadn’t PETA just moments before told us not to kill or eat animals and now station plays this?  Yes, I love this dichotomy we call Saigon, and indeed life does go on for our barnyard friends at mealtime here in Vietnam.   Anything with fur, feathers or scales is fair game with no part of the animal left sacred.

My friend Laurel’s vegetarian diet shields her from these tasty animal treats, and with some recent visions of unidentifiable animal parts hanging from metal hooks in the market still dancing in my head, I decided to give her way of eating a chance.   Never one to shy away from a new cuisine, I gladly went to dinner with Laurel to try something new.  So during a work overnight in Hanoi we put my tastebuds to the test at an exclusively vegetarian restaurant in the Tay Ho district called Amitayus at 184 Xuan Dieu Road.

First off, what is this vegetarian pork, chicken, snail and so on mess listed all over the menu? Isn’t this supposed to be a PETA friendly joint sans meat?  This being Vietnam, one can never be so sure things are as they seem, and vegetarian pork could just be vegetables served with some bona fide bacon.  Seriously, a soup joint downtown sells “vegetarian” soup with actual chunks of chicken floating around the broth.   We ordered the safe bets of stir fry pineapple tofu and a spicy lemongrass chili mushroom dish and then experimented with the pork in sweet and sour sauce to verify if this vegetarian food product had actually oinked in a former life.

Under the watchful gaze of multiple framed Dali Lama pictures, I maneuvered a piece of the slippery “pork” into my mouth with chopsticks.  Biting into the spongy strip unlocks a tofu like taste with the texture of dried apricots.   Our “meat” dish proved tasty enough and definitely did not start life in a pigpen.  What this stuff was who even knows and in Vietnam some questions are best left unprobed as the answer can prove a bit too shocking.

A 100% vegetarian diet most likely will never grace my food plates but as long as choices such as vegetarian pork abound, I am happy to nip around the fringes of this lifestyle.  I am glad Laurel introduced me to a delicious world of undiscovered dishes waiting to be sampled.

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Categories: Vietnamese Food

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