We approach with some trepidation, this is not a place we would venture into if it wasn’t for the quest. It has an attitude to food that is basically alien to Strop and I. Generally we’ll eat anything as long as it tastes good and isn’t moving. The Green Gourmet on the other hand has lots of rules about what can and can’t be eaten. But they don’t mind pretending to eat things they’re not allowed to. Like meat.
I really don’t understand the whole meat analogue aspect of vegetarian cuisine. I mean, if you don’t want to eat meat, why eat pretend meat? Aren’t there enough vegetable out there? Like a lot of mysteries it arises out of tradition rather than logic. According to the wiki, Buddhist vegetarian cuisine grew out of what was cooked in monasteries. The monasteries also provided room and board for travellers and visiting family, and in order to make them feel more at home, they served familiar meals. Except that the meat was substituted for something else, usually some form of gluten. Gluten doesn’t have much flavour of its own, but the texture and appearance can be manipulated if you know what you are doing and over time the gluten-based meat analogues became very sophisticated, right down to reproducing the follicles on the skin of roast chicken. Apart from anything else you have to admire the skill and dedication that this represents. And they don’t think it’s weird. That’s the really weird thing.
We have brought along the Stropolina and her vego-gangsta mate MLE to add a bit of serious vegetarian insight to the whole experience. MLE has similar feelings to ourselves about the faux-food. Apart from any intellectual misgivings she may have, she finds it weird to eat because the textures and tastes set off her finely-tuned meat radar. An evening full of gluten masquerading as meat is likely to overload her meat defences and leave her vulnerable to a sneak attack by a side of bacon.
Green Gourmet is a big place and always seems to be busy, full of all the vegetarians and buddhists hiding out in Newtown. Unfortunately the list of things that Green Gourmet doesn’t serve aligns fairly closely with my own list of favourite foods: meat alcohol, eggs, dairy, onion and garlic. I find this ideological approach to eating both scary and fascinating. We were ready for no meat, egg or dairy – we even googled vegan, just to be sure – but the alcohol thing was a bit of a surprise, – “Really,” said Strop. “Are you sure? Cause I think I’m going to need a drink.” – and the onion and garlic thing – they cause loathsome odours and lustful impulses apparently – bought on more head scratching. Oh well, what can we eat then?
Quite a lot really, but the first decision is whether we are dining a la carte or a la buffet – where you load up your plate and pay by the weight. We opt for ordering from the menu and being waited on, but I do find myself drawn to the idea of paying for food by weight.
In lieu of alcohol we opt for jasmine tea and fresh coconut water. The menu covers a lot of territory with sections devoted to Raw & Salad, Steamed Yum Cha & Dim Sim, Crispy Pan Fried, Mushrooms, Tofu and Tofu Pillows, and Claypots, as well as Better_Than_Meat.
We decide early on to go the whole hog and embrace gluten in all its forms, starting with Crispy Beijing Duck Wrap pancakes. Everyone enjoys these, although the Stropolina comments that using Hoisin sauce is cheating because it makes everything taste good. Next up is Chestnut Sang Choy Bow. I quite enjoy this as it is nice and crunchy in its lettuce leaf wrapper, but the Stropolina can’t finish hers, tapping out after only a few mouthfuls. With the entrees out of the way the table rapidly fills up with plates. There is a Malay-ish curry with potato and chicken substitute which is nice enough but I am beginning to understand what onion brings to the table normally. Better_Than Salt & Pepper Calamari isn’t, especially when it starts to get cold. Shantung Not Chicken is good although we do spend a fair bit of time examining the follicles on the skin of the Not Chicken. Ginger Sea Treasures turns out to be a rolled up thin pancake with seaweed mushrooms and ginger and it is very nice. We order Five Grain Rice to accompany all of this and it turns out to be a combination of rice, beans, barley and buckwheat. It is nice enough but I can’t finish mine, however Strop likes hers and asks for a container to take the rest of mine home.
As usual we have over-ordered, mainly out of curiosity this time rather than greed which is the normal situation. Even though I am full, I quite like the idea of trying some tofu ice cream, but I am voted down by MLE who decides that we need cocktails to overcome our alcohol deficits more than we need dessert analogues.
We relocate to a bar where we partake of complex combinations of exotic alcohols and contemplate the evening. It has turned out to be more of an anthropological investigation than a normal dining experience, the Not_Food more interesting as a curiosity than as actual food.
Next time it is more Asian food, this time Japanese at Asakusa. I am still hanging out for a steak.