For the A TO Z CHALLENGE, I’m blogging for 26 days in April (except Sundays) based on the alphabet, and my theme is #foodiefiction, inspired mostly by the foods of Singapore.
V is for Vegetables
“I don’t like vegetables much.”
That was the first weird thing he told me.
And the second weird thing was the next sentence out of his mouth.
“I’m a vegetarian.”
I was intrigued.
Mutual friends had set us up. “He’s an interesting guy,” Miriam told me about her new boyfriend’s good friend. I was in a dating rut, so I shrugged and said ok.
There we were, at a vegetarian Chinese restaurant by the Singapore River – his choice of course. It was a Friday evening and it was relatively packed with locals and tourists. I had heard of this place but vegetarian food wasn’t something I was drawn to. I felt more comfortable at those Brazilian churrascaria places where the waiters came by with skewers of meat of every imaginable type – heart, rump, hump, ribs, lamb, beef, chicken, pork. I ate them all. Then called for seconds
I had asked him to place the order, as I wasn’t familiar with Chinese vegetarian food.
And he ordered sweet and sour vegetarian fish, pumpkin with vegetarian prawns, mock salmon sashimi, and Kung Pao mock chicken.
I gaped as the waitress repeated his order. He nodded and smiled.
Is this what Miriam meant by interesting? His inability to eat meat yet his obvious desire to do so? I wasn’t quite sure how to delicately ask about it, so I decided I might as well go head on.
“Why are you a vegetarian then?”
I waited for that usual spew about cruelty to animals and loving the environment.
“I’ve been vegetarian my whole life. My parents were vegetarian and they brought me up that way. I’ve never had meat. At least not to my knowledge.”
He was a meat virgin. I had never met one before. And I couldn’t help but imagine all the naughty things that I could do to him. Like bake some bacon into a cupcake. Or cook rice in chicken stock. Or dab some bakkwa onto my wrists like perfume.
We chatted about random first-datey things, like how we knew Miriam and her boyfriend, where we worked, what we did on the weekend.
He was a nice guy, sweet, polite, funny enough, cute enough. It otherwise would have been an average date, easily forgotten. But I was so intrigued by this vegetable-hating vegetarian, and I was attracted to the way he savoured his mock meats and fish. There seemed to be a carnivore inside of him just dying to claw its way out and sink its teeth into actual flesh. I imagined placing a rare ribeye steak in front of him, slowly slicing the hunk of meat, watching the bloody juices ooze out, then feeding him the tiniest of slivers with my fingers.
Instead I watched him place some mock chicken on my plate. Then I bravely picked it up with my chopsticks and shoved it into my mouth. It had the chewy springiness of chicken but with a strange not-quite-there feeling. What was I eating? It tasted more like tofu, and it probably was, but under all those sauces and spices used, it was, to be honest, not entirely easy to figure out this unnatural beast that is pretend-chicken. The vegetarian prawns were crusted in panko and deep-fried and I decided that I could pretend that this was a real prawn. But the ‘raw salmon’ blew my mind. It looked like salmon. It had that slightly jellied texture of salmon sashimi. And it had the right orange-pink hue. How was this vegetarian?
Focus, I thought, focus. I will not be tricked by these vegetables masquerading as meat. That is not meat. That is not me. I looked up at my date and he was holding out the last piece of salmon sashimi. That delicate, smooth, orange-pink slice dangled seductively from his chopsticks as he reached over the table to me. This felt so wrong – wasn’t I supposed to be the one to turn him? Why did it feel like he was gaining the upper hand and turning this meatlover into a mock meat-eater? And yet, that salmon was calling out to me, it whispered ‘eat me’. And so I did.
V is a hard letter! I tried out a couple of other V words but nothing seemed to stick so vegetables it is. I hope this doesn’t give you the wrong impression of Chinese vegetarian restaurants, not all of them focus on mock meats! In fact, I was completely taken by surprise when I had lunch at a vegetarian restaurant in Singapore last year, the meal was refreshing and delightful and so unique in their use of different vegetables and mushrooms. And yes, they even had ‘salmon sashimi’ (see the photo above).