Luke Tsai’s compelling article on Veggie Lee, put the vegetarian Chinese restaurant high on my priority list and I recently had a chance to eat there-- the first of many future visits since I’m in that area a lot.
The chef/owner used to work at Daimo, and his chops were reflected in his flawless execution with greens like the Shanghai bok choy in a bean curd skin dish or even the western broccoli that that laid underneath his version of General’a chicken.
Veggie Lee conforms with Buddhism Chinese practices by not using garlic or onion, and I didn’t notice their absence in the dishes we tried. The ‘toon pancake’ is their take on a scallion pancake, greaseless, thin, and flaky, and uses leaves from the Toon tree to approximate the onion taste. The resemblance is uncanny and you’d be remiss to not order this $3.95 item.
We got the General’s chicken to add heft to the meal. The sauce was tangy and barely sweet and the flavor of the gluten was more pronounced than the chicken would be in versions made wth breast meat. All in all, an admirable version, but I’d like more heat.
On the downside, the e-fu noodles were overcooked and I regret not taking my dining companion’s suggestion to test the chef’s wok hei skills with chow fun.
I looked into that more. And I found a number of different explanations of why certain sects of Buddhism don’t use the five pungent roots (garlic, onion, shallot, mountain leek, asafoetida, shallot).
they excite the senses. Eaten raw- distemper. Eaten cooked- aphrodisiac.
buddhist don’t eat root vegetables because that kill the plants
Looks like Hinduism and Jainism also avoid these in quantities. Interestingly, Sattvic diet avoids onions and garlic because of inflammation concerns. But I wonder if that has influence from Hinduism originally.
I didn’t know about Buddhism’s avoidance of onion and garlic. And now that I think about this more, garlic and onion wasn’t used at Chua Giac Minh, which would explain why the food tastes a little differently.
If I may say, LOL, doesn’t wok hay ‘excite the senses’ like garlic and onions do?
I didn’t realize there was no asafoetida in Buddhist
Traditions. I looked this up further and found a website that breaks down various prohibitions and religions/systems regarding alliums, and associated explanations. Curious that toon leaves would be acceptable— I couldn’t find anything on this on a cursory web search.
The Buddhist tradition seems to favor breath of wok rather than breath of onion. Makes sense
He does a good job at deep fried items, leaving nothing greasy— salt and pepper pumpkin is as good as top Cantonese places, and has a bit of toasted chili flavor. Salt and pepper vegan chicken is pretty good, and orange and sesame chicken join the General Tso’s as better than most chicken-based versions of those dishes I’ve had in California, not too sweet or gloopy.
Greens (pea shoots, broccoli, and chinese broccoli), have been perfectly cooked across four visits and in different dishes.
Crispy Dry Soy Seaweed Fried Rice: Dry soy is similar to the dry soy sometimes in banh mi, and plays a dry salty umami role similar to pork floss. Not too oily.
Mixed nut dishes, including his take on honey walnut shrimp, include hazelnuts.
I’ve yet to try the Hong Kong style chow mein, but so far the Noodle dishes seem to be a weakness. Black bean beef chow fun— disappointing with no char. It’s not listed as a menu option, but perhaps I’ll see it they’ll make it ‘dry style’ next time.
Thai style fish filet— I could eat this all day-- slightly fish tasting interior made from gluten and outer coating of seaweed to resemble fish skin. However, I don’t feel the dish came together as a whole or built upon the “fish” which he sources and I’ve had elsewhere.
Toons fried rice with pine nuts is similar to what I remember about the Crispy Dry Soy Seaweed Fried Rice—- eggless and allium-less, but big savory flavors and not too oily. Onion-like flavor from toons and crunchy bits of (I believe) fried tofu skin give the impression of fried shallots. This is way better than the Eel Fried rice at nearby Bamboo Steamer , which, despite the chef’s pedigree at Koi Palace, was oily and lacking in any wok hei.