I really only have three major deal breakers when it comes to men. I could never date a smoker or someone who doesn’t want children and I could most certainly never date a picky eater. And I’m sorry to say, but I’ve always considered vegetarians a subset of picky eaters.
I know you may have ethical or religious reasons for being a vegetarian and I respect that, I really do, but food and the experience of eating it at home, in restaurants, on the street, in different countries is far too important to me to be with someone who puts such large restrictions on what they eat.
Ironically, I happen to be working on a film in which a man, separated from his true love for 40 years, decides to abstain from meat as a sign of his devotion and a tribute to the purity of his love and ends up becoming a vegetarian chef. I think the significance of all that requires some cultural context that I’m not quite qualified to give, but it seems like a romantic notion.
It was hard for me to unthink my stereotypes about vegetarians and the restaurants that cater to them. Aside from maybe Pure Food & Wine or Dirt Candy (which I have yet to try), vegetarian food in New York seems mostly limited to healthful slops of mung beans and kale shoveled down by animal rights activists, NYU undergrads or self-satisfied yoga practitioners. The same sort of people who don’t seem to actually enjoy food and in fact, give up eating altogether for weeks at time in the name of “cleansing” parts of their anatomy that were never really meant to be clean.
In Taiwan, however, vegetarian cuisine is elevated to something of an art. Earlier this week, my family friends took me to Evergreen, a bi-level vegetarian restaurant that has a casual buffet downstairs and a more elegant dining room upstairs. Unlike most restaurants in Taiwan, which serve food “family style,” there is a tasting menu with several courses, which are served in individual portions.
We began with what I think was the best part of the meal: a juice that was made from yam leaves, apples and lemon. Though the drink had absolutely no sweeteners (natural or otherwise), it was amazingly sweet and really rather delicious. It tasted incredibly fragrant and fresh and we were told to drink it immediately because the ingredients would begin to oxidize after a few minutes.
Other excellent dishes included a bean curd skin dish that had just the right crispy layers outside and juicy, chewy center that might almost make you forget you’re not eating meat:
A mock shark’s fin soup that had bamboo shoots, mushrooms, scallions, cilantro and taro.
Sauteed yam leaves with fresh ginger in some sort of delicious sauce
A hand roll, which appeared pretty pedestrian when it was first placed in front of me, but ended up being surprisingly tasty. My mother’s friend didn’t know the English word for those beige wirey things that gave it a fantastic crunch, but whatever they were, they were yummy.
Some sort of vinegar non-alcoholic digestif, the only beverage I’ve had in Taiwan that was served with ice.
I’ve started to really enjoy drinking vinegars and had pinapple and rose-flavored ones at a different restaurant. Just don’t make the same mistake I did, which is to down it like a shot. Apparently, it’s meant to be sipped and is supposed to aid in digestion.
Our dessert course was you tiao, deep-fried bread sticks commonly eaten at breakfast, whose name literally translated means “oil sticks.” Despite the rather unappetizing name, they’re very tasty (like a denser, chewier churro without the cinnamon and sugar.) They were served with hot almond milk.
I must say, I was impressed by the flavors, the presentation and the excellent service and must concede that it was more than I imagined vegetarian cuisine could be. But I think I’ll stick to being an omnivore and maintain my hard line stance against dating vegetarians. Is it so much to ask for a man who eats everything?
Evergreen Vegetarian Restaurant
38 XinSheng North Road,
Section 2, Taipei