October 03, 2011
My plate at Katrina's house
I was reading a fabulous post on Vegan Culinary Crusade about a dining extravaganza in San Francisco, and the question at the end of the post was, "What is the most mind-blowing vegan meal you've ever eaten?" Well, because the post was about a restaurant meal, it made me think about all the great vegan meals I've ever had in restaurants. There have been many, but the one that always pops into my head first was a wonderful and unusual Chinese dinner we had on one of our vacation road trips.
Celery and asparagus with marinated tofu
When the kids were younger and still at home, our favorite summer vacation was to pile the kids, cooler and camping equipment into the car and head far away to a beautiful National Park for a week or two of camping and hiking. Once we got to the park, of course, we lived in our tent and cooked and ate outside, but on the way, we stayed in motels, fixed our own breakfasts and lunches, and tried to find suitable vegan restaurants for dinner en route.
Wide rice noodles with tofu and vegetables
We tried to plan dinner stops in towns with vegan-friendly restaurants, but that wasn't always possible, especially back in the "olden days" when vegans and vegan-friendly accommodations were pretty scarce. We were driving through Montana on one of our trips, and I'd previously read a review of a Chinese restaurant in Butte that sounded good. I don't know what Butte is like now, but back then, well, it wasn't exactly a hotbed of vegetarianism. Nor was Montana in general. We weren't staying in Butte, but passing through at dinner time, and the Chinese restaurant sounded like the best option for miles around.
Bok choy with garlic
When we finally spotted the restaurant, we were a little uncertain. It seemed kind of remote from the town, and looked like it needed to be rebuilt, if you know what I mean. We hemmed and hawed, then, mostly out of the necessity of feeding five hungry people — three of them kids — we went inside. Our confidence was not restored when the first thing we saw was a sign from the Health Department warning customers to drink the water at their own risk, with a long list of contaminants. A Chinese dinner without water? Was that even possible?
Once at our table, we perused the menu, and things were definitely not looking up, but I am an optimist, and the waiter was so nice. I explained that we were vegetarians and wanted food with no blah blah blah. You know the drill.
"Vegetarians? Vegetarians?" he asked, with glee and a big smile. I didn't know how to interpret his reaction. Did he find this amusing? Then he said, "The cooks are all vegetarians six days a week. They eat meat on the seventh day, you know, to keep up their strength. They love to cook vegetarian but not many vegetarians around here, so they never get the chance, except for themselves. I asked him what we should order, and he said not to worry, the cooks would make us a good meal.
Tofu stuffed with mushrooms (much smaller than it looks here!)
We were giddy with anticipation and surprise. This was so unexpected. That night we were served an amazing dinner with dish after dish of what I think of as "real" Chinese food. It was unlike anything we had ever had in any other restaurant, and I dreamed about the flavors for a long, long time. I can't even remember what we ate that night, or even the name of the restaurant, but I'll never forget the delight of tasting each forkful.
Spinach and tofu soup
I have a similar reaction whenever I eat at the home of our friend Katrina, who is from China. The photos you're seeing (not so great ones from my phone camera) are from a meal we had at her home this past summer. Everything was exceptional as always. Sadly, I don't have recipes for any of Katrina's dishes from this past summer, but I'm including a link to recipes for two of her other dishes (spinach and tofu soup, and Katrina's cold noodles with ginger and nori), that appeared in a past post, and both are worth revisiting.
Cold noodles with ginger and seasoned nori