Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Vegetarian Gateway

When I find that someone is unfamiliar with veg cuisine and genuinely curious about what I'm eating, I take their skepticism and whisk it into sauce.

With this sauce, I coat thoroughly the unknown fruit, vegetable, grain, or fantastical treat that is up for questioning. I hold it forth nonchalantly, ever so close, but far enough that the first-timer's mouth must make the final leap. I present with a basic definition, a minor suggestion, and tell it like it is. I never say "Oh, it's just like _______." Because it's not, and I won't compare the two separate dining styles.

It is whatever food it happens to be, and you have to try it to know.

Take into account level of experience. This is a swift calculation of how many times your taster has visited a farmer's market divided by their hometown and the square root of the last time they went to Chili's. If they've come this far without encountering edamame, all you can do is make your best offer in a tasteful way.

You push anyone and you're a shitty rep of the veg. You're about as progressive as the brother-in-law who taunts you at the Thanksgiving table.

There's a reason that seitan is rapidly spreading on menus all across the city, and that my omni peers consume more of it than I do. When a naysayer and self-proclaimed foodie (these people are never actually "foodies")succumbed to a piece of seitan cheesesteak at the POPE, she didn't love it. She ate it and shrugged and stopped acting defensive. That's enough for me.

It's not about flashing your vegan badge or waving your meat flag. You should want people to try new things for the sake of experience and for the pleasure of including them in whatever wonders may lurk on your own plate. Excruciating as that is sometimes. It's a little less so when your entree speaks for itself, as some of the following plates do. This is my list of Ultimate Vegetarian Gateway Food, those concoctions that snare reluctant omnivores into vegan jello. (FYI, you can make vegan jello with agar flakes).

  • The Grilled Seitan at Horizons: I have yet to meet a single omni who criticizes this dish. In fact, most of 'em go back for it, and then use it as that one talking point to show how veg-open they are.

  • Seitan wings at El Camino Real: Omnis love these more than I do. I actually had to be convinced that they were the best veggie wings in town (I'm oddly into the ones at the Belgian Cafe, even though they're a tad on the sweet, non-spicy side).

  • Vegan Treats: I'm blatantly ovo-lacto, so I can eat cake and pastry liberally, but I rarely indulge unless it's a Vegan Treat or my own creation. Most vegan baked goods are too dry, but then, so are the bulk of regular desserts. About half of my friends are bakers, and we are still trying to figure out why Vegan Treats stand out so much. How many of us have attempted a Chocolate Peanut Butter Bomb and failed? And how many of us are terrified to try?
  • The Tofu Hoagie/Banh Mi: Notoriously cool-pointed lunch of anyone who has a single existing tastebud. If you haven't had one, you've heard dedicated squeals about how bewitching these sandwiches are.
  • The Falafel: Same as the banh mi, except easier to acquire and more of a widespread phenom. Everyone yums this up unless it's my grandfather, who once bit into my falafel thinking it was a roast beef sandwich. Then he spit it out and complained about how spicy it was. My heart broke when I peered into the fridge expecting my sandwich to be there and found out that I would not be having falafel that day.
  • Veggie Burger at National Mechanics: I once sat a table with some meat-swearing gastronomes who ordered the wildly popular veggie burger at the only sane bar in Old City, simply because they're fans. They also drank bacon vodka with it, but you can't ask for too much.

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