Was it possible before Impossible?
In the past few years, demand for fake meat products has surged in the Western world, as people seek environmentally sustainable and healthier alternatives to meat.
Two of the biggest US plant-based food companies, “Impossible Foods” and “Beyond Meat,” have made millions from a growing appetite for meat-free burgers.
But long before the first plant-based patties hit the grill in the West, China had been creating and flavoring traditional meat-based dishes out of mushrooms, nuts and vegetables.
“It shadows and parallels Chinese cuisine … it is incredibly diverse and in every part of the country you have a different version,” said food writer Fuschia Dunlop.
Some records of monks eating tofu-based “vegetarian meat” date back as early as the Song Dynasty in the 10th century. It was known as “fanghun cai” or literally “imitation meat dish.”
China’s early adoption of fake meat products is closely linked to its long history of Buddhism.
“A central tenet of Buddhism is respect for all living creatures, and vegetarianism is common among its followers. China’s monasteries provided a strict vegetarian diet, they would often have to accommodate for the dietary choices of visiting pilgrims or patrons.”
Peanuts, lotus and yam– oh my!
Wang takes great pride in creating his wide range of fake meat dishes at Baihe Restaurant.
In his kitchen, he carefully shapes a single, large king oyster mushroom into small cubes which will soon become vegetarian “kung pao chicken.”
Adding flour, oil, cashews and sugar, among other ingredients, the mixture is tossed into a boiling hot wok. The final piping-hot product has the signature sweet-but-savory taste, with a consistency similar to the meat it’s intended to mimic.
According to Wang, in recent years industrialization has meant much of China’s fake meat comes from factories rather than being made in kitchens.
“For example, for pork ribs, the bone is made from lotus root, while the meat is made from potato, mushrooms and peanut protein,” Wang said. He said the ribs need to sit overnight before they’re ready to be served.