Monday, June 11, 2007

Changing Palates

Loke Woh Yuen Vegetarian Restaurant
20-22 Tg Pagar Rd
Singapore 088443
Tel: 62212912
N and I were circling around the few streets of Tanjong Pager looking for what to have for dinner. We couldn’t make up our mind to have Korean, Peranakan, French or Chinese. Finally we decided to park the car and browse on foot instead. Incidentally we stumbled upon Loke Woh Yuen, an old guard in the art of Chinese Vegetarian Cuisine. The restaurant also serves fond memories for N as her childhood years were spent in the areas of Chinatown and Tanjong Pagar. She remembers growing up with this restaurant that used to produce one of her favourite red bean paste stuffed pastries. Spontaneously we decided to step in as we had been eating quite a bit of meat recently and haven’t had vegetarian food for a while. It would be a nice change for our palates and for nostalgic reasons, N and I used to enjoy an occasional Chinese Vegetarian Buffet lunch @ Kingsland Restaurant during courtship days.
Stepping in is like going into one of those Chinese restaurants in the suburbs of US where modernization is the last thing on the minds of the immigrant owners. Same here @ Loke Woh Yuen, the decor has been the same ever since they shifted here more than 20 years ago. Even the teapots looked more than a generation old. Chinese Vegetarian cuisine have always been considered a culinary art on its own with Cantonese and Sichuan flavours playing a major influence to the dishes. Besides fresh vegetables, tofu, wheat gluten based mock meats, fungus and legumes, fresh herbs and spices except onions and garlic, are all part of Chinese Vegetarian cuisine. I must say that Chinese Vegetarian Cuisine is one kind of comfort food that brings an individual from indulgence back to reality with humility. As it originates with Buddhist elements and teachings, its very first recognition came from the kitchens of monasteries in Southern China. It is humble food made with natures gifts that grow from and below the earth.
For some reason pertaining to the ambience of the restaurant that it made me feel like I was back in one of those Chinese American restaurants in Fort Lauderdale back in 1999, subconsciously I also ordered a menu that most typical Americans would do too only realizing it as I was writing this post. So we ended up having Spring Rolls, Mushroom Seaweed Rolls, Fried Vermicelli with Chap Chye aka Chop Suey to the Yankees, and a Sweet and Sour Mock Meat. Unfortunately, the restaurant had also stopped producing those red bean pastries that N loved so much as a child.
Food took a while to come by which I see it positively that it will be cooked from scratched. True enough every dish arrived at its own time all piping hot. The fried vermicelli (beehoon) tasted like food cooked by grandma’s hands. There was a nostalgic feel to the taste of wok fried vermicelli laden with a thick gravy of braised mixed vegetables and wheat gluten pieces. It evoked a sense of homeliness like going back to granny’s place for dinner.
The spring rolls were huge by size, all tightly packed with shredded carrots, jicama (Bang Kwang), mushrooms and vegetarian mock chicken. Served with a sweet bean sauce, the rolls were very good with a nice crunch and sweetness from the sauce and vegetables encrusted by a crispy crackling pastry skin.
N like the Mushroom Seaweed Rolls too which to me was more like nuggets as they were coated in a thin but very crispy batter and served with cocktail mayonnaise, interestingly though. Each crispy morsel was a burst of savoury mushrooms against the background taste of seaweed.
The Sweet and Sour Mock Pork was one of the best tasting versions I have had so far. The fruity sauce with plum notes was just enough to coat each piece of skillfully prepared deep fried gluten that had been made to resemble the texture of real pork belly used in the actual dish. It didn't look nor tasted too far from the original thing and this was really delicious eaten with steamed rice. It is true that sometimes vegetarian food can get a little too oily due to some of its cooking methods but with bitter tea to cut the greasiness; it was the just perfect for me and N. Later that evening, we ended having vegetarian desserts too, but that will be in the next post.

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