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Soy Chicken: Not Just for Vegans Anymore

December 29, 2009

When I heard that our group was going to a vegan restaurant, I was more than a bit skeptical.  On the way there, my wife said, “I’m very hungry.”  I joked, “Well after we eat, we’ll see if we can get you some food.”  I know that it is difficult for plain old vegetarians to find a variety of choices in the majority of restaurants.  So I know it must be close to impossible for vegans to find much of anything in local eateries, since pretty much all American cuisine includes butter, eggs or cheese.  In fact, I think the new sampler platter at Chili’s is just a plate of butter, eggs and cheese.

The Vegan Plate in Studio City is a haven for vegans, a place where one doesn’t have to ask if any of the dishes contain any animal products, because they don’t.  Want milk in your coffee?  Soy milk it is.  The majority of the menu is Thai-based, which makes the leap to veganism much easier than an American-based menu, since most Thai food does not use butter, eggs or cheese.  Mainstream Thai does, however, include a lot of beef, chicken and shrimp, but the Vegan Plate has an answer for that.  You can add soy chicken, soy beef or soy fish to any of the menu options (along with tofu if you prefer).  Herein lay my skepticism – can fake chicken (or “ficken” as I call it) be edible, let alone taste remotely like chicken?

The answer is…sort of.  We ordered a large number of dishes: a cucumber salad, papaya salad, Chinese broccoli with steak, garlic pepper tofu, orange chicken, spicy noodles with chicken, pad thai with tofu, and something called Praram’s Plate.  (Keep in mind when I say “chicken” or “steak,” I mean ficken or “fake” (fake steak)).

The salads and tofu dishes were good, certainly no worse than I’ve had in non-vegan Thai dining establishments.  As for the “fake” with Chinese broccoli, the first thing that ran through my mind was that it tasted more like chicken than steak.  But it wasn’t bad – it was thick and tender, and didn’t have any kind of aftertaste that I had anticipated.  The orange ficken was actually quite good – of course anything deep fried is going to be tolerable, but the ficken was juicy and tasted pretty close to the real clucker.  By contrast, the ficken in the spicy noodle dish and Praram’s Plate was very thin, and tasted nothing like chicken.  I really didn’t care for it in the noodle dish, which was average even without the ficken.  Praram’s featured a great, thick peanut sauce, along with spinach, and the ficken did provide a nice vehicle for the sauce.

I can greatly appreciate the experience a vegan restaurant has to offer.  Some vegetarians/vegans enjoy the taste of meat, but due to health and/or moral reasons, they choose not to eat it.  Places like the Vegan Plate provide a wide array of dishes where one can get the texture and taste (sort of) of real meat, but can still maintain their dietary standards.  And even though we ate a lot of food, I did not feel full at the end of the meal.

In an ideal, perfect world, this is how people should eat.  Normally people eat until they’re stuffed, and what they’re stuffed with is usually unhealthy.  The Vegan Plate shows that you can eat a lot of food – food that tastes good (or good enough), and still get all the nutrition your body needs, and you don’t feel like a bowling ball at the end of dinner.  Would I go back to this eatery, or any other strictly vegan restaurant?  Unless I’m with a vegetarian or vegan, probably not.  But if you’re looking for the experience I’ve described, the Vegan Plate is worth a visit.  The Mouse House Kitchen gives the Vegan Plate 3 out of 5 stars!

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