Every month, Diversivore launches two new thematic features. This month’s recipe feature is all about East Asian vegetarian and vegan food. Keep coming back for updates and recipes related to this theme, or subscribe to make sure you don’t miss out on anything new.
The Lunar New Year is coming up soon (February 8th, to be exact), and it’s a pretty important time of the year where I live… not to mention across nearly all of East and Southeast Asia. I live in Richmond, BC, a city that’s 49% ethnic Chinese, so the Lunar New Year (often simply referred to as Chinese New Year) is a pretty big deal here. When you add in those who originally hail from countries like Vietnam and Korea, the majority of people in my city are used to some pretty spectacular celebrations at this time of year. Though my own ancestry is not Asian, it’s a special time of the year for me too – my wife’s family is from Taiwan, and I have two little boys who get to grow up with this as a part of their cultural heritage.
The Lunar New Year brings a lot of spectacular festivities with it, and a lot of great food. I mean, seriously, the food is ridiculous. So many people travel home (either literally or from an ancestral perspective) at this time of year that many parts of Asia basically grind to a halt while everyone takes a holiday. There’s not much to do other than eat, spend time with family and friends, and eat some more. And while feasting on all manner of dishes is a huge, multi-day component of the Lunar New Year, many people are surprised to learn just how important vegetables and vegetarian dishes are at this time of the year. In fact, many important New Year’s dishes are vegetarian, and many people abstain from eating meat on at least some of the days involved in the Lunar New Year festivities.
The vegetarian and vegan cuisines of East Asia may ranks among some of the most innovative and delicious in the world. While it’s true that many of the most well-known, and certainly some of the most dramatic Asian dishes focus on meat (roast pig and Peking duck for example), the meat-free dishes can be show-stoppers in their own right. The impact of the meat-based dishes is hardly surprising, given the fact that meat was for a very long time an expensive and extravagant treat in much of Asia. But the wealth of vegetables and the influence of Buddhism have driven the development of incredible meals that either focus on vegetables or on stunningly authentic faux-meats made from soy and gluten. One of the most delicious and memorable meals I’ve ever had was a purely vegetarian feast prepared and served at a Buddhist temple at Lion’s Head Mountain in Taiwan. The food was astonishingly good, and many of the dishes included meat substitutes that would have left even the most die-hard carnivores satisfied.
To celebrate the remarkable vegetarian food of East Asia, Diversivore will be featuring vegetarian and vegan dishes from and inspired by the cuisines of this region. Many of these will star vegetables from this month’s other feature on Chinese green vegetables, and there might even be a few holdovers from last month’s citrus and Japanese features (what can I say? I ended up with too many good recipes and not enough time to post them all).