Tuesday, May 1, 2018

"small mutton"

A very brief and cool overview of vegetarian "fake meats," why they originate in China, and why they aren't nearly as popular in Japan and India:
"While mock meat has a place in some temple kitchens, much of the cooking consists of vegetables, rice, and plant-based proteins that have not been purposely twisted to resemble meats. This is especially true in Japan, where Buddhist law prohibited the consumption of four-legged animals throughout the empire for centuries, eventually doing away with the edict in the 19th century. Due to a lack of appetite for meat, Japanese people never tried to imitate it with other substances, says Akiko Katayama, a food consultant and host of the Japan Eats podcast. Similarly, in the heavily vegetarian country of India, you won’t find traditional mock meats for the same reason. 'For many Indian vegetarians, I don’t think a meat substitute would even register since meat was never a reference point to begin with,' says Chitra Agrawal, the author of the vegetarian Indian cookbook Vibrant India.
However, in China, the origins of both tofu and wheat gluten are somewhat linked to their use as meat replacements. In Mandarin, mianjin, or wheat gluten, means literally 'wheat meat' (George Ohsawa, the founder of the macrobiotic diet, coined the term 'seitan' for the same food in 1961). And tofu, a food that dates back to prehistoric times in China, was popularly known as 'small mutton' in the 10th century, according to records. Although they need not only to be enjoyed as meat analogs, they have been used as such for centuries. There is mention of seitan textured to emulate goose in the classic Chinese cookery book Recipes From the Sui Garden by the Qing Dynasty Chinese poet Yuan Mei. And the Ming Dynasty novel Journey to the West references wheat gluten several times, including a scene in which demons attempt to serve a monk a meal of human flesh and brains fried to resemble wheat gluten—that is, meat masquerading as mock meats."
The author concludes that if we always approach these foods as "substitutes" we'll never learn to appreciate their own culinary virtues.

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