Mock meats occupy a strange no man’s land in most people’s culinary maps. For vegans and vegetarians, the thought of consuming something that is meant to mimic meat can often be an uncomfortable proposition, while for those who love their flesh, a meat substitute just seems strange and laughable.
But mock meats are much more than a half-hearted effort at throwing some soy at a normally carnivorous recipe. Mock meats were born out of Buddhist cuisine, where ingredients as varied as tofu, tempeh and seitan were crafted into meat analogues that not only provided vegetarians with sources of protein, but opened up a whole new avenue in experimentation and creation in vegetarian cuisine. Mock meats also allowed Buddhist vegetarians to extend hospitality to their omnivorous neighbours, offering guests familiar dishes that didn’t cause the hosts to break their beliefs. Mock meats are more than mere imitations; they’ve evolved into a compelling cuisine all of their own.
Melbourne has several vegetarian restaurants that offer high-quality mock meat experiences. Why not open up your culinary landscape a little, and give the following eateries a try.
Enlightened Cuisine looks like your standard higher-end Chinese restaurant, and a glance at the menu would cause you to think that you’d wandered into a meat-lover’s paradise. But everything here is vegetarian (yes, even the ‘shark fin’ soup). This is definitely a place where you want to sample as much as possible, so we recommend the banquet options, where you can get soups, nested Kung Po ‘chicken’, spicy tofu, a banana fritter and more in the one sitting. And if you’re still feeling peckish, there are fridges and freezers by the entrance filled with mock meat treats that you can purchase and take home to try.
White Lotus is the grand old man of the mock meat scene. Their cooking style follows strict Buddhist traditions, which means there’s no garlic or any members of the onion family present, making the complex flavours all the more remarkable. The menu is interesting and varied, with everything from taro cutlets to tamarind ‘fish’. But really, there’s only one dish here that you really need to try: the crispy roast mock duck served with snow peas and bean shoots. This is the high god king of all mock meat dishes. If you are at all unconvinced about the skill and potential deliciousness of mock meats, this dish is the one with the most potential to convert you.
185 Victoria Street, West Melbourne
(03) 9326 6040
Hours: Thu to Sat 6pm–10pm
Madame K’s Vegetarian
Madame K’s is a newcomer to the mock meat scene, having opened at the start of this year. Its approach is a pan-Asian one, and you can sample dishes inspired by a variety of cuisines. From curries filled with tempeh, or the Massaman mushroom ‘lamb’ served with cashew nuts and mashed sweet potato, to the tom yum soup with vegie prawns and the nasi goreng with soy chicken satay, there’s a whole holiday of mock meats to try. If you’re sharing, make sure to order a plate of the emperor rice, which comes with soy duck strips and plump lychees.
367 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
(03) 9415 6099
Open for lunch and dinner daily
Like Enlightened Cuisine, Vegie Hut models itself on a traditional Cantonese restaurant and you’ll find mock meat versions of all your favourite Chinese dishes, like lemon chicken and sweet and sour pork. But it’s what goes down for Sunday lunch that makes the trek out to Box Hill worthwhile. We’re talking completely vegetarian yum cha. Stuff yourself silly with sesame prawn toasts, smoky mock pork buns, steamed ‘ribs’ and oodles of dumplings. The yum cha sessions are enormously popular, so we recommend that you book in advance.
Bo De Trai
Nestled amongst the countless Vietnamese eateries that inhabit Footscray’s Little Saigon is Bo De Trai, a little vegetarian paradise. Find a seat amongst the Buddha shrines and armies of maneki nekos (‘beckoning cat’ statues that adorn many restaurants) and prepare for delicious veggie versions of all your favourite Vietnamese dishes. While there’s plenty of mock pork and chicken dishes to pique your interest, the absolute star here is the wonton soup, a veggie reimagining of pho, with strips of tofu and crispy mock-filled wontons floating about in the tastiest broth you ever did see.
94 Hopkins Street, Footscray
(03) 9689 9909
Hours: Daily 10am–7pm (to 8pm Fri and Sat nights)