MANILA, Philippines – The traditionally rich five-star Chinese feast has been given a healthy-lifestyle makeover at the Mabuhay Palace of the Manila Hotel as it recently introduced its revitalized vegetarian menu.
In a 10-course lauriat presented to select food writers, the hotel’s executive Chinese chef Sun Bing prepared vegetarian takes on popular Chinese dishes that won’t leave diners pining for the real thing.
Take, for instance, his vegetarian “Beijing duck,” which has been given the thumbs-up by the restaurant’s customers, according to executive sous chef and officer in charge Josephine Yu Tanganco-Candelaria.
“I asked them to try some of the food na, and they liked it,” she said.
Like the real Peking duck, the vegetarian version also had the same interplay of textures from the crispy “skin” to the tender “meat,” and enhanced by the sweet hoisin sauce. This was achieved by using an assortment of mushrooms and sea moss to approximate the texture of the meat, while the crunch comes from bean curd skin rubbed with a secret mixture before it is deep-fried.
This was followed by round slices of steamed lotus root, which look like Chinese luncheon meat, although Bing clarified that this wasn’t the intention. The lotus root “patties” are also created with finely ground glutinous rice then glazed with Osmanthus sauce.
Chef Bing likens this dish to a terrine and is meant to complement the vegetarian duck. “Para maalis iyung umay, ito ‘yung kasunod because of the sauce,” Tanganco-Candelaria said.
Bing also mentioned that his creations are “real vegetarian” in the sense that they are not just meat-less dishes but truly reflects “the Chinese view on food as nourishment and improves one’s health.” Not only are these dishes without animal proteins like pork, chicken or even fish, they also don’t have vegetables like onions.
In terms of preparation, Bing also limits himself to techniques such as stir-frying and steaming “which brings out the natural flavors of each dish.”
“More importantly, Chinese cuisine follows the balance of the yin and yang ingredients: the yin (moist and wet) cools down the body and the yang (crisp and dry) heats it up,” the hotel also noted in its backgrounder on the new menu.
This balance is visually presented in the next dish: the Yin Yang Wintermelon and Spinach Soup. The duo of soups has the green spinach on one side of the bowl, and the wintermelon on the other, to create the yin yang symbol.
But in terms of visual appeal, the most intriguing dish was the baby squash stuffed with vegetarian meat and mushrooms. The kitchen used the squash itself as the bowl for the dish. After cutting the top of the squash, which then becomes a sort of cover, they carved the inside of the squash then placed the stew-like mushrooms and bits of vegetarian “ham” and “pork.” Bing explained that they cooked the vegetables separately before placing it inside the craving and the whole thing is then steamed for about 30 minutes, allowing the meat of squash to be easily scraped off while enjoying the rest of the dish.
In terms of taste, however, the stir-fried celery with black bean curd and Chinese wolfberry proved to be the most interesting since it was the only one that had hints of spice. (Bing said diners can request if they don’t want chili.)
Despite the absence of meat, the entire meal proved to be filling without the uncomfortable feeling one gets from binge eating. Perhaps it’s because the rice was served last – which is typical in many Chinese lauriats. The rice is based on the popular machang as it comes wrapped in lotus leaves.
The dessert also added a certain richness to the whole meal – steamed sweet taro filled with red bean curd.
The hotel noted that after thousands of years, the Chinese way of dining still thrives and continues to inspire people to have a healthy lifestyle.
Here’s one long meal that diners can enjoy without the guilt.