The Big Issue : Edition 443
A friend suggested a restaurant for lunch – i ordered a rice salad topped with tofu and beef. the thin strips of meat appeared to have been carefully sliced with the grain, so the muscle fibres were showing in neat lines. i took a bite and marvelled at how tender and, well, meaty it tasted. My dining companion ordered tuna that flaked apart and tasted of the sea. But there was no real beef or tuna on the plate. i was dining with a vegetarian at a restaurant that specialises in mock meat: imitation meat products made from soy, mushrooms or gluten flour. they offer more variety to vegetarians, and an option for omnivores who prefer to limit their meat consumption. And chefs get very creative in the quest for authenticity. One way to make sure mock meat tastes like the real thing is to use different meat substitutes to approximate different animals. Colin fung, owner of sydney restaurant green Gourmet, says ‘fish’ is often made from tofu, ‘duck’ from wheat gluten protein, ‘chicken’ from soy protein and ‘beef’ from mushrooms. “some customers are born vegetarian,” he says. “they have never tasted meat before and they wouldn’t know what chicken or fish is like. They just accept that it’s prawn...or duck or chicken.” At vegetarian fast-food chain Lord of the fries, burger patties are made from non-genetically modified textured vegetable protein (tVP). Herbs, spices and hot water are added, then the mixture is formed into burger patties. tVP is supposed to have a meaty texture anyway, before vegetarian ‘beef’ stock is added, CEO and vegetarian Mark Koronczyk explains. “Maybe it doesn’t taste 100% the same. 18 THe big issue 11 – 24 OCT 2013 Elizabeth Redman samples the tasty world of ‘facon-bacon’, ‘soysages’ and ‘tofurkey’. Carn fauve My friend, (who was leaving the country for the month) arrived with the pickle pot in his arms. It’s a large ceramic pot, with an airtight lid. When he handed it over, it was heavy – and heavy with responsibility, too. Looking after a nuka pickle pot is like looking after an animal; it must be cared for. the nuka is alive. in Japan, pickle pots used to be so common that caring for a nuka pot while its owner was away was a job. now, pickle pots are becoming less common, because, as i was to learn, they are not easy things to care for. Maintaining a nuka pot requires attention. it must be stirred or massaged at least once a day, three times a day is better. Massaging the nuka, necessarily by hand, is an intimate experience. the massaging should make a sound, as the paste – the fermentation base is rice bran – is pulled from itself and slapped against the side of the pot. it sounds like this: thwuck, slap, thwuck, slap, thwuck, slap, thwuck, slap. There is a definite rhythm to it. this process releases a pungent aroma. it smells like a sea- weedy high-tide line after a day in the sun. the paste feels like warm, wet sand. After massaging, the nuka must be patted back down neatly, like the nuka is being put to bed. every now and then the nuka must be fed. the nuka is usually feeding off kombu (edible kelp – hence the seaside scent), and a knob of ginger or a clove of garlic, but flavours are added to the paste seasonally. By flavours I mean kitchen scraps – persimmon peel is added in the autumn, for example. the fermentation process eats the scraps and, in turn, provides a pickling base. nothing is wasted. Vegetables are immersed in this flavoured paste. After 24 hours they emerge from the pot delicious, changed, pungent. the nuka gives back to its carer by pickling whatever its carer desires. Nurturing the Nuka Pot Romy Ash gets herself in a pickle.