It feels like there’s been an explosion of vegan and vegetarian food options in Montreal lately. Even just a few years ago, the best a vegetarian could hope for was the odd salad in a restaurant, and fries. These days, every restaurant we visit seems to have an actual veggie section. And then there are the restaurants who were fully-vegetarian right from the start, through and through. Among these, one that we find has done an admirable job of making vegetarian and even vegan versions of meat dishes is Yuan.
So, just what is Yuan? It’s a Taiwanese restaurant on the corner of St. Denis and Sherbrooke who offers a fixed price all-you-can eat menu. Now, let’s be clear: Yuan is not a standard buffet at all – there are no lineups with other customers trying to nab the best food from a heating stand before it’s all gone. Rather, you order your dishes, and the staff will cook it up on the spot and bring it right to your table. And they’ll do it quickly, in great volumes, and with an endearing smile 🙂 .
Now, for those of you who have a hard time imagining vegetarian or vegan Taiwanese-Chinese food, we don’t blame you. After all, much of what you see and eat at Chinese restaurants are pretty abundant in chicken, beef, pork, duck, and seafood. Sure, there’s veggies in the dishes, but they’re often in supporting roles, and not the main event. It’s not for nothing that the last time someone surveyed America, General Tao chicken was the most popular Chinese dish, and the remaining 9 dishes on the top ten list were all meaty fare.
Getting around that takes some doing, and man, does Yuan ever get around it! In previous years, vegetarian Chinese food usually took the form of a usual dish being stripped of its meat ingredients and being served as is.
Yuan, on the other hand, actually finds or makes very, very believable or effective facsimiles of meat ingredients. So, here for example, is their General Tao dish:
And here is their take on a breaded, deep-fried cutlet smothered in curry sauce:
It’s not meat. Rather, it’s a patty made from (we’re guessing, from taste) a tarot root paste, breaded with crumbs and deep-fried. And while it’s not going to fool anyone who’s looking for the actual meat cutlet (*ahem* Henry *ahem*), it certainly does a very, very admirable job in terms of presentation and overall flavour. [Henry] I mean, I’ll never mistake it for fried chicken, but it’s certainly something that I find coming close to satisfying my craving for fried chicken.
In fact, this is what I like about Yuan. Being a lifelong fan of Chinese food (I mean, I’m pretty sure I mastered chopsticks before I mastered the knife and fork 😛 ), earlier attempts by relatives to serve me their vegetarian dishes of food I love largely fell flat. It wasn’t from a lack of effort, but from a lack of… verisimilitude? After all, substituting slabs of tofu for slices of beef wasn’t going to work.
But that’s not what Yuan does – they take tofu or tempei or seitan and put in the effort to vary their textures and make their flavours interesting and similar to palates more used to eating meat. And it’s something that they do well enough that the restaurant is among my favourites. [Mariam] This is good news for us – it can be hard to find a restaurant that can cater to a couple that’s one half carnivore and one half vegetarian!
And even when they’re not trying to emulate a meat dish, their cooking skill is pretty clear. Their fried noodles have the usual flavours you’d find in restaurants that aren’t vegetarian – this is a pretty tall order when you’re not using meat broths or animal fats in your cooking. Whatever alchemy they used, it’s working! I am not sure why this is surprising you Henry, vegetables are delicious! Always have been 😀 .
Yuan also doesn’t limit itself to just making Chinese food. They also have tom yum soup, “sushi” (obviously, vegetarian), and tempura vegetables, among quite a few others.
So, what’s our takeaway for Yuan? It’s this: It does a great job of making vegetarian Chinese food. If you don’t think it can be done, Yuan will prove you wrong 🙂 . And if you’re vegetarian, you can rejoice at the fact that there’s yet more good options for you in Montreal! But you probably already knew this 😉 .
Where to find Yuan