Fast Food Asian-Style
Like most things in life there is an up side to everything, at least I’d like to think so. Fast food is one of those things. When it comes to the majority of “foods on the go,” especially American versions, the lack of nutritional value, over the top fat content, and super-sized portions can have disastrous consequences on your health. Fat and salt is what gives most fast foods their flavor and in a sense make them practically addictive to the palate. American fast food leads the pack in unhealthy fat and sodium levels.
On a recent jaunt to Boston, we set out to sample a few ethnic versions of portable food. What a wonderful surprise. Our first stop was New Saigon Sandwich (located at 696 Washington St.), a small Vietnamese take out place in the heart of Chinatown. New Saigon Sandwich had come highly recommended by some friends because of their vegetarian selections, especially a sandwich made with marinated tofu and fresh vegetables.
The recommendation could not have been any luckier. The sandwich we sampled was so simple and fresh, and not loaded with complex sauces. The tofu, crisp lettuce, jalapeño, cucumber, and slivered carrots were all lightly sprinkled with ginger soy sauce. But the big surprise was the bread – the French influence on Vietnam can be tasted in these small perfectly baked baguettes. With almost no chewy center and a crispy crust that flaked like paper, it was the perfect complement to the vegetables and tofu. This establishment, like many in Chinatown, offers a wide variety of soups and vegetarian spring rolls, but for us, it was the idea of “sandwich” that was so intriguing. If you have accessibility to traditional ethnic cuisines where you live, I encourage you to explore these places for lunch or a light supper.
TVP or “mock-meats” are getting a lot of attention these days, and for good reason. With up to eighty percent less fat than lean animal meats, these products lend themselves remarkably well to many recipes that traditionally use beef, lamb, chicken, turkey, or pork. In fact, some of the most popular recipes on our website are made with TVP and we get a lot of mail with questions about how to use these products.
Mock-meat sales at college cafeterias have more than doubled in the past few years and general market sales are expected to reach record highs by 2008. There are a number of companies that produce these meat alternatives and they have improved taste and texture significantly. Their popularity is understandable, as they provide a low fat meatless option to transitional vegetarians or flexitarians who desire kicking the meat habit, but are not ready to walk away from many of their favorite, traditional meat-based dishes.
At first, I was a bit ambivalent about using mock-meat, but I must admit that I enjoy not only the culinary challenge of preparing it, but also the positive response of diehard meat eaters to dishes prepared with TVP. Consuming meat replacers a few times a week will make a huge difference to your overall health while helping reduce the negative impact a meat-based diet has on animals and the environment. It’s a win win situation, no matter how you look at it.
I was reading a few prominent internet articles this week about nutrition and promoting healthy foods for kids. Over ninety percent of the recipes suggested in the articles contain dairy and cheese, swap out chicken for beef, and promote substituting turkey for just about everything except shampoo. America’s ongoing romantic relationship with meat and dairy is both disturbing and dangerous. The idea that one might consider eating meat or dairy free at least three times a week is a concept that pushes people into panic mode. However, amidst all of this chaotic and conflicting information, I was heartened to learn that there has been a remarkable increase in college student demand and desire to eat vegan and vegetarian.
Nearly one quarter of college students are vegetarian and sales of vegetarian meals at Universities doubled between 1998 and 2003 and continue to grow. This is good news and very telling. Conversely, while these future consumers are busy helping create a multibillion dollar mock meat industry there is little response and advice from mainstream nutritional “experts” to assist parents in preparing and creating meatless meals at home that address this current trend. Despite the fact that we still find it a challenge to sell the concept of an all vegetarian cooking show, it appears, when we look at the facts, vegetarians might just turn out to be a powerful economic force to be reckoned with.