“Weekend Foodtrail” – Chinese Vegetarian

When I grew up, I never understood my ancestral culture and background that much. A simple reason – I was brought up in an English educated school and influenced by western culture in music, movies, televisions, food (Big Mac, KFC) and clothing. I never understood why I had to light a set of 3 sandalwood fragrant incenses and murmured some blessing words to Taoism Deities at home. In the morning before going to school and at night before going to bed.

I was brought up in a Taoist family with different Deities (ie Gods) in our family home. To me, Taoism is a religious tradition that is passed down from generation to generation. I practice the tradition from young and never question my mother why I have to do it. There are exceptions that I do not follow strictly to the rule. My mother does not eat beef, which is against her religious practices of Buddhism and worshipping of “Kuan Yin” or Goddess of Mercy. She eats vegetable based food (in Hokkien, we called “Chia Chai”) on certain religious time of the month and year.

I may not understand the religious meaning of my mother becoming vegetarian at certain time of the year. But I do know that vegetarian food that are prepared for such religious and auspicious occasions in Penang is nothing I have ever seen or eaten in places that I have been. The vegetarian dishes prepared in Penang is traditionally Chinese and Taiwanese style infused with local Malay spices to create a unique flavour that is distinctly Penang. Some of the dishes are cleverly created to intermingle the different flavour of Thai and Malay cultures in the Chinese vegetarian cuisine – Penang being so close to southern part of Thailand, which is predominantly Muslim. The flavour is spicy, sour, sweet and tangy – a combination of lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, chillies, curry leaves and tamarind juice.

When I first started work in Hobart, about six years ago, I was based in one of the CBD building. There are café and takeaway places for lunch. But lack in choices. They are either takeaway sandwiches or soups, with the exception of a Bain-Marie style Indian, Thai and Indonesian takeaway shops about 2 blocks from my office.


One day, I started exploring a little arcade called the Bank Arcade. It is a tiny arcade of maybe 5 shoplots on either side, and they are mostly food stalls; a Sushi Bar, a Bakery, 2 cafes on either end of the arcade, a spice shop (called “Spice World” posted here) and believe it or not, a Chinese Vegetarian sit-in/takeaway shop! That was 5 years ago.


The place is called “Shu Yuan”. At the time, it was operated by a young Asian family, Lydia and Edgar. The business grew fairly quickly and became very popular with lunch crowd and loyal returning customers. The food cooked by Lydia is creative, imaginative, wholesome and tasty. It is Chinese with a strong South East Asian influence in its flavour. The business was sold about two years ago to a Thai owner. The place is still operating as Shu Yuan with the regular cook-to-order meal and Bain-Marie style dishes. I can only assume that Lydia has sold her business together with her recipes. I have been to the place twice since the change of ownership. The food looks the same but the flavour is definitely different from Lydia’s cooking.

DSC01036Then early this year, I found out that Lydia and Edgar has reopened a new vegetarian shop in Mathers Lane, a small laneway between Liverpool Street and Bathurst Street. I visited them and had lunch there a few times. It is nice to see them in their new premise, called “Chai”. It is bigger and brighter. The food is still as good as before, when they had “Shu Yuan”. There are more choices on small items, freshly make daily.  On my last visit, which was probably about a month ago, I was hoping to take some photos of the food to feature in my post. I never had a disappointing meal cooked by Lydia before, not even on my last visit. Unfortunately, Edgar was not pleased and preferred I do not publish my comment and review on the food. So his wish is granted.


A third and final place in Hobart that sells Chinese vegetarian dishes is the “Hobart Noodle” shop located on 12 Letitia Street, North Hobart. This is a family run business by Daniel and Maple. The place is humble and exudes a relax layback atmosphere. It is simple and homey. It feels like stepping into their dining room for a friendly chat with a cup of delicately brewed Chinese or Japanese tea and a bowl of noodle soup or stir-fry noodle dish. The difference with this place compared to the other two places is that the noodle is the best noodle I ever tasted in Hobart. It is very fresh and smooth. It is organic and homemade by Daniel. I ordered the “7 chilli spiced” stir-fry noodle. It is a simple home-style cooked dish. The flavour is unpretentious and not overpowering with too many spices. The flavour and the taste are mainly focused on the fresh, organic noodle.

When I left Hobart Noodle Shop, I asked if I could buy some “Mock Meats” from them. A mock meat is basically food made from non-meats to imitate the texture, flavour and appearance of a meat (such as duck, beef, pork, chicken and sausage). This is very common in Chinese vegetarian cuisines. The following are three types of mock meat; slices of duck breast, chicken ball and beef ball.


With the mock meats, I have created a Spiced Vegetarian Dish in Tamarind Sauce and Kaffir Lime Leaves. It is rich in textures with 3 kinds of mock meats, sweet, spicy, sourish and tangy.



Mock meats

8 Chinese shitake mushroom

1 Red capsicum

A bunch of coriander

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

1 teaspoon chopped ginger

4 kaffir lime leaves

1 tablespoon chilli paste

2 tablespoon oyster sauce

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 pinch tamarind pulp


  1. Soak mushroom in warm water until soft. Discard the stem. Set aside.
  2. Soak tamarind in cold water. Extract juice. Set aside.
  3. Chopped the coriander. Separate the greens and set aside to garnish. Chopped the coriander stems. Set aside.
  4. Diced the capsicum. Set aside.
  5. Finely sliced lime leaves


  1. Heat some cooking oil in a wok. Toss in garlic, ginger and coriander stems. Stir fry gently until fragrant.
  2. Add mock meats. Stir fry a few minutes, then add mushroom and capsicum.
  3. Add chilli paste, oyster sauce, fish sauce and lime leaves.
  4. Add tamarind juice, some salt and sugar to taste. Garnish with coriander leaves

17 responses to ““Weekend Foodtrail” – Chinese Vegetarian

  1. I love the vegetarian food in Penang – it is delicious and still Penang-y and so great.

    Sad that Edgar didn’t want you to review his food – how do we know it’s great if you cannot say?

    • Hi Steph and welcome. I give any excuse these days when I go home to Penang to eat at least once at a vegetarian kopitiam in Pulau Tikus.

      Well, he looked quite stress and overwork on my last visit. The business is probably doing too well! They get new customers walk-in frequently. So he asked not to publicise his business. A bit strange, don’t you think?

      Since you are familiar with Penang vegetarian, Lydia’s style is quite similar with lots of spices and flavour.

      Btw one of my reader is asking for a Malaysian claypot rice recipe. I hope you don’t mind me adding the link here for Scottfella to read. Cheers. 🙂

      • Thanks Victor for the welcome, I just found your blog last week and was very excited – always nice to find more Chinese-Malaysian bloggers (especially living in Australia).

        No worries linking to the claypot rice recipe (I love claypot, and am happy to share the delicious flavours to people).

        • Same here. I am very glad to hear from you. I came across several Malaysian bloggers but mostly in America and Europe. So equally excited when I read your blog and realise you are a fellow Malaysian. Thanks, Steph.

  2. Victor, a little off topic. Eldest and partner took hubby and I for Yum Cha in Byron Bay. A lovely semi outdoor eatery..solid wooden high tables and chairs..all adds to it. Although to me Yum Cha equals Chinese, however to me the flavors were more Malay or Thai. That is, dipping sauces were hot and mild chilli, soy and fish. The best was of the dishes was the tofu..brilliant..silky, soft, so much so that it was not possible to pick it up with chopsticks.

    Second best was the dumplings..cooked on the premises, and almost as good as yours. Hubby’s favorite was the whitebait.

    • Oh, yum Min. That is not fair! I dearly miss a good Yum-Cha. The best to me has to be a Hong Kong style. In Penang, there are several places that serve Yum-Cha, but the Malaysian version is never as good as those in Sydney Chinatown or Hong Kong. Has to be Cantonese style. Glad you and your hubby are having a great time indulging in sunny Byron Bay.

  3. Hi Victor, liked your post. I was introduced to ‘mock meats’ a while back when I ran the vegetarian cafe, Soulmama in melb a few years back. the product always intrigued me as many of them claim not to contain msg or artificial flavourings. however the ‘not duck’ I tried not only had the texture of sliced bbq duck but by god did it taste uncannily like the real thing-I was bowled over!

    • Thanks, Steve. Yes, they do taste like the real thing. I am not sure mock meats are really that healthy as claimed to be “vegetarian”. I looked at the packet for ingredients that go into making the product but not much information on the package. They are mostly factory manufactured. The ones I used are product of Malaysia.

      I was at Chinese Emporium Moonah this afternoon and spoke to the owner. She has a range of mock meat products, so I will check them out next time and see if I can get more information on the products.

  4. Hehe Victor..Byron Bay is only 50kms down the road. Thank you for the mock meat suggestions..as I’ve mentioned before youngest is a strict vegetarian (has been so since the day that she was born…truly) and so anything/everything helps. Have saved your recipe into my now semi-organised folders.

    After all these years, I have finally (!) decided to become organised.

    I am actually getting used to the Malay/Thai style of cooking and use of different herbs compared with the usual Cantonese Chinese. My kids (they’re all big grown up people) prefer this..eg the use of fresh corriander which of course doesn’t appear in Cantonese cooking.

    • Excellent, Min!

      Btw you should check out a fellow blogger from Chinese-Malaysian background. I have link her site in my Blogroll, under “Obsession being a Vegan”. It’s all about vegan stuffs.

  5. Sorry to be picky, Victor, but as a vegan I have to point out that using fish and oyster sauces stop this dish from being vegetarian. There are vegetarian versions of each. Also you can get vegan versions of Thai red and green curry paste.

    The best mock meats I’ve come across are the Lamyong range from Malaysia:


    • You’re right, Daphon. There are vegetarian version, except I don’t have them at home. But, hey thanks for the Lamyong link. They look great! Yum..Roast Duck, Prawns and the recipes. I am afraid if I get too close, I may end up a Vegan. Is that good or bad?

      • “I may end up a Vegan. Is that good or bad?”

        I’m biased, of course, Victor, but I do think it’s better for you, the animals and the climate.

        However, I’m not a proselytizing vegan. I do believe it’s up to the individual to act according to their own beliefs and conscience.

        • I couldn’t agree with you more. It is disappointing that some people will impose their beliefs on others and dictate how they should live their life. I mean who the hell do they think they are, right? Take the like of the politicians and fanatic religious people who think they know all about life and that we should all conform to the same standard. Bloody hell! Why do we look different? Should we all be “cosmeticised” to conform to the same colour, feature and look as well?

          As for food, I have nothing against Vegetarian or Vegan. I am always intrigue by how people behave in a certain way and choose something over the other; whether for religious, spiritual or health believes, or animal rights. When it comes to food, I like to experience as many (of course, eatable) kinds and understand the diversity of each food, culture and purposes. Without food source, we might as well not live.

    • Hey Daphon – I know of a fellow Malaysian blogger. If you have not been there, you may want to check it out. http://veganabouttown.blogspot.com/2009/08/kuey-teow-noodle-soup.html
      She has a link on this post to Vegan – Malaysian.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s