"Mock meat" dishes at Saigon Flavors make for flavorful vegan fare.

A devoted fan of Saigon Flavors sent me an e-mail recently. The writer had nothing but praise for the little Vietnamese restaurant's new menu of vegan friendly dishes, featuring so-called "mock meats".

Mock meats are pieces of shaped bean curd (tofu) that look very much like the typical chicken, beef and pork included in Southeast Asian dishes. Strict adherence to a vegan diet leaves its practitioners scrambling for dependable protein substitutes, and tofu has been the leading choice among many devout vegans.

Nutritionally, these mock meats deliver about 98 calories per cup and provide 10 grams of protein. That's hardly a protein equivalent to beef or chicken, but much better than a diet with no protein. Still, these soy-based foods aren't without critics.

Jack Norris, a registered dietician at VeganHealth.org, points to studies that support soy consumption, saying there is significant evidence that eating moderate amounts (one to two servings per day) of traditional soy foods, whether fermented or not, can reduce the risk of prostate cancer and can lower LDL cholesterol.

On the other hand, Norris reminds readers of the recent red flag that rose over soy-based diets. The greatest risk is still considered a controversy, but some studies indicate isoflavones in soy foods can bind to estrogen receptors and affect thyroid hormone.

Bottom line: Apparently, even "healthy" foods are meant to be consumed in moderation.

I usually order Pad Thai when I go to Saigon Flavors, and owner Susan Phan suggested I do the same. However, instead of my usual chicken, she substituted what on the menu is called "vegan chicken" and "vegan beef."

On the plate, it looks nearly identical. Texturally, the mock meats are spongy, but offer some "tearing" and chewing sensations that closely mimic meat. I can't say the "meats" have flavor but tend to take on the surrounding flavors.

Surrounded by hot noodles and crunchy bean sprouts and doused with Sriracha sauce, my vegan-friendly Pad Thai was enjoyable, although not an experience that this life-long carnivore finds as satisfying as real chicken.

There is a separate menu for the vegan options. It offers virtually everything from the regular Saigon Flavors menu but with options of mock meats or tofu.

If I'm going vegetarian here, I still lean heavily toward the Vietnamese crêpe sans the shrimp. This large, fluffy crepe comes surrounded by julienne veggies and herbs. It's fun to eat, certainly authentic and satisfying.

6604 WATERS AVE., 912/352-4182

More options from Rioja

If the $85 price tag for the Rioja wine dinner I told you about in last week's issue is too steep, there are options.

On Thursday, April 11, Savannah Wine Cellar will host Rafael Momene, director of sales for La Rioja Alta in North and South America.

Momene will present several wines from the popular region, including a taste of the rare and highly rated La Rioja Alta "Vina Ardanza Reserva Especial" 2001. The 2001 vintage marks the third time since 1964 that the wine has been made (1964, 1973 and 2001). 5:30-7:30 p.m., $10 pp. (912) 355-9463.

Also playing host to Momene is Winston's Wine Bar in Churchill's Pub on Friday, April 12 at 7 p.m. This tasting will include an assortment of cheeses and more wine chat about Rioja. $20 per person. RSVP at (912) 232-8501.



Tim Rutherford

Tim Rutherford grew up in rural Kentucky – then left home to pursue more than three decades as a photojournalist and newsman. A ground-breaking meal in New Orleans in 1979 set him on a path exploring food and wine. Six years ago he changed career paths – now spending his time writing about the people and places...
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