Everyone has a favorite type of cuisine, it doesn’t matter who you ask, everyone has a favorite. Some might say Italian, and some might say Mexican. Others might say German, or Greek, or Japanese, or Chinese. I love all cuisine’s, and if you asked me to pick a favorite I wouldn’t be able to narrow it down to one specific country, but I could narrow it down to a continent. Asia. Asian cuisine is by far my favorite, if I could eat nothing else for the rest of my life that would be totally fine with me. I love Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Malaysian, Nepalese, and Indian food, I love them all. This is the food I grew up on, and these are the types of restaurants I typically sought out when I grew older - not that they were at all hard to find in Vancouver.
Vancouver you see has a huge Asian population. Over 30% of the cities inhabitants are of Chinese heritage, they are the largest ethnic group in the city. Vancouver has the largest Chinatown in all of Canada, and the third largest Chinatown by population in North America. The city also boasts significant Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Cambodian, and Indian populations. I loved this growing up, and I spent a significant portion of my teenage and early adult years exploring Vancouver’s Chinatown, which still today remains one of my top 3 favorite places in all of Vancouver. I loved going to the night markets, I loved going to hawker stalls, and food stands. I loved ducking into little shops, bakeries and groceries, and I most definitely loved eating in every Asian restaurant I came across. It is amongst these people, and these cultures that I feel most comfortable and most at home. I miss ‘my’ Chinatown all the time, I miss meditating in the Sun Yet Sen Classical Chinese Garden - one of the most beautiful and peaceful places in downtown - something I typically did 2-3 times a week when I wasn’t working. Some weeks I was in Chinatown everyday, usually alone, which is how I preferred it. For some reason I rarely went to Chinatown with friends, these adventures were always solo, that is until I met my husband, and then the two of us would explore together.
My husband, who loves Asian food as much as I do if not more, found Vancouver to be a magical place. Growing up in Chicago and suburban Illinois he wasn’t exactly exposed to the same level of Asian culture as I was. It wasn’t until he attended University in Southern California that he really experienced Asian food proper, particularly sushi for which he has an undying love. I can’t tell you how many Vancouver days and nights we spent stuffing our faces with all the glorious sushi on offer. Sushi bars you see are to Vancouver what Starbucks is to Seattle. No joke, you can’t throw a rock in downtown Van without hitting at least three Sushi Bar’s or restaurants. They are almost literally on every corner, and they are far more populous then either Starbucks or McDonald’s. As my husband said to me many years ago - and has said many times since - “Even the shittiest hole in the wall Sushi bar in Vancouver is better than the best Sushi Bar in Chicago.” - With which after moving here I would have to agree. While after a lot of searching I have found some very good sushi here in Chicago none of it can ever compare to the sushi I enjoyed in Vancouver, which Is why I typically prefer to make my own, but that’s beside the point.
Together we hit up Korean BBQ’s and Vietnamese Pho restaurants all over the city. We chowed down on Thai takeaway, and Indian curries. We stuffed ourselves on fried bananas in coconut milk, and green tea ice cream. More often than not we were the only white people eating in the restaurants we chose, and half the time we couldn’t read the menus - which weren’t in English - and so had to order by pointing at pictures. I miss this a lot, and I definitely miss the food. Even after living here for nearly 5 years I can’t get used to the endless stream of white faces, I feel awkward being part of the ‘majority,’ and I find the lack of diversity in the suburbs suffocating.
I guess it’s because I’ve been missing Vancouver lately that I’ve been making more and more Asian dishes at home. Lately I find myself particularly fascinated by the foods of Malaysia. The cuisine of Malaysia is one of the few Asian cuisines with which I’m not overly familiar, but it’s always intrigued me. Years ago I bought a Malaysian and Singapore cook book but never made anything out of it because at the time I wasn’t very proficient in the kitchen. When I finally developed my skills in the kitchen I’d stopped eating red meat and pork and was only six months away from turning vegetarian. So the book has just been sitting in my closet collecting dust for the past five years.
Traditionally Malaysian food is not particularly vegan friendly. Malaysia is a pretty ethnically diverse place, and religiously diverse as well, with a percentage of the population being Buddhist. So there are vegetarian dishes but many of them call for eggs. Most people might consider this a problem, but not me. These dishes have been calling to me over the past couple of weeks, and once I get curious about something I find it very hard to get my mind off the topic, so I decided I would try and veganize some of these recipes. When it comes to vegan Asian cuisine I find there are a lot of repeat recipes. Anyone can make a vegan curry, or a vegan stir fry. There are recipes abound for vegan won ton, vegan kung pao, vegan fried rice, and vegan tempura. As much as I love all of those things I like a little variety too, and I want to start making vegan versions of more of the dishes I used to enjoy. As well as new dishes that remind me of the tastes, and flavors I loved back in those days.
The first dish I decided to recreate is a simple Nonya dish. When early Chinese traders settled in ports of Penang, Melaka and Singapore beginning in the 15th century, many of them married local Malay woman. These marriages created an ethnic sub-group of Malay-Chinese, which in Malay are referred to as Peranakan. This group was particularly noted for it’s distinctive dress, it’s lavishly decorated homes and above all it’s cuisine. All the meals were cooked by the woman or Nonyas - the Peranakan word for female - and were an inspired blend of both Chinese and Malay traditions. The style of cuisine is very unique, full of flavor and infused with elements of Indian, Thai, Portugese, and Chinese cooking.
For my first foray into Malay cooking I chose a simple soup dish because It intrigued me, and it inspired memories of many of the sweet, sour and hot dishes I used to enjoy back home. Though the soup is traditionally made with prawns It wasn’t hard for me to decide that seitan would be a perfect substitute. I had some homemade seitan in the freezer that I needed to use, and all the other ingredients I needed were on hand. Though I was initially a little skeptical about how this might turn out I have to say it came out amazing. Really, I enjoyed leftovers of this soup for lunch all week, and it got better and better each day. I highly suggest making it a day in advance and giving it a night to let the flavors develop in the fridge. However it does taste wonderful the first day as well. I really hope you try this delicious soup, and enjoy it as much as I did.
Hot and Sour Pineapple Seitan Broth
1 Tbsp Peanut Oil
1 Small Red Onion diced
8 Garlic Cloves minced
1 Thumb sized Piece of Ginger grated
1 ½ tsp Red Pepper Flakes
1 lemongrass stalk trimmed and minced or 3 tsp jarred minced lemongrass
2-3 Tbsp Tamarind Paste
1 ½ Tbsp Sugar
1 ½ Tbsp Soy Sauce (or Coconut Amino's)
5 C Water
Sea salt and Black Pepper to taste (Optional)
8oz Seitan (Homemade or Store Bought)
2 C Fresh Pineapple chopped into bite sized pieces
½ Bunch Cilantro minced
Fresh mint leaves, minced to garnish
- First prepare your seitan by slicing it into thin strips.
- Next heat a large pan over medium-high heat and spray lightly with non-stick spray. Add Seitan in batches and fry a few minutes on each side until browned and crispy. When browned on each side remove the seitan to a plate and set aside.
- Heat the oil in a medium sized pot over medium-high heat. Add the diced onion, minced garlic and grated ginger. Saute for 5 minutes until fragrant.
- Add the red pepper flakes, and lemongrass saute another 2-3 minutes until onions become translucent.
- Stir in the tamarind paste and sugar, then add the 5 cups of water. Stir to combine then bring to a boil. Reduce the heat then simmer for 10 minutes.
- Season the broth lightly with sea salt and pepper to taste, and stir in the soy sauce.
- Add the Pineapple and reserved Seitan to the broth and simmer for an additional 5 minutes until the pineapple is soft and both it and Seitan are heated through.
- Add in the minced cilantro and mint leaves. Divide the broth evenly amongst serving bowls making sure each bowl gets a good helping of both pineapple and seitan. Garnish with extra cilantro and mint if desired.
Typically this soup is served as an appetizer because it’s considered an appetite enhancer, however you can also serve this broth over a plate of steamed rice or noodles for a more substantial meal, or eat it as is for a light lunch or dinner. Either way it’s delicious!
*** Note - Soy Free if using Coconut Amino's instead of soy sauce ***