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September 2005
If Your Food Had a Face
The Satya Interview with Lee Mee Ng


If your food had a face, it might look like Lee Mee Ng. As president of May Wah Vegetarian Food, she is the distributor responsible for all the delicious faux meats that appear on your plate at various vegetarian dining spots in NYC.

Founded in 1995 in Chinatown, May Wah has grown to one of the largest vegetarian distributors in New York State. These days, buffalo wings, citrus beef, and chicken Parmesan are options vegetarians have difficulty choosing from when ordering at restaurants. All thanks to May Wah.

If ever you are in Chinatown, be sure to visit May Wah’s store, where you can peruse their shelves with glee and pick up vegetarian seasonings and convenience foods like frozen dumplings and bean cakes. They also carry some of the meatiest of faux meats—their refrigerated section is packed with items like Fish Ham, Crab Steaks, Vegetarian Shark Fin, and Spiced Chicken Leg. It’s perfect for the curious vegetarian and those of you who were ardent carnivores in a past life. Even if you don’t live in New York, you can still taste these treats—May Wah will deliver to your door!

Sangamithra Iyer had a chance to ask Lee Mee Ng about the mystery of faux meats.

Why did you start May Wah Vegetarian Food?
Growing up in Taiwan as a Taoist, I was provided with plenty of delicious vegetarian food, but when I moved to New York, the cultural environment lacked many of the foods I grew up with, and it affected my traditional eating habits. As time passed, I realized there were a growing number of vegetarians, not just among the Asian-American community. I then decided to start a business and introduce new styles and provide a greater selection to the vegetarian community. From the beginning, our goal was to serve customers with the highest quality products in terms of nutrition and taste. To date, we have not only accomplished our goal, but we are also very successful in helping to promote the healthy benefits of vegetarian food.

What is the basic philosophy behind vegetarian meats?
The basic philosophy is that every animal deserves a chance to live out a full life. This is the Taoist belief. By adjusting our eating habits, we give the animals this chance, and at the same time, benefit ourselves with a healthier diet.

Generally, who is your clientele?
Eighty percent of our customers are restaurants, health food stores, and supermarkets. Twenty percent of our business is from religious communities and individual retail consumers.

How many NYC restaurants use your products? Are they all vegetarian restaurants?
I would say around 50 percent of the vegetarian restaurants in NYC order from us—we make daily deliveries to them. In addition, many non-vegetarian restaurants are now providing a vegetarian selection in their menus, and some of them are also our customers. As mentioned before, we also provide regular deliveries to many health food stores and supermarkets around the city.

For a vegetarian supplier, you carry some of the meatiest of faux meats—fish ham, crab steaks, spiced chicken leg. What is the inspiration behind these products?
We understand that many consumers might initially find it difficult to adjust to vegetarian foods; therefore we try to simulate the texture and the taste of meat products, using solely vegetarian ingredients, to help them in the transition to vegetarian food. By providing faux meats, we hope to save some animals, and provide our customers with a healthier diet.

Where are your products made and what are the primary ingredients?

All of our vegetarian products are produced in Taiwan. The primary ingredients are soybean proteins and mushrooms. Most of our products are completely vegan, however there are a limited few that include whey protein in their ingredients.

What is your most popular item?
Our most popular items are Citrus Spare Ribs, Gong Bao Chicken, Chicken Nuggets, Veggie Prawns, Chicken Leg, Smoked Duck and S.W. Ham.

What are your personal favorite items?

My personal favorites are the Chicken Leg and the Gong Bao Chicken. I usually dip the chicken leg into barbeque sauce then coat it with Tempura flour and deep-fry it. For the Gong Bao Chicken, I like to stir fry it with sliced shitake mushrooms.

May Wah’s NYC store is located at 213 Hester Street (between Canal and Grand Streets; 212-334-4428). To learn more or to order products online visit www.vegieworld.com.


 

 

Friends and Faux: Vegan Meats

Photo by Kevin Lysaght

Some people love the taste of meat. And aside from the yucky fact that meat is flesh, there is something about that tasty texture that all veggies and vegans miss out on. But fortunately for all of us, there are soy and wheat products that do a bang up job at capturing that consistency and flavor. Many veg companies contribute to the new taste of vegan with their uncanny substitutes, making it much easier to be veg, especially for those carnivorous converts. Satya celebrates some of the best vegan meats out there.—M.W.

Vegi-Deli and their line of Now and Zen products know their fake meats. When grilled up, their unchicken, unsteak and unribs are the perfect meals to serve as crossovers from the traditional meat and potato dinners. And as November rolls around, their three pound Now and Zen Turkey Feast is, according to our review panel, just the thing for a Thanksgiving dinner with meat-eaters—plus it comes with all the fixins so minimal work is required.

Soy Boy has always been known for their delicious ravioli, but we salute their savory and filling breakfast links—nice spice, not too hot and very hearty. More importantly, their tofu reigns. In our many years of being vegan, the Satya staff has never tasted tofu with this much flavor or texture of both meat and cheese. It was a complete meal in a block of soy beans. The Carribean flavor won the entire panel over.

The Tofurky feast by Turtle Island Foods was our favorite all around—with a texture that isn’t too thick, a fluffy stuffing and gravy with just the right flavor. But more surprising and delicious is their new four-pack sausages in Kielbasa, Italian, and Beer Brat style. They are wonderful in any form—sandwich, pizza and even surprisingly good straight from the package. Tofurky’s deli slices still remain the absolute favorite when it comes to making a cold cut sandwich. Our favorites are the roast beef, Philly, and cranberry and stuffing (yes, that’s right—it’s like Thanksgiving all rolled up in a slice).

Two words: Sloppy Jofu. This silly sounding simulation by Wild Wood Natural Foods is actually quite good. It comes in an easy open plastic tub and only calls for heating in a pan or microwave. We were also blown away by the original tofu veggie burgers. Who knew this ordinary looking veggie burger would taste so good? It is akin to eating a vegan quiche burger. It has a very nice almost “egg-like” texture and the flavor is unparalleled. Wild Wood also makes a flavorful tofu that received much applause. Thumbs-up to Wild Wood.


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