Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Royal Elephant Fusion Plant Based Cuisine

On Superbowl Sunday, I headed over to The Royal Elephant Fusion Plant Based Cuisine in Montclair, NJ with a Fox and a Pie; we were hoping for some vegan Thai food to fill our bellies while everyone else was watching football.

The menu was significantly more varied than we had anticipated. In addition to traditional Thai offerings, there were Mediterranean, Japanese, Italian, and Mexican options. For the less adventurous, there were also staples like chicken nuggets, burgers, split pea soup, soups & smoothies. It's a small place with a huge menu!


We started off our meal with vegetable shumai: vegetables wrapped in wonton skin served with soy sauce. We were given the option of steamed or air-fried and we went with air-fried; they were crisp and delicious.

We also got the air-fried spring rolls: veggie spring rolls served with plum sauce. These were good as well, but- truth be told, probably would have been better regular-fried.

My pals each got the spicy drunken noodles: flat rice noodle, chili, onion, bell pepper, string beans, bamboo shoots, and basil. You have your choice of protein; one person chose tofu and one "chicken." I tasted a noodle and it was starchy and sticky, just how it's supposed to be. They loved it.

I went with the red curry: coconut milk, bamboo shoots, eggplant, string bean, bell pepper, and basil with jasmine rice. Although I would have vastly preferred broccoli to eggplant and tofu puffs to plain tofu, it was really delicious. I shared my leftovers with VM and she really enjoyed it as well.

Unfortunately there was no homemade ice cream to be had that day (we passed on the housemade pineapple cupcakes), but hopefully the issue will be resolved soon.

Royal Elephant definitely errs on the healthier side and there's some room for improvement (seems like a very small staff to do everything), but how lucky to have such a varied, all-vegan option in Montclair. I wish them good luck!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Impossible Burger (no flag)

A talented chef where I work had the opportunity to use Impossible Foods' Impossible Burgers* as an exploration of sustainable protein sources for the next generation, assuming they will have figured out that filtering grain through animals doesn't seem like the best plan. Knowing I'm vegan, he was anxious to hear what I thought of it, and offered myself and my colleagues a private taste test at a top secret location.

He explained that he'd received the product as "chopped meat" and had experimented with patties of different thicknesses. He'd decided that a relatively thin patty offered the most authentic tasting burger, so that's what he prepared for us. These were the partially thawed patties looking all bloody like I remember coming out of VM's freezer (insert barf-face here):

He told us that the "meat" was made up predominately of wheat, coconut oil, and potatoes. He knew all about the "heme" (leghemoglobin) and explained that the burger could be cooked well, medium or bloody rare- with the droplets of coconut oil mimicking the animal fat pockets in cow burgers. Grody. He cooked mine in a separate pan because I was the only vegan in the group and he's the best.

I thought I detected a meaty smell when it began cooking, but as it continued to cook I couldn't exactly place the scent. He recommended cooking my burger well, guessing correctly that I did not need my burger to "bleed." He cooked it in a little bit of oil, which gave a nice crisp to the surfaces of the patty.

The others in the group ranged from ardent carnivores to everyday omnivores, and one relatively new vegetarian. I think it's a great sign that they were all up for the taste-test- with nary a naysayer in the bunch.

It's not often I get to partake in a fixin's bar, so I loaded my burger up with ketchup, lettuce, tomato, and sliced pickled jalapenos in lieu of standard pickles.

You'll note that I was robbed of an "Impossible" flag

I've eaten a lot of bean and/or vegetable patties in my day- and more of the ubiquitous portabella mushroom "burgers" than I care to revisit, so I wouldn't necessarily categorize this as a veggie burger. It reminded me more of a fast-food type burger replica (sans gristle) than a hand-formed, chopped meat patty- except it wasn't nasty. I actually enjoyed it much more than I expect to, as did the omnis and vegetarian. The meat-lover ate a bite and a half and apologized that she couldn't "choke down" any more, but everyone else finished every bite. Nobody thought they could be tricked into thinking that this was a cow burger, which I think is a possibility with the Beyond Burger.

Our group had a great conversation about sustainability and spoke very little about ethics, but what they were most interested in was the nutrition. It turns out that the Impossible Burger packs about twice as much protein as a cow burger; this was probably why I found it to be so extraordinarily filling. I suppose that Impossible Foods made the Impossible burger so protein-dense in an effort to stave off the "where do you get your protein" crowd. They're definitely marketing it to non-vegans (fine by me), but could the protein content be overkill? Another interesting note is that my colleagues were very interested in the nutritional stats, but none of them had any offhand knowledge regarding the nutrition of a cow burger. One admitted that he won't purchase a store-bought knish because the nutritional information listed on the package scares him off, but that he doesn't hesitate to buy what is likely the same product, albeit unlabeled, from a deli without worrying about the contents because he can't see them. What you don't know and all that.

So grateful to have had the opportunity to try this burger, but I definitely wouldn't seek it out for a redo. Others seem to be in love with it, so if that makes vegans and/or keeps vegans happy, that's fine by me.

*UPDATE 3/15/18: after gentle reminders from friends and fans, I'm adding the issue of Impossible Foods' animal testing to this post, the original omission of which was an egregious oversight on my part. The CEO of Impossible Foods is vegetarian and conducted animal testing that was not required to create this burger. His response appears here; you can find many opinions with a quick Google search. As an ethical vegan, I am not a proponent of animal testing, but acquiesce that it is sometimes unavoidable- many of our systems are ill designed. That seems not to have been the case here, so the decision is a perplexing one, for sure.