The Curse of Mock Meats


Last night my wife and I ordered out for Chinese food. It’s not exactly a huge event, but considering it’s probably the first time in eight years that we’ve ordered out for Chinese, it felt pretty significant. Neither of us really care for most of what passes for Chinese food around here, especially when there are so many good Vietnamese and Thai places around. But, a new restaurant had opened and we were feeling lazy, so we gave it a shot.

The good part: they were happy to make sweet and sour tofu for Huyen even though it wasn’t explicitly on the menu. The not-so-good part: instead of giving me the vegetable/bean curd lettuce wrap that I ordered, they gave me Kung Pao Chicken. Yes, with real chicken. And I ate a piece.

Granted it was only the tiniest of pieces, about half the size of a pea, but I still felt all gaggy when my wife said definitively, “This is chicken.”

And this is the curse of mock meats — they’ve gotten so good, so convincing, that a trusting vegetarian may find themselves eating away at something they thing is just a really good seitan/soy imitation when, indeed, it’s flesh. It definitely makes me wary of ordering anything even semi-meatlike from any place that also serves the real thing.

I returned the chicken and got the proper food in return. Not much of an apology, though, just a “sorry for the trouble.” But this wasn’t a “you gave me the wrong sauce” problem, it was a “you gave me dead animal” problem. We won’t be ordering from there again (I’m forgiving of the occasional mistake made by my regular haunts but when it happens during my first visit, there’s no second chance). It’s kind of a shame because the food wasn’t totally awful.

Anyone else ever run into this problem? How did the restaurant resolve it?

22 Responses to “The Curse of Mock Meats”

  1. Canaduck

    My husband and I once ordered from a Chinese place who delivered to us the tofu dish we’d requested and some sort of chicken plate. (Like most vegans, we were very careful to explain that we wanted no animal products whatsoever.) I almost ate a piece, (and believe me, if I had, I wouldn’t have been as calm as you seem to have been) but managed to realize that it looked a little suspicious before putting it in my mouth.

    We called and politely told them what had happened, and they acted pretty much the same way your restaurant did. They even told us, “Yeah, sorry, we have a new chef.” A new chef who thinks that meat goes into the vegetarian stir fry? Whatever. I should mention that they’d also included some sort of random soup cup that smelled very chicken-y and wasn’t identified, so we threw it out.

    We decided to give them the benefit of the doubt and ordered from them one more time. The main dishes were fine, but they’d given us another random cup of food–this one had some sort of ribs or something in it. Totally bizarre and really gross. We gave those to our neighbor and never called that Chinese restaurant again.

  2. Marcy

    for me and for friends in every variation possible, yes, this has happened…says the long term vegan.

    for example one time i clearly ordered vegan veggie steamed dumplings. from a place i’d ordered from before, as i recall. i was very clear about it. when it came and my friend and i bit in, it was bizarre and didn’t look or taste right. vegan paranoia set in, i spit out what i could, and we figured out that they’d just fed pork dumplings to a vegan and a muslim. lovely.

    so i called them right away got re-delivery of correct items for free and complained heavily. i am not polite about these things, because as you put it it’s not a minor thing.

    the worst though was accidentally getting real instead of faux chicken nuggets from health food store. long story short, immediate praying to porcelain god. gack how icky.

    the worst time i had of it was in india & nepal. for both veggie and vegan reasons. but that was part of a larger “the customer is always wrong yet must tip heavily” cultural exchange, i found. an indian friend (vegetarian) said he had the same problem and he was from their so i doubt i’m exaggerating. anyways, point being, people listen when they want to. if someone doesn’t care to listen, i don’t care to pay them or treat them nicely. period.

  3. Marcy

    oh and p.s. i posted this in another blog but thought it would be applicable to this problem so here it goes again:

    which reminds me, warning, for the last year or so ALL of the au bon pain salad dressings, aka with omega 3s, contain FISH CHUM. except it’s not listed as fish. i had to google the item. you could not remotely tell by the label, it was only the taste and vegan radar that made me suspicious to check. and in theory they’re vegan friendly because they have that ingredients computer listing and labels and such, but really they’re not even good for veggies because of that dressing stunt and related, so i refuse to give them any more money.

  4. Samsara

    Oh yeah, I fall for it now and then. Once I thought I had found mecca in this deli inside of a health food store. There was no meat in the grocery area, and the menu used vegan lingo. I assumed the deli was at least vegetarian. My first trip ,I ordered a huge plate of lasagna. It had meatish stuff in it, and while the menu didn’t specify what the meat was made of, it did note that the cheeze was a vegan soy mozarella. None of the other menu items had meat or meat substitutes at all, and, really, if you go out of your way to put vegan cheese on it, you’re not going to use real meat right? Who knows. I didn’t suspect anything. The next time I went, the special of the day involved chicken, and the description of it specified that they use the leanest cuts. Leanest cuts!! Fake meat has no “lean cut!” That left me really freaked out because to this day I have no clue what was in that lasagna I pigged out on.

  5. Amanda

    I worry about this a lot. It’s never happened to me (that I know of), but the few times that I’ve gotten mock-something at a restaurant, I’ve felt a bit uneasy because I’m not sure if I could tell a mock from the real thing at this point. Usually I feel much safer just sticking with vegetable or grain-based items. I may not be able to tell gluten from chicken, but I’m pretty confident in my ability to tell chicken from pasta.

  6. Eric

    I ordered a latte today from a place that knows me pretty well, and I asked for soymilk, as always. But I guess the person was distracted or tired, because she entered it as sugar-free, and my latte was made with milk.

    Now, there’s a number of options one can take here, but there was no way I was drinking milk in such a direct form, so I had them remake it, but I was surprised that I got only a mild sorry and a quick remake from a place that I visit all the time, as if it was no big deal. Of course, for them, it’s not. As far as they’re concerned, there’s no crying over spilt milk. They just couldn’t understand the frustration I experienced from their POV.

    Fortunately, the rest of my day went much, much better!

  7. K

    ARGH! I HATE when this kind of thing happens. I am so sorry it happened to you guys, Ryan. GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR…

  8. Amy

    I’ve never mistakenly eaten meat, however, I did receive a veggie burger one time and the kitchen had put BACON on it–on a *veggie burger!* The server didn’t understand why I was so astounded, but the kitchen and management did see the light and remade my burger as well as comping our whole meal that night. I would go back to that place.

  9. Dreena

    UGH! Poor you, Ryan!

    We’ve had chicken put in a veggie stirfry. Yup. And we got wraps with veg and tofu once at this wrap place and they put tofu in mine and chiken in my husband’s. We were the only ones ordering at that time of day – I don’t know HOW they could have messed it up.

    Neither restaurant did much to compensate. The wrap place apologized profusely and gave us two free wrap coupons. We gave the coupons away, my husband had also bitten into it and said “Dreena, this is definitely chicken”. That wasn’t even a mock meat issue, because you can tell the difference between tofu and chicken!

    And I agree – at some of these places you almost doubt yourself with the mock meats, and you wonder if you should eat it ‘just in case’ they made a mistake!! No worries with beans and veg, or tofu for that matter – our ‘safe’ foods!!

    Hope you aren’t too traumatized!! :)

  10. Crys

    I’m paranoid when getting any kind of meat substitutes in a restaurant, especially with veggie burgers. I’ll give it a 10-minute inspection before taking a bite. I’m terrified of just chowing down and ending up with a real burger. (once or twice I’ve gotten meat instead, but luckily I noticed right away)

  11. Vanessa

    I don’t think I’ve ever gotten real meat instead of mock, but I did once get a mock duck that took me about 15 minutes to figure out was actually mock. This stuff was authentic to the point that it had GOOSEBUMPS on it! Why would anything faux keep such a disgusting aspect of ďreal?Ē I mean, you donít see faux fur coats with intestines hanging out around the buttonholes.

  12. Tony

    We’ve got to understand, to the normal dead animal eatting human, making a dish w/ meat in it [when you asked for tofu] is like mixing up pork and chicken. It’s not their concern that we don’t eat meat, and they are, obviously, not going to be as apologetic as we’d like when they make the mistake. I really wouldn’t hold it against them, they just have different views on flesh than we do, and we need to honor that just as we’d like to be taken seriously for our choices.

    I’ve been in the same situation many times before. It’s funny as hell to see a group of 4 adults huddled around a chunk of *what IS it?* all scared to touch it. We argue that it could be meat, no, tofu, but…I dunno. It’s hilarious. Evenutally a meat eatter in the group munches it and sometimes…not always has a definative answer.

    I live in a fairly small town, friends and I frequent a few local Thai places, and they know we are Vegan, yet twice we’ve been broughten Pad Thai w/ egg in it, once we sent it back, and the other time we didn’t eat it.

    I think what’s important to do in a situation like dealing w/ a reasturant is do all that we can to become friends w/ the people, let them know who we are and where we’re coming from. I even end up talking about cooking w/ one of the owners most of the time. When a personal relationship develops, not only are you going to know you’ll be taken care of better, your FOOD will be handled better. I don’t think it’s wise to drop a business for one mistake. I’m sure if you continue to go there and let the people get to know you, they’ll start to remember, and value your business.

  13. Jo

    There was a Korean restaurant where I had eaten many times. The very first time I asked a lot of questions about what was in various dishes. They had a thick vegan soup with rice noodles that I loved, and one big bowl would be a hearty meal. However, one day as I was halfway through eating a bowl of this soup, I noticed brown fibrous things down at the bottom. When I questioned them, it turned out that they had changed the recipe “to add more flavor” and had added some beef. They did not seem concerned about my feelings. I have never returned, even though I used to eat there monthly.

    Even if a dish has been vegan in the past, we can never assume that a restaurant still makes it the same way.

  14. Mari

    We don’t have the Good Fortune(!) to have any decent Chinese restaurants in our town – only the more popular “buffets” which I can’t help thinking of as people troughs where the unenlightened are happy to accept as long as it’s cheap. My husaband and I have to travel AT LEAST 90 minutes to a big city in order to get anything decent; but what we did find is quite a treasure – an entirely vegetarian Chinese restaurant with mock orange “beef” and lemon “chicken”, and sumptous dumplings, etc. There is absolutely no animal product of any kind in the entire place.

    But what we want to remember to communicate is, we’re not just choosing not to eat these items on a whim or to be a pain; the animal still had to die if the dish is thrown away.

  15. RisingSunOfNihon

    Yes yes yes… I think its very commen when it come to cheese. ordering with “no cheese!” seem to hard for ppl to comprehend sometimes. I was at Mexico on a trip and asked no caso… but I guess topping cheese doesnt count as caso… Im not sure. even in U.S. asking for no cheese pasta… man it hard to get it right the first time.

  16. Eric

    I kid you not, my wife just had a similar episode tonight when she got a “Health Nut” salad at this place down on the corner. She ordered it right off the menu, which makes it vegan, but they served it with grilled chicken sliced on top — which, if you’d only paid for a plain salad and ate chicken would be quite a bargain, I suppose…

    At any rate, when she brought it up to the counter and told them the problem, the guy proceeded to pick the chicken off, and then hand the salad back over. Of course, she didn’t accept it. Unfortunately, I wasn’t with her, because it would have gone down a bit different. Rather than just accepting a freshly-made salad the right way, it would have also been free.

    That said, the chicken gets wasted, and that really ticks me off. Same thing happened to me weeks ago at a fairly vegan-friendly restaurant on Santa Monica called the Flowering Tree. This one item allows your choice of three different “meats,” including a real one, either turkey or chicken. I can’t remember which. At any rate, I always ordered this item with the Soyrizo, ’cause it’s got a nice kick, but it came out with poultry, and you would have not wanted to see me lose my cool. I had to walk outside of the restaurant and walk around a little bit afterward. At least these guys took the item off the check after remaking it for me. But I still haven’t been back. My wife has promised never to return to this restaurant she went to tonight.

    Man, if this keeps up, we’re going to be limited to vegan-only restaurants… They better keep opening at a fairly decent pace, at this rate.

  17. Tiffany

    I was eating at a diner with my best friend, who is also vegan, and we ordered a plate of angel hair and marjinaira. We’d eaten about a billion times there before, so We both started diving in. She knew something was wrong right way, having not eaten meat in over 5 years. I, on the other hand, had just converted a few months back at the time(5 year anniversary this September!!! And i will NEVER go back!)I thought she just didnt like the taste, until 3/4 of the way eaten, I realize theres little pieces of bacony bits in my sauce, small enough to be teeny parsly flakes, which is what i assumed they were. But apon further inspection, you could see the strings in the muscle, and a fatty layer. they swore up and down that it wasn’t meat, and i yelled at them very angrily to give my money back, stating “I just threw up my meal, because you decided to add meat to something that isn’t suppose to have it, I’m not paying for this.” A women then tried to tell me the meat i found was herbs…which, brajute is a herb, made of MEAT. idiots. I got my money back, but my friend paid even though she didnt eat but two bites. We went there alot to meet friends, so i guess she didn’t want trouble. Oh well.

  18. Jim

    I’ve had the opposite experience.

    My wife and I went to a Chinese restaurant that served meat and had what I would call a ‘secret’ menu – they had versions of some of their more popular chicken dishes made vegan with wheatmeat substituted. I ordered one of them and when I tasted it, I had to call the waiter over and make him swear that it was not meat. Without the immediate flavor of chicken buried under all that sauce, the texture was just like chicken. He said it was not, but I swore up and down that it was. I ate it, knowing that if he were wrong I would be violently ill. Needless to say, I was fine.

    However, I’m always nervous (as are most vegans and vegetarians) as to whether this meat substitute food has never touched the same surface as meat, or whether sauce contains meat-derived stock or “natural flavors” made from animals. My wife and I have discovered a restaurant where we live in the San Fernando Valley which has become the only place we eat Chinese food. The menu is entirely vegan, and uses several variations of wheatmeat, textured soy and mushrooms to represent chicken, beef, pork and seafood used in traditional Chinese cooking, in all the classic sauces and preparations. So now we can avoid the problem of meat sneaking into the dish. And the food is great, too. I would eat there even if I was a carnivore.

  19. shananigans

    Unless itís a vegan restaurant thereís a very high probability of some sort of meat contamination in the food. As in the same utensils, surfaces, cook wear, or even same oil or boiling water that were used in the preparation of your meal also were also used on meat. Sometimes itís hard enough to get it across to a restaurant that you donít want any meat or animal product in your food, let alone you want them to completely segregate your food from any of those products in the kitchen. I donít think about it too much because if I did I couldnít bring myself to eat anyplace other than vegan restaurants.

    On two occasions I have accidentally been served and bitten into chicken burritos, which really sucks because you have no way of seeing the meat before it hits your mouth. I canít even describe what that tastes like. Before I really even registered what happened I spit it out, shocked by the nasty, vile taste in my mouth and was rinsing with water. Gross! Of course all I got was a replacement and not much of an apology.

  20. sue

    Years ago, my husband ordered takeout from a Chinese restaurant, specifying he wanted to order from the vegetarian menu and that he wanted one order of the vegetarian eggplant with garlic sauce with brown rice and one order of the vegetarian something or other dish (can’t remember now). I take out my vegetarian eggplant w/ garlic sauce and notice that the rice is actually pork fried rice in the same container of the eggplant. I called to complain and the guy just didn’t care, he kept telling me I should be grateful because pork fried rice cost extra. Never ordered from there again.

  21. cindy

    What a horrible experience that must have been. I have been served cheese in restaurants before, even though I asked for no cheese on my spaghetti, but that is not nearly as bad as being fed meat.

  22. Chelsa

    I was on vacation with my family and we went to some restaurant and I ordered a quesadilla with no cheese. It was the only thing on the menue that didn’t have meat, so I figured I could have it without cheese. She hands me my plate and it has cheese on it. She left before I could say anything, but when I finally got her attention, she seemed confused. I don’t know what’s so confusing about no cheese. I just asked for chips and salsa instead. We’re never going there again.

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