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Sunday, December 04, 2005

Green Garden Restaurant: Vegan in Paris, no I am not kidding

I often get emails from vegetarians seeking help for finding places to eat while in Paris. Frankly, I used to think that finding a vegetarian meal in a meat happy town like Paris was something of an impossible task. And if you are vegan on top of that, forget about it. Live on baguettes and water, I guess.

Happily, I just found a wonderful little place way out in the 13th. It is not just vegetarian even, but completely vegan, using only organic produce and no meat, dairy, or GMO food. And you know what? It was even delicious. There I said it, delicious!

The vegetarian tradition in many Asian cultures dates back centuries, most notably amongst the followers of Guan Yin, the Chinese goddess of mercy. Because of this long tradition, many Asian cuisines have developed recipes and means to manipulate soy protein to resemble meat in texture, forming the basis of most Asian vegetarian cooking today.

The restaurant, Green Garden, serves up precisely this tradition. On the menu, you will recognize many stir-fried and braised dishes common to Chinese menus, but they are all made with soy and not meat. And, in the tradition of refugees from Southeast Asia who were washed up on many shores by the fierce political winds in the 1960's and 70's, they also served some Thai, Laotian, and Vietnamese inspired dishes as well.

My friend Sophie and I found this place via a chance encounter with her friends from Singapore. He highly recommended it, so we went one night to give it a try. Actually, he was so sweet he called us while we were at the restaurant to make sure we ordered the good stuff.

The first dish was a Larb Gai, 'chicken' larb, which was lovely even though it could stand to be a bit spicier and a tad less sweet. This was served with some crispy fried rice, providing a nice texture contrast. What did it tast like? Chicken, silly. No, really.

BrochettejaeWe had a very flavorful Green Garden braised dish, with napa cabbages, mushrooms, and soy protein made to resemble Abalone meat, a very good dish to eat with plenty of white rice. There were also some brochettes, grilled 'meat' on sticks. They were supposed to resemble pork I think, and they did, albeit a rather chewy specimen. It was pretty good nonetheless.

Rizalavietnamienne_2The final dish was a Vietnamese rice, with white steamed rice topped by coconut, peanuts, carrots and other vegetable, with the ubiquitous Nuac Mam sauce. There were also some rather nice coconut juice and non-alcoholic beer to wash everything down. I didn't try the beer, preferring to stick with the fresh coconut drink, but Agnès did, and she asked for a second. It couldn't have been that bad then I suppose.

All in all, it was quite a nice meal, and it barely costed us $15 euro each. Though I don't expect to become a weekly regular –since I do still eat normal meat- I could see myself going there again soon to try other interesting things on the menu.

I do have to warn you about something however. Although the Guan Yin worship is far from being a cult, I did get a distinct feeling of being in a 'religious' establishment at that restaurant. No, they are not going to try to convert you or anything, but they do wear their faith on their proverbial sleeves, or on their walls rather. The walls are well adorned with portraits of a Chinese woman who is the leader of the Guan Yin worshipping sect. There are also leaflets and brochures that anyone could take with them as bedtime reading, but don't worry, no one is going to slip one into your bag as you leave. Go and enjoy the food, whether you pick up the religious message is entirely your choice. They won't go all Scientologist on you I promise.

Green Garden restaurant
20 Rue Nationale
Metro: Porte d'Ivry
75013, Tel : 01-45-82-99-54

By the way, while Googling the phone number of this place, I turned up a list of Vegetarian restuarants in Paris. Since some of you might find it useful, I'm going to post a link to it here. Mind you, I've never been to any of those places besides the Green Garden, so I can't really recommend them.


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