‘Wu’-ed by vegetarian food

Columns Veg'n Out

June 8, 2014

Story By: Andy Beth Miller | Photos by: Lawrence Tabudlo

I have always known that Chinese cuisine is often associated with vegetarianism, yet it wasn’t until recently that I decided to delve deeper into this mysterious meat-abstinence evolution of the ancient East. Dating back to 507 AD, China’s Emperor Wu of the Liang dynasty, a devout Buddhist and strict vegetarian, is credited for converting to the faith — then spreading its sans meat mantra throughout the country.

One of the ways Wu “wooed” his subjects to opt for animal-free was by penning a plethora of articles prohibiting the use of animal sacrifices (as was the country’s custom previously) and advocating abstinence from both wine and meat. His credo must have been pretty convincing, because as history would have it, China’s cuisine began reflecting a definite leaning towards leeks and legumes in lieu of lamb — and that ain’t half baaaaaad!

After researching Wu, I must confess I’d like to create a fan club just for him — the “Wu-Liang Clan” perhaps? Hmm … I will have to revisit that later. But in the meantime, how about some lunch?

Royal Garden Chinese Restaurant, located on the third floor of Honolulu’s Ala Moana Hotel, is the perfect spot to please the palates of patrons who eschew all things that moo.

“Just let your server know right when you place your order about your dietary restrictions and wishes,” says owner Calvin Wong. “We are happy to accommodate MSG-free, gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan — just be sure to let us know.”

On the menu this week includes Joke San with Chinese Cabbage ($16.95), a light and flavorful creation featuring bamboo mushroom and baby cabbage. “This type of mushroom is rare and believed by the Chinese to hold the very best in health benefits,” explains Wong.

Braised To-fu with Vegetable ($14.95) presents cubes of soft tofu, first fried then braised tender and teamed with brown mushrooms, Chinese green peas and a savory sauce. The initial frying of the soybean curd provides the substance and chew-factor that tofu often lacks in veggie dishes.

Law Hon Jai (Mixed Vegetable) ($13.95) is a colorful concoction featuring Chinese peas, bean sprouts, black and straw mushrooms, black and white fungi, bamboo shoots, carrots and lily flower. “This dish is especially popular with our customers who have Buddhist beliefs, as they know it is okay for them to eat,” assures Wong.

In fact, after speaking with Wong at length, I am convinced of the deep care and attention to detail that goes into every dish — it just makes you feel special. And speaking of specials, Royal Garden is offering its carnivorous clientele 50 percent off Stuffed Duck (regular $45, now $22.50) for the entire month of June. Also featured are its chef recommendations of Sizzling Boneless Short Rib and Brochette Fresh Kahuku Shrimp entrees.

Serving up selections that would make even Emperor Wu swoon, Royal Garden is officially welcome in our vegetarian fan club anytime — I’ll keep working on that name.

Contact Andy Beth Miller at diningout@staradvertiser.com

Royal Garden Chinese Restaurant

Ala Moana Hotel, Third floor
410 Atkinson Drive, Honolulu
Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5:30-9:30 p.m.
Saturday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5:30-9:30 p.m.

Honolulu, HI 96814

Hawaii's Best
Hawaii's Best