A sprinkle of chili, some pinkish “pork” and a few basil leaves tossed into a sizzling wok — chef Songpol swears his vegan version of punchy Thai favorite pad kra phao is a match for the original, as plant-based protein creeps onto Southeast Asia’s meat-heavy menus.
“It has the texture, the flavor [of pork]. The rest is about technique,” he said in the bustling kitchen at the Bangkok You & Mee restaurant.
But he concedes some diners remain to be convinced of the merits of fiddling with old recipes in a country ferociously proud of its cuisine.
“They do not expect plant-based items to be cooked with Thai dishes,” he added.
Global food producers are racing to dominate the “alt-protein” sector, an industry Barclays bank estimates could be worth US$140 billion in a decade, as environmental, ethical and health concerns drive a plant-based boom.
Shares of beef-less burger maker Beyond Meat soared from their initial pricing of US$25 to over US$65 on the first day of trading on Wall Street in May, whetting the appetites of both investors and consumers who shun animal products.
Burger King already sells the beef-free Impossible Whopper in many US locations, KFC has trialed vegan nuggets and wings, while plant-based milk, cheese and even seafood are proliferating.
But while the trend nibbles at the US’ gargantuan meat industry, alt-protein protagonists are also eyeing new frontiers including in Asia, where millions are nourished on meat and fish-heavy diets. Pork in particular is ever-present in rice dishes and noodle bowls across the region.
Chef Songpol’s pad kra phao is made with new brand Omnimeat, a pork imitation of peas, shiitake mushrooms, rice and soy from Hong Kong-based firm Green Monday.
“It is designed with Asian food in mind,” said CEO David Yeung.
After Singapore — where the brand launched in restaurants late last year — Buddhist-majority Thailand has become a major Southeast Asian test bed for the mock pork.
But changing Asian palates and culinary habits “is extremely difficult,” concedes Yeung.
‘THAIS LOVE THEIR MEAT’
In the US, the plant-based sector makes up less than one percent of the conventional meat industry.
Asia poses similar challenges, from ubiquitous meat use to higher prices of protein substitutes.
The pad kra phao at You & Mee costs about US$8, four times more than a diner might pay on a Bangkok street.
Critics also say that many new plant-based products are still processed and therefore not as healthy as advertised.
But a survey released last year by market research firm Mintel found over half of urban Thai consumers say they plan to reduce their meat intake.
In step, companies across the region are “starting to move into this area and attracting more serious investments,” according to Michelle Teodoro, a food science and nutrition analyst at Mintel.
From Japan to the Philippines, firms are snapping up alt-protein producers in deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars — while Singapore’s state-owned Temasek Holdings recently invested in Perfect Day Foods, which makes cow-less ice cream.
At some restaurants in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi, a popular stew of snails and pork now uses soy beans to replace the animal protein, while diners can also chow down on sweet and sour “ribs,” made from potato flour and bean paste.
But the jury is out on whether a critical mass of Southeast Asians will convert from meat.
One evening, Thai kindergarten teacher Diane Piroon tried the meatless pad kra phao in Bangkok.
It “tastes like pork,” she said, before dropping in a caveat: “Thais love their meat... the challenge is getting them to change what they grew up with.”
Summer isn’t the best time of year for high-altitude treks. At lower altitudes, however, there’s no shortage of short leg-stretchers that’ll get you immersed in nature without leaving you prostrate with heat exhaustion. Here are three in the south. THE SIRAYA HEARTLAND If this set of trails has an official name, I’ve not been able to discover it. But it seems that this patch of woodland, 14 km inland from central Tainan, is supervised by Sinhua Forest Area (新化林場), which itself belongs to National Chung Hsing University (國立中興大學). I associate the area with the Siraya people, an indigenous ethnic group still fighting
It can take ice cream maker Miky Wu (吳書瑀) months to create a new flavor. In addition to using only eco-friendly and organic ingredients, her brand 1982 de glacee also eschews artificial additives, replacing emulsifiers and stabilizers with Taiwanese rice and wood ear derivatives. Wu’s non-traditional methods and dedication to capturing the essence of the main ingredient can lead to hours and hours tinkering in her “research office” in Tainan, even referencing academic papers to get the science correct. Her efforts were recently recognized for the third year in a row by the prestigious A. A. Taste Awards run by the
June 29 to July 5 With women gathering rocks and men hurling them at thousands of rivaling neighbors, ritualistic stone battles were regular affairs for people living in Pingtung during the 1800s. Direct combat and use of weapons were prohibited to avoid serious injury, with the losers hosting the winners for dinner. These “guests” often acted rudely, and faced no repercussions for smashing windows or snatching their hosts’ possessions. These battles usually took place yearly, with a significant number happening every Dragon Boat Festival. The winners had rights to the losers’ banquet prepared for the festivities. Sometimes things would get out of
Certain historical statues have been disappearing in Thailand, but they are not effigies of colonialists or slave owners torn down by protesters. Instead, Thailand’s vanishing monuments celebrated leaders of the 1932 revolution that ended absolute monarchy in Thailand, who were once officially honored as national heroes and symbols of democracy. Reuters has identified at least six sites memorializing the People’s Party that led the revolution which have been removed or renamed in the past year. In most cases it is not known who took the statues down, although a military official said one was removed for new landscaping. Two army camps named after 1932