Wagamama’s new vegan dishes reviewed

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Wagamama’s vegatsu curry has been making waves in vegan circles – so I was excited to try it when I was invited to the Peterborough branch on behalf of the Peterborough Vegan Group.

My partner in vegan admin crime and I actually tried the whole vegan menu – but I’ve reviewed the kare burosu, yasai steamed gyoza and dessert in a previous blog – https://veganonadesertisland.com/2017/11/26/a-vegan-meal-out-at-wagamama-food-review/

It must also be said that the yasai katsu curry is newly vegan on the menu – originally, the salad dressing meant it wasn’t – that has been replaced with seasoning.

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The harusame glass noodle salad is also new to the menu – don’t worry, the noodles aren’t made of real glass.

It must be said that Wagamama has the Vegan Society accreditation – this is only possible through having a separate vegan fryer in the kitchen. When dishes are ordered they actually flash up white, green for veggie or orange for vegan on the kitchen’s order screen.

I love how the vegatsu and the mixed mushroom and panko aubergine hirata steamed buns are marked with a “vegan hero” symbol – both actually tasted heroic -although, I do wish they would use capital letters on the menu – as a former sub-editor, this offends me greatly (even if the food still rocks).

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I actually fell madly and passionately in love with the, now vegan, the mixed mushroom and panko aubergine hirata steamed buns (£5.50) as a starter. As a huge mushroom fiend (I love them – I’m not a monster with a fungi head), these were always going to appeal to me – but the buns are so soft that they just melt in one’s mouth. They are stunning.

The edamame beans (£4.50) and wok-fried greens (£4.50) are also fine – but not as fine as mushrooms or dumplings (previous blog again).

We washed these down with the new nix and kix (£2.75) drinks – the cucumber and mint tasted predominantly of cucumber and the mango and ginger of mango – so, I preferred the latter. Both contain cayenne pepper to boost the metabolism – you couldn’t taste this though. All 163 Wagamama branches now use paper straws, incidentally, so there’s no damage to the environment here.

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So, how was the vegasu (£10.75)? Pretty damn fine actually. I sold my soul to seitan a while ago and the devilish wedding between the gluten steaks and panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) works well here. The diner is served up a satisfying crunch before they taste the tender delights of seitan. The mound of sticky rice and mild curry (think chip shop curry sauce with class) and accompanying salad (a pleasant light vinegar hit) complete this dish.

A dish not to be upstaged? I thought so until I tried the yasai katsu curry (£9.75). The dish is a replica of the vegasu, except, instead of seitan, you get sweet potato, aubergine and butternut squash dressed in a coat of golden panko. And it works a treat.

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The soft veg compliments the panko gloriously, again working with the rest of the flavours on the plate to serve up a divine dish.

A mixture of flour, water and oil is used to coat the veg or seitan in order to make the panko stick, incidentally, thus veganising the dish.

 

The other new dish, harusame glass noodle salad (£9.50) comes with nice firm tofu, light noodles and a delicate vinegar hit. Again, this works well, especially in the summer months (what we get of them in the UK), and it’s nice to try tofu that actually has some flavour to it.

Elsewhere on the menu, the yasai pad thai (£9.95) is now vegan thanks to the use of rice noodles. The lime taste shines through here and I adore the fresh coriander leaves. This one uses silky tofu and has a nice sticky texture to it.

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The yasai yaki soba (£8.75) has a wonderful ginger hit – and the fried shallot garnish works a treat for me – I like onions almost as much as I like mushrooms! The substantial wheat noodles are a joy to devour too.

If you like things a little spicier, you could do worse than the yasai itame (£10.75). This contains a strong chilli kick and a lovely taste of coconut. The two work very well together to create a “wow factor”. This soup contains chunks of tofu and veg including bok choi – an underrated vegetable in my view.

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It would have been rude not to try the saki as they’re both vegan-friendly. The sho chiku bai (12%) is the cheaper option (£3.50)  and the mio (5%) is equally as nice, but more than twice as expensive (£7.25). Both a light and deceptively mild, although the former does have a strong alcoholic kick. The latter is a sparkling wine equivalent and is actually more refreshing and palatable than it’s more alcoholic sister.

I guess my only complaint is that I’d like to see more choice on the dessert front. While the two sorbets on offer are very nice, a more indulgent vegan offering wouldn’t go amiss.

But, in a city such as Peterborough, which lacks a fully vegan restaurant, the expanding range available at Wagamama is very welcome indeed. They also offer takeaway and delivery services.

https://www.wagamama.com/

 

Let’s talk iodine

Let’s talk about iodine

Why? Well, the Press and non-vegans seem to think it’s a problem for us vegans – isn’t it nice how they worry more about our health than we do?

Until recently, I, probably like many of you, hadn’t even heard of iodine, let alone wondered about its absorption into my body – so what is it?

In the words of the Vegan Society, “Your body uses iodine to make thyroid hormones. These hormones control how fast your cells work. In the UK, the recommended iodine intake for adults is 140 micrograms per day. Every vegan needs a reliable source of iodine in their diet.”

So now you know!

Earlier this year, there were a couple of articles about concern vegans weren’t getting enough of the stuff. There are always articles about what vegans lack (I lack tolerance for stupid comments made by non-vegans, for example), but I wondered how many people had actually heard of the stuff? So I decided to blog on it – because it’s important nutritionally. Iodine deficiency affects mental health and alertness and can cause fatigue and stunt mental growth in children – it’s vital pregnant women get enough (incidentally, breast milk is another good source). In the words of Wiki: “It may result in a goiter, sometimes as an endemic goiter as well as cretinism due to untreated congenital hypothyroidism, which results in developmental delays and other health problems. Iodine deficiency is an important public health issue as it is a preventable cause of intellectual disability.”

In other words, it’s important.

So, why is it a vegan issue? Well, some believe (wrongly) that animals are the only source of iodine – or the only reliable source anyway.

The best source is some seaweed (kelp, nori, kombu, wakame). But, the Vegan Society warns: “Although seaweed is a rich source of iodine, there are several reasons why it may not be the best option. The iodine content of seaweed is variable, and sometimes too high. Also, some types are contaminated. Iodised salt is not a good option because public health authorities recommend that we cut down on salt.”

They argue that a supplement may be the best option.  The Vegan Society markets a daily vitamin and mineral supplement designed for vegans called VEG 1, providing reliable intakes of vitamins B12 and D, iodine and selenium. Please discuss the use of supplements with a health professional to help ensure that they are suitable for you. Read what they have to say on the issue: https://www.vegansociety.com/resources/downloads/iodine

Personally, I adore samphire – I love foraging for it and cooking it – most of all, I love eating it! In fact, I wrote about it last year: https://veganonadesertisland.com/2017/07/23/foraging-for-samphire/

But it is rich in iodine. The amount of iodine in veg varies so widely because it comes from the soil in which they grow – and the amount in soil varies wildly. Therefore, the dairy and eggs supposed to be strong sources, also vary according to the amount of iodine the cows and chickens themselves receive.

The Vegan Society explains: “During the last century, farmers started supplementing animal feed with iodine because research showed that this could make their businesses more productive. This also resulted in a huge increase in the iodine content of cows’ milk, particularly during the winter months when grass is limited. Disinfectants containing iodine also contribute to the iodine content of cows’ milk because they are used to clean teats and tankers. It is probable that supplementation of animal feed boosted the iodine contents of meat and eggs too.”

In other words, animal agriculture is only a reliable source because the products are supplemented with it – hardly natural!

It also needs to be said that you can get too much. ODing on iodine causes thyroid issues and weight gain – so be careful with the supplements. The NHS online says taking a 0.5mg or less supplement a day is unlikely to have any adverse effects.

 

Veganism vs “veganism”

World Vegan Day was first celebrated in 1994 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Vegan Society. So, here in the UK, we can be proud of the fact that it all started here.

Marked on November 1st each year, it gives us vegans a chance to celebrate our diet and promote it to others. In the age of social media, that is becoming more and more easy.

But, as the number of vegans grows beyond what anyone could have imagined back when the Vegan Society was first born, I have to ask, has complacency set in?

I read about the big animal rights march in London, the weekend preceding World Vegan Day, where 2,000 vegans marched through the capital. Veteran animal rights campaigners remarked that 20 years ago that figure was 20,000 on some animal rights demonstrations – and that was at a time when the number of vegans wasn’t a patch on the figures we see now. I also read a piece by the Countryside Alliance remarking that the number of protesters at fox hunts each weekend was very much fewer these days than it was 20 years ago – and that’s before the Hunting Act, before the law gave a degree of protection to “sabs”.

This is where the difference between “veganism” and “animal rights” is highlighted most starkly. Many people debate the word “vegan” online, coupling it with “animal rights”, but, if we’re honest, people who follow a plant-based diet are, by the dictionary definition of the term, “vegan”. Newspaper articles highlight the fact that many people go vegan for health reasons, others do it for compassionate reasons, but aren’t what is seen as the “activist” type. Others are what many like to term “armchair activists”, and being an “armchair activist” has never been so easy. Social media means that we can sign petitions all day long – but does it make any difference? Well, yes and no, is the straight answer – as straight as you’re going to get anyway!

No, I haven’t gone all politician on you, but, it’s true, petitions do make the Press, they do make people aware as they pop up in people’s Facebook newsfeeds, but, on the whole, politicians tend to ignore them – look at the recent “Ban Grouse Shooting” petition – it got debated, and the MPs decided to totally ignore the will of the people. Politicians ignoring the people they serve? Never! Sadly, it was thus, and it is time and time again.

 

I have said before, and I stand by the fact that to be a vegan is to be an activist – you are saying “no, using animals as products is wrong”, and you aren’t adding to the death toll in slaughterhouses and on dairy farms – but do you need to do more? That, my friends, is a question only you can answer.

A rough history of veganism

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The rise of veganism over the past decade has be cataclysmic. It seemingly came from nowhere and its growing popularity almost mirrors the rise of the internet.

Change seems to happen so much more quickly in the 21st century, but much of that is down to perception as technological advances overshadow the changes in society itself.  However, the increasingly availability of vegan products and vegan options on restaurant menus cannot be underestimated.

 

The word “vegan” itself was coined in 1944 by British man Donald Watson. He is said to have created the word to describe vegetarians who also reject dairy products and eggs – something he felt very strongly about. Tuberculosis had been found in 40 per cent of the UK’s dairy cattle the previous year and Watson used this to his advantage, claiming that vegans are protected from tainted food. The modern parallel with bovine TB and the badger cull cannot be ignored here.  It proves that problems with industrial farming are by no means a new issue, and things have got worse rather than better in that respect.

Watson’s newsletter, The Vegan News, was printed and distributed in November 1944 and he formed the Vegan Society. The Vegan Society is still going strong today, as it their newsletter. Watson died in 2005, aged 95.

 

Several years before the creation of the word, one of London’s best known vegetarian restaurants had been named The Vega. Opened it 1934, it was the brainchild of Walter and Jenny Fleiss. The couple had a restaurant under the same name in Cologne, but had fled Germany when it became apparent that Walter was on a Gestapo list.

 

The first animal product-free cookbook was named Kitchen Philosophy and was published in 1949 by William Horsell, also from London, UK. The recipes excluded butter and eggs, so it is considered the first vegan cookbook – published many years before the word even existed.

 

Of course, discussions over the rights and wrongs of using any animal products had been raging long before “vegan” came into being as a word.

Vegetarianism was first mentioned by philosopher Pythagoras (his mathematics theories provoking groans in school children everywhere) around 500 BCE (before the common era). Followers of Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism have long rejected meat, considering it wrong to inflict pain on other animals. Also, the Ephra Cloister, a strict religious sect formed in Pennsylvania in 1732 advocated vegetarianism and celibacy.

The first Vegetarian Society was formed in England in 1847, three years later, the American version came into being.

The point I’m making is that veganism and vegetarianism aren’t new concepts, they are not trends that suddenly appeared with the birth of the internet, they are compassionate theories that have developed over time – and, incidentally, no, Hitler wasn’t a vegetarian, that’s a myth that has also developed over time.

When I first became vegetarian, there was a limited number of processed foods available, soya was the only plant milk and vegan cheese was unheard of, so in that respect, things have changed very quickly. Market forces have certainly given us a huge range of vegan products over the past few years, and social media means the word is definitely out. Things are looking very bright indeed for the future of veganism.