I am not a vegetarian. I kicked the idea around once when I was younger, but it didn’t stick. I caved pretty quickly at the offer of a hamburger.
In recent years, I have tasted various garden burgers, imitation bacon products and tofurkies. In each instance, their displeasing taste and texture have confirmed that I simply don’t have the commitment needed to adhere to this diet.
I have plenty of friends with better follow-through, however, who eschew meat for health, religious or moral reasons. Some eat fish, but not red meat; some eat beef, but not pork; and some have chosen to be vegan, giving up all animal proteins including dairy and eggs.
Each of their diets has many restrictions, and I imagine that it is hard for them to find something on a menu when eating out. Most restaurants will offer one or two vegetable-based meals, but Wild Ginger, a Thai, Chinese and Japanese restaurant tucked away in the corner of the Justa Farms shopping center off County Line Road, specializes in vegetarian meals.
Upon arriving at Wild Ginger, I was impressed with how beautiful it was inside. A lovely fish tank welcomes you at the door, and long contemporary strings of crystals hang from the ceiling to separate each booth. Four tables abut and surround a tall, square glass waterfall set in the middle of the room.
The kids and I were seated at one of these waterfall tables, and ate dinner with a dear friend, who also happens to be the wife of my husband’s boss. Although there is meat offered on the menu, Mrs. Boss and I committed to eating like we were vegetarians to fully experience the niche cuisine Wild Ginger had to offer. Why go to a restaurant specializing in vegetarian and vegan cuisine, and order the chicken?!
To start, we ordered scallion pancakes ($4.25). With their flaky outer layer and chewy interior, they were hard to stop eating, especially when dipped in the accompanying dark and delectable sauce. It tasted like dumpling sauce, which usually consists of equal parts rice wine vinegar and soy sauce, with some minced garlic for good measure.
We also split an octopus salad ($5.95). I’m not sure whether cephalopods count as meat, or if they are technically fish, but the dish was wonderful. The tender white rings were tossed with finely chopped ginger, eggplant, cucumber, hot pepper and seaweed. It was spicy, yet cool, with a fishy pop from a light sprinkling of bright orange caviar and golden sesame seeds.
As is our modus operandi at Asian restaurants, I ordered the kids sauce-free steamed broccoli and carrots with a side of rice. This cost $8.50, which seemed a little exorbitant, but when it arrived, it was a large steamer full of the vegetables and a generous portion of white rice.
I ordered from the designated vegan section on the menu, and chose a dish called Twilight ($9.95).
I am not sure why it is so named, but I am fairly certain it has nothing to do with the über-carnivorous vampire series. There are other strangely named dishes in this section of the menu, like Golden Pond and Forever Young, but my dish included triangular hunks of firm bean curd (aka tofu), fried crispy, and tossed in a sweet garlicky glaze along with carrots, eggplant and green peppers. It was truly delicious and surprisingly hearty.
As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t finish it all.
Mrs. Boss asked the waitress to bring her Wild Ginger’s signature dish, and received the Rainbow Stir Fry ($13.95). This was also a vegan dish with lots of vegetables, including snap peas, snow peas, broccoli, carrots, red onions, peppers, water chestnuts and baby corn, all coated in a sauce subtly flavored with Chinese Five Spice.
This spice blend, available blended and bottled at most supermarkets, is supposed to balance yin and yang through flavor with cinnamon, star anise, fennel, cloves and cayenne pepper. It added a spicy and slightly sweet licorice taste to the light brown sauce.
Along with the vegetables, the Rainbow Stir Fry also included slices of imitation meat, and I was impressed with how closely they resembled actual meat. Granted, the seasoned sauce was a nice mask, but the faux beef was tender and flavorful. It was a bit mushier than actual beef, but perhaps that isn’t a bad thing, as beef can become unpleasantly stringy and chewy in a stir fry.
The “chicken” pieces were lighter in color, and even softer in texture than the “beef,” but were a nice addition to the meal.
The menu listed faux ham as an additional ingredient, but we didn’t find any. Although I was curious to taste it, we were perfectly happy with the dish as it arrived.
All our al dente vegetables, various soy proteins and snappy brown rice left us feeling pleasantly satisfied. I didn’t even miss the meat.
To my gluttonous palate, vegetarianism seems a great sacrifice, but the meatless offerings at Wild Ginger didn’t feel like denial.
They tasted like indulgence.
Wild Ginger earns 4 out of 5 Whisks for delightful vegetarian dishes that make you forget you are missing meat.
Second Helping of Information:
Location – 1928 County Line Road, Huntingdon Valley, PA 19006
Hours – Monday through Thursday: 11am – 10pm; Friday and Saturday: 11am – 10:30pm; Sunday: noon – 9:30pm
Phone – (215) 364-3960
Reservations – Not necessary
On the Kids Menu – No kids menu, highchairs are available.