The vegan chef de cuisine has three options when planning his animal-free menu. First, ignore mock-meat entirely and serve tofu as tofu and vegetables as vegetables, without subterfuge. Such is the approach at M Cafe de Chaya, those green tendrils sprouting from the Chaya empire's trunk, where plants and plant-based protein are allowed to stand more or less on their own merits. Second, roll your own un-meat. Sometimes it pays off. Sometimes–as in the laborious, inscrutable doppelganger dishes on the menus of Native Foods and Real Food Daily–it doesn't. Finally, if you are a Thai or Vietnamese or Chinese cook of principled Buddhist extraction, toiling perhaps at the growing cluster of Happy Families in Monterey Park and Rosemead, you order from May Wah.
May Wah Healthy Vegetarian Food Inc. has all but monopolized the Asian un-meat market since landing in New York City in 1994. Their phenomenal success has everything to do with the Taiwanese-American company's efficacy with soy and myco (mushroom) protein that comprise the majority of their products, along with dribs and drabs of taro, yam, wheat gluten, seaweed and colloidal algae (a tiny fraction of May Wah products rely on whey). All items transit from manufacture in Taiwan to May Wah's modest NYC Chinatown storefront, where they're distributed to a network of vegan/vegetarian restaurants, health food stores and supermarkets that spans the Northeast, while restaurateurs across the U.S. can and do order wholesale. If you were convinced that soy fish fillet at Happy Family was all too similar to the slivers of soy fish bobbing in your Vegan Glory green curry–May Wah. If you've ever pondered who might be capable of realizing veggie shark fin–May Wah. Or if you crave expert un-Asian un-meat, say chicken nuggets or bacon, there's a May Wah for that too.
The firm's ubiquitous, under-the-radar menu lists over 100 items. If you've eaten vegan in L.A., you've likely eaten May Wah. They make the familiar–Gong Bao and teriyaki chicken, citrus spare ribs–and the distressing–simulacra Cordon Bleu pork chops, abalone and grilled eel. While these outré main courses rarely appear at restaurants they do occasionally surface at 99 Ranch or 168 Market, along with similar items from Kimbo and Yuan Shian, though these brands are typically cut with egg and unsuitable for vegan consumption. If you can't find what you like at retail, just place an online order, $50 minimum, and veg impresaria Lee Mee Ng's Healthy Vegetarian will ship direct.