Last night marked our second visit to The Loving Hut vegan restaurant in Seattle's International District. I can't talk about the food without first giving a little background about the restaurant, and the woman behind it. But ... it's complicated. The Loving Hut is part of an international chain of vegan restaurants operated by independent owners under the auspices of Supreme Master ChingHai. Is that a cult, you ask? Well, maybe. In searching out information about Supreme Master ChingHai, I found lots of conflicting information concerning what may or may not be unusual business practices and behaviors. To keep this at a reasonable length, and not be negative towards the Supreme Master, I'll stick mainly to the positive message approved by Supreme Master on her various Web sites.
She was born in Vietnam in 1960 to Catholic parents, but was exposed to Buddhist teachings through her grandmother. Her father was a distinguished naturopath. She was married briefly to a German scientist (when she worked in Germany) but left the marriage to pursue enlightenment with spiritual masters in the Himalayas. She sought out, and eventually found, a teacher of the Quan Yin method of Buddhist meditation — the meditation on inner light and inner sound. Supreme Master ChingHai now accepts students of meditation, and offers her teachings free to all who agree to follow certain rules of behavior, such as being vegan, and giving up alcohol, drugs, tobacco and other vices.
The restaurant was pretty empty when we arrived, but several dining parties arrived before we left.
Her enterprise is massive, and she has millions of followers. But, I'm mainly concerned here with the restaurant and it's message. The restaurant's slogan is "Be vegan. Go green. Save the planet." Can't complain about that. The restaurant strives to serve delicious, healthy, organic, reasonably-priced vegan food. So far so good, right? And they have a parking lot — no small concession in hard-and-expensive-to-park-in Seattle. There's a literature table when you first walk in, and it has things like a vegan restaurant guide, and other information on embracing a vegan lifestyle. There was a "Meet Your Meat" DVD from Action for Animals, and a "Food Choices & Climate Change" DVD. The latter was obviously produced by the Supreme Master TV group, and it had photographs of Prince Charles, Hillary Clinton, Al Gore and, that's right, the Supreme Master. I haven't had a chance to view it yet.
There is a large-screen TV in the restaurant that plays the Supreme Master TV channel nonstop, but the sound isn't loud enough to encourage listening, and from where I was sitting, I was unable to see or hear well enough to understand what was showing. But no need to visit the restaurant if you want to watch, you can do it here: suprememastertv.com . It's available in many languages.
When we entered the nearly empty restaurant, we were greeted with disconcerting enthusiasm. I like to feel welcome at a business establishment, but occasionally a line can be crossed (I'm thinking of some experiences in Trader Joe's checkout line, to be specific) between welcome and weird. The young man who welcomed us, and became our waiter, was incredibly cheerful and helpful. Once I adjusted to his level of joy, I was OK, but something a little more subtle might have been nice. Do I sound like Scrooge?
So, by now you're wondering, how was the food? It was great. In spite of the overload of fake meat on the menu, I enjoyed the dishes we selected on both visits, but last night was my favorite. I wish we'd had more people with us so we could have tried more dishes. And I wish we could go back tonight! For starters we ordered basil rolls. These looked like perfectly made, fresh Thai spring rolls, but wrapped inside with the basil, vegetables, tofu, clear noodles and unidentifiable meat-whatever, was a crunchy layer that might have been fried noodles. Whatever it was, it was amazing, and I want more.
Next we had Chinese Broccoli Noodle, which was filled with veggies, and was delicious. The vegetables tasted fresh, and the sauce was light — not heavy or greasy. I personally think it would have been better without the "beef," but we loved the large amount of Chinese broccoli and the ginger-flavored sauce.
Our second entrée was Curry Masala, with tofu, onion, and according to the menu, "all vegetables." This also was filled with fresh veggies, and topped with a delicately seasoned curry sauce. The dinner came with complimentary tea and brown rice. Although I really liked our food choices, I couldn't help but notice the huge bowl of fabulous looking soup at a nearby table. As we were leaving, I had to comment how good it looked, and ask what it was. It was called Bun Hue, and is a traditional, spicy soup that I'm ordering next time. Yes, we're definitely going back!
This past weekend we attended the Tilth Harvest Festival, a celebration of local, organic food and farmers. There were rows and rows of informational booths as well as vendors selling everything from vegetables to chocolates to chicken coops. And speaking of chicken coops ...
If you are vegan, what do you think of the whole backyard chicken movement? I spoke to a few members of a vegan group at the fair, and they showed me the information sheet they were handing out. The paper was a realistic discussion of the care and responsibilities involved in humanely caring for urban hens. It emphasized the commitment required to nurture and protect from predators, urban chickens that might live 10 years or more. What happens when the chickens stop laying eggs? What happens when they get sick and require costly veterinary care? Hens are often treated as disposable creatures — certainly as edible ones. I also learned about the possibly questionable sources for urban chickens. Factory farms that hatch chicks routinely either grind up defective and slow-hatching females and newborn male chicks alive, electrocute them, or throw them into trashcans, where they slowly suffocate. Buying chickens from these places supports the cruelty.
On the one hand, if individuals using the highest standards raised their own chickens for eggs, and never depended on commercial eggs, perhaps we could see a small reduction in the suffering of hens raised for egg production. Part of me is very attracted to the idea — I like chickens and find them interesting. On the other hand, I'm vegan, and would rather see the urban, organic, local food movement embrace a more animal-friendly diet. I admit to being a little put off by people in rapture over local cheeses, meat, and eggs.
While at the festival, we attended a fermentation workshop where the owners of Firefly Kitchens talked about and demonstrated their approach to fermenting foods. I sampled their carrot ginger slaw and it was really good. They put the shredded vegetables and salt in jars and pound them to release their liquids, then ferment them from three days to four weeks to obtain the desired results. I felt they were too casual with their directions, telling people to taste a salt solution to see if it was salty enough to prevent bacterial growth, and they didn't make a strong enough case for proper cleaning of jars and equipment. For people new to fermenting foods, there wasn't enough detail. I've done quite a bit of food preserving in the past (before I got so lazy :D), including pickling in jars and crocks, and was surprised at the lack of clear information.
The workshop made me wish I had my Japanese pickle press here in Seattle so I could make quick pickles. The pickle press uses salt and pressure to make vegetables release their liquid, creating fast pickles and fermented foods. I may just pay a visit to Amazon and see how much the presses cost these days. Or maybe it's time to visit City Kitchens, and take advantage of their birthday sale.
Before we left the festival, we stopped at DevraGartenstein'squesadilla stand where we found her selling three cook-at-home black bean tamales for $5. We bought three, took them home, and had tamales with leftover ranchero sauce, kale and salad for supper.