The Dish: Hunan “fish”

The Location: Yuan Fu Vegetarian Restaurant, 798 Rockville Pike, Rockville, (301) 762-5937

The Price: $12.95

The Skinny: Right or wrong, vegetarians and vegans have a reputation for demanding that every sentient being convert to their way of eating. They, in other words, want folks to start butchering millions of innocent plants, which, after all, aren’t bothering anyone and, in fact, are enriching our lives with all that precious oxygen that we breathe into our ungrateful lungs every second of every day. Hey, just because a plant can’t scream doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel pain! Okay, I’m teasing. I actually love vegetarians and vegans for being brave enough to sacrifice many of the pleasures of eating for the sake of animal welfare and other worthy causes. What I don’t love is the culinary brainwashing that some veg-heads try to use on those of who continue to indulge our palates with the rich, sinful, we’re-going-to-hell joys of dead-animal products. I’m sorry, but soybean protein is no substitute, tastewise, for anything that used to swim, cluck, fly, or stand around in a freaking feed lot. It just isn’t. And let’s not even get into the subject of cheese alternatives, which I believe are produced by tire manufacturers in Akron. Now with that off my chest, I have to say that Yuan Fu Vegetarian Restaurant in Rockville turns out a respectable Hunan “fish” dish, which offers up generic, TV-dinner-like slabs of fake flesh molded from soybean protein and seaweed. You’re never going to mistake the mouth-feel of these soybean bars for any scaly creature caught in a trawler’s net, but the seaweed does give the dish a certain oceanic taste, and the crunchy exterior works hard to imitate a pan-fried fish (even as the sweet sauce doesn’t try hard enough to mimic the more fiery tastes of Hunan). After a few bites, you practically forget that the dish is soybeans and seaweed in fish finery, and you accept it on its own meatless terms. Which, I think, is what vegans have been trying to tell me for years.