I have a beef with the overuse of vegan meat on UAE menus

As a plant eater, I'd like chefs to get a little more creative and think more about their growing vegan customer base

Impossible burgers are a good substitute for people new to giving up meat. Photo: Impossible Foods
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I feel that we should get something clear from the start: this is not a hate column against vegans. I am one. Not sure I'd refer to myself as a proud one — it's just a lifestyle choice I have made — but it's the way I live my life all the same.

So if you've clicked in to read some anti plant-based-diet spiel — because, let's face it, that's half the reason most people read stories about vegans — then you've come to the wrong place.

It is, however, a column against vegan meat.

Don't get me wrong, I eat the stuff. I even like the stuff, sometimes. But it's been exponentially infiltrating the UAE restaurant market over the past few years to a point that it's almost all anyone wants to offer us any more.

At first it was the Beyond Burger, adopted by a few burger joints and cafes here and there, but then the meat-free brand Impossible came in and everyone jumped on the bandwagon.

Impossible shawarmas, Impossible tacos, Impossible quesadillas, Impossible burgers.

Abu Dhabi, U.A.E., June 7, 2018.    Ramadan Standalone. A couple buy food from a Burger King outlet for iftar at the Adnoc Al Samha staion.
Victor Besa / The National
Reporter:   
Section:  National

The thing is, I don't believe the Impossible meats were really made with vegans in mind. They're more for people considering dabbling in a few more meat-free meals every now and then, or perhaps those starting their journey to a plant-based diet.

It's like the Impossible "vegan" burger at Burger King, which is cooked on the same grill as the meat. It's just not for us.

For me, the beef patties remind me too much of meat, and for someone who hasn't eaten red meat in more than a decade, it's simply too much and I spend the rest of the day trying to digest it. I'm sure many of my fellow vegans would agree — give us a vegetable-based patty any day. (To be fair, I do know plenty who wouldn't agree.)

I almost miss the days when I'd joke that every vegan option would be mushroom risotto or tomato pasta.

Of course, I'm in no way opposed to more vegan options appearing on menus in even the unlikeliest places and more people opting out of regular meat-based meals is no bad thing. Plus, the clearer labelling of dairy, egg and meat-free dishes is much appreciated.

But we were getting to a point where restaurants were being creative in what they were offering, and it was getting easier and easier to eat somewhere everyone else wants to go (I don't hang out with too many vegans).

Now, all of a sudden, it feels like everywhere I look, Impossible reigns supreme (Beyond pretty much left forgotten), and it's back to the days when I had to ask for the chef to make me something off menu (and I hate doing that).

Don't get me started on the restaurants that use vegan meat and then slather it with cheese, so even if you do like it, you can't have it (I'm looking at you Starbucks and Pickl).

Zaroob has introduced a vegan 'chicken' shawarma using meat by Tindle. Photo: Zaroob

I'd be truly interested to know how many non-vegans are actually ordering these dishes in comparison with the number of vegans who might have ordered the dish.

On the other hand, what I have been enjoying is the introduction of Tindle. The plant-based chicken meat is actually pretty good and far less offensive to my herbivorous palate than the beefs.

Zaroob's "not chicken" shawarma, for example, is a pure treat.

I'd also quite like to see more vegan fish options. New Dubai Mall joint Neat Burger has a fish burger, which uses jackfruit as its base, that is also really quite special.

But what I'd really like is for chefs to get a little more creative and think about their growing vegan customer base a bit more. At the end of the day, we're an enthusiastic bunch when it comes to new dishes and far more likely to come back to a restaurant simply because we're dreaming about that one plate. And we'll tell all our friends (who will listen).

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Updated: January 03, 2023, 12:04 PM
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