Last Updated: September 18, 2020
I’ve mentioned a few times to my editors that I recently quit vegetarianism, so I was asked to share why I started in the first place. In fact, prior to writing this article, I had to pull aside my Editor-in-chief, Zat, who commissioned this article, and admit to him that I’ve been a vegetarian for four years instead of the one I told him during my interview. I didn’t want him to find out this teeny white lie in an article.
But back to me. I don’t often tell people the real reason why I went vegetarian, because it’s honestly pretty embarrassing. When people asked, I’d make up an assortment of reasons—I did it for my health, I did it for the animals, I did it for a bet, I did it for the world (because I’m such a saint).
Well, there must be a statute of limitations to embarrassment, so why not tell it all?
Here’s why. It’s the elusive, embarrassing, yet underwhelming fact that I was scared off meat by the zombie movie, Cooties (2015, dir. Jonathan Milott & Cary Murnion).
In a plotline that strikes a little too close to home right now, a batch of chicken nuggets gets mutated, turning those who eat them into zombies. As it turns out, the infection only affects prepubescent children.
The movie follows a group of elementary school staff as they escape the zombie-children-infested school. It was a gross 94 minutes of blood and gore that I was completely unprepared to deal with.
Don’t get me wrong—I did know going in that I was about to watch the undead attack, and I do enjoy a good zombie thriller. But the graphic scenes of blistered and bloody schoolchildren made the show that much harder to swallow. I still gag looking at these pictures.
It could have been the mutant chicken nugget or simply the unforgettable images of savaged flesh, but I felt so sick that I refused to eat meat during dinner after the movie. In fact, the feeling lasted long enough to convert me to vegetarianism for the next four years.
It probably sounds very chicken (no pun intended) of me to quit meat over a movie. But let’s take a moment to get over that embarrassment, and we can start busting some myths about vegetarianism.
Vegetarianism does not diminish a person’s nutrient intake, even that of protein. I’ve had very caring friends and colleagues who’ve tried to overfeed me to compensate for my fewer food options. Once, the chef at a cafe I worked piled what felt like double the amount of quinoa into my bowl so that I wouldn’t ‘go hungry’. I waddled home that day. Don’t worry, people, us vegetarians, we’re good.
Another perception people have is that vegetarian diets are deficient of taste in the absence of meat. People often associate vegetarians to salad munchers, which I’ve always found such a sad and listless assumption.
There are so many flavourful, delicious, yet meatless, options around. Just beans, tofu, mushrooms, eggs and carbs alone can make dishes so titillating without meat. You just need to find the right pairings of flavours, which applies to any food regardless of cuisine or restriction.
If that’s not enough, don’t forget the plethora of plant-based patties and mock meat available. Depending on your preference, you could look for meat alternatives that imitate the taste and texture of meat, or simply find something flavourful but still clearly vegetarian.
For example, Impossible meats do come close to the real deal in terms of texture and taste, which I enjoy. At the same time, I do get unnerved when mock meat tastes too convincing. Those make me feel like I’m cheating on my diet.
Many people also confuse the terms ‘vegetarian’ and ‘vegan’ or use them interchangeably. The difference lies in that vegans avoid all meat and dairy products, while vegetarians avoid meat but can still have dairy.
As a vegetarian, I could still enjoy eggs, cheese and cream products, which definitely made things a lot easier on everyone around me. Yes, we vegetarians are a very considerate lot, considering what all you meat-eaters have to put up within our presence.
With my dietary restrictions, I know the feeling of being the lowest common denominator when dining in a group. Most of my friends and family are still meat-eaters, so they often had to make adjustments for my benefit, especially when dining out. It’s easy to feel like a bother in these situations.
With that always comes the instinct to be extra agreeable. I’m always happy so long as there’s one thing on the menu that’s remotely vegetarian-friendly, even if it’s not a very inspiring dish. I settled. A lot.
That said, I’ve become extra appreciative of places that offer larger vegetarian selections. If you’re a vegetarian among carnivores, these places might appeal to you. They were some of my favourite places to go knowing that I’d have ample options while keeping my meat-loving friends happy.
Here are five truce spots for vegetarians and meat-eaters to live and co-exist in blissful harmony:
Fatboy’s is great for its Impossible and Build Your Own Burger options. If you don’t feel up for something as heavy as the Impossible Patty (S$12 a la carte), you could opt for a Mozzarella Cheese Patty (S$4.50 a la carte) instead.
Your friends can indulge in meaty galore with the likes of The YOLO (S$19), which is a homemade beef patty, fried spam, fried egg, onion strings, Mozzarella Cheese Patty, and smoked Chipotle mayo sandwiched in a sesame seed bun.
Meanwhile, the vegetarians can opt for the Impossible Cheese Burger (S$18) for an equally rich and indulgent burger with none of the meat. Alternatively, you can construct your own burger with their wide selection of a la carte ingredients. Some highlights are the Mozzarella Cheese Patty, Fried Egg (S$1.50), and Guacamole (S$1.50).
Here’s a tip for the fans of pineapple on pizza: I highly recommend adding a Grilled Pineapple (S$1) to your burger. The hot, sweet and slightly sour pineapple against the other savoury ingredients makes it all the more juicy and delectable.
Fatboys also has a branch, FatPapas, located at Bali Lane, serving the halal-certified version of their burgers. Though they don’t serve the Impossible Patty or Mozzarella Cheese Patty here, there’s still the Portobello Mushroom (S$4.50) for a meatless option.
Of course, you can’t miss Cedele Bakery Kitchen when compiling a list of vegetarian-friendly places. The quintessential wellness place, Cedele has a wide range of yummy dishes that prioritise health without compromising on flavour.
They have an even balance of meat and plant-based dishes on their menu that can keep you and your friends happy.
My favourite is the Supergreen Pasta & Poached Egg (S$18) for its savoury and tangy coriander pesto and crunchy pine nuts. Talk about a wholesome meal.
What’s good about Cedele is that they also offer a fair share of vegan options, such as the Miso Tofu Pasta (S$16). If you have friends following a vegan diet, Cedele’s a good bet.
Cedele Bakery Kitchen: 252 North Bridge Road, Raffles City Shopping Centre, #B1-44M, Singapore 179103 | Tel: +65 6974 3914 | Opening Hours: 10am – 8pm (Mon to Fri), 9am – 9pm (Sat & Sun) | Other outlets | Facebook | Instagram | Website
For some homely Korean cuisine, head to Hyangtogol, also at Raffles City Shopping Centre. With vegetarian dishes demarcated by the friendly green ‘[V]’ sign amidst the sea of grilled beef and pork options in their menu, this is really the place to go for some hearty Korean comfort food.
One of the must-haves here is the Kimchi-Jeon (S$19.80), because it’s something that both vegetarians and non-vegetarians can enjoy. The chewy pancake base goes so well against the crunchy and sour fermented Napa cabbage.
For mains, I’m often torn because several dishes can be converted into vegetarian versions. The Dolsot-Bibimbap (S$17) is a hot stone pot rice dish with meat and mixed vegetables, but the meatless version is just as delish and fulfilling.
On days when I’m craving a hot soup, I’ll opt for the Haemool Soondooboo-Jjigae (S$15.60), which is a bracing seafood beancurd soup that can be prepared vegetarian. You can even switch the spicy broth for a non-spicy one, if you’re looking for something milder.
Hyangtogol Korean Restaurant: 252 North Bridge Road, Raffles City Shopping Centre, #B1-74, Singapore 179103 | Tel: +65 6336 4745 | Opening Hours: 11am – 10pm (Daily) | Facebook
Since most other fast-food chains are heavily meat-centric, here’s a shout-out to Stuff’d for their vegetarian inclusivity.
Stuff’d is a Mexican and Turkish chain that sells burritos, kebabs, tacos, quesadillas and daily bowls. Their regular options are chicken, beef con carne and smoked salmon, but they also have the Veggie (S$6.80 in burrito) and Impossible (S$9.80 in burrito) filling options.
Before they introduced Impossible meat to their repertory, I was a faithful stickler to the Veggie Burrito. Stuff’d burritos are so large that on a modest day, I could split one over two meals. Of course, modest days were far and few when it came to Stuff’d, and so I’d often savour the Veggie Burrito over a slow, indulgent hour.
I’ve tried the Impossible here too, but I did find it too convincingly like real meat. Somehow, when the patty has been minced, its texture becomes even more reminiscent of real meat.
However, if the thrill of accuracy in a meat imposter sounds strangely appealing to you, I think you’d be quite pleased with this. The Veggie remains my top choice here, though.
Check out their website to find the outlet nearest to you.
If you’re running on a wallet-friendly budget, food courts or coffee shops are a viable option. For example, Food Pavillion at Clementi is one of my favourite hide-outs. Amidst its meaty mala, porridge and lor mee stalls stands Su Xin Zhai, my vegetarian safe haven.
My usual mixed-rice order goes like this: white rice, paired with broccoli and sweet-sour mock meat made of rolled taukee (beancurd skin) for S$2.90.
On fancier, self-love days, I might go for the Chicken Rice (S$3) or Bak Kut Teh (S$3.50)—all vegetarian, of course.
In the end, coffee shops and food courts are still the most familiar spots for an affordable meal that satisfies different appetites and cravings. Though the coffee shop is open 24 hours daily, Su Xin Zhai opens from around 6am to 8pm everyday.
Food Pavillion Coffee Shop: 443 Clementi Avenue 3, Singapore 120443 | Opening Hours: 24 hours (Daily)
Even though I’m currently not following a vegetarian diet, I still like to go back to these places to reminisce the vegetarian options. It’s comforting and familiar, not to mention delicious.
Yet, I have to admit that going back to eating meat has been one of the strangest experiences—all I could think of in my first few forays was that I was sinking my teeth into what used to be live flesh. It took a bit of getting used to, but it was also admittedly incredibly freeing. It was nice to no longer be the odd one out when it came to choosing a place to eat. I’d forgotten how salty ham was when I took my first bite after four years, while my friends watched on gleefully now that I could again participate.
So, here’s my advice: If you’re considering adopting a vegetarian diet, do it! You will feel healthier, reduce your climate footprint, and get insight into the experience of dining as a dietary minority.
To help ease the transition, don’t go cold turkey. When I abruptly stopped eating meat after 16 years of it, there were times in the first two weeks when I felt more tired than usual. Try progressively cutting out specific meats, or pick a couple of days in the week to go without. That can help your body get used to the change.
Going vegetarian does not have to be a drastic or uncomfortable experience. If you’re doing it for wellness, it should feel good. And for those times when it doesn’t, believe me when I say that the Impossible Burger from Fatboy’s might just do the trick.