Pan-Asian. What is it exactly? When I first heard the term “Pan-Asian” it felt to me like the restaurants were just trying to make more money by not pigeon-holing themselves into a particular kind of fare. Sort of like the place up the street from my house in San Francisco that served Chinese Food and donuts (while you were waiting for your dry cleaning). However, Pan-Asian food has emerged as a vibrant “cuisine”, with something for everyone. It has risen so much in popularity that unless you are living in a trailer park in Nova Scotia, you are likely familiar with the term. Vietnamese Pho, Japanese Maki Rolls, Pad Thai and Chinese Hot & Sour Soup are just a few of the myriad of dishes you can expect to see at such a restaurant.
However, if you are vegan, navigating the “Pan-Labyrinth” (yes, I said it) can prove a challenge. Many of the dishes, while they seem innocent enough, contain “secret” animal based ingredients such as fish oil, shrimp paste and oyster sauce. Often they are cooked in the same pans and fryers, and on the same grills and cooking surfaces as animal products. Luckily, though, and due in no small part to the prevalence of Buddhism in many Asian countries, many of these restaurants are familiar with the concept of “strict vegetarianism”, and have educated their staff about it. They are versed in animal derived ingredients, and have developed ways to “veganize” even inherently non-vegan items.
Taroko in Ashland is one such restaurant, and Rogue Valley Vegans had the pleasure of dining there recently. First of all, the ambiance is great. Classy, but not over the top. I would feel just as comfortable bringing a client here for dinner as I would hanging out on a Saturday afternoon. Secondly, the food was very good. I think we had a representative sampling from every Asiatic culture. I myself had edamame and Singaporean Spicy Noodles, and for once, someone knew what that meant. Thinly sliced jalapenos in delicate curried rice noodles … so good. Looking around the table I saw Yaki Soba, tofu dishes, Pho and a number of different vegan sushi rolls. Everyone enjoyed their meals very much and said they would absolutely come back.
On the heels of that, the manager and wait staff were fantastic. Our server, Sam, was very knowledgeable about the food ingredients and helped each of us order. He communicated with the cooks to make sure that our food was indeed vegan, and kept out of contact with animal ingredients. Christie the manager was also very accommodating, and made sure we were taken care of all through our dining experience, even later emailing us asking for feedback! Service like this is truly rare.
My only critique at this point is that they should have clear, vegan choices on the menu. Before we had our event, our fearless leader and my lovely wife, Mary, emailed ahead of time to ensure we were taken care of. We love her! Way to have our back Mary! The manager told Mary what dishes could be vegan, but then our waiter, Sam, told us otherwise. So it would be great if they got with the kitchen and created some vegan dishes, added them to the menu and marking them clearly. This removes the guesswork out of it, which we appreciate! We have high hopes for Taroko though because they have a willingness and desire to accommodate vegans and for this they have our loyalty. We will be back!