In a city that never comes short on dining choices, temptation is a sin. How can anyone pass on the slow-braised beef brisket noodles at Kau Kee, Under-the-Bridge chilli garlic stir-fried crab on a boozy Tsing Tao midnight, or Yardbird’s chicken oysters?
As a seasoned conscious-eating advocate, here are a few tips and tricks to overcome that just-turned-vegetarian hump:
Slow and steady does it right
Altering one’s diet is a long term and considerably dangerous thing. The nutrients that our bodies are used to obtaining from meat and dairy products are substantially different to the ones we get from consuming plant-based foods. Our bodies need time to adjust to diet transitions and although going cold turkey on certain addictions like video games and potato chips can turn out to be a really good idea, replacing plant-based protein and calcium over nutrients and minerals obtained from animal sources can be shocking to our digestive, circulatory, muscular, nervous and immune systems.
Cut down on animal products slowly, perhaps starting with red meat, then poultry, fish, and finally dairy and eggs if necessary. At each phase of elimination, substitute the kind of vitamins and minerals you would have obtained otherwise. For example, increase consumption of lentils, whole grains, hemp seeds, quinoa and leafy greens to replace protein intake obtained from red meat; and flax and chia seeds to replace omega fatty acids to replace fish.
Do not give in to peer pressure
Your friends will ask you out to dinner and at some point during the evening, a conversation over your decision to go vegetarian will naturally arise. Preparing yourself for all social aspects of your vegetarianism is crucial. Read up on the menu before attending a dinner, and if you know there’s not much for choice, eat beforehand or prepare granola fixes in your bag. As chunky and stereotypical as that may sound, granola bars can turn out to be your best friend.
A picky vegetarian is the worst kind of vegetarian. Do not discriminate against the potatoes because you’re also trying to eliminate carbohydrates from your diet. Tomatoes do have more flavour when they are eaten raw, rather than if it is cooked down into a marinara sauce. Giving in to agedashi tofu as opposed to steamed tofu for one meal out of a week is okay, provided that the dashi is bonito-free.
Try things you have never had before
Bitter gourd? Kamut? Chia seed pudding? Avocado chocolate mousse? There is an endless plethora of colourful and nutritious ingredients from all over the world that we have yet to touch on. Don't be afraid to be adventurous.
Most importantly, love your food
Dining is an experience, and whatever motives, beliefs and/or values you made in the decision to become vegetarian, don’t forget to eat. The idea is not to restrict, but to replace the usual meat products with cleaner, more sustainable and nutritious foods. Share that experience with your family and friends, eat like it matters, and let what you consume heal you.
So, how does anyone pass on meat when it’s (sometimes) done so well? Eliminating certain foods from your diet is the same as giving up alcohol. It’s so good, yet so bad for you. Stay strong-willed, don’t be afraid to experiment, and let the vegetables guide you.