Can a meatless beef bowl pass the “meat” test?

Those who live or have lived in Japan will be familiar with the chain restaurant Sukiya, which is a casual eatery that serves beef bowls with all kinds of toppings, curry, and even limited-time-only menu items. What you might not know is that Sukiya has expanded to other parts of Asia, including Taiwan, where our Japanese-language reporter Yui Imai lives.

In fact, Yui happened to be visiting her local Sukiya for a bite to eat when she noticed something unexpected on the menu: meatless beef bowls. They were called “素肉丼” or “vegetarian meat bowls”, and, based on the picture, their “meat” looked just like pork. But how would they taste? And would they have the right texture? Yui was curious, so in lieu of her usual order, decided to try it.

The “meat” is made with soy, but since it uses the same broth as the normal beef bowl, it’s not truly vegetarian, so that’s something to remember if you keep to a strictly plant-based diet. But if you’re looking to eat less meat, this could be a great option. There were three varieties: plain, topped with kimchi, and topped with okra.

Yui ordered the plain Vegetarian Meat Bowl for 99 New Taiwan Dollars (about 442 yen, or US$3.22). For an extra 40 NTD, she added a set that came with boiled seasonal vegetables and miso soup, for a total of 139 NTD (in case you were wondering, while Sukiya in Japan serves salads in its sets, Sukiya Taiwan serves boiled vegetables instead.)

When Yui’s Vegetarian Meat Bowl arrived, she really couldn’t believe her eyes. It looked just like pork!

But it definitely didn’t taste like pork. The “meat” was much softer than she expected, and its rather limp constitution was a bit surprising. It lacked the gritty texture of meat stir-fried in oil, and the smoothness of it was strange on her tongue. It honestly didn’t have much resemblance to meat at all, but the faint soy flavor of the plant-based meat was nice, and it had soaked up the sweet and spicy sauce perfectly, so in the end, Yui actually quite liked it. As long as you aren’t going into expecting to have the same experience as meat, you might like it too!

Of course, if you’re a true vegetarian, this won’t be a good option for you. In that case, we recommend CoCo Ichibanya Taiwan’s Plant-based Hamburger Curry instead, since its roux and “hamburger” are both plant-based. If you’re in Taiwan craving a taste of Japan but wanting to skip the meat, you can’t go wrong with these options!

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