Where: Vegie Mum, 72 Johnston Street Fitzroy
What: The best mibs (mock ribs) in town
Who: Curly Hair Role Model, Sand Pirate Penguin, Feminist Film Fatale
Bloat score: 3 – I could have balanced a glass of wine on my bloated stomach
Long-time readers of Whatever Floats Your Bloat will know about my predilection for mock meat. Whether it’s the ficken (fake chicken) satay skewers at Box Hill’s Vegie Hut, the mork (mock pork) char kuay teow at the CBD’s Sarawak Kitchen or the muck (mock duck) noodle soup at Fitzroy’s Fina’s 2, I like mock meat in all its variations (I love mock meat so much I wrote an article about synthetic animal protein). The problem is, ‘textured vegetable protein’ and ‘meat substitutes’ are on my high-histamine list and I often feel like someone punctured a hole in my skin and blew gas into me after, so I eat it judiciously.
Sand Pirate Penguin – whose obsession with penguins is only matched by her fixation with the global war for sand – first told me about mock meat Chinese restaurant Vegie Mum in Doncaster but without either a licence nor a hankering for sitting in a bus for an hour, I was overjoyed to hear Vegie Mum had set up a second outpost on Johnston Street. FODMAP sufferers, you’ll be pleased to hear Vegie Mum’s food doesn’t have onion and garlic in it.
I visited Vegie Mum twice, so the aforementioned bloat score is an average of the two visits. The first time, I went with Curly Hair Role Model, who is both a vegan and owner of the best-styled curly hair this side of the river. We weren’t sure what to order – I hadn’t consulted Sand Pirate Penguin who had already visited the restaurant on multiple occasions by the time we went – and so we opted for the golden crispy king prawn rolls, the kung-po squid, and the roasted pork and duck noodles.
The prawn rolls comprised oblongs of mock prawns in crisp wheat casings, which are then dipped into a ramekin of sweet chilli sauce. This tasted as good as any deep fried thing would, although the mock prawns weren’t clearly discernible under the thick batter.
The kung-po squid arrived next, and it looked and tasted uncannily like real squid with its ribbed texture and slightly rubbery quality. Unfortunately, this wasn’t as fiery as a good kung-po should be, with a mild sweetness replacing the usual interplay between salty, sweet, sour and spicy in a kung-po. As a result, the mock squid was relegated to a flavourless heap of protein.
The roasted pork and duck with egg noodles swimming in a pool of sauce was much more satisfying, with the two different types of mock meat clearly distinct from one another. The wet springy egg noodles were a treat when coupled with either the crispy mock pork or the generous strips of slow-roasted mock duck, but again, I would’ve loved more heat in this dish. I asked for a serve of sambal on the side, and was given what was more like a sweet relish than anything with chilli in it.
Sufficiently disappointed by this encounter with Vegie Mum, I visited again with the restaurant’s most avowed fan, Sand Pirate Penguin, and Feminist Film Fatale who juggles her penchant for films with visiting every café in Melbourne. The exuberant owner of the restaurant instantly recognised Sand Pirate Penguin, who incidentally had char kuay teow leftovers from Vegie Mum for lunch. Needless to say, Sand Pirate Penguin and the owner were more than well acquainted.
This time, Sand Pirate Penguin took charge of ordering. We got the Shanghai sweet and sour pork ribs and the char kuay teow (sans egg because of Sand Pirate is a vegan), the black olive fried rice because I am a huge fan of Chinese olives – a condiment made from olives, preserved mustard vegetables, salt and oil – and the kung-po spicy chicken which we decided to take a chance on. We were unsure of whether to order the fourth dish, but Sand Pirate Penguin made the executive decision and it was the perfect amount of food for three people who eat as much as us.
The Shanghai sweet and sour pork ribs, which Feminist Film Fatale had termed ‘mibs’, were a table hit. Pierced with wooden spikes i.e. fake bones, these pork ribs were moist, tender and packed full of flavour.
The char kuay teow had good ‘wok hei’ (breath of the wok), living up to the first syllable of its name, with meat substitutes that harked uncannily to the lap cheong (crispy pork sausage) and prawns used in a traditional char kuay teow. With wilted spinach tossed throughout and noodles slicked in oil, this vegetarian char kuay teow was up there with the best vegetarian char kuay teow I’ve tasted in Melbourne at Sarawak Kitchen.
Feminist Film Fatale was initially dubious about the black olive fried rice, not knowing if the olives used so abundantly in Mediterranean cooking would go well with Chinese flavours, but the Chinese olive equivalent went down a treat. The simple yet impeccably cooked fried rice was speckled with tendrils of Chinese olives as well as diced carrots and beans and small slivers of mock meat – it was the perfect partner to the other dishes, which is not to say that it wasn’t a dish you could’ve eaten by itself.
The only disappointment was the kung-po spicy chicken, which surprise surprise, tasted similar to the underwhelming kung-po squid I’d had a few weeks ago and which I’d neglected to tell my dining companions about. This was a touch better than the squid as the mock chicken absorbed the flavours of the dish more, but the serve was 70% fresh vegetables (which admittedly, we enjoyed) and 30% mock chicken.
If Vegie Mum could make a truly fiery hot sambal or a piquant chilli oil to accompany its dishes, I would be the happiest customer. As it stands, I’m keen to revisit it to try the more traditional Malaysian dishes it has on its menu, such as the popular Malay dish assam soy fish, the Nyonya fish and Hokkien mee.
I ended up with two bloats from the first visit and three bloats from the second visit, which resulted in an average of 2.5 bloats from Vegie Mum, which I’ve rounded up to three bloats. I’ll be back, perhaps armed with a pocket-sized ramekin of chilli oil.
Vegie Mum is open from 12pm to 2.30pm and from 5pm to 10pm every day.