Meat Floss And The Vegetarian: My Unplanned Affair

I’ve been a vegetarian since I was about ten. As far as vegetarians go, I’m pretty standard:  no meat, chicken or fish.

I love to get immersed in the countries I’m visiting. This means getting as far away from any English speaking folks or signs as I can.

As a vegetarian, this can be pretty tough. I break out a few words in Mandarin (or Thai, or Cantonese) and ask for something with no meat. I almost always end up with pork or fish, because most people assume vegetarian means only avoiding red meat. Vegetarian is a concept that just doesn’t translate well.

Meat On A Stick Street Market Krabi Thailand

Meat on a stick at a street market in Krabi, Thailand

After seemingly countless meals trying to order vegetarian food, I was getting frustrated. And hungry.

And then I found the bakeries.

Bakeries in Taiwan

Bakeries in Taiwan © ACaDeMiK Flickr Creative Commons

Beautiful cases of delicious rolls, breads and pastries. Perfect for a vegetarian, right? Charles, who’s not a vegetarian, sure wasn’t arguing. And it turns out that almost all of the countries across Southeast Asia share these wonderful bakeries.

So I’ve spent most of our travels eating my way through the bakeries of Southeast Asia. It’s been wonderful. It’s the perfect excuse to scarf down delicious buns with cotton candy like floss on top, savoury cheese buns and baked treats.

Not knowing the language really hasn’t mattered, since it’s usually easy to spot and avoid the meat.

I thought I had been doing well… until I found a sign like this in Hong Kong, a few months into our last trip to Asia.

Pork Floss Bun

Pork Floss Buns © pjf@cpan Flickr Creative Commons

Dammit. Yeah, you read that right. Pork floss. It seems all that delicious cotton candy type floss I had been enjoying was actually meat based.

Yep, that’s right:  I’m a vegetarian, and I’ve traveled the world unintentionally fueled by meat floss.

Now for anyone of Asian descent, this is probably not a revelation. But I grew up in rural Alberta, Canada. The most worldly thing in our spice rack was labelled oregano. Meat floss was definitely not on the menu.


MK And The Little Man Hong Kong Harbor

I'm probably hopped up on meat floss. In Hong Kong Harbor with my little man.

More about Meat Floss

I may be the rare vegetarian able to tell you this from personal experience:  Meat floss is sweet like cotton candy, but salty at the same time. It looks a little like brown dryer lint, and dissolves in your mouth.

Wikipedia tells me that meat floss is made by stewing pork in sweet soy sauce until the meat falls apart. The muscle fibres are teased apart, and then it’s dried in the oven and a dry cooked in a large wok where flavors are added.

Sometimes it’s called rousong, meat floss, pork floss, meat wool (mmm…. meat wool… who wouldn’t want to eat that?). There are two common kinds of pork floss: pork sung (the lyrical kind?) and pork fu (I guess that’s the badass kind).

What crazy things have you eaten (intentionally or unintentionally) on the road? Let us know in the comments below – we’d love to hear about it.

Meat floss in a box

Meat floss in a box © Proper Pictures Flickr Creative Commons

16 Responses

  1. Kimmy

    Hi Micki, Thanks for visiting my humble food blog. You are sure lucky to be travelling all over the world but I noticed that your categories do not include Malaysia. Have to travel to this country esp. Penang? Just to share with you an information on meat floss. Meat floss is non-vegetarian cos’ the basic ingredient is either chicken, pork or fish. If you interested in meatless dishes, you are welcome to my collection.

    • Micki Kosman

      Hi Kimmy, We have been to Malaysia, Penang included. Loved it very much! Yes, I was definitely surprised to find out the floss I’d been eating was meat based.

    • M.L. Acord

      Today, I brought vegetarian meat floss. My local chinese supermarket is all kinds of awesome!

  2. Mary @ The World Is A Book

    I don’t know how you were able to travel to all those Asian countries as a vegetarian, Micki. These food pictures are making me hungry at this late hour. I’m not sure if I’ve had meat floss and now I will need to look for it in my Asian market. I just tried whale a couple of weeks ago in Iceland and didn’t care too much for it. My husband is the adventurous eater and will try anything – the stranger the better.

    • Micki Kosman

      Hi Mary, It was definitely challenging to travel the more remote parts of Asia as a vegetarian. That said, it was so worth it, as I had an amazing trip. I wouldn’t advise eating meat floss by itself, I’d go to a bakery in a Chinatown and try one of the rolls with it on top. Though I have since learned that it’s often sprinkled on top of savory meals, and some people even eat it in sandwiches.

      I know what you mean about photos making you hungry. I’ve developed a bad habit of watching Diners, Drive-ins and Dives before bedtime and have gained about five pounds because of it.

  3. JPM

    Micki, what a strange story… about a strange thing, this “meat floss”. I remember seeing the name sometimes traveling in Asia, but I don’t think I’ve had it. When I’ve seen “floss” I thought it was some sort of mistranslated something, and I never really pay much attention to names of meat stuff; my vocab is pretty weak in that department. I would certainly be fairly grossed out if I had eaten it (having been a vegetarian for so long) but what can you do, ya know? Sometimes it’s all just a lesson in acceptance and humility. I’m sure there are other things I’ve eaten which I’ve never even found out were non-veg.

    • Micki Kosman

      I love your comment about acceptance and humility. That’s exactly what traveling should be all about. I was pretty grossed out about eating the meat floss, but also had a really good laugh about it. Travel has a way of breaking you completely out of your comfort zone – maybe a little to far in this case 🙂

  4. Wendell

    As a 3rd gen vegetarian and in the travel space your post hit home in a big way! Very funny and a great look into food culture. I am adding “meat wool” into my translator today. 🙂

  5. Ashley

    While my husband traveled most of Asia before he retired from the USAF, I have not. However my unexpected eat was while I was in Haiti. I have been traveling back and forth from Haiti for over 10 years and decided I would “GO Local” and try a food vendor with some of my Haitian friends. We can to a dish that looked sooo good. It included a fried bananas, a pickled hot slaw, and what looked exactly like little cuts of grilled steak. So I decided that this would be something not to crazy, yah right! After I finished what was one of the best tasting meals I have ever eaten I had a bright idea to ask what cut of steak I had eaten and how they cooked it. All to my surprise they began to explain that it was pig intestines that they had soaked in lime juice, boiled, and then hard grilled. I am not a vegetarian but I am not a fan of intestines either. All I could say was WOW!

  6. Alison

    Hi Micki

    just came across your site, as a Asian vegetarian, need to let you know, there is vegetarian meat floss, I can confirm you can get them in vegetarian supplier shops readily in Taiwan and Singapore.

  7. Jim Ng

    As a vegetarian living in southeast Asia, I can tell you that there is definitely the concept of vegetarian in Asia. Most Buddhist Monks are vegetarian and some are strict vegans who don’t even eat onions. In Chinese, the word for vegetarian is 素 or 斋. I hope it helps you if you travel through Asia again.

  8. Julianna

    Looked up pork sung and found your site. Yes there are vegetarian types made out of mushrooms too and also fish types (but I don’t know if fish is in your diet). All very tasty! I’m Chinese but born in Los Angeles. I grew up with pork sung but as an adult I don’t prefer to eat pork. So I look for the vegetarian one.


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