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