For many Chinese communities around the world, Lunar New Year is closely associated with a few food items: oranges, pineapple tarts and bak kwa.
Save for the oranges, none of that is vegan – especially not bak kwa – the preserved and grilled strips of meat that draws snaking queues when the season rolls around.
But that doesn’t mean that those of us on plant-based or vegan diets can’t partake. In fact, given Chinese culture’s long history of meatless eating, a few food producers have gone the extra mile to create vegan versions of these festive nibbles.
Some of these are labelled vegetarian but are actually vegan, as these are produced by traditional mom-and-pop businesses who’ve been in business long before veganism as a term gained a foothold in Asia. These bak kwa products have been vetted by our members so read on to find out what they have to say.
See also: The symbolism of Chinese New Year food
Fans of tempeh will enjoy Angie’s Tempeh’s bak kwa, which makes its version out of thinly sliced slabs of fermented soy. These morsels are first marinated in a signature sauce and then barbecued until its edges are crispy.
“Splurged a bit to try this unique tempeh bakwa with my family for CNY! Love the smoked bbq sauce that’s on the sweeter side,” reviews @consciouscookieee. “Pro tip: Let the sauce marinate further into the tempeh for 2 days after collection & air-fry for around 3min for the ultimate deep caramelised taste right before it over-chars.”
Mr Bean is a household name in Singapore, found in just about every neighbourhood for its soy milk and desserts. Little known to many, the brand also offers vegan bak kwa which goes by smoked vegetarian jerky. It’s made primarily with wheat and soy protein as well as mushroom fiber. Abillion user @sazzie says, ““This tastes just like non-vegan bak kwa but with a much nicer, chewier texture 🙌🏼 LOVE having them on toast with some Nuttelex butter.”
Tong Tek Hang may market its bak kwa as soy fillets but make no mistake, these make a great vegan substitute. The Malaysian brand recommends serving them either cold or hot, the latter of which is ready after just one minute of baking. It also comes in three flavours: original, black pepper, and spicy. @Paradoksaalinen says, “Tried the spicy version and I like it. Chewy and tasty. Seems like a good alternative to snacking too.”
If you’re looking for vegan bak kwa that comes in a coin shape, the version produced by Golden Coin is just the thing. It’s made primarily from lion’s mane mushroom and contains no alliums. “This spicy vegan ba kwa is one of the best I’ve tried this CNY,” reviews user @dankhx. “Tastes sweet and chewy and the spice level is pretty high.”