When you live in a different country from where you originated, you’ll know the dilemma with eating out at restaurants serving food supposedly from your own culture. On principle, I don’t usually visit Chinese restaurants much; not that there’s anything wrong with it, but because most of the time they’re not really dishes I crave or recognise. You’ll have probably experienced this yourself, when you’re travelling abroad and a restaurant claims to be serving ‘authentic (insert country) food’ whether it be British, Indian, American, Chinese or Mexican food. This definitely rings true for me.
We (my OH and I) were having a family meal with the in-laws at The Cotton House and I was game to give it a go.
Located on a main road in Bonnybridge, Falkirk, the restaurant is quite tucked away amongst residential and business buildings, but on the week night we visited, it was bustling and full of patrons celebrating special birthdays or just enjoying a night out with loved ones and family.
I’m sure I’ve said this before, but there is a common misconception that you can’t find any vegan dishes in Asian food – this is simply not true. It’s about as true as saying it’s impossible to find vegan food in any country, the UK and US included. Western cultures eat about as much meat as Asian cultures, probably more so, whereas in Asian cooking there is always the conscious effort to balance the amount of meat and vegetables served for any meal. Given that most Asian cultures are predominantly Buddhist historically, it’s not that difficult to find vegan food. I’ll make sure to post about my vegan adventures in Hong Kong soon to show you how veganism seems to also be gaining recognition there.
The Cotton House serves a delightful mix of dishes available. I was pleased to see they did have a number of dishes I recognise as genuinely Chinese, but for the most part there were quite a few Westernised and other Asian dishes such as Thai tom yum soup and Malaysian satay are also on the menu. On that note, let’s move on to what they have to offer for vegans.
For starters, there are two soups (vegetarian tom yum and green vegetables and tofu soup) as well as a separate vegetarian menu which are all suitable for vegans (although I would check whether the batter used for the mushrooms includes egg).
Salt and chilli pepper beancurd
Thai spring rolls
Salt and chilli pepper tofu is one of those dishes that I absolutely love. The salt and spicy flavours with a crispy skin and silken tofu in the centre makes for a wondrous combination. I can’t exactly explain what it is, maybe it’s the salt that makes this dish so moreish, but the chilli and pepper gives it a more savoury taste so you don’t feel like you’re getting too dehydrated.
The OH ordered the spring rolls and they were a generous size in itself. The crispy wrap hides a full to bursting package of crispy and soft vegetables, full of flavour even without the sweet chilli dipping sauce. I love spring rolls and this has been cooked to perfection. The wrap is soft as air without being too crunchy and full of vegetables so you don’t feel like you’re paying through the nose for a small starter without much substance.
For the mains, you can choose from a range of classic dishes with beancurd. Some of the dishes I recognise, although going by the ingredients used in the cooking style, I feel like some (such as kon siu which means cooked and served an absorbent sauce, usually cooked with soy sauce, but is instead served with sweet mandarin sauce and peppers) have been adapted to suit the local palette.
Beancurd with cashews and asparagus
Kung Po beancurd
The tofu was bigger in size than I would normally serve, but it seems this might be easier for restaurants (whether in Hong Kong or Scotland) to serve without spending too much time chopping up. I love the way cashew nuts taste when cooked and it gives a dish of cooked vegetables a lovely crunchy texture. The dishes might not be exactly what I’m used to when I’m back in Hong Kong, but it doesn’t mean they were tasteless or flavourless.
When eating in Chinese restaurants suggested by friends and family, I tend to keep an open mind and not expect to be served dishes that I’m used to eating. The dishes were a wonderful change to the dishes I’m used to and being vegan, I’m open to trying new dishes to expand my culinary horizons.
The staff at The Cotton House are very knowledgeable and as long as you know what ingredients to avoid and mention these to your server (in Chinese cooking it’ll mainly be egg, possibly fish sauce if they serve Thai dishes, oyster sauce and the usual suspects of seafood and meat) before ordering, they are very helpful in checking with the kitchen if they are in any doubt. It’s a bit of a drive from Edinburgh, but it is definitely somewhere I will keep in mind if I’m ever meeting friends or family, or looking for a place to eat, when I’m in that side of the country.
Have you been to a Chinese restaurant you would recommend that serves good vegan options? What dishes are your favourite?