Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Satya Interview with Lee Mee Ng

If Your Food Had a Face

The Satya Interview with Lee Mee Ng

   If your food had a face, it might look like Lee Mee Ng. As president of May Wah Vegetarian Food, she is the distributor responsible for all the delicious faux meats that appear on your plate at various vegetarian dining spots in NYC.

  Founded in 1995 in Chinatown, May Wah has grown to one of the largest vegetarian distributors in New York State. These days, buffalo wings, citrus beef, and chicken Parmesan are options vegetarians have difficulty choosing from when ordering at restaurants. All thanks to May Wah.

If ever you are in Chinatown, be sure to visit May Wah’s store, where you can peruse their shelves with glee and pick up vegetarian seasonings and convenience foods like frozen dumplings and bean cakes. They also carry some of the meatiest of faux meats—their refrigerated section is packed with items like Fish Ham, Crab Steaks, Vegetarian Shark Fin, and Spiced Chicken Leg. It’s perfect for the curious vegetarian and those of you who were ardent carnivores in a past life. Even if you don’t live in New York, you can still taste these treats—May Wah will deliver to your door!

Sangamithra Iyer had a chance to ask Lee Mee Ng about the mystery of faux meats.

Why did you start May Wah Vegetarian Food?
Growing up in Taiwan as a Taoist, I was provided with plenty of delicious vegetarian food, but when I moved to New York, the cultural environment lacked many of the foods I grew up with, and it affected my traditional eating habits. As time passed, I realized there were a growing number of vegetarians, not just among the Asian-American community. I then decided to start a business and introduce new styles and provide a greater selection to the vegetarian community. From the beginning, our goal was to serve customers with the highest quality products in terms of nutrition and taste. To date, we have not only accomplished our goal, but we are also very successful in helping to promote the healthy benefits of vegetarian food.

What is the basic philosophy behind vegetarian meats?
The basic philosophy is that every animal deserves a chance to live out a full life. This is the Taoist belief. By adjusting our eating habits, we give the animals this chance, and at the same time, benefit ourselves with a healthier diet.

Generally, who is your clientele?
Eighty percent of our customers are restaurants, health food stores, and supermarkets. Twenty percent of our business is from religious communities and individual retail consumers.

How many NYC restaurants use your products? Are they all vegetarian restaurants?
I would say around 50 percent of the vegetarian restaurants in NYC order from us—we make daily deliveries to them. In addition, many non-vegetarian restaurants are now providing a vegetarian selection in their menus, and some of them are also our customers. As mentioned before, we also provide regular deliveries to many health food stores and supermarkets around the city.

For a vegetarian supplier, you carry some of the meatiest of faux meats—fish ham, crab steaks, spiced chicken leg. What is the inspiration behind these products?
We understand that many consumers might initially find it difficult to adjust to vegetarian foods; therefore we try to simulate the texture and the taste of meat products, using solely vegetarian ingredients, to help them in the transition to vegetarian food. By providing faux meats, we hope to save some animals, and provide our customers with a healthier diet.

Where are your products made and what are the primary ingredients?

All of our vegetarian products are produced in Taiwan. The primary ingredients are soybean proteins and mushrooms. Most of our products are completely vegan, however there are a limited few that include whey protein in their ingredients.

What is your most popular item?
Our most popular items are Citrus Spare Ribs, Gong Bao Chicken, Chicken Nuggets, Veggie Prawns, Chicken Leg, Smoked Duck and S.W. Ham.

What are your personal favorite items?

My personal favorites are the Chicken Leg and the Gong Bao Chicken. I usually dip the chicken leg into barbeque sauce then coat it with Tempura flour and deep-fry it. For the Gong Bao Chicken, I like to stir fry it with sliced shitake mushrooms.

May Wah’s NYC store is located at 213 Hester Street (between Canal and Grand Streets; 212-334-4428). To learn more or to order products online visit

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