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Wonton Quest '06

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Being a vegan presents a very specific range of challenges. There are a wide range of animal ingredients in all sorts of food products, especially in commonly available brands. Something that would seem harmless to a vegan, like Chinese food, is still pretty iffy—oyster sauce, eggs, honey and whey are not uncommon—aside from the obvious egg rolls or beef with broccoli. Such is the case with wonton wrappers, which nearly always contain eggs or egg whites.

Recently, we picked up a copy of Nancy McDermott's Real Vegetarian Thai, and the recipe for Sweet Potato Wonton Soup with Crispy Garlic and Cilantro was calling to us. It sounded so lovely and light, we just couldn't resist the idea of a nice bowl of wonton soup. The only challenge, of course, being the wontons themselves.

We had heard from vegan friends and cookbooks that such a thing as commercially produced vegan wonton wrappers exist. We have read about them, seen them discussed, but we don't know anyone locally who has actually purchased them. As such, we were forced to go hunting on our own.

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We hit all of our usual suspects—Whole Foods (where the employees were sure they didn't carry them, eggless or not, despite the fact that there are both egg roll and wonton wrappers in the same cold case as baked tofu), Trader Joe's (which stopped making egg roll wrappers a few years ago but we were there, so we looked), Albertson's, Vons, Super A Foods—but not an eggless wonton skin could be found. The two big players, Nasoya and Dynasty, both contain eggs, so we were out of luck. At this point we briefly considered making our own but—since we don't own a pasta maker—decided that the hours of rolling dough would be interminable. We were down, but we weren't out yet.

Being perverse and posessed of a stubborn streak that would make Sisyphus proud, we started to view this as a war, a matter of principle. We live in Los Angeles, damn it! We are a thriving melting pot! You can buy foods from every continent and country imaginable within our borders. There had to be vegan wrappers somewhere...

The wontons may have won a few battles, but we were sure to claim ultimate victory. To that end, we jumped in the car and cruised down the 10 to Atlantic Avenue, sure that if such a thing as eggless wonton wrappers existed, they would be found in Monterey Park.

Monterey Park didn't let us down.

Not only did we find oodles of wrappers for every type of dumpling or roll imaginable, after reading all the labels we found the lone type that was vegan. Beaming with delight and clutching three packages (two extra for future use) to our chest, we wandered the aisles of Shunfat Supermarket in awe. Every kind of prepared tofu imaginable was there, along with so many noodles we lost count. Thick noodles, thin noodles; rice, bean, tofu, wheat, you name it. We stumbled upon multi-colored tapioca pearls for use in future preparations, like Chewy "Pearl" Dumplings, plus tapioca starch for assorted other dishes. We were in exotic food heaven—thrilled when we spotted a box of durian, the spiny fruit with a smell so pungent it cannot be eaten in public in Malaysia. We weren't exactly keen to try it, but found its Bowser-like shell rather endearing.

Now, however, we're off to enjoy a nice bowl of soup.

Photo by desertculinary