Black pepper fakon
Black pepper fakon
Photo by Professor Salt

Fakon, or Fake Bacon for Vegetarians

Ahh, bacon, that gateway meat for vegetarians. We've spent much time this week talking about it, and we've left out those that can't eat it. Today, we talk about fakon, or fake bacon, the gateway tofu for meatatarians.

If you've eaten in Orange County's Vietnamese or Thai vegetarian restaurants like Irvine's Wheel of Life, you're familiar with the many faux-meat items on their menus. Made of soy-based textured vegetable protein (TVP) or wheat gluten, these meat facsimiles always seemed to me a poor replacement for real thing. The shrimp at Wheel of Life look remarkably like real shrimp, and the flavor, extracted from kelp and other sea vegetable sources, give it a reasonably briny flavor, if not exactly shrimp.

But what about bacon? It's the Kryptonite that makes baco-vegetarians cave in an otherwise strict veggie regimen.Turn the page to see where to get some to cook at home.

Green Farm Market, on the outskirts of Little Saigon has several freezer cases filled with vegetarian faux-meats from Taiwan, China, and other Asian countries where some Buddhist sects observe a vegetarian lifestyle. Green Farm Market differs from other Vietnamese supermarkets in its wide-aisled open feel instead of the claustrophobic, cram-everything-in-as-possible you find at other markets. Also? Green Farm Market is kept super-clean and lacks that stinky charm you'll find in the seafood and meat sections of older, run-down supermarkets. I'm talking to you, Vien Dong III

So back to the fakon: the pink "meat" is with streaked with white that resembles fat. The instructions say it's easier to slice in a semi-thawed state, and they're right. It takes a sharp knife and stead hand (or a mandoline) to slice lengthwise.

Fake it, don't bake it.
Fake it, don't bake it.

Fried up with a little bit of oil, it curiously soaks up that oil like a sponge, and frys up sponge-like. Putting in my mouth, it chewed very much like a sponge, with a briny, slightly sweet and vaguely smoky flavor. There's nothing remotely bacon-like about it other than the cartoon appearance.

The list of ingredients says

Soybean protein fiber, starch, black pepper, sugar, salt, soybean oil, natural spice and hydrosine. Additives: Red pepper and no antiseptic.

No antiseptic? What the hell does that mean? Hydrosine? WTF??!? As a meat eater, I'll take my chances with sodium nitrite, saturated fat and arteriosceloris, thanks. If you're going to eat vegetarian for health reasons, wouldn't it be healthier to eat unprocessed, real vegetables instead of industrially processed TVP?

I foisted this stuff upon my ten-year-old, and unsurprisingly, he took one bite and left the rest. You can sugar up TVP all you want, and fry it up in as much oil as you like. It's just not the same thing as bacon. Baco-vegetarians -- don't be in any hurry to rush out and get this stuff, but do go check out this market for your vegetarian pantry, because there's a ton of stuff for you.

Green Farm Market. 16042 Magnolia St. Fountain Valley, 714-843-1818.

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