Vegetarian Restaurant, 3G, has been a big hit with the vegetarian community in Vancouver ever since it opened in 2009. It offers great dim sum and dinner menus that include vegetarian versions of everything from ‘shrimp’ dumplings to sweet and sour ‘pork’ to ‘shark fin’ soup. 3G offers vegetarians a diverse range of Chinese cuisine.
Settling into our seats in the brightly lit interior of the restaurant, we scoured the menu for shark fin soup. 3G offers two versions of the vegetarian shark fin: one is served in a pumpkin broth and the other is served double boiled inside a young coconut. The veggie coconut shark fin soup requires 12 hours advance notice, so we settled for the pumpkin option which costs only CAD 6.99 per bowl, compared to the average price of around CAD 60 per bowl of real shark fin soup. Depending on the species of shark, the soup can cost over CAD 100.
When the pumpkin shark fin soup arrived at our table, the bright orange broth was immediately eye-catching. The soup is incredibly smooth and creamy; the thick pumpkin broth adds a gentle sweetness that lingers for only a moment. To imitate the stringy texture of shark fin, the chefs add noodles made of tapioca, which give the soup a little crunch. The added bits of mock shredded crab gave the dish a mild seafood taste.
We asked the owner of 3G, Dickie Lam, how his vegetarian soup compares to the real thing. “[Shark fin soup has] no taste, it has no taste at all,” Lam laughs. In 2011 Gordon Ramsay, featured in an investigative report on shark fin soup, had a similar reaction when he sampled a bowl himself, saying, “It’s really bizarre, it actually tastes of nothing, almost like sort of plain glass noodles.”
Shark fin soup mainly relies on the broth, usually chicken, for flavour; the fin itself contributes very little flavour to the soup. The shark fin is more of a status symbol, and it is usually served during important events, such as weddings and banquets. We asked Lam why he chose to carry this veggie version of the soup on the menu. “We want to cater to both Caucasian and Asian customers,” he says. He adds that it is good to offer a familiar option for people who predominantly eat meat because it eases the transition from meat to vegetarian food. Lam explains that customers usually respond well to the dish, and that it is an affordable alternative to the real thing.
Lam also owns Veggie Favour (just a few doors down), a vegetarian grocery store that sells mock meat products that people can try cooking at home. “We sell it next door,” Lam laughs, “So it makes sense to sell it [at the restaurant].” Overall we loved the pumpkin shark fin soup, and we cannot wait to go back and try the young coconut shark fin soup.