Down on Hester Street, a dingy thoroughfare dominated by 19th-century tenement housing and Chinese storefronts, is the shop of the veggie butcher. When I was first told of the place, about six years ago, I pictured a dark, cold room with raw hunks of tofu hanging from steel hooks in the ceiling and, behind a seitan-stained counter, a man with a giant belly hacking off the choicest pieces according to customers’ taste.
The actual May Wah Vegetarian Food store is a tidy fluorescent place with walls covered in wood paneling and freezers filled with faux meats of every flavor and design. Though most of May Wah’s business is wholesale, selling to suppliers and restaurants worldwide (President Lee Mee Ng estimates that 50 percent of New York’s vegetarian restaurants buy their faux meat from May Wah), individuals can shop directly from the freezers on Hester Street, which hold a mind-boggling array of imitation animal parts. You can get ready-to-eat dishes like Black Pepper Steak, Chicken Nuggets, and the ever-popular Citrus Spare Ribs.
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