If it doesn’t cause an existential crisis first
EC: The Vegan Burger at Momofuku Nishi Could Change Brunch Forever
Credit: All photos by Maxine Builder

The natural reaction to have when you’re told that you will be eating an animal-free burger that bleeds might be to shudder. It's OK. I did when I heard about the Impossible Burger, which was designed in a laboratory in California, and yet, is somehow supposed to look, cook, smell, and sizzle like any other ground beef patty. But when David Chang of Momofuku is cooking that vegan burger and assures you that this fake but real meat is so delicious that he’ll be serving Impossible Burgers at Momofuku Nishi, you can’t not take a bite, even if every instinct is telling you to turn around and run away.

Served on a Martin’s potato roll, the Nishi Style Impossible Burger comes dripping with melted American cheese, which is definitely not vegan, though it is, for the record, optional. The patty is the star: slightly sweeter than beef but with an uncannily similar texture. There’s even that brown crust on the outside, created by the Maillard reaction as food scientists and nerds would explain, that only comes when a ground beef patty meets a hot griddle. The inside is blood red with that uniquely ferrous taste of meat, something that you really start to notice when you get to the rarer bits in the middle that haven't quite cooked through.

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You're eating meat, it feels like meat and looks like meat, it kind of even tastes like meat, except it's not meat. So the entire time, you’re confused, because how could something so meaty be plant-based, but it tastes good, so you can’t stop eating even as you’re having a minor existential crisis, wondering what even is reality anymore. “I think I like this?” I asked my dining companion as I wiped my fingers on a napkin and stood up from the table, leaving behind an empty cardboard basket with a smear of red juice down the side.

That mindfuck is why the vegan Impossible Burger could change brunch completely.

Brunch has never been kind to the plant-based diner. A good vegan brunch is hard to find, since, whether sweet or savory, there’s almost always some kind of animal product involved in your mid-morning meal, be it eggs, yogurt, butter, or cheese. There was a brief time when I was vegan (both out of spite and a misplaced sense of superiority after a particularly nasty breakup, though that’s a whole different story), and though I’d go out for brunch with my girlfriends (which is another thing that seems to happen more often when you’re recently single), eating out wasn’t really fun.

While they’d order lavish platters of pancakes and bacon, my own brunch usually consisted of a fruit bowl, which is fine and good and generally delicious unless you get some crunchy, unripe honeydew or actually want to feel full at the end. (OK, no one wants just a fruit bowl for brunch, not even vegans.) My friends would also take pity on me while feeling their own sense of superiority about their ability to eat whatever, and I’d feel left out at the end, like I missed an important moment somehow, even though I was sitting right there the whole time.

The advent of the Impossible Burger marks a change in what it means to be vegetarian and vegan in the modern age, and starting on Wednesday, the Impossible Burger will be available at Momofuku Nishi, on Manhattan’s West Side. It is the first time this fake-but-real meat will be featured on any restaurant menu. For right now, it’s just the burger, but Chang says that he’s tested it out in dumplings and meatloaf. The applications are really endless since it could be used anywhere ground meat is used, and as Impossible Foods learns how to scale up production and dials in the flavors of its product, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the fake-but-real meat in more restaurants nationwide, and in more types of dishes.

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No longer does being a vegan or vegetarian have to elicit sighs of pity from fellow diners and friends, because now, everyone can make an environmentally conscious choice and enjoy meat without any of the guilt. With this high-tech option, it’s kind of cool to eat meat—a conversation starter. It’s another option for the plant-based, conscious eater, and a hearty one at that, one that will actually satisfy the woke meat lovers, who aren’t blind to the environmental impact of meat production but still don’t want to give up ground beef because it just tastes too good.

If anything, it’s those folks, not the hardcore vegans, who will probably enjoy the Impossible Burger the most, because the bloodiness—which comes from a plant-based molecule called “heme” that was originally derived from the root nodules of a soybean plant—might turn off those plant-based eaters who hate the taste of blood or those who haven’t eaten meat in a very long time. It’s that realistic, leaves you with that same heft in your stomach, that same iron taste in your mouth. You see the red stains on the plate once you’re done, setting off alarms that what you’ve eaten once had blood flowing through its veins even though that’s not true at all.

After I finished the Nishi Style Impossible Burger and walked toward the subway, I started feeling a little sick, like I ate a bag of chips too quickly and needed to go lie down and take a nap before moving onto my afternoon. “But isn't that how you'd probably feel if you ate a beef cheeseburger for lunch?” my friend asked. Yes, it probably is.

By Maxine Builder and Maxine Builder