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Superhuman Wants to Make Vegan Street Snacks Fashionable, Has a Long Way to Go
By May 16, 2019 Dining

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Shanghai is a new frontier for ambitious entrepreneurs to put down their roots in the booming plant-based foods industry. The city just had its first plant-based meat festival, Nongfu Spring launched their first vegan yogurt line here, JUST's vegan Egg surprised us, and in less than a year, oat milk has become a standard choice at many coffee shops in Shanghai.

Then there's Daphne Cheng, a young vegan chef formerly based in New York and who, to put it kindly, has received a lot of media attention. Her journey in Shanghai wasn't particularly smooth, though. She tried to open brick-and-mortar restaurant Superhuman twice in the past two years, and became a hot topic on Chinese social media as for refusing to cook meat on a popular cooking show, which then disqualified her. (To be fair, a shitty thing to ask a vegan to do, even for TV.)

Last week, Superhuman finally opened — as a delivery-only store. It was a humble opening compared to her previous digs: Xintiandi. I Eleme'd it in for lunch the other day.

Superhuman currently offers a small menu of simple meals with both Chinese and western influences, like shou zhua bing (a flaky pancake), "rou" jia mo, noodles, and salad,and a few veggies and meat substitutes sides that you can add to the meal.

The food doesn't really fit into the category of "elegant cuisine" that Cheng and Superhuman are known for, even if the packaging, in black and gold, looks premium.

The price tags match the packaging, not the food: 68rmb for two avocado shou zhua bing, 58rmb for the vegan rou jia mo. That's a hefty price to pay for street snacks. When the food arrived, it looked a lot fancier than what I thought I'd ordered.

Shanghai"

Maybe it was the delivery time, which took at least half an hour. But both the avocado and the side salad had turned brown. The shou zhua bing was no longer crispy and the rou jia mo flatbread was really pale and tough.

The filling in the rou jia mo was well-seasoned but dry. I hate to waste food. I wasted this one.

Shanghai"

Shanghai"

The zhajiang buckwheat noodle (28rmb when I ordered, 9.9rmb a few days later when I checked back in) came in a glass jar. It was not bad. Not bad. Logisitically impractical. Form over function. How am I supposed to mix this?

Shanghai"

I really want Cheng to succeed. She's a 30-year-old female entrepreneur trying to break new ground. But mediocre delivery food is not the way. The concept is flawed: vegan food needs texture and freshness, two things that don't hold up after a 30-minute ride around town.

And what's the appeal really? Healthy, plant-based street snacks? Should 30rmb+ shou zhua bing be a thing? Street ones do often contain lard, oil, or margarine, but shou zhua bing is never a healthy staple. A whole-food, plant-based diet shouldn't be costly, especially in China. And we need more people to adopt that diet as soon as possible considering the dire environmental issues we are facing. It feels counter-productive to charge so much for street snacks. And I worry it might reinforce the wrong idea that such a diet isn't cheap.

Superhuman is a result of the surging plant-based trend. Daphne Cheng's story is admirable. But the food I had was not. All the best, Superhuman.

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