My partner is now a vegetarian, and one food I miss cooking for dinner together is spaghetti carbonara. What would a good substitute for the pancetta/bacon be? The role of the pork is not just the flavor, but the hot liquid fat also emulsifies the rest of the dish and cooks the egg. So a different approach would need to fill both roles of the pork.

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    Sorry, I don't see an answerable question here. "Taste good" is subjective. "egg+bacon+hard cheese" - if you are looking for vegan ingredients which will taste like this specific combination, then you won't find anything. A general "what ingredients I use" will end up in a generic, unordered list of umami products of which we already have several. If you knew what's wrong, for example tried an existing recipe and found that you are OK with the flavor but it turns out too dry, that would be a much more answerable question.
    – rumtscho
    Dec 17, 2016 at 9:12
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    @rumtscho : it's effectively a bunch of substitution recipes. I wouldn't even know where to start to find something that would thicken like the eggs in this recipe ... the common replacement for baking is a 'flax egg', but that won't set up correctly for carbonara. The pork product you might be able to use a really hearty mushroom (possibly dried & reconstituted). Cheese might be nutritional yeast or miso, but that could throw off the thickening ... and I have no idea where to even start for the eggs -- "flax egg" won't thicken correctly, and it'd be gritty. Would egg replacers work?
    – Joe
    Dec 17, 2016 at 11:54
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    If you can't even figure out how to start the recipe, it's impossible to say "my version came out too dry" because you can't make a version in the first place.
    – Joe
    Dec 17, 2016 at 11:55
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    @Caleb I am pretty sure that there is a good answerable question hidden somewhere in your problem, and without the "taste good", it already is much better. I still have the feeling that it is missing a goal. I mean, if somebody adds avocado puree with marmite to their spaghetti and calls it carabonara-like, and another one adds cashew cream with olive pieces, are these answers sufficiently good for you, or do you say these are totally different dishes? If they are good enough, how can you say which version "wins", since both are random tastes with roughly similar texture? If they are (cont.)
    – rumtscho
    Dec 18, 2016 at 13:25
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    (cont). not good enough, can you describe what you expect from a substitution to be declared good enough? I will reopen as it is, but your question could still use quite some improvement. If you focus it further, you are likely to get better answers. Also, seeing how many results you get when searching for "vegan carabonara recipe" on the internet, the usual way would be to try these and see if they work for you )and if not, why) instead of wondering from scratch how to produce a completely new recipe.
    – rumtscho
    Dec 18, 2016 at 13:27

2 Answers 2


Do not look for all these functions in one off-the-shelf ingredient.

For the smoky taste and bacon texture, try various brands (there are differences in taste and texture) and cuts (as in, HOW you cut it) of smoked tofu. Dulse seaweed is also often recommended as a bacon substitute (but can taste too fishy).

Where hot saturated fat is needed, you will need to add that separately at the right time - or separately fry the abovementioned ingredients with excess butter/oil (getting some smoky flavor infusion) and add them with (or before) that excess oil. Butter or ghee/clarified butter (probably preferrable due to heat tolerance) are chemically closer (mostly saturated fat) to bacon fat than an oil.

  • I'm going to give this a try after the craziness of the holidays and will report back!
    – Caleb
    Dec 20, 2016 at 9:28
  • Have you tried it? @Caleb? How did it turn out? I miss carbonara, too. Mar 9, 2017 at 17:01

Vegetarian bacon does exist. It's thinly sliced tofu, soy sauce and liquid smoke. I'm not a big fan of liquid smoke, so I'd probably just use a little smoked paprika. Or you could just buy it from your grocer if they carry it.

To get the crisp, give it a light dusting of cooking spray (canola oil, usually) before putting it in the pan to fry.

For the fat, I agree with rackandboneman that clarified butter is your best bet. But you also don't want to make something too hollandaise-y with that egg and butter, so you might want to add a touch of heavy cream as you finish with the egg.

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    In the end, thinly slicing smoked tofu (which is quite available at least in some countries) and maybe marinating it with some soy sauce should give a similar result? Dec 19, 2016 at 14:23
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    @rackandboneman Might be the best bet, as you have at least some natural smoke to it. I've been many places in Asia, and I haven't seen smoked tofu in a grocery store yet. Though, I'd imagine it takes the taste on pretty well, but I'm honestly not certain.
    – Tim Post
    Dec 19, 2016 at 15:22
  • Not even sure the smoked version is originally asian :) Dec 19, 2016 at 16:14

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