If one more person tells me Hong Kong is not vegan-friendly, I may actually scream! No, but seriously. 2018 is the year that vegan diets went mainstream worldwide. It is also the year that Hong Kong’s vegan dining offerings got seriously awesome. I want more people to know about them, hence this piece.
Part of my job involves tasting my way through the city’s vegan food. It’s a pretty great perk. Over time, the food I have been invited to try has gotten so good and so varied that I can no longer think of the top 10 off the top of my head.
So when I read my friend Janice Leung Hayes’ piece ‘The Best Things I Ate in 2018′, (Janice is the wonderfully talented writer and gourmet behind food blog e-ting), I was inspired to write my own vegan version.
The below list is made up of the dishes that I cannot stop talking about, recommending and returning to. My list features fast food, cafe fare and Michelin-starred cuisine. I make no apologies for this: I have and always will enjoy all types of food and it’s important to appreciate vegan cuisine at all budget levels.
Some restaurants listed are vegan, others vegetarian and still others are fully omni. I do believe Hong Kong omni restaurants still need to work harder to cater to vegans and I am hopeful 2019 will be the year this happens. One thing that I find encouraging: so many different cuisines are represented within the list below. Hong Kong’s vegan scene is incredibly diverse (i.e. it’s not just veggie burgers) and that’s worth calling out.
While I am a supporter of veganism for ethical reasons (whether it’s having a dog or becoming a mom, I find animal cruelty harder to stomach with each passing year), at heart I am a greedy gourmand and I know that for most people, the decision to eat less meat will be led by their tastebuds.
So I will fully cop to the fact that I am writing this list with the hopes of inspiring most of you to eat less meat in 2019 by making the prospect of such a thing delicious. If my sharing inspires you to try some of the below dishes and you genuinely enjoy them enough to have them more than once, I will consider my work here done.
So here goes: my favourite vegan dishes of the year, in no particular order.
Disclaimer: There are plenty of other excellent vegan dishes in town that are not on this list. Some I have tried and liked, others I still need to get to. This is by no means an exhaustive overview of what’s on offer and I won’t pretend it is. Lastly, this list is wholly mine- not paid or influenced in any way.
Popcorn Chicken with Coconut Kefir Sour Cream at Grassroots Pantry
This is an oldie but goodie -Grassroots has had this on the menu for years . What Chef Peggy Chan can do with the humble hedgehog mushrooms is the stuff of vegan foodie dreams. She should probably be credited with putting them on the culinary map. Previously an ingredient in Chinese soups, Peggy transformed them into a one-for-one plant replacement for chicken. More than one person has refused to believe that it’s not actually meat. Of her many hedgehog interpretations, the popcorn chicken is the one my husband and I obsess over. Crunchy, crispy, chewy bites of wonder- we order them every single time, and every time we order them, we marvel out loud at how incredible it is that we are eating mushrooms.
Tomato, Onion & Chilli Uttapam at Saravana Bhavan*
When it comes to South Indian vegetarian cuisine, most people are crazy for dosas. I am all about the uttapam. The chewy-cum-crispy fermented bean and rice flour batter pancake is reminiscent of the Ethiopian injera both in taste and texture but the Indian addition of chopped veggies (my preferred combo is the very Indian tomato, onions and chillis trifecta) make for a unique take that I could eat every day. SB’s version is my favourite- such comfort food for this (half) Punjabi girl.
Cavolo Verde at Pizza Express Sai Ying Pun
As I said in the intro, this list is not just about gourmet cuisine. It’s also about crave-worthy creations. And I crave this Pizza Express pizza on the regular. Not sure if it’s the black garlic or the kale (LOL), but when I feel a bit naughty, I am always happy to know I can order one of these babies. Pretty stoked that the only Pizza Express in town that serves vegan pizzas (the ‘cheese’ is Daiya mozz) is in my neighbourhood but sad for the rest of Hong Kong. Note to PE: please consider serving this baby in all your outlets.
Omnipork Ma Po Tofu at Ho Lee Fook
Another late addition but OH MY! On a cheeky pre-Christmas dinner date with the husband (we don’t get many of those with a baby in the house), I made him accompany me to HLF (not necessarily the most veg-friendly restaurant around) to try this brand new menu item and it was so good that I was really sad I had to share it with him. Next time I am ordering this all for myself with some rice and that’s it. It’s absolutely outstanding and I would bet money that in a blind taste test, no one would be able to tell that this was not pork.
If you don’t know about Omnipork yet, read more here.
MANA Black Flat at MANA! Fast Slow Food*
There are an almost unlimited number of combinations you can choose for your MANA flat but this is my go-to. The MANA Black consists of crispy tempeh, garlicnaise (I may have a slightly unhealthy obsession with MANA’s homemade vegan mayo sauce/dip), black olives, curly kale and portobello mushrooms on their signature wholewheat flatbread topped with zaatar spice mix. I first tried this flat combo during the Conscious Festival at PMQ back in April. It was one of two specials on offer for the event at the MANA stall. I have eaten one of these a week ever since, and while I was pregnant it was probably my most consistent craving. Next time you visit, give it a go and let me know what you think.
Dark Giant Monster Burger at Veggi Monster
It’s clear from this list that I enjoy food tech plant meats and ingredients but I am still a sucker for a good old-fashioned homemade veggie burger. Veggi Monster’s black bean patty topped with kale, slice tomato, truffle sauce and american style cheese on a charcoal bread bun topped stole my heart from the very first time I tried it and I ate it dozens of times over the past year so I was pretty bummed when Veggi Monster closed its doors permanently the end of September after less than a year of business. While it is sad that Hong Kong first’s vegan burger concept did not live on, I choose to believe that 2019 will bring us more vegan burger concepts.
Baked Penne With Creamy Cheese Sauce at Mirror Vegan Concept
If you think vegans are missing out on creamy pasta, you haven’t been to Mirror Vegan Concept. A gem of a place with less than 10 tables inside a building off Queen’s Road Central, this cosy Italian restaurant serves up Hong Kong’s best vegan pasta. While I love everything on the menu (yes I have tried everything – the Spaghetti Bolognese deserves an honourable mention), the Creamy Penne Bake is excellent, and everything a pasta bake should be: gooey, decadent and full of cheesy umami. Just happens this one is totally made from plants. I love bringing people there and ordering it, and watching their expression as they taste their first bite. No one can believe it’s dairy-free- it’s a real testament to how good plant cheese can be. PS- They change their menu fairly often so if you don’t see this listed, choose any of their creamy cheese pasta dishes. You won’t regret it.
Fresh Baked Gougères at Grassroots Pantry
This is a late addition and was on the special festive menu for only three days during Christmas so you can’t try it but wow, was I ever bowled over by Chef Peggy Chan’s plant-based take on gougères. Anyone who has tasted the original French version will know that gougères are butter & egg choux pastry balls stuffed with cheese, usually Emmenthal. Chan has mastered a moriesh version with zero animals products: tapioca choux puff with almond milk cheddar. It was so good, we got a second order. I am still dreaming about them.
Just Egg French Toast at Kind Kitchen
From the very first bite I tasted, I was won over by JUST Egg. The egg-less scramble made from mung beans is seriously impressive and showcase of Silicon Valley foodtech company JUST’s powers of innovation. While I agree that on it’s own, it can taste a little earthy (though it really does not bother me), mixed with other things it’s hard to tell it’s not a chicken egg- the ‘scrambled’ texture is uncanny. I almost chose Green Common’s Truffle Scramble as my pick, but in the end I went with KK’s French Toast (served with vegan butter and maple syrup) because it wowed me more and because I love that JUST also works super well as a cooking ingredient. The future of food is here, people!
Beyond Burger at Confusion Plant Based Kitchen
It took me a while to get won over by the Beyond Burger. When I first tried it almost two years ago, I liked it fine but I wasn’t wowed. Oh what a difference a year makes. I now have a Beyond Burger at home at least once a week. There’s something addictive about the patty, and when served between two buns, it really satisfies my burger craving. Confusion’s version is probably my favourite restaurant version- love the homemade pickles, love the sourdough bun (baked by local vegan Latvian bakery Mayse), love the tofu chipotle mayo…I have converted many-an-omni-diner to the wonders of the Beyond patty thanks to Confusion.
Nectavignes with Strawberry Consommé, Toasted Meringue & Apricot Kernel Chantilly at Arcane
Michelin-starred chef Shane Osborn has been creating fantastic, produce-led food for decades now, previously in London and for the past few years right here in Hong Kong with his multi-award winning eatery Arcane. In 2018, he created the restaurant’s first vegan tasting menu and I promptly rushed over to try it. Everything was outstanding (here’s my full review) but what I can’t stop thinking about is this incredible dessert. From the aquafaba meringue to the coconut Chantilly to the strawberry juices (possibly the sweetest I’ve ever tried), this is hands down the best dessert I tasted in 2018 and proof that a truly great chef is not limited by a plant-only ethos.
Those paying attention will note this is the only dessert/sweet entry on the list. What can I say, I am a savoury food lover! But also, Hong Kong could up its vegan dessert game.
Beyond Wu Tang-Style at The Butchers Club Burger
Another win for the Beyond Burger. When I want to push the (calorie) boat out, I vote for this monster of a burger. Served on a Scotch bap, the Beyond patty is fried in sriracha and topped with kimchi, Daiya cheese, tempura sweet potato and JUST mayonnaise. It’s a killer burger and many meat eaters I know are gaga for it. Absolutely worth making a special trip to this meat mecca to taste this.
Enoki Mushroom Fries at Pure Veggie House*
Certainly not a new addition, these enoki mushrooms fries from Pure Veggie House’s main menu continue to be one of the best things I eat every year. They are sort of like potato chips doused in Cantonese-style Salt & Pepper seasoning. While I always enjoy all the vegan dim sum at PVH, if you are an umami seeker like me, these babies are hard to top. We always end up ordering two plates because they disappear so fast.
Impossible Chilli Fries at Beef & Liberty
In all honesty, I am not super won over by the Impossible Foods burger at B&L. The Thai flavours don’t do it for me. So far, I have yet to taste a really fabulous Impossible burger in Hong Kong. (Note to Hong Kong chefs: can someone please make a classic (vegan) cheese burger using the Impossible patty with vegan mayo, ketchup, lettuce and tomato? It’s not that hard!) That being said, the Impossible Chilli Fries, recently re-released to be completely vegan with Daiya cheese and sour cream, is the stuff of fast food dreams and I daresay that Impossible ‘meat’ works almost better as mince than as a patty. Forget about sharing this- order your own.
Pink Peppercorn Cashew Brie at Chef Tina Barrat Private Kitchen Dinners
Formerly the head chef at Maya Cafe, Tina Barrat has become the ciy’s premier raw food private dining chef. I have been to many of her dinners and one standout in particular was the Around The Mediterranee edition in late summer. The entire menu was a delight but the Pink Peppercorn Cashew Brie on her raw cheese plate was to die for. The small wedge left me desperately wanting more so I promptly requested a whole wheel from her and I have kept one in my fridge ever since- our household goes through one every week! It’s tart, creamy and wholly satisfying: perfect for smearing on sourdough or topping off a nutty salad.
Vine Leaf Cake (Warak Inab) at Olive Leaf Private Kitchen Brunch
Olive Leaf’s Vegan Brunch Feast is definitely one of my top 10 best meals of the year so I heartily recommend everything that Israeli Chef Ayelet Idan serves up (shoutout to the almond labneh and the smoked eggplant) but the dish that I can’t stop thinking about is the humble stuffed vine leaves. I have had many a warak inab in my day and eaten this all over the world, but never has it been this moist, this juicy, this flavourful. Just writing this is making my mouth water.
Cashew Stracciatella Pizza at Grassroots Pantry x Mercato Great Pizza Bake Off
Third time lucky for Grassroots Pantry! This is another special that you won’t be able to taste. Not only was it a seasonal collaboration between Grassroots and Mercato, but sadly Mercato closed its doors for good (Hong Kong rents strike again!). Chef Peggy Chan’s vegan take on Mercato’s famous pizza was so good it’s still worth a mention: the sourdough base was good but the real star was the cashew stracciatella mozzarella. Uber-creamy, melty and strand-y, aka the perfect pizza cheese. The meat eaters accompanying me ended up stealing more slices than I wanted to share and I wished I had ordered two. Dear Peggy: please start a spin-off vegan pizza chain.
*Sorry, no photo.
All images courtesy of Green Queen except Ho Lee Fook (photo by David Yeung/Green Common) and Beef & Liberty.