Foodie Issue 25 : August 2011
Hong Kong's guide to good taste.
t f f t feed your obsession ALISTAIR DENTE 0001 www.foodie-magazine.com // august 2011 22 meat-free metropolis meat-free metropolis The easy way to meatless meals in a seemingly carnivorous city 23 On the surface Hong Kong is not a city that embraces a vegetarian diet. Top brass restaurants and big name chains rarely dare deviate from `classic' recipes for fear of alarming traditionalist diners, and the macho attitude of meat-loving chefs is still prevalent; far more prevalent than meat-free options on mainstream menus. On the local side you can find one or two dishes nestled amongst the meat. Caution must be exercised, however. Asking for no meat doesn't always guarantee a vegetarian meal. Many a time it will come with `pork floss' on top and nearly every broth, sauce and soup that your noodles arrive in will be meat or fish based. Even the fast food chains forgo the meat-free option. While McDonald's and its ilk sport worldwide vegetarian variations, here the best a vegetarian can hope for is a Sausage McMuffin meal minus the sausage: floppy egg and processed cheese in a lukewarm bun. Not entirely nutritious or delicious. This 1950s approach to diverse diets can leave some vegetarians despairing, making exceptions here and there or giving up completely. But if you know where to look there is a whole host of easy and delicious options that'll keep the animals on the right side of your body. From newly introduced international initiatives to meet up groups, independent outlets and local meat-free metropolis Buddhist restaurants and their tasty fake meat, it really is possible to enjoy a vegetarian diet in this seemingly meat-lovers only city. Vegetarian Labelling and Fashion Labels Let's begin by dipping our toes into the murky world of vegetarian classification. Some eat fish (pescatarian), some eat dairy but no meat (lactoovo vegetarian), some eat dairy products but not egg (lacto-vegetarian) and vegans eat no meat at all, nor do they use anything derived from animals. The pescatarians are quids-in here as seafood is fresh and abundant. The other vegetarians and vegans have to dig a little deeper to eat well. Helping this happen and opening up options are a number of global initiatives that are slowly being adopted. The most high profile is Meat Free Mondays, set up in 2009 by former Beatle Paul McCartney and his daughters Stella and Mary. Hard Rock Caf� is one of the few restaurants that actively embraces it, via orders from head office in America. Nonetheless, the set lunch on Mondays are always meat free and inventive with it. Early this year, fashion designer and daughter of not only a Beatle but also the probably the world's most famous vegetarian Linda McCartney, Stella McCartney brought her vegan afternoon tea set to Hong Kong. For a month the Mandarin Oriental MO Bar hosted the set, with promising results. Booked up well in advance, they served 265 tables and the waiting list alone held 647 people, making twitter.com/foodiehk // august 2011 Stella McCartney afternoon tea 24 it the most successful of their monthly afternoon tea sets ever. Having a celebrity endorsement was a definite pull, but there were a number of factors that contributed to its success, says MO Bar manager Denise Tse. "Stella McCartney's involvement was a factor, especially as she's always been very vocal about the cause. However, a lot of people also came because they were either regulars or intrigued about how it was inspired by her Spring/Summer collection and some people came because they were vegetarian." This success was somewhat expected thanks to the already vegetarian friendly menu. "We had expected the organic and vegetarian afternoon tea to be quite popular because some of our most popular dishes are vegetarian," says Tse. The PizzaExpress pop-up store in IFC also features a vegetarian menu until the 8th of this month, after which it will be at adopted at all other PizzaExpress outlets. "We've had many comments in the past about wanting vegetarian options," says Jamie Lu, PizzaExpress Marketing and Communications Manager. "It's been in the making for a while and it's now here � for those who are vegetarians, for those who prefer greens or for those who just simply want more options," she says. meat-free metropolis Indie Eats Away from the global brands, Hong Kong still has a formidable collection of independent vegetarian restaurants, and the numbers are growing, thanks to the public's growing awareness of healthy eating and environmental impact. Joining the long-established Western-influenced Life Caf� in SoHo is Light vegetarian restaurant in Sai Ying Pun. Owner and chef Stephanie Ng left behind her artistic career to start the restaurant with one simple aim: "I want people who come to my restaurant to enjoy the tranquility and leave the place a happier person," she says. The organic vegetarian food is a delicious mixture of Chinese and western, with a wholesome homemade feel. what about vegans? Getting by without anything from animals Avoiding all animal products, vegans have a whole new set of hurdles to leap. Thankfully they're not that high if you know how to take them, as Shara Ng of the Hong Kong Vegan Association and Hong Kong Vegan meetup group explains. Is it easy being vegan in Hong Kong? As we are such a minority, the suppliers and catering providers in Hong Kong are not aware enough of our existence. You have to put time and effort into research before you can have an easy vegan life here. How do people go about it? Some vegans prepare their dishes at home, especially the raw vegans. Most vegans just dine in any restaurants with vegan options. Can your meetup group offer info? Yes, the group serves as a platform of information exchange for people who want to change their 25 Stephanie is only relatively recently a vegetarian, giving up meat completely last October. Interestingly her customers aren't just hungry vegetarians, "Most of them are meat eaters looking for great quality food," she says. "And they find what they want here at Light!" Reaping Religion The good vibes of Light lead us onto another option for vegetarians here in Hong Kong: taking advantage of the religious element that underpins the most common style of vegetarian restaurant in the city � the Buddhist restaurants that are famed for their uncannily realistic fake meat. The meat-like taste and texture is thanks to the soy products, gluten, agar and the fungus family, plus heavyhanded sprinklings of mean old MSG, seasoning and cooking oil. These restaurants are usually very fairly priced, bustling and typically of a high standard. Wanchai boasts the highest percentage of these but they are city-wide, with the Po Lin Yuen chain (Sheung Wan and Sai Ying Pun) being two of the best. Elsewhere in the religious stakes we can thank our Hindu friends for the rich pockets of delicious vegetarian Indian restaurants around town, with TST and Jordan offering the highest concentration. Coupled with the Middle-Eastern leaning towards tasty vegetarian food, the options are many and the food rich, diverse and plentiful. So whether you're a vegetarian at your wits' end or want to go meat free for a change, as we found there are plenty of ways to eat well in Hong Kong. meat-free metropolis lifestyle with a healthy diet. Though not all members are vegans, they are definitely animal lovers and tend to be more compassionate. Within a year or two the group has become a happy community without involving religion, political or commercial activities. What's the group's philosophy? I love all animals on earth, not just my cats and dogs. Together with other members we promote a healthy lifestyle to protect the environment for the benefit of all creatures including human beings. What made you become vegan? After being vegetarian for over 15 years, six years ago I learned how industrial dairy farming is harming the environment, the cows, and our health. I became vegan that instant. Would you recommend veganism? I recommend it as I want everybody to have a happier and healthier life, most importantly, for us and our next generation, making the earth a good place to stay. Find out more at: www.vegan.hk www.meetup.com/hong-kong-vegan www.foodie-magazine.com // august 2011