Vegetarian food in Hong Kong: Where to eat a meat-free breakfast, lunch and dinner in Hong Kong

"Every culture has its own vegetarian food," says Peggy Chan, though she's not keen on the traditional meat-free version of Chinese cuisine. "It's heavy on corn starch and sauces and fried foods and fake meat. We use none of that. We don't used processed foods whatsoever."

Peggy's restaurant, Grassroots Pantry, is the first stop on my mission in Hong Kong. I'm not in the city to defeat rogue magicians (like Dr Strange) or battle gangsters (in Jackie Chan style), nor even to tackle an assassin with a golden gun (a la James Bond).

No, my self-appointed task is to eat vegetarian and well for a whole day, in the restaurants of this food-mad city. In a place which is famous for its meaty dishes, such as snake soup, is this even possible?

Breakfast

The menu at Grassroots gives me hope. A big airy modern space on a hilly street in Sheung Wan, not far from the 19th century Man Mo Temple, its menu is littered with innovative dishes derived from various cultures.

On the breakfast menu alone there are options such as matcha chia seed pancakes, chickpea miso ramen, and daigaku imo quinoa porridge comprising Japanese sweet potatoes.

I'm trying the koji smoked carrot crepes, which Chinese-Canadian Peggy tells me she eats when she misses the taste of smoked salmon. It's delicious, the slices of carrot concealed beneath a pine nut mousse and greens.

At her insistence I also taste two other breakfast items: carrot walnut French toast, and a coconut kefir yoghurt parfait. I don't have much of a sweet tooth, but they're both great.

Lunch

A few hours later I've crossed the harbour to Tsim Sha Sui on the Kowloon side. Navigation skills are needed as I make my way from the MTR station to a nondescript office block, then up to the 13th floor. 

This is the home of Greenwoods Raw Café, an all-vegan restaurant which is as similar to Grassroots as chalk is to cheese. Where the former is hip and contemporary, this is more of an old-school vegan place with minimal décor beyond a mural of a forest and several potted plants.

The daily set menu includes a 'green smoothie' made of banana, pineapple, spinach and lime leaf; a green salad; and a daily main which could feature kim chi, vege-based pasta, or Chinese yam and chia seed congee. 

Today I'm having the spinach and tomato 'lasagne' (its sheets being made of thinly sliced cucumber), with a kefir nut herb 'cheese'. Though nothing here is cooked, it's an excellent, flavoursome dish which would be refreshing on a hot humid day.

Snacks

Farther north, the streets around Sham Shui Po station are full of energy, with an open-air market strung along Apliu Street.

This is a good area for vegetarian snacks, starting with the Kwan Kee Store next to station exit B2. A small bakery that's been in operation for 50 years, it sells red bean cakes and other traditional Chinese sweets to passers-by.

Nearby is Kung Wo Bean Curd Factory, another long-lived eatery. The house specialty is the tofu pudding, served hot and silky. You sprinkle brown sugar on top, and the effect is something like a milk pudding.

For a simple, quick hot snack you can order a dish of pan-fried tofu chunks, onto which you splash chilli or various sauces. Sitting at the tiny tables while the cooks work within arm's reach is a memorable experience.

Dinner

In the evening I'm back on Hong Kong Island, in Wan Chai. Here I'm seated in the green leafy interior of Ovo Café.

It's a softly-lit informal space, giving the impression of an upmarket café. As does the menu, which is a selection of light meals and coffee-based drinks, along with a wine list.

Again there's evidence of the Hong Kong genius for mixing and matching from across the world, with dishes including okra linguine, margherita tortilla pizza, and beetroot risotto with French beans and chickpeas. 

One of the most popular dishes is a vegan version of the Thai dish tom yum made with mushrooms, tofu and coconut milk.

Though I don't have much room left to fill, I settle for a spinach cheese pie with portobello mushrooms on the side. It's tangy, full of flavour and a fitting finale to my vegetarian mission.

TRIP NOTES

More information

traveller.com.au/hong-kong

discoverhongkong.com

FLY

Cathay Pacific flies regularly to Hong Kong from several Australian cities, see www.cathaypacific.com

STAY

Novotel Citygate, novotelcitygate.com. Stylish hotel, handy for the airport and connected by foot to a shopping mall and MTR station. From $135 per night.

Tuve Hotel, tuve.hk. Sleek, minimalist boutique accommodation in Tin Hau on Hong Kong Island. From $175 per night.

EAT

Grassroots Pantry, 108 Hollywood Rd, www.grassrootspantry.com.

Greenwoods Raw Café, 2 Carnarvon Rd, facebook.com/GreenwoodsRawCafe.

Kwan Kee Store, 115 Fuk Wa St.

Kung Woo Bean Curd Factory, 118 Pei Ho St.

Ovo Café, 1 Wan Chai Rd, www.ovocafe.com.hk.

Tim Richards travelled with the assistance of Hong Kong Tourism Board and Cathay Pacific.

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