Each year, before my annual visit to Thailand (being able to work anywhere has its advantages), I try to tack on a couple of weeks in a new destination. The contrast between the hustle and bustle of confined urban life and nature attracted me to Hong Kong, but the temptation of noodles and vegan dim sum is what tipped this destination in my favour.
The city is invigorating and exhausting, with frequent meal breaks appreciated to duck out of the heat and into the comfort of AC and seated quiet. In between work, book-shopping (a travel habit I cannot break that will one day break me – my baggage has literally doubled in weight from books in past), and sightseeing, I noted a handful of favourite spots to grab a bite.
LookCha Tea House
LookCha Tea House sits in the middle of Hong Kong Park and offers calm respite from the city heat. This all vegetarian dim sum restaurant and tea house is artfully decorated and professionally staffed with individuals who can help you to decide which of the twenty billion tea offerings to order and spill on yourself.
Steamed rice noodle roll with yellow sesame: Light and simple, these not-too-bouncy
cheung fun rice noodle rolls are dressed with a delicate soy and sesame sauce. Recommended.
Tonkin jasmine in soup: Literally flower buds. Quite savoury with a slight grassy, aromatic, earthy undertone. The flavours here are so subtle they are near imperceptible, but the mildness of the dish makes it a perfect complement to the Taiwanese Ding Dong Oolong (because it would be a shame to drink this alongside anything that would overpower its toasty floral honey and passionfruit notes). The texture of the soup stands out above its flavour, in my opinion.
Papaya mochi: Bittersweet and floral cream stuffed extra soft mochi coated with coconut. I love mochi, but you know those cheap pink wafers in the UK that cost next to nothing and are vegan? The papaya filling belongs in those; it should be desk drawer snack food.
White fungus and apple soup: Moreish broth made from sweeter root vegetables and apple. Soup contents included black eyed peas, cooked down apple chunks, soft white fungus, carrot, potato, corn, and boiled peanuts. A well balanced savoury-sweet soup, this may have been my favourite of the five items I ordered.
Mushroom shao mai: Highly recommended for mushroom lovers, these steamed dumplings are made with alkaline wrappers stuffed with mushrooms and topped with a goji berry. Also highly recommended.
Be sure to visit the attached highly education tea museum after your lunch.
Visit LookCha Tea House
Address: Ground Floor, The K.S. Lo Gallery, Hong Kong Park, Admiralty, Hong Kong
Pure Veggie House
Pure Veggie House, another must-visit vegan spot, is off to the side of Hong Kong Park. The first time I visited staff turned me away more than an hour before closing, so if you don't have a reservation make sure you allow yourself plenty of time for their varying hours.
Dan dan noodle: A thick, rich, spicy peanut broth with ramen noodles, coriander, and Chinese celery. A welcoming pool of peanut and chilli oil floats on the surface.
Mixed mushroom spring rolls (not pictured): Crispy rolls filled with mushrooms and mild five spice seasoning, served with a sweetened vinegar based dipping sauce.
Black truffle sauce fried noodles: long, thin noodles fried with bean sprouts and Chinese celery stems. The truffle paste is mild and the flavour of wok breath overpowers it for the most part, but find a glob of the paste and the truffle is discernible. I love the concept of this dish, but would finish it with a drizzle of truffle oil.
Visit Pure Veggie House
Address: 3/F, Coda Plaza, 51 Garden Road, Central, Hong Kong
The restaurant and a vegetarian grocery store share the same floor, which also features terrifying Smurf artwork on the walls. Be prepared for this, and also for staff to follow you around the shop and suddenly look busy like an embarrassed cat each time you look up. I don't think they knew I knew they were there, which is not surprising because all of the alkaline diet and chakra books could have taught them they have invisibility superpowers because that would make as much sense as any of the other things they might learn from these books.
Rice roll with mushroom and truffle paste: Outstanding mushroom parcels served with a funky black vinegar and soy dipping sauce.
Mixed vegetable bun: My notes read “kind of stale taste but not unpleasant,” so maybe I shouldn't be trusted on any of my opinions about food. Henceforth I may as well start describing everything I eat with descriptors like literally my favourite and amazing.
Steamed veggie meatballs: Oh, you're still here? Cool. These meatballs are, um, meaty, with a sauce featuring a hefty ginger and 5 spice hit. Texturally, expect a mix between Western and Asian style meatballs. Some bounce but also some give. They are stuffed with water chestnut, carrot, and greens, and are served with steamed broccoli. Excellent.
Address: Shop 108, 1/F, Foo Yet Kai Commercial Centre, 56 Java Road, North Point
Jade Vegetarian / Jane Heart
Hong Kong can be overly stimulating, even for someone who loves the vibrancy of downtown city life. Jade Vegetarian epitomises comfort food dining, and hence the feeling of safety in an overwhelming place, in all the right ways; the staff are welcoming, the décor isn't fancy, and the menu is straightforward with both new and familiar options.
Sweet and sour gluten (not pictured): Imagine fried gluten in SpaghettiO sauce. Die happy.
Stewed salty bean curd puffs (not pictured): Smoky from fermented soy bean sauce, this salty tofu has been deep fried and then stewed in the aforementioned yellow bean sauce.
Noodles with bean curd in soup: My favourite thing about Jade Vegetarian is their confusion of tofu and fresh yuba, the latter often served in dishes advertising the former. No complaints here (fresh yuba is not an everyday item in European life, and when found it's not at a simple and accessible diner). Anyway case in point is the bean curd noodle soup, a bowl of thick udon noodles bathed in a light soy milk broth. Toppings include a heaped pile of yuba, seaweed, sweetcorn, and lettuce. Lettuce in noodle soup may sound strange to the uninitiated, but don't knock it until you try it. It works.
Tofu skin roll in fresh tomato sauce: This can be ordered with or without rice. With rice the dish also includes some greens. Daikon, carrot, wood ear and shiitake mushrooms are wrapped in yuba (the dried and rehydrated variety, which is sturdier) and either steamed and coated in the aforementioned SpaghettiO sauce or just plain stewed in it. Love it.
Bean curd pudding: When it comes to tofu us Westerners got the short end of the stick. Our uses for it are so limited, and we are convinced it has to be doctored to oblivion in order to be palatable. This is unsurprising considering most of us have yet to experience to bliss of freshly made silken tofu. Served with a little sugar, this is a heavenly treat.
Visit Jade Vegetarian / Jane Heart
Address: Shop C, G/F, 124-128 Portland St, Mong Kok, Hong Kong
Tamjai Samgor Mixian
Mixian are fresh Yunnanese rice noodles, and this restaurant specialises in them. Tamjai Samgor is by no means a vegetarian restaurant, but after 3pm they begin serving a vegan broth. As of writing this, the plant based broth option isn't on the standard menu and nothing is in English. Fortunately there are photos of the toppings, which include tofu, fresh yuba, mushrooms, garlic chives, and a few other vegetables. In addition to the noodles there are also a few vegan salad-y options on the menu.
The heat level of the broth is up to the diner, and riddled with indecision I chose the middle road. A little bit of chilli oil and Szechuan pepper add spice, with a pleasant mild numbing sensation from the latter. The Mixian noodles, which are about the same shape as spaghetti (minus the -O) are gummy round rice noodles that are slippery like udon. Worth trying, especially if you can successfully capture the attention of a group of slightly embarrassed English-speaking students to order for you.
Visit Tamjai Samgor Mixian
Address: Chain with various locations. See website below.
Too distracted by the friendly atmosphere and good vibes of CS Vegan to take pictures (I know!), this all you can eat buffet of home cooked Chinese food should be on everyone's must visit list in Hong Kong. You'll find it on the first floor of a building that seems virtually inaccessible, but be patient and you'll get in.
This is a business run by an older woman who believes so strongly in veganism that she made it her life mission to make vegan food at a reasonable price so people could afford to eat. The cost is about £8.50 at the time of writing, inexpensive by Hong Kong standards for what you get – a spread of 20 or so different dishes cooked based on what the chef feels like cooking that day. The stand out piece? Savoury steamed beetroot cake in the style of Chinese turnip cakes.
If you overpay her the owner will save the money and put it toward free meals for the elderly, which she organises a couple of times per year.
Visit CS Vegan
Address: 1/F, Potek House, 9 Tsing Fung Street, Tin Hau, Hong Kong
Due to the high density of vegetarian and vegan friendly restaurants, Hong Kong is an easy city to visit if you follow a plant based diet. Many mock meats can contain egg and dairy products, but some restaurants mark this on their menus. If in doubt, stick with vegetables or consume mock meats at vegan only businesses.