The Struggles of a Hong Kong Veggie
Chatteris' own Abbey Johnson on the trials and tribulations of adhering to a veggie lifestyle in Hong Kong
The life of a vegetarian in Hong Kong is not an easy one. When asked by family and friends if I would be staying veggie before moving to Asia, I naively answered “of course- how hard can it be?” Turns out, it’s very hard. The helpful green ‘v’ on restaurant menus does not exist, and it can sometimes seem like the locals are doing their best to sneak meat into everything you eat. Dim sum is a minefield of hidden minced pork and oyster sauce, and asking the waiter in broken Cantonese if the spring rolls contain meat will often get you an eye-roll or a bored ‘hai’. Fortunately, and despite outward appearances, Hong Kong is actually a very vegetarian-friendly place if you know where to look. Here are some places that we’ve discovered in the heart of Kowloon that will feed your veggie soul without emptying your wallet.
Sham Shui Po
Sham Shui Po is more famous for its electronics than for its vegetarian food, but there are a few hidden gems scattered amongst the video game stores and the sketchy used television stalls. Kashmir Curry House is one of them- its online presence is virtually zero and it looks more like a wet market than a restaurant, but be brave and venture inside for the best curry you can find Kowloon-side. As with most authentic Indian restaurants, there are several meat-free options; the dal is a great choice as is the traditional potato curry, and for around $50 a meal, you get any veggie curry, rice and two paratha (a traditional flatbread). The best part comes after you’ve finished; the portions are so large that you can take half to work the next day and be the envy of your co-teachers.
Recommended dish: Dal Makhani with paratha ($50)
Further down the red line (and a short walk from Sham Shui Po), Prince Edward changes from the shady computer stores to streets of busy bars and restaurants. Similar to Mong Kok but without the frantic pace, this area has numerous places for vegetarians to eat. My favourite is The Alchemist on Poplar Street where you can find a veggie full English breakfast (including hash browns and Heinz baked beans). As well as a top hangover brunch, The Alchemist serves tall iced coffees and, if you’re brave enough for some hair of the dog, classic cocktails like mojitos and margaritas. With a slightly random but calming décor and excellent food, The Alchemist is the perfect place to hide on a rough Sunday morning.
Recommended dish: Vegetarian Full English Breakfast, with a mango smoothie. (around $120)
Yau Ma Tei
Choosing a restaurant with no English name and little English on the menu can seem like a huge gamble- but at ‘Veggie Foods’ in Yau Ma Tei, it pays off. Like so many eateries in HK, this Buddhist restaurant can seat about 20 people and there is often a long queue stretched out the door, but the 10-15 minute wait is a small price to pay for the excellent food. Don’t be fooled by the menu, which offers sweet, and sour ribs, pork chops and sesame beef, as everything in this place is 100% vegetarian. The staff are also extremely helpful and will walk you through the process of ordering (make sure to ask for iced lemon water or citron tea) and you will receive a small book of Buddhist prayers with the bill on your way out. The best part about Veggie Foods is the price- a set menu is $58 for a huge meal and a drink of your choice.
Recommended dish: Sweet and sour pork fillet with steamed rice and lemon water. ($50)
Burger Lab in Jordan smashes the healthy vegetarian stereotype by offering two obscenely large veggie burgers on their menu: the Veggie Burger and, my personal favourite, the Portobello Truffle. Despite being slightly pricier than the previous recommendations, Burger Lab will leave you with the food baby to end all food babies, especially if you opt to upgrade to a meal for $22 extra. There's even options for your omnivore friends if you can't convince them to give the Portobello burger a try. Tip: Grab your burger to go and have a picnic in Kowloon Park, which is just across the road.
Recommended dish: Portobello Truffle burger with sweet potato fries and drink. ($70)
This brief tour of Kowloon's best plant-based food should point you in the right direction towards some great places to discover, and away from eating a 7/11 sandwich on the way home or having instant noodles before you go out in case they don't have anything veggie. I've grown to love the challenge of finding great food here, and it becomes almost an obsession of finding the best, most obscure places. I hope I've inspired you a little to go out and hunt for yourself.
Happy exploring, veggies!