More than a million Hongkongers identify as Buddhist, plus there are others who practise a Buddhism-influenced folk religion, so locals are largely familiar with the concept of ahimsa, the respect for all living things and non-violence, which often translates to abstaining from meat and animal products. But ethics aren’t the only reason to shift towards a more plant-heavy diet; it’s also proven to be good for your health and the environment.
Luckily, Hong Kong has a growing number of both traditional and contemporary plant-based options that go beyond the classic soybean-based mock meats. Think nut and seed cheeses fermented and aged over weeks, black truffle linguine, green curry with hedgehog mushroom and delightfully fish-free sushi. Such satisfying dishes and many more await at the following crop of vegetarian restaurants.
Anyone curious about the future of plant-based food should make a beeline to vegan fine-diner Nectar, where the philosophy of sustainable consumption informs everything the restaurant does, be it sourcing almost exclusively from local, organic farms, upcycling timber from trees damaged in typhoons or diligently tracking the amount of waste coming out of the kitchen. Nectar began life as Grassroots Pantry, a bistro, but as chef Peggy Chan’s techniques became increasingly intricate – a “tuna” tartare, for instance, takes 16 hours to make, and nut and seed cheeses are fermented and aged over weeks – fine dining better reflected those efforts. Now tasting menus are offered at dinner, while sets are available at lunch along with, at weekends, a hearty brunch menu.
CentreStage, 108 Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan; +852 2873 3353
With branches in busy shopping districts Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui, Leisurely Veggie is a great place to relax after an intensive retail marathon. The menu is typical of a Hong Kong-style diner, with cross-cultural influences, but all made with the local palate in mind. A set meal of Thai-inspired green curry features hedgehog mushroom, a common ingredient in Chinese medicine, and comes with a Chinese black fungus salad; Japanese-style grilled eel on rice uses a Chinese-style mock meat as a substitute. Eggs and dairy are used in some of the dishes, which are clearly marked.
25/F, Jardine Centre, 50 Jardine’s Bazaar, Causeway Bay; +852 3565 6393
Named after ‘vid’, the Sanskrit word for knowledge, Veda fuses flavours from east and west to create a menu of plant-based cafe dishes, with some by vegetarian cookbook author and lifestyle influencer Hetty McKinnon. Red lentil dal meets Greek yogurt, while congee is topped with kale chips, and naans are made into ‘tartines’ or open toasted sandwiches – the menu knows no cultural bounds, just like the guests at the Ovolo hotel above. Most of the dishes are lacto-ovo vegetarian, although vegan dishes are clearly marked.
Ovolo Central, 2 Arbuthnot Road, Central; +852 3755 3067
Tai Hang is known for its incredible concentration of restaurants, but there isn’t much choice for plant-based diners. Veggie Spinner is an exception, known for its reasonably priced set lunches and globally inspired dishes. Alongside lavashwraps, you’ll also find quesadillas with homemade tortillas, black truffle linguine and fried rice. Food here is simple and fresh, and most dishes can be adjusted for vegans. Wash it all down with fresh juices, which often feature seasonal, regional produce like guava, okra and dragon fruit. There are also cheesecake-style raw vegan cakes, which can be pre-ordered.
144 Tung Lo Wan Road, Causeway Bay; +852 2802 6126
Chi Lin Vegetarian
Plenty of visitors – vegetarian or not – make the pilgrimage to this restaurant in a traditional Chinese timber-beam house surrounded by the tranquil gardens of Chi Lin Nunnery. Its classic Chinese Buddhist dishes are lacto-ovo vegetarian but avoid the “five pungent spices” as per Buddhist guidelines – onions, spring onions, chives, leeks and garlic. At lunch, dim sum is offered on top of the regularà la carte menu, and for the indecisive there are also a number of set menus. During daylight hours, ask for a seat by the large windows for the best view of the gardens.
G/F-2/F, Nan Lian Garden, 60 Fung Tak Road, Diamond Hill; +852 3658 9388
Isoya Japanese Vegetarian
Sushi is the first thing that comes to mind when most people hear ‘Japanese food’, and Isoya does indeed have sushi, except there’s not a single slice of fish. This innovative Japanese vegetarian restaurant only does set meals: simple noodle and rice sets at lunch and more elaborate kaiseki-style feasts at dinner. Expect Japanese ingredients like tofu, somen and konnyaku alongside seasonal vegetables, served in familiar Japanese forms such as tempura, oden, sushi and miso-grilled. Filled with minimalist blond-wood furniture, the space is calm and meditative, a welcome respite from bustling Wan Chai below.
9/F, 83 Wan Chai Road, Wan Chai; +852 5500 8812
Tong De Veggie
The menu at Tong De Veggie looks like what you’d find at a typical (omnivorous) Chinese restaurant: starters include shredded ‘chicken’ with sesame sauce and there are mains like sweet and sour ‘pork’ and ‘chicken’ steamed in lotus leaves. Some of these dishes use classic soybean-based Chinese mock meats, while others, such as the sweet and sour, use hedgehog mushrooms. Apart from a Chinese menu, there are also some intriguing Japanese-inspired dishes, from tempura to temaki (hand rolls). Egg and dairy use and spicy dishes are clearly marked on the menu.
1/F, 10 Prat Avenue, Tsim Sha Tsui; +852 2802 0882
Inspired by 1950s Americana, Veggie SF was one of the first non-Chinese vegetarian restaurants in Hong Kong. Now completely vegan, it continues to draw in the crowds today for its burgers – with five different patties to choose from. Asian flavours dominate the rest of the menu, from laksa and ramen to ‘chicken’ rice and bibimbap. However, in true American style, it has a range of indulgent desserts, including a giant ice-cream sundae, as well as baked goods like banana cake and cinnamon rolls.
10/F, 11 Stanley Street, Central; +852 3902 3902