Life for a vegetarian in Hong Kong can look bleak. Leafing through restaurant menus lacking in meat-free options, you may begin to resign yourself to the idea of living on steamed vegetables and rice for the duration of your trip. But with a bit of planning, you needn’t miss out on the Hong Kong culinary experience.
Hong Kong’s vegetarian dishes tend to originate from the Cantonese style of cooking, and place a heavy focus on meat substitutes like tofu and bean curd. The substitutes are often made to look like the real thing, to the point where it’s tough to tell tofu from pork at a glance.
So convincing is this pretend meat that I managed to walk past this first restaurant every day of my trip and only discovered it was meat-free once I was told by a local friend.
Across the road from Tin Hau station, a couple of stops from Causeway Bay, is a small counter selling a selection of veggie treats: bean curds, tofu, spring rolls etc. There’s no obvious signage, so look out for the Apple Mall with its bright yellow paint. This isn’t a sit-down restaurant but it makes a nice light lunch, and with Victoria Park just across the road you could put together a decent veggie picnic.
Perhaps the most famous vegetarian restaurant in Hong Kong is at Po Lin Monastery. In the shadow of the ‘Big Buddha’, this veggie eatery has been serving hungry tourists for decades.
For around $150, depending on which set menu you choose, you get three courses of fresh veggie dishes with a cup of green tea on the side. It’s good value for money considering it’s a tourist hotspot, and certainly better value than the chain restaurants around the cable car in Ngong Ping.
Keep in mind it can take a few hours of queuing to get on a cable car to the top of the mountain, so allow plenty of time if you plan to have lunch at the monastery. Alternatively, take a bus to the top which is cheaper and often faster (I suffered almost a three-hour wait for the cable car).
Kung Tak Lam, Tsim Sha Tsui, Peking Road Shopping Arcade
Kung Tak Lam, a chain restaurant with another branch in Causeway Bay, is somewhat different from the majority of vegetarian restaurants in Hong Kong in that it serves up Shanghainese cuisine, usually characterised by sweeter flavours.
Located on the first-floor of a small shopping arcade, you do feel as though you’re eating in a mall, with escalators and elevators opening directly into the restaurant but if you’re lucky, you might be seated with harbour views. Service is slightly brisk but it’s a popular spot with locals – I only saw one other Western couple when I visited. The menu has more than enough choice and like the Cantonese fare, soy and tofu imitation meats feature quite heavily – don’t be alarmed by mentions of meat on the menu, it just refers to the meat being imitated.
Founded by Mr Hui Kam-ting in 2003 in North Point, this vegetarian restaurant takes its name from both Buddhist and Confucian concepts: Virtues of the heaven, virtues of the land and virtues of the people in Confucianism and the virtues of kindness, wisdom and extrication from stress or anger in Buddhism. These values are evident in the traditional and cosy styling to the restaurants and the friendly staff. The menu is entirely vegetarian and offers a wealth of traditional Cantonese dishes, including Dim Sum steamed fresh on ordering. Three Virtues has two branches, having opened up a second restaurant near the Jordan MTR station.
These trendy cafés serve up mainly western food, with a focus on health and the environment. The outside is brought inside, with potted plants scattered throughout and a living wall adorning the Wan Chai branch. With their central locations, they’re a good option for a quick lunch or an ethically-sourced coffee.