Across Asia, veg­e­tar­i­ans now have more op­tions than ever be­fore

Chart­ing the rise of veg­e­tar­ian restau­rants in Asia

Business Traveller (Asia-Pacific) - - CONTENTS - WORDS CHRIS DWYER

As din­ers be­come ever more con­cerned about the prove­nance of their meal, veg­e­tar­ian restau­rants across Asia are mush­room­ing in pop­u­lar­ity and ac­claim. From Mum­bai to Tokyo and ev­ery­where in be­tween, no longer are veg­e­tar­i­ans palmed off with the choice of a limp omelette or swampy risotto. In­stead, there are plates just as cre­ative and de­li­cious as those in spots cater­ing for car­ni­vores, while many Miche­lin-starred chefs, oth­er­wise cook­ing meat and fish, rel­ish the chance to craft tast­ing menus for veg­e­tar­i­ans.

“When I first moved to Hong Kong, it was cer­tainly pos­si­ble to find veg­gie food, but not that plen­ti­ful in choice and op­tions. Now it’s much more com­mon and we’re spoilt for choice,” says Iso­bel McKen­zie, a Hong Kong-based ed­i­tor who is veg­e­tar­ian. “New places are open­ing up all the time and more ‘reg­u­lar’ restau­rants are cater­ing to veg­gie di­ets too, es­pe­cially with the rise of Im­pos­si­ble Meats, Om­ni­pork and the Be­yond Range.”

A num­ber of oth­er­wise car­niv­o­rous din­ers have taken a “flex­i­tar­ian” ap­proach to veg­e­tar­i­an­ism, spurred on by ini­tia­tives like meat-free Mon­days. Some are wor­ried about their car­bon foot­print and the im­pact of red meat, es­pe­cially beef, while oth­ers are mind­ful of well­ness.

Cul­tur­ally, veg­e­tar­i­an­ism is also widely prac­tised, bring­ing with it a seem­ingly lim­it­less se­lec­tion of dishes, es­pe­cially in South Asia. “There has al­ways been a space in Asian cui­sine for veg­e­tar­i­ans be­cause of Bud­dhism,” McKen­zie says.

An in­creas­ing num­ber of celebri­ties who are also veg­e­tar­i­ans or ve­g­ans – in­clud­ing Ellen De­Generes, Paul McCart­ney, Ar­i­ana Grande, Mike Tyson and Liam Hemsworth – have also helped spread the gospel of a plant-based diet.

What­ever some­one’s rea­son for tak­ing the veg­etable-based road in life, it’s clear that their restau­rant choices, es­pe­cially in Asia, are only get­ting bet­ter. Here are a few top se­lec­tions around the re­gion.

BALI GLOW AT COMO SHAMBHALA ES­TATE

Amid the ver­dant tiered rice pad­dies and jun­gles of cen­tral Bali around Ubud, COMO Shambhala Es­tate prom­ises a “360-de­gree ap­proach to well­ness”. What that means in prac­tice is hav­ing a res­i­dent yoga teacher, ayurvedic doc­tor and di­eti­cian who keep you gen­tly on track for ac­tiv­i­ties like hik­ing, cy­cling and mas­sage ther­a­pies.

Since diet is es­sen­tial to health, the food at in-house restau­rant Glow is ob­vi­ously key. The four dif­fer­ent three-night well­ness pro­grammes – called “Cleanse”, “Be Ac­tive”, “Ayurvedic” and “Be­spoke” – have sug­gested dishes high­lighted in Glow’s menu.

Glow seems to float over the tree­tops, with stun­ning views be­low to the river val­ley, but the nu­tri­tion­ally bal­anced COMO Shambhala Cui­sine also rightly at­tracts a lot of at­ten­tion. The sal­ads are a rev­e­la­tion, and their vi­ta­min- and min­eral-rich juices made me feel bet­ter af­ter just a few sips, but it’s the veg­e­tar­ian mains which are most mem­o­rable. Try sweet and sour beet­roots with leeks, radic­chio and goat’s cheese; or bar­ley risotto with portobello mush­rooms, fern tips, parme­san and pars­ley.

COMO Shambhala Es­tate, Ban­jar Be­gawan, Desa Mel­ing­gih Kelod, Payan­gan, Gian­yar 80571, Bali, In­done­sia; tel +62 361 972 448; co­mo­ho­tels.com/en

HONG KONG GRASS­ROOTS PANTRY

Peggy Chan is chef-owner of Grass­roots Pantry, a plant-based Hong Kong restau­rant that since 2012 has ce­mented its rep­u­ta­tion in the city. Her pas­sion for her work is un­der­pinned by a com­mit­ment to en­vi­ron­men­tal aware­ness. The in­gre­di­ents crafted in the Hol­ly­wood Road eatery’s kitchens are sus­tain­able, or­ganic, un­pro­cessed and largely lo­cally pro­duced. She and her team are also striv­ing to re­duce food waste, cut green­house gas emis­sions and com­mit to trans­parency and trace­abil­ity.

A seven-course tast­ing menu launched in Oc­to­ber 2017 shows the cre­ative ex­e­cu­tion at work with dishes such as “Not Cheese”, fea­tur­ing “hal­loumi” crafted from cashews that is served with mo­lasses and pick­led fig jam. The unique taste and mouth­feel of dried shrimp are care­fully and painstak­ingly re-cre­ated us­ing toasted and de­hy­drated shimeji mush­rooms, while a but­ter­nut squash taco is based on a bell pep­per con­fit and queso fresco made from hemp. À la carte favourites in­clude an ex­cel­lent macadamia cheese and beet­root agnolotti. Grass­roots Pantry, Shop D, G/F, Cen­treStage, 108 Hol­ly­wood Road, Cen­tral, Hong Kong; tel +852 2873 3353; grass­rootspantry.com

There has al­ways been a space in Asian cui­sine for veg­e­tar­i­ans be­cause of Bud­dhism

HANOI UU DAM CHAY

Lit­tle did I know that dried lo­tus root with cheese pow­der was an ex­cel­lent source of di­etary fi­bre and vi­ta­min B, but the vast menu at the el­e­gant ve­gan restau­rant Uu Dam Chay in Hanoi ex­plains that – and a lot more – across its mul­ti­ple pages.

Uu Dam is a San­skrit term mean­ing “sa­cred flower de­scend­ing to Earth from Heaven”, a ref­er­ence to rare blooms that ap­pear ev­ery 3,000 years, ac­cord­ing to Bud­dhist scrip­ture. The re­laxed and cool space near the Metropole – a war­ren of rooms, cor­ners and ter­races – takes over three floors of an old house. Quiet and friendly ser­vice de­liv­er­ing ex­cel­lent dishes en­sured this car­ni­vore didn’t miss meat – or dairy – for a sec­ond.

Those lo­tus chips were a rev­e­la­tion with their cheesy pow­der also pro­vid­ing a hit of umami, while the Viet­namese sum­mer spring rolls were su­per fresh and lifted by a sweet and spiced sauce. If a ve­gan Mex­i­can taco served in Viet­nam sounds like a culi­nary train wreck, pre­pare to be very sur­prised by an authen­tic mix of tex­tures and tastes on an­other ex­cel­lent plate. Cur­ries, soups and sal­ads are just some of the other dishes on of­fer.

Uu Dam Chay, 34 Hang Bai Street, Hoan Kiem D istrict, Hanoi 100000, Viet­nam; uu­dam­chay.com/en

SIN­GA­PORE GREENDOT

The style is fast and ca­sual, but that doesn’t take any­thing away from the food at Greendot, which launched its meatfree con­cept back in 2011 from a stall at Te­masek Polytech­nic. Its aim back then was to make meals with­out meat con­ve­nient, ac­ces­si­ble and af­ford­able. Greendot es­pouses the pos­i­tive im­pact on in­di­vid­u­als, the com­mu­nity and the en­vi­ron­ment of a meatfree diet, proudly pro­claim­ing how it “makes

Their vi­ta­min- and min­eral-rich juices made me feel bet­ter af­ter just a few sips

it easy for peo­ple to take that first step to go meat-free”.

Mush­room ren­dang cel­e­brates lo­cal Malay flavours with lion’s mane mush­room re­plac­ing the beef, while hearty home­made laksa fea­tures beansprouts, straw mush­rooms and “prawns” made from ver­sa­tile kon­nyaku,a form of potato starch.

Greendot also de­liv­ers veg­e­tar­ian bento boxes for lunch or din­ner based on your choice of rice, mains like braised mush­room and taukwa, along with two types of veg­etable and miso soup. All for a rea­son­able S$7.9 (US$5.8).

Greendot, 1002 Tai Seng Ave, #01-2540, Sin­ga­pore 534409; tel +65 6702 6621; greendot.sg

BANGKOK NA AROON

Nes­tled at the end of Sukhumvit Soi 1 and sur­rounded by the green­ery of the Ariya­somvilla Bou­tique Ho­tel sits an un­ex­pected, hid­den spot which sur­prises with its al­most veg­e­tar­ian menu (some seafood fea­tures). The 24-room bou­tique ho­tel – for­merly a villa – dates back to the 1940s and is full of pe­riod charm with its teak floor­ing and fans.

The restau­rant, open from break­fast through to din­ner, doesn’t use MSG or preser­va­tives in its dishes, which in­clude fa­mil­iar Thai favourites like yel­low cur­ries with im­i­ta­tion chicken and bam­boo shoots, as well as tofu with cashew nuts and a de­cent kick of chilli.

Else­where yum tua ploo (wing beans with crispy shal­lots and a boiled egg) and mee grob (caramelised crispy rice noo­dles) are two of their sig­na­tures. A veg­e­tar­ian ver­sion of the pop­u­lar pad thai noo­dles fea­tures more tofu with the sweet lift of tamarind sauce and papaya. For those not want­ing Thai food, Na Aroon also of­fers re­spectable ver­sions of Euro­pean dishes such as house-made pasta and soups. Na Aroon, 65 Sukhumvit Soi 1, Bangkok 10110, Thai­land; tel +66 (0)2 253 8800; ariya­som.com/veg­e­tar­ian-restau­rant-bangkok

TOKYO DAIGO

Bud­dhist veg­e­tar­ian cui­sine in Ja­pan – known as sho­jin – is a true culi­nary art and nowhere does it bet­ter than two-Miche­lin­starred Daigo. In busi­ness in Mi­nato-ku since 1950, the el­e­gant and calm­ing spot over­look­ing im­pec­ca­ble gar­dens pre­pares a kaiseki menu fea­tur­ing the finest sea­sonal veg­eta­bles and in­gre­di­ents, which are sourced ev­ery morn­ing from the Ja­panese cap­i­tal’s le­gendary Tsuk­iji mar­ket.

None of the menus are what you’d call good value, but this is Miche­lin-starred din­ing in Tokyo: the cheapest is ¥10,000 (US$90), or you can splurge ¥19,000 (US$167) for the “orchid kaiseki”, get­ting you a solid 14 dishes.

All are pre­sented with an ex­traor­di­nary aes­thetic, of­ten served on an­tique porce­lain and pot­tery, while the ser­vice is charm­ing and at­ten­tive with­out be­ing ob­tru­sive – for non-Ja­panese speak­ers, an English menu is avail­able and some English is spo­ken.

A par­cel made from lo­tus root, udon noo­dles with veg­etable tem­pura, and a dish of fried tofu were three of the stand­out savoury dishes; but one of the desserts, a slice of Yubari melon from Hokkaido, was al­most life-chang­ing in its bril­liance. Some­times the sim­plest things truly are the best.

Daigo, 2-3-1 Atago, Mi­nato-ku, Tokyo 105-0002, Ja­pan; tel +81 03 3431 0811; atago-daigo.jp/en

MUM­BAI TUSKERS AT THE SOF­I­TEL

There’s an ele­phan­tine rea­son why Tuskers at the Sof­i­tel in the Mum­bai dis­trict of Ban­dra is so called: it’s “in­spired by re­gal and mer­ci­ful veg­e­tar­i­ans – the ele­phants”.

Chef Ma­haraj Janki­das Vaish­nav oversees the prepa­ra­tion of rig­or­ously veg­e­tar­ian Jain cui­sine in an in­de­pen­dent kitchen. Un­sur­pris­ingly, the ele­phants fea­ture across the dé­cor in pho­tos, art­works and mo­tifs, while the over­all feel is de­cid­edly up­scale, in tune with a five-star ho­tel.

There’s an al­most end­less va­ri­ety of meatand fish-free dishes to choose from. Okra stuffed with co­conut, tomato and pep­per, known as bhindi samb­hariya, is a spe­cial­ity from Mar­war in Ra­jasthan, while math­a­nia mirch ka paneer is fresh paneer cheese dusted in chilli and cooked in a tan­door oven.

Pa­pad moogodi ki sabzi is dumplings made with green lentils, served in a gravy made with tamarind and the cane sugar known as jag­gery. Desserts are also a stand­out, in­clud­ing a deca­dent pan­cake called malpua that is cov­ered in sugar syrup and a cus­tard­like milk called rabri.

Tuskers, Sof­i­tel Mum­bai, C/57, Block G, Ban­dra Kurla Com­plex , Ban­dra East, Mum­bai; tel+91 6117 5115; sof­i­tel-mum­bai-bkc.com

Grass­roots Pantry in Hong Kong

CLOCK­WISE FROM THIS PAGE TOP: Hanoi’s Uu Dam Chay; Bali COMO Glow; Daigo in­te­rior and food (in cir­cle) in Tokyo; Mum­bai’s Tuskers at the Sof­i­tel; and Sin­ga­pore’s Greendot

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