31 July 2018
Meet the Meat-free Diners
Reflecting people’s concerns about the sustainability of a meat-based diet, Hong Kong’s dining scene is undergoing something of a herbivore revolution; just about every restaurant, café and food outlet is addressing the trend with a slew of plant-based alternatives to meat on its menus.
This move towards plant-based eating, however, shouldn’t be treated like the latest food craze, say its advocates. Instead, it should be respected for offering a viable long-term solution to such problems as global deforestation and water pollution caused by the livestock industry.
Pioneer for the Movement
One of the plant-based movement’s most vocal advocates is David Yeung, co-founder of Green Common, a vegetarian and vegan grocer with seven outlets in Hong Kong including the Kind Kitchen by Green Common restaurant/grocery store at Nan Fung Place in Central. Yeung is the founder of Green Monday, an initiative set up in 2012 to encourage Hong Kongers to forego meat one day a week.
Noting that pork accounts for nearly 40 per cent of meat production worldwide, Yeung launched the world’s first plant-based pork – Omnipork – this year under the name Right Treat after developing it with a team of United States-based food scientists of Asian background. Asian chefs in particular have been won over by the product, a blend of peas, non-genetically modified soy, shitake mushroom and rice. “Omnipork offers an ingredient that has been sorely lacking in Asian cooking. The public has been giving it rave reviews and are also eager to incorporate Omnipork in their home cooking,” he says.
Hotel groups JW Marriott and Cordis already offer Omnipork on menus but this is just the beginning. “Our second wave of restaurants will come on board in August: from hot-pot restaurants to local dumpling chains, Omnipork will be found in many more dining locations, showcasing its omni-applications,” he says.
Chefs of all cuisines are eager to use Food 2.0 brands and come up with signature new plant-based dishes, says Yeung. “Restaurant owners and chefs are becoming much more open-minded. We also have major shopping malls, most recently Hysan, liaising with its restaurants to introduce menus that support a healthy and sustainable culture.”
Yeung is actively looking to expand Green Monday, Green Common and Right Treat within the region. “Within 12 months, we expect to have a presence in multiple countries and cities within Asia,” he confirms.
Plant-based Eatery Sets Up
Plant-based restaurant Confusion opened in May in Sheung Wan; and co-owner/executive chef Lisa Terauchi says the reaction to its all-vegan menu has been overwhelmingly positive from vegans and omnivores alike. The menu is constantly evolving, she adds, with tofu fries and Mexican-inspired dishes such as the Hedgehog Mushroom Quesadillas particularly well received. The restaurant also makes its own condiments, including fermented smoked paprika ketchup and chipotle mayo.
Terauchi says Confusion’s clientele is diverse, from yoga and fitness people to omnivores on the cusp and those simply trying to eat more less meat. She adopts an all-inclusive approach. “Everyone is welcome here, and there’s no preaching to them on what they should and shouldn’t eat. All I want is for everyone to grasp the possibility of what can be achieved with a wholly plant-based menu.” Some customers have been blown away, she says. “We’ve had customers saying stuff like, ‘If you didn’t tell me this was vegan, I would never have guessed!’ or better still: ‘This is what meat should taste like!’ – our biggest compliment from someone who ate our plant-based burger.”
She believes other restaurants and cafés in Hong Kong can easily embrace the plant-based movement. “How about starting with a decent selection of vegan versions of their standard dishes, or a pasta with a rainbow of veg and a nice marinara sauce? Most vegans lament that the only thing they can eat at many regular eateries falls into the “fries and salad” category, but it doesn’t have to be that way.”
The chef says they are in this for the long haul. “We don’t plan on being a flash in the pan, so we will keep doing our best to make every day special. Many corporate clients are slowly moving in the direction of supporting eco-friendly businesses while aiming for zero waste or reducing waste, no plastic and so on. We are doing all this and more, so it would be good to get our name out there and show the nay-sayers what is possible with a purely plant-based menu. You don’t have to feel like you are missing meat – we use incredible ingredients that make diners forget that they are having a meal with no cruelty involved.”
Trend Goes Mainstream
Famed for using Australian beef that is dry-aged in Hong Kong, The Butchers Club Burger isn’t the first place you’d expect to find vegan and vegetarian diners. However, the chain took note of the plant-based trend and introduced the Beyond Classic Burger – a plant-based patty celebrated for its meaty texture and flavour – to its menu last year. Another addition, Beyond Wu-Tang-Style, mimics every other aspect of the burger chain’s Wu-Tang burger save the beef patty. As with the Beyond Classic, it urged diners to spot the difference.
Director Ricky Lai says the restaurant received an overwhelming increase in demand for meat-free burgers recently: the Beyond Wu Tang-Style burger was initially introduced for a two-month trial in March but is now one of its most popular items. Indeed, embracing the plant-based trend makes good business sense as The Butchers Club’s plant-based menu items account for more than 10 per cent of sales.
“Many customers looking for plant-based products and making diet changes for different reasons end up coming to The Butchers Club, and we will continue to develop more choices for vegans and vegetarians to meet our customers’ needs.”
Lai says the city as a whole is becoming more receptive to the meat-free movement. “We see the trend at fellow restaurants, where everyone is adding more plant-based menu items. We’ve also seen a lot of enquires on our social media platforms requesting an even larger variety of delicious meat-free burgers.”
As diners become more open to plant-based menus, The Butchers Club Burger is currently working with several different business partners to develop new plant-based products for guests, says Lai.
If one of the city’s most successful burger outlets is embracing the plant-based dining trend, one can only assume that it is indeed here to stay.
The Butchers Club