A Vegan’s Guide to Hong Kong

Hong Kong is an incredibly vegan-friendly city. With a large Buddhist population, many of which practice vegetarianism, it’s fairly common to see all-vegetarian restaurants or for there to at least be a vegetarian section on most menus. With these options on hand and a little bit of educated guessing on ingredients lists (or help on the menu with English speaking staff) you will find no shortage of delicious vegan meals throughout the city and countryside. Tofu, dumplings, spring rolls, and more are just a few of the options you’ll see on most street corners.

Below is nowhere near a complete list of all the vegan options in Hong Kong, just a few suggestions of our favorites from our recent trip. For more great ideas, and to see reviews of other vegan-friendly eating options, visit HappyCow.net.

Bakeries

It’s hard to walk more than a few blocks in Hong Kong without seeing a bakery. With an almost constant stream every morning of customers grabbing a quick breakfast, it’s easy to be lured into these local shops by the tempting smells of freshly baked pineapple buns and wife cakes. Since we arrived in Hong Kong during the morning, slightly bleary eyed from the long haul flight but raring to explore, our very first meal in the country was from one of these bakeries.

Just a block from our hotel, we entered a tiny shop filled to the brim with baked goods ranging from sweet to savory. Peter grabbed a bun filled with BBQ and I found a vegan-friendly sweet bun that was stuffed with red bean paste. This particular bakery had ingredient labels, so I could easily scan to see what was and wasn’t vegan friendly. Not all bakeries have labels on their products, but several that we visited did, making them a great choice for vegans looking to indulge in an authentic Hong Kong breakfast, or grab a satisfying snack.

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Din Tai Fung

This Michelin-starred restaurant has been on my itinerary since the moment we decided to visit Hong Kong. Famous for their steamed dumplings (which you can watch employees make through a large glass window), Din Tai Fung also offers a wide range of vegetable, noodle, and rice dishes.

Once we were seated, and walked past their incredibly adorable dumpling mascot statue, we found out that ordering at Din Tai Fung was unlike anything we’d ever experienced. We were quickly served a large pot of green tea, while we went through a ‘checklist’ of dishes on the menu which we handed to our waiter, removing any potential problem with a language barrier.

We ended up ordering several small dishes to get a well-rounded view of the menu. Our choices were sliced cucumbers with chili and garlic, beancurd puff with black fungus, steamed mushroom dumplings, and Peter also added on fried fish with special sauce. Everything turned out amazing. The cucumbers were just the right balance of fresh and spicy flavor, the beancurd dish was entirely new to me with a salty tang and spongey texture, and the dumplings proved why they’re just so darn famous. The best part? We got out like bandits, with this whole meal costing under $25 USD.

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Loving Hut

Although Loving Hut is an international vegan chain, I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting it. Conveniently though, there was a branch of it just two blocks from our hotel. We ate there several times during our two week trip, but with a whopping menu of almost 80 items it was not possible for us to get bored.

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Over our multiple visits we tried fried rice in XO sauce with a vegan fried egg (see above), fried ramen with veggie shreds (see below), pineapple and veggie balls with sweet and sour sauce, and fried flat rice noodles with soya slices. All of it was absolutely stellar, making us sad that there’s not a US store near where we live. One thing to note: The branch we visited (in Wan Chai) was cash only, so plan accordingly.

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Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery’s Vegetarian Canteen 

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You will work up a sweat getting to the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery, so it’s only fitting that they have a refreshing restaurant at the top. Entirely vegetarian and with each menu item having a small description, it was easy to figure out which dishes would be vegan-friendly.

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We ate lunch here in the middle of the afternoon, and the small canteen offered respite from the harsh sun and cool drinks to perk us up. For appetizers we got a fried bean curd skin roll and spring roll. While the bean curd version was just okay, the spring roll was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Perfectly crispy with an almost creamy filling of soft veggies, it’s no surprise that all that was left for a photo was the crumbs seen below.

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Peter dined on sweet and sour ‘shrimp’ (which I’m fairly sure was soy-based) and I opted for braised tofu with fresh veggies. Our main dishes were good too, though not nearly as earth-shattering as that singular spring roll.

Noodle and Dog

Hong Kong is a very shopping focused city. While we’re usually not big on hitting the mall or shopping centers when on vacation, we did find ourself at the Hysan Place mall in search of postcards for our nephews. Full of everything ranging from fashion outlets, to bookstores, to the irresistibly cute Line Friends store, there’s something for almost everyone.

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While we were on our (futile, I might add) task of finding postcards, we realized it was dinner time. The words ‘food court’ usually make me think of greasy by-the-slice pizza, sad soggy hamburgers, and employees trying to force you to take free samples. Thankfully, this particular food court had none of those things.

Offering options like curry, ramen, congee, and sushi, there were a wealth of vegan-friendly choices. After much deliberating, I opted for the ‘hatted vegan’ dish at the Noodle and Dog stand. I honestly wasn’t quite sure what I was ordering (I only knew it was vegan and that noodles were involved) but I was shocked and pleased to see the impressive meal they brought out. Chewy noodles in a tomato sauce with bok choy and mushrooms were served in a bowl the size of my head. Alongside was a small salad and a mix of fresh fruits like watermelon, honeydew, and dragon fruit. Clocking in at just $4.99, I think I could easily start to love food courts if I lived in Hong Kong.

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Cheung Chau Bun Festival

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We happened to be staying in Hong Kong during the annual Cheung Chau Bun Festival. A small island off the coast of Hong Kong Island, Cheung Chau can be reached by a ferry in about 30 minutes. The Bun Festival is a Taoist traditional, with the original story telling of how the fishing village fought off a deadly plague and invading pirates by parading statues of deities through the streets. Today, the statues have been replaced by children in costumes and steamed buns are served to celebrate this momentous occasion.

While we were only on the island for the celebration’s last day, the event occurs over a total of three days, with the first two serving only vegetarian food. During our short stay, we encountered some of the best food we ate in Hong Kong.

Ice dripped coffee was served on the roadside, incredibly cool and smooth, which is just what we needed with the heat. The famous steamed buns were sold on almost every corner and came in several flavors, including red bean paste, lotus seeds, and sesame. While we only tried the lotus seed version, I’m convinced it was the best one. The filling was creamy and sweet with a delicately soft bun surrounding it.

Jittered up with a dose of coffee and sugary buns, we eventually got a wholesome meal on Cheung Chau from one of the many tiny store fronts. With the store name and menu items only in Cantonese (which sadly, I don’t speak) we got through the ordering process by pointing at pictures and doing a lot of miming. Nonetheless, our meal of rice wraps filled with fresh ingredients like cucumber and avocado were the perfect dishes to end our time on the island.

If you can get to Hong Kong during the time of the Cheung Chau Bun Festival, I highly recommend it. Definitely the highlight of our trip and someplace I would love to visit again.

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Disclaimer: To the best of knowledge all of the dishes featured above are vegan-friendly. Since I cannot speak Cantonese, and occasionally would order at places that had a language barrier, I cannot 100% guarantee that everything is vegan and those following this guide should double-check before ordering.

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Five Must-Dos in Hong Kong

We have been back from Hong Kong for a few weeks, and it just now feels like life has re-settled into a regular routine. The backpacks are unpacked, the souvenirs are handed out, and now it’s time for the blogging to begin!

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Our time in Hong Kong was wonderful and a great introduction to Asia for the two of us. Everyone we encountered was quick to smile, there were endless places to explore, and the food was phenomenal. While I’m still writing “A Vegan’s Guide to Hong Kong” (expect that next week), here’s a round-up of our very favorite things in Hong Kong and nearby areas. So, in no particular order, here are five activities and destinations that shouldn’t be missed during a visit to Hong Kong:

Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery

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About a 45 minute train ride outside of Hong Kong City, the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery is in the small village of Sha Tin. It’s an easy 10 minute walk to the beginning of the path, during which you’ll pass by a small square with local vendors selling snacks, flowers, and incense. Once you reach the beginning of the trail, be prepared for a bit of a hike. The meandering path up the mountain is lined with unique gold-painted arhat (the Buddhist equivalent of saints) statues, ranging from familiar meditation poses to the outright bizarre.

At the end of your walk, you will be greeted by the monastery, a beautiful sprawling area full of (you guessed it) more statues and temples. With the smell of incense lingering in the air, you can visit the nine-story pagoda or the temple that is the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery’s namesake, filled with nearly 13,000 unique Buddha statues inside. As a bonus, the small restaurant up there is entirely vegetarian and has the world’s best spring rolls.

Note: Fake monks will occasionally try and scam tourists by asking for ‘donations’ by the entrance. These are not real monks and should be ignored. One tried to put a bracelet on my wrist but quickly backed off when I gave them a firm “No thank you.”

Hong Kong Park

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Visited by complete accident, we wandered into Hong Kong Park after skipping the nearby Peak Tram and its ridiculously long line. A wonderful green oasis in the midst of the city, the park features tons of flora and fauna for the curious visitor. We arrived later in the evening, so the Aviary and Tea Wares Museum (both of which looked awesome from the outside) were already closed, but there was still plenty to enjoy.

Throughout Hong Kong Park you’ll see a plethora of animals like families of turtles, brightly colored koi fish, and friendly pigeons. The path around the lake is the optimum place to go for a stroll, or take a packed lunch to eat on one of the many benches. Don’t forget to visit the Vantage Point Tower, which gives an uninterrupted view of the entire park.

Cheung Chau Island

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Our trip to Hong Kong fatefully fell on the date of Cheung Chau’s annual bun festival. The bun festival, a Taoist tradition, celebrates the island surviving a devastating plague hundreds of years ago, and also coincides with Buddha’s birthday. The festivities include specialty handmade buns (I highly recommend the lotus seed ones), an almost endless string of parades, children dressed up as deities, and vendors hawking everything from hand-painted shirts to mini-bun key chains.

While the festival is an opportune time to visit Cheung Chau, which is a 45-minute ferry ride from Hong Kong Island, there are many other features on the island that make it worth a visit. A gorgeous beach, adorable fishing vessels, an ancient pirate cave, and various temples make Cheung Chau a destination for any time of the year.

Day Trips Outside of Hong Kong

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I know, I know. This isn’t a must-do that’s actually in Hong Kong, but I think it’s a great option for those who want to do a little extra exploring during their trip. For those spending the majority of their time in Hong Kong, there are plenty of opportunities to do a little country hopping to places like China, Macau, and even Taiwan. While there, we took two Viator tours, one to Macau and the other to China. While Hong Kong and Macau are all technically part of the People’s Republic of China, these three regions are distinct enough in culture that they’re all definitely worth a separate visit.

Knick Knack (Knock Off) Shopping

Visiting shopping districts or malls has never been a big interest for Peter and me. We’d much rather hit up a local flea market or craftsperson for souvenirs and trinkets to commemorate our trips. I write all this to say, the shopping markets in Hong Kong are a serious must-visit. Full to the brim with knock-offs of everything from Star Wars Legos (take note of the curvy font that actually say ‘Star Wart’) to jade statues that were undoubtedly just pretty glass, there are tons of stalls and areas to explore with wide-eyed wonder. While this cheap (and fascinating) area may not be to everyone’s buying tastes, it’s at least a hilarious place to spend an hour or two while looking at the horrendously painted or misspelled products. Some of our favorites to visit were the Temple Street Night Market and the Ladies’ Market.