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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How to Cook in a Hostel

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Dundee Backpackers in Dundee, Scotland

One of my favorite things about traveling is the food. After picking a destination, and maybe plotting out a few major points of interest, the next thing I do is search for the best restaurants, holes in the wall, and street vendors to visit.

While I love trying local specialties and grabbing meals around a new city, eating out can quickly add up and strain your travel budget. If you’re staying at a hostel, you’ve got the opportunity to cook for yourself and save your hard earned money for other things.

Through my travels, and the various trials and errors they have entailed, I’ve learned a few tricks for making the best of hostel kitchens, no matter how shabby or understocked:

Take Stock of the Kitchen

Before you ever make a grocery list or plan a time to cook, visit the kitchen and see what you’re working with. Check out what appliances, cookware, and tools are at your disposal. I’ve seen everything from well equipped kitchens featuring several ovens and stovetops, to a hostel that only had a single hot plate. While you’re there, see if your hostel provides a “Free Food” cabinet. Many hostel goers buy too much and leave behind their leftovers. This means you can sometimes find a wealth of staples like rice, pasta, oils, vinegars, and spices for free.

Shop With the Locals

Take notice of where the locals shop. Avoid the convenience stores usually found near tourist districts because of their lack of variety and high prices. Instead visit farmers’ markets and local grocery stores to do your shopping. One of the fun things when visiting another country is seeing all the foreign (to you) foods available. Plus if you’re choosing to cook a local specialty, you’ll have no trouble finding all the ingredients.

Avoid Peak Times

Even during off seasons, hostels can be packed with fellow travelers. This means the kitchen area will likely be full during peak eating hours around lunch and dinner. If you can, try and cook a little before or after regular mealtimes. Though cooking side-by-side with other hostel-goers can be a great way to get a conversation going, you might save yourself some time (and stress) by choosing your timing wisely.

Add Some Spice to Your Life

There’s no better way to quickly improve a meal than by adding a hearty dose of spices. Here are a few simple solutions to avoid overloading your backpack with spice bottles while still creating tasty meals:

  • Base your meal choices around the spices available in your hostel’s free pantry. This can lead to some really creative recipe creation.
  • Buy one or two spice blends (cajun, Italian, lemon-pepper, etc.) to just sprinkle on each meal for a serious flavor boost. This works best if you’re traveling for a week or less, so you don’t get tired of the recurring flavors.
  • If you know you’ll always want certain spices on hand, your best bet is to pack your favorites in a stackable pill organizer (like this one.) The screw-on top keeps the spices in place and the containers are usually easy to label.

Keep It Simple

Nobody expects you to make a luxurious five-star meal at your hostel. If that’s your thing, more power to you. But I like to stick with simple “recipes” that require little ingredients. It’s usually a good idea to create a balanced meal with about five ingredients, including a protein source, carbs, and veggies or fruit. Since I’m usually cooking for myself and Peter, and we don’t mind leftovers, most of the meals I cook makes about four servings. If you’re traveling solo, make sure you only buy how much you need for your stay. Some of my favorite simple hostel recipes include:

  • Creamy Lentil Curry: Cook red lentils in coconut milk, vegetable broth, and curry powder. Top with chopped pineapple and cilantro.
  • Shroom Pasta: Cook pasta. Sauté a chopped onion and a few handfuls of mushroom in olive oil. Toss with pasta and sprinkle with red pepper and nutritional yeast.
  • Hearty Soup: In a large pot sauté a chopped onion in olive oil. Add a can of diced tomatoes and a can of white beans. Add a chopped potato or any desired veggies you have on hand. Pour in enough vegetable broth to cover everything and simmer until veggies are tender.
  • Super Spuds: Poke a few holes in a russet potato. Microwave for 5-7 minutes, or until soft. Top with a handful of spinach and chopped green onions. Dollop on salsa and guacamole before serving.

A Vegan’s Guide to Reykjavik

Hopefully you’ve already read my recommendations for Five Must-Dos in Iceland from our week-long getaway earlier this month. If not, hop over there for suggestions on attractions to visit and activities to do. Then, it’s time to get onto what every vegan really likes to research before a big trip: Where to eat.

I will warn you guys, the food photography is not great here because wintertime Iceland has sunlight for only about six hours. Combine that with low-light restaurants, and you’ve got some less-than-stellar photo ops. But I promise everything I pictured was delicious and beautiful when I was served.

Iceland was apparently the land of defying expectations. Meaning: every blog, book, or website I read said Iceland was one of the hardest places to eat vegan. I’m happy to say there was no shortage of yummy and satisfying plant-based food, which was not hard to find at all. Honestly, Reykjavik was much more veggie-friendly than almost any place in the Southern U.S.

My only warning is that dining out in Iceland is expensive. A cheap meal for two people is about $20, and that’s if you’re getting something like chips (fries) and a soda. Since a lot of foods (especially fresh produce) have to be imported, the high price tag makes sense. But be aware that the majority of your vacation budget can easily be blown on a night out of fine dining. Because of this, Peter and I stuck to more casual eateries, though according to Happy Cow there are many more choices available in the city for those willing to drop some cash.

Here are some of the amazing places we dined at:

Kaffi Vinyl

Totally vegan and with a wealth of menu options, Kaffi Vinyl was our first stop for food. The restaurant, which also doubles as a record shop and music venue, had a relaxed vibe with servers changing the records as they ran out. We both got coffees, Peter’s was cold and mine was hot, in an attempt to help our adjust to the time change. They offered several non-dairy milk options like soy, oat, and coconut.dscn1799Peter ordered the lasagna, which was an extremely hearty meal filled with rich marinara, veggies, and a sprinkling of vegan parmesan atop. It was served with rustic bread, olive tapenade, and salad.

I took a chance on a bizarre sounding combo, and ordered the black bean burger, which came with blueberry jam, kimchi sauce, some type of cream cheese, pickled veggies, and a slice of pineapple. I just have to say, this burger was so good. I never would have thought to put a sweet jam on a burger (I guess I didn’t learn from that episode of Spongebob) but the whole thing just worked. Sweet, salty, creamy, tangy, every bite had a big burst of flavors.

Cultural note though, Icelanders tend to avoid eating with their hands. For example, I was given a fork and knife to eat this burger and watched two locals at another table cut theirs apart too. So just keep that in mind when you get any “hands on” food.

Reykjavik Chips

A restaurant entirely dedicated to potatoes is my kind of place. Serving only (you guessed it) fries, Reykjavik Chips is a cute little shop that you shouldn’t miss out on. Their large pile of potatoes next to the cash register (see below) should attest to how popular it is.

The chips come in two sizes, small and large, and I highly recommend getting a small. Because when they say large, they mean it. The container is roughly the size to hold two American large fries, so stick with a small (which is about the size of one American large fry) unless you’re sharing.

Crispy on the outside, but soft on the inside, the chips are made fresh-to-order and topped with whatever sauce you desire. Vegans have the options of ketchup or rich peanut-y satay sauce. Best part? Since Icelanders don’t eat with their hands, when they toss the chips in a sauce it’s served with a skewer to eat with.dscn1937

Nudluskalin

Just what you need when the cold wind is whistling into your face, Nudluskalin is the place to go for a meal that will warm up your frozen body.

Very easy to eat vegan at, you can substitute tofu for any meat and several of their menu items are already vegan. I choose the Green Throughout (below, right), a rice noodle soup that is heavy on the veggies and features fresh garlic and chilis for a thorough sinus cleansing.

Peter got the vegetarian option of Bamm Al Pomodoro, a less-brothy hybrid dish that had a bit of Asian and Italian influences. With a tomato broth base, it featured fresh egg noodles, peppers, carrots, Italian herbs, and a hearty handful of beansprouts. dscn1951

Joylato

Joylato is one of those places I’d never expect to have vegan options, and I’m always pleasantly surprised every time I turn out to be incorrect. Using liquid nitrogen, you can mix-and-match ingredients for you own custom bowl of made-to-order ice cream.

You have the options of the base being coconut or dairy milk, then choose the flavor of ice cream you want, add in sweet bits like fresh fruit or chocolate chips, and finally decide if you desire a sauce to drizzle atop. Besides the dairy milk, the only non-vegan add-in was white chocolate chips. I went with a coconut-based salted caramel ice cream with chocolate fudge sauce.

Despite the oxymoron of eating ice cream in cold weather, it was a great sweet treat. But if you’re wanting something a bit warmer, they also make vegan hot chocolate or chai tea that is perfect for sipping while exploring the city.dscn2008

Pylsa/Pulsa

Icelanders seem to love their sausages and hot dogs. I was thrilled to be able to try a vegan version of the local favorite at Pylsa/Pulsa, which was only made better by the fact that it was in the same building as our hostel.

We both got the Bulsur Sausage, which was labeled as “100% vegan” and sat at the bar to eat. If you’re interested in local Icelandic brews too, they had several options on tap. The sausages were crisp on the outside and slightly soft on the inside, with a heavily spiced flavor that was balanced out by the herb gravy. On the side was mashed sweet potatoes and a refreshing green salad. img_1122

Glo

Right off the main street of Reykjavik, Glo is the best place to stop for a healthy afternoon meal. With about half a dozen mostly-vegan salad options, along with wraps and soups, you can mix-and-match until you’ve got the perfect plate.

I ordered some ridiculously creamy cauliflower soup, which came with a dense (in a good way) piece of wheat bread, and three salad of my choice, which were cabbage, potato, and quinoa. Peter got a slightly spicy hummus wrap and the same salads too. Each of left feeling totally full, but not overly weighed down, by the veggie-packed meals.

Habibi

Although they’re usually a safe bet for vegans, the falafels at Habibi weren’t just your run-of-the-mill dinner. I ordered the falafel wrap, asking for no dairy sauces, and the lovely guy behind the counter quickly began frying them up. The soft wrap was just the right balance for holding crunchy falafel, fresh veggies, and silky hummus. It definitely beat out any falafel wraps I’d eaten before. If we’d had more time in the city, I definitely would have returned to try their falafel plate too.img_1182

The Deli

Due to construction, the entrance to The Deli isn’t the easiest to find at the time of writing this. So just keep your eyes peeled for the spray painted pictures of pizza. Peter, a severe pizza fiend, was hankering for some when we found The Deli.

He got several of their vegetarian slices, margherita and white garlic, which were displayed behind the counter. I required a more special order and requested the pasta alla noplentana without cheese or garlic bread. I was pleased that the staff didn’t seemed puzzled at all by my dairy-free request.

The pasta and pizza, which we got to-go, were both great. Peter was a happy camper, and I was pleased by the pasta tossed in a rich marinara sauce and dotted with fresh cherry tomatoes, basil, and black olives. Their drink selection was vast too, so keep an eye out for Icelandic brands. I got an interesting bitterlemon soda that was a delightful balance of bitter, sour, and sweet.dscn1852

1011

It may seem strange for me to include a convenience store at the end of this list, but it’s here for a good reason. 1011, which has branches throughout the city, boasts a large section of pre-made foods. A shocking amount of these dishes are vegan, and clearly labeled so.

Vegan sandwiches, salads, falafel meals, rice bowls, curries, and daals, are available in the refrigerated section for very decent prices. Peter and I shopped their several times for meals to take on long day tours and everything we tried was fantastic. This wasn’t run-of-the-mill gas station grub either, everything was properly prepared and about as good as the food we ate at the nearby eateries.dscn2001dscn1997dscn1999As a bonus, keep an eye out at 1011 for the “Cool American Doritos”. They’re not vegan, just very funny. dscn1944

Five Must-Dos in Iceland

At the beginning of this month, we spent a wonderful week in Reykjavik Iceland. A vacation we’ve always been interested in taking, the off-season prices combined with an easy direct flight from Baltimore made December the perfect time to visit.

We arrived, bleary-eyed and jet lagged, at 5 a.m. local time. After a much-needed nap at our hostel, we hit the town in the afternoon. Reykjavik is an interesting city. Interspersed amongst the adorable brightly painted houses (that you see in all of the travel books and brochures) is a little bit of a run-down, dirty feeling. Abandoned lots, graffiti, and crumbling buildings were not an uncommon sight. Not to say we didn’t like the city—our love for New Orleans should show a little grime doesn’t bother us—but Reykjavik was just a bit rougher around the edges than we expected. It’s a case of remembering everything is not always as it appears on Instagram. dscn1797Throwing aside all expectations, Reykjavik was a beautifully unique city. You could be walking along a regular street, glance up, and realize that there are magnificent mountains just waiting to be gazed at. Read below to find out our five favorite activities in Iceland’s capital. dscn1876

Graffiti Gazing

 

Taking a leisurely stroll through pretty much any neighborhood in Reykjavik will provide views of  (undoubtedly) illegal graffiti and dozens and dozens of professional murals. It seemed like every neighborhood or section of the city had their own art thrown onto shops, houses, and government buildings. Set some time aside to just wander and you definitely won’t regret it.

Thufa Hill

dscn1904A hidden treasure in the city is Thufa Hill, which offers amazing views of Reykjavik and is a small adventure to get to. Tucked behind rows of shops and industrial factories, we had to use Google Maps to find this outdoor art installment. A spiral path of stepping stones leads to the top where a fishing shed and several stones sit. When we went, there wasn’t another soul in sight, giving us time to sit down and relax while soaking in views of Harpa concert hall and the bay. dscn1915

Sculpture & Shore Walkdscn1884

A popular path in Reykjavik, the Sculpture and Shore Walk is a lovely mix of natural and man-made beauties. Looking out over the ocean, the meandering pathway leads you by a collection of sculptures and famous landmarks. Along with taking in the view, it’s a great place to ‘people watch’ since a variety of tourists and locals alike frequent the area. Keep an eye out for natural hot springs areas where birds will hang out to stay warm.

Day Tours

dscn1966Outside of Reykjavik you can truly get a glimpse at the amazing beauty of Iceland’s landscape. Instead of attempting to navigate the public transit ourselves, we used the Gray Line tour company to easily book a day-long Game of Thrones Tour. We saw a multitude of waterfalls, snow-topped mountains, and even an abandoned ‘Wildling’ village. Whether it’s by tour bus or rental car, everyone should take at least a day to get out in the wide open countryside. dscn1954img_1149

Snorkeling

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Who would’ve thought that a snorkeling adventure was an option in such a cold country? Scuba Iceland offers a Silfra Snorkeling package that can’t be beat. During this particular tour, you’ll spend about 40 minutes snorkeling through the crystal clear waters of the Silfra fissure, which is between the tectonic plates of North America and Eurasia. It’s a shockingly warm experience since you’ll be bundled up in thermal clothes and a dry suit. The package is reasonably priced in comparison to competitors and is incredibly easy to do since transportation and a friendly guide are provided. Don’t miss out on this unique opportunity!

For other suggestions of where to visit, and eat, in Iceland, read my Vegan’s Guide to Reykjavik.