Increasingly, Hong Kong’s consumers are eschewing animal products in favour of plant-based menu options, which a growing number of vegetarian/vegan and organic-food businesses are only too happy to provide, the Hong Kong Trade Development Council said.
On the busy streets in and around Central district on Hong Kong Island, office workers and shoppers queue every day for their lunchtime fix of healthy salads, cold-pressed juices, raw food and vegan coffee, in what “ecopreneur” Bobsy Gaia said, is not a trend, but a movement.
The Beirut-born entrepreneur came to Hong Kong, via Bangkok, 23 years ago. Mr Gaia’s first organic restaurant in the city opened in 1997, leading to its current incarnation, the whole-food brand MANA! It has three outlets in Hong Kong, and a fourth venue scheduled to open later this year.
MANA! Fast Slow Food in Central and MANA! Café in Sheung Wan are both eat-in restaurants serving plant-based vegan food and coffee, while MANA Xpress (formerly Mana! Raw) was launched last month as a grab-and-go outlet.
Mr Gaia says Hong Kong has long been ready for the whole-food phenomenon, which now appears to be sweeping the city. The difference, he says, is that businesses have woken up to the opportunity Hong Kong offers.
Major wellness fairs held in the city each year, notably Natural & Organic Products Asia, LOHAS Expo and Vegetarian Food Asia, which take place at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, “bring in people from all over the world, who are seeing how big the business is here,” Mr Gaia said.
Some early local pioneers of the raw-food movement are encouraged by the growth of the healthy-eating trend. Dr Simon Chau founded the Hong Kong Vegetarian Society 20 years ago, and opened GreenWoods Raw Café in Tsim Sha Tsui as the city’s first fully raw restaurant in 2013.
Dr Chau runs his café as a not-for-profit – content to provide a way for Hongkongers to try raw food “and hopefully begin to eat greener.”
“Transforming the eating habit of this community could be my best contribution to Hong Kong in this life,” he said. “Transforming the eating culture of China could well be our greatest contribution to our mother country.”
And a new vegetarian restaurant is fueling the healthy fast-food movement in Hong Kong. Housed in the site of a former Burger King in the city’s Central district, Home: Eat to Live serves up a similarly fast-food concept, but with the focus resting firmly on healthy plant-based meals, such as the Polar Bear burger, a beetroot, mushroom and oat patty; and the Silky Sifaka earth bowl, a vegetarian take on Vietnamese pho. All items on the menu are free of meat and fish, preservatives and other processed ingredients.
“We’ve designed a menu that we feel caters to everyone, whether they’re craving a bowl of noodles or some Middle-Eastern flat breads,” says founder and CEO Christian Gerard Mongendre, who graduated from the Institut Paul Bocuse and worked for Michelin three-star chef Alain Ducasse.
The Hong Kong-born chef has become something of a poster boy for plant-based dining, having co-founded popular vegetarian restaurant MANA!. With his first restaurant launched in May, the ambitious CEO is keen to create an innovative fast-food brand by teaming up with local partner, ZS Hospitality Group.
The Group’s 22-year-old chairperson, Elizabeth Chu, adopts a healthy, gluten-free diet, and Mr Mongendre felt she was the kind of person he wanted as an investor. Following the launch of its first store in Central in May, a second outlet in Kowloon is scheduled to open later this year.