This guest post was written by Polly from Veggywood. She recently traveled to Asia and visited China and Japan. Now she is back and here to share her tips for vegans traveling in these countries.
As a vegetarian and then as a vegan, I’d always been nervous about traveling to Asia. I’d heard horror stories about fish broth being in “everything”, carcasses hanging in shop windows, the prevalence of fur clothing… But when in the beginning of October, I was fortunate enough to travel to Hong Kong for the first time, I found an entirely different world: one that was decidedly veggie-friendly and even more importantly, respectful of it. With the exception of fur (sadly, people wear a lot of real fur there, and it’s all over the shop windows, a sight I haven’t seen in awhile), I found Hong Kong and Japan surprisingly easy places to travel as vegan.
Okay, first things first. My ability to eat in Hong Kong would not have been possible without the Happy Cow iphone app and website. Although a few times it sent me to places that were no longer there, overall it was essential to my trip. If you are a traveling vegan, it’s the best $2.99 you can spend to prepare for your trip (find it in the iTunes store under “Veg Out”). But before you read about my travels, let me add a disclaimer: I relied heavily on HappyCow.net, the Vegan Passport, and broken English, so there is always a chance that something I ate wasn’t 100% vegan. If you have eaten at one of the places I go on to mention, and experienced some vegan confusion, please let everyone know politely.
Eating at the 7-11
I’ll start with one of easiest places to eat in Hong Kong, 7-11. Because all the products have ingredients listed in both Chinese and English, it’s easy to scan the shelves for vegan-friendly snacks, such as chips, juice and soymilk. But on the soymilk front, beware. On my first trip to 7-11, I thought I had found the holy grail, an entire fridge section for soymilk… but upon closer inspection, I discovered that 99% of the varieties contained some form of milk. This is because, in Hong Kong, soy milk is not seen as a milk substitute, but as a flavor. And the few “pure” soymilk varieties I found were, well, disgusting. Proceed at your own risk. That being said, there are also tons of different juices worth drinking, my favorite was an orange/mango variety that I must have drank every day.
Where’s the Supermarket?
There are no actual supermarkets in Hong Kong that I saw, instead lots of tiny shops. There was a fruit stand near my hotel and that easily became my breakfast every day, so keep an eye out for those because they are not a common sight. And, since there are definitely times when you will find yourself frustrated and unable to find vegan stuff, I would suggest sticking some Lara or Cliff bars in your luggage for the trip. I kept one of these in my purse so if I got hungry I didn’t run the risk of not being able to find something to eat.
Vegan Restaurant Meals in Hong Kong, China
Because of the favorable exchange rate, my meals in HK were not very expensive. Still, they ranged from cheap to moderate, and simple to elegant. On the inexpensive side, I really enjoyed Loving Heart, a vegan mall kiosk. I got a whole tray of food, including soup, noodles, dumplings, and different vegetables for around $3.60 (U.S.). The people behind the counter were very nice, but spoke no English, so you kind of have to point at what you want. And, yes, you’re eating in a mall, but it’s also a place you won’t see any tourists plus there’s 30 mins of free wifi and a nice view down into the neon-lit street.
At The Metropolis Mall, Food Court
Kopitiam Huixing Square Food Plaza Shop No. 12, MTR: Hung Hom, Kowloon
Hong Kong, China
Lock Cha Teahouse
Another not to be missed spot is the Lock Cha Teahouse in Hong Kong Park. First of all, let me just say, this place was super hard to find. The park is in the middle of the city, kind of elevated behind an area that includes the high court and other government buildings. I must have wandered around for an hour, first on the wrong side of a busy street, and then within the court buildings, trying to find a way to get up INTO the park. It might help you to note that it is across the street from the two Lippo Centre Tower buildings. But it was definitely worth the exhaustion, as the result is a serene and unique eating experience.
Since it was lunchtime and busy, I was asked to share a table, something that I found quite common and endearing. I was given a dim sum menu also in English, and made my selections. For about $25 (U.S.) I got 5 dim sum (I was hungry!), and a pot of white rose tea. The savory dim sum were excellent, my favorite by far being little buns that looked like pumpkins with a squishy outer later and peanuts inside. It was absolutely amazing, and I told a group of French tourists across the table from me to order it. The other varieties, mushroom & spinach, and stir fried noodles were also good, and perfectly proportioned. The fried bean curd skin roll was probably my least favorite. For dessert I had coconut and sweet potato cakes, and the last pumpkin bun that I was saving. For a relaxing and beautiful meal, don’t miss the Lok Cha Teahouse. After, I suggest a stroll through HK Park and checking out their little aviary which features pelicans and other birds.
Lock Cha Tea Shop
Upper Ground Floor, 290A
Queen’s Road Central, Sheung Wan
Hong Kong, China
Tel: +852 2805-1360
World Peace Cafe
My favorite restaurant was by far the World Peace Cafe, also on Hong Kong Island. I enjoyed myself so much that I ate their twice, my best meal being an early lunch. They’re usually too busy for walk-ins in the afternoon, but I lucked out, and as one person, was able to share a table (if you are more than one, I would suggest making a reservation). The staff, made up of Buddhist volunteers, speaks more than adequate English, and since the restaurant is vegetarian, not vegan, was able to help me decide what to eat. For around $18 (U.S.), my lunch consisted of a veggie burger (made without cheese), fries and a tabuli salad, and organic lemon soda. For dessert I opted for a delicious almond soy cappuccino that had little almond pieces in it.
After a few unsuccessful attempts to find restaurants listed on Happy Cow followed my meal at the World Peace Cafe, I decided to return on the way to the airport for my flight to Tokyo to ensure I got a good dinner in before I left. Reservations for the set dinner menu are required, and I made one with easy, even going over the menu over the phone to insure that I would have vegan options. In contrast to the busy lunch time atmosphere, at night the restaurant is candle-lit and subdued. It was very calming and nice, but I did prefer my lunch meal. The set dinner was around $24 (U.S.), and consisted of a “bento plate”: brown rice, tofu & vegetables, and a grilled pepper salad. Neither dessert was vegan, so I skipped it, opting instead to pay extra for a mango/orange/pineapple smoothie that was very yummy. I’d say this meal was over all extremely fresh and filling, just not very unique (and kind of pricy since I was charged for a dessert I didn’t eat). Still I would call the World Peace Cafe my favorite dining experience in Hong Kong, and I urge you to check it out if you are planning a trip there!
World Peace Cafe
21-23 Tai Wong Street East Wanchai
Hong Kong, China
If you are planning on traveling to Hong Kong, I thought I should mention a couple of places that I really enjoyed. The Temple Night Market (above) is a unique place to pick up super cheap souvenirs and gifts like rings, scarves, Lada Gaga playing cards, and plastic figurines. A trip from HK Island to Kowloon at night on the Star Ferry is cheap, takes only 15 or so minutes, and provides a great view of the lit up city at night. “The Peak”, a collection of overpriced shops and restaurants accessible by a short tram ride, is considered the highest point in Hong Kong. Even though it is super touristy, the views are amazing, especially at night. I also took a 3 hour cruise hosted by Hong Kong Dolphin Watch to see the pink dolphins, and although it was one of the more expensive things I did (at $45), I would highly recommend it. The trip was hosted by an English guide who was really knowledgeable about the current environmental situation in HK and China, and the plight of the dolphins that are being killed off by the pollution in the harbor. It was quite shocking to see water as dirty as I saw in Hong Kong, especially coming from California, where we make such an effort to clean up our beaches. We only saw the dolphins for a few minutes, but the trip was really educational and I think a “must,” especially if you are interested in animal issues. Be sure to make a reservation ahead of time though.
When I was planning my itinerary, the one place I thought I really was going to enjoy was going to Lantau Island and visiting Ngong Ping Village and the giant bronze Buddha. In addition, the Po Lin Vegetarian Restaurant in the monastery was recommended by Happy Cow and my guide book. The buddha was fairly impressive, but overall I found the whole experience a bit cheesy for my taste. The staff in the restaurant was rude and I didn’t really care for the food, it was pretty bland and uninteresting. In addition, while some people might enjoy the ride up to the top in the little glass cable cars, I am slightly afraid of heights and the experience was somewhat uncomfortable for me, especially when the wind started to pick up and the cars started to sway back and forth. I wouldn’t put this at the top of your excursion list like I did, a trip to the Peak will more than satiate your need for views and photo ops.
My last suggestion would be to treat yourself to a foot massage at some point. Mid-way through my Hong Kong stay my feet were just killing me! Based on a recommendation from my Lonely Planet guide book, I got a foot/shoulder massage at Happy Foot (I went to the location in Central). It was just what the doctor ordered, I think it was around $30 for a full hour. Great service for the price, no frills, and I felt like I was walking on a cloud when I left. Plus they take walk-ins, so you don’t need to make a reservation