Takeaway that's changing the pace of fast food

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 January, 2012, 12:00am


Entrepreneur and environmental campaigner Bobsy Jureidini (commonly known as just Bobsy), has lived in Hong Kong for 20 years and is one of the city's most recognisable advocates of the green lifestyle. The co-founder of popular vegetarian venues the Bookworm Cafe on Lamma Island and Life Organic Cafe in SoHo, his latest venture is Mana!, an organic vegetarian takeaway in Central serving healthy, fast Slow Food to go.

Where are your food roots?

Lebanon. I'm of English stock, but born and raised Lebanese. I was baptised in olive oil [laughs].

Was food important to you when growing up?

I grew up in a household where we didn't have much variety in our diet. My inspiration came from neighbours and friends' mothers who felt sorry for me and my brother and treated us to Lebanese home cooking - rice, chickpeas, lentils and a lot of greens. Fundamental to Lebanese cooking are spices such as cumin, coriander, lemon juice, sea salt, pine nuts, raisins - it's food to die for. But I only became a foodie when I became vegetarian.

When did you become vegetarian?

My diet shifted about 20 years ago. Before that I was the king of Burger King. When I was about 25 I realised that the cost of a burger was not the money you pay but the natural resources. I said: 'I can't call myself an environmentalist and plant trees with one hand and be eating meat with the other.' It took me another 10 years to give up seafood. Once I became aware our seas are running out of fish, I stopped eating it.

When did you move to Asia?

In 1987 I went to Bangkok to meet a childhood friend who was an entrepreneur, and I've been an entrepreneur ever since. I arrived in Hong Kong in November 1992. There were no organic or vegetarian restaurants, none of that lateral left-field thinking of introducing social principles into business. Even today there are huge gaps in the market, which brings us to Mana!

What's Mana!?

At Lunar New Year we are opening Mana! fast Slow Food. We are turning fast food on its head. We want to do Slow Food - which is real, healthy, wholesome food - served very quickly. We are introducing flats - wholesome organic flatbread with different toppings. It takes two minutes to bake a flat in a brick oven, and we are building Hong Kong's first handmade brick oven. We'll have wholewheat and gluten-free varieties. We will use local and organic products and a lot of raw vegan food.

Are people more interested in your vision of healthy eating now?

It's definitely more widely understood. And more restaurants are catering to vegetarian needs and most want to have something organic on the menu. So yes, a huge sea change is taking place. Conventional production of meat, dairy and seafood is extremely wasteful, harmful and non-sustainable. My message is reduce: for environmental reasons, health reasons, spiritual reasons and animal welfare reasons.

What do you cook at home?

I love knocking up salads. Organic olive oil, lemon and sea salt is the foundation of what I do. Another fabulous ingredient is za'atar - wild thyme, organic sumac, raw sesame seed and sea salt. We are importing 1,000kg of green herbs from Lebanon. Can you imagine calling customs?

Are you inspired by any chefs here?

Todd Darling. What he's doing at Posto Pubblico with the farm - they've touched on interesting aspects of a huge lifestyle. We hope to usher in a lifestyle not just based on eating raw, organic, sustainable food, but the whole life that goes with it.