How to have a meat-free Christmas: four vegan influencers describe their best holiday dinners
- From raspberry chocolate fudge cake to potatoes roasted with rosemary, olive oil and salt, there is no shortage of ideas for great vegetarian dishes
- Entrepreneurs and an ultrarunner tell us what they’d serve for a memorable meal
Cutting meat from your diet, even from just a couple of meals per week, is said to be one of the most significant actions people can take to reduce their impact on the environment.
Meat and dairy production is responsible for 60 per cent of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions, so spending money on alternatives could help nudge global food production towards more sustainable practices.
The past two years have seen an explosion in meat-free dining options in Hong Kong – particularly plant-based burgers – with veganism and vegetarianism key trends that will continue to influence restaurant culture in years to come.
Celebratory meals have historically revolved around meat as a centrepiece, with vegetables as side dishes, but with so many great alternatives, plenty of variety and a thriving vegetarian and vegan community to turn to for events and advice, there’s every reason to eliminate meat from your table this Christmas or New Year’s Eve.
What to cook
If you’re lucky enough to have a kitchen and a large group of family or friends to cook for, there are lots of ways to make vegetables the centre of attention without sacrificing visual impact, flavour or nutrients.
This lentil loaf from the food blog Pumpkin and Peanut Butter is a fail-safe choice to wow guests, with its crimson tomato glaze, moreishly chewy texture and deep umami flavour, while this mushroom Wellington from Delicious Everyday will simultaneously sate those with a hankering for steak and impress even the most discerning meat-free foodies.
If you do not have the resources or time to cook from scratch, vegetarian or vegan meat alternatives can now be bought in most supermarkets in Hong Kong, with a particularly good range of products to be found at eco shop chain Green Common.
How to indulge
With sweet treats synonymous with festive eating, Christmas can be a challenging and frustrating time for anyone seeking to avoid eggs and dairy.
Vegans in the know in Hong Kong head to upmarket cafe The Cakery in Causeway Bay for a host of plant-based cupcakes and sandwich cakes, including a spiced apple cake topped with berries, for the same feeling of indulgence.
Meanwhile, up and coming bakery Vege Lab’s vegan biscuit gift box sold out so fast on its first launch that the company had to rush out another batch to meet demand.
What to drink
Many beers and wines aren’t vegan. Their production involves the use of isinglass, a substance derived from the swim bladder of a fish, in the refining process.
Hong Kong’s dining scene isn’t quite at the stage where restaurants store information on which of their drinks are free of animal products, but supermarkets like Marks and Spencer are known for their clear labelling, and restaurants such as Locofama, in Sai Ying Pun, helpfully note the vegan wines on their menus.
Online retailers, such as winerack.hk, have a range of certified vegan and organic bottles available from HK$95. If you’re unsure whether a drink is vegan, try running the name of the drink through the Barnivore app, which compiles information about hundreds of brands in its database.
Where to eat
A dinner with omnivorous friends is no longer a struggle for people who don’t eat meat.
More restaurants than ever before have rolled out the green carpet this year, and festive vegetarian set menus are available at Feather and Bone, Bedu, Uma Nota, Aqua, Cocotte, Ammo, Cafe Causette and Grassroots Pantry.
For a little more festive inspiration, four influential Hong Kong vegans and vegetarians described their plans for the holidays, their favourite festive dish to eat, the signature dish they would make for friends, a simple dish anyone could make this holiday season, and for whom they would most like to make a meat-free meal and what that would be.
Iris Mak, raw vegan chef
For Christmas and New Year’s, Mak will be travelling to Japan. The one dish she cannot not have for a celebration is mince pies. For friends, her signature dish is a raw vegan raspberry chocolate fudge cake. An easy vegan dish for the holidays is a raw vegan mint chocolate mousse with fresh raspberries.
She would choose to host a meal for her best friend Andy Kern.
“We would drink Christmas mulled tea, instead of mulled wine, and have almond crust with cashew cheese, savoury pumpkin tart, fruit tart, macarons and pomegranate cheesecake – all raw vegan, plus vegan gingerbread,” Mak said.
Vlad Ixel, ultrarunner
“For the past six years, I have trained during the holidays, but this year I'm going to take a week off and give my body a rest. I have run almost every single day for the past six years so I'm excited about a full week off running. I might do some easy cycling and gym work – but no running until after Christmas,” Ixel says.
Vegan burgers have come a long way in the six years he has been vegan, he adds. “For the first few years, I really struggled with anything that reminded me of meat in the way it looks or tastes, but now I consume meat-free burgers a few times a week during big training weeks.”
His stepdad is one of Australia’s best chefs, so Ixel grew up around good food, and used to cook a lot for friends and family – “except my stepdad, who wouldn't really eat anything I would ever cook”.
Ixel says: “Since going vegan, I keep things really simple, usually salads and fresh raw foods. I also have a lot less time now to cook.”
For the holidays, anyone can enjoy the mashed chickpea spread hummus. “Growing up in Israel, hummus was a big part of my diet and we always used to buy ready-made ones from the supermarket. However, after learning how easy it easy to make, I have only been making it myself as it tastes a lot better, is a lot cheaper and is super fast.”
He would choose to host a meal for Belarusian-American entrepreneur and venture capitalist Gary Vaynerchuk. “He is a great inspiration for me at this point. I would serve him a Beyond Meat burger so he can see the massive vegan market opening up right now, and maybe move a little into it.”
Bobsy Gaia, founder of Mana! Fast Slow Food restaurant
“Sitting around a warm bonfire under the bright moon and stars at my home on Lamma Island,” is where Gaia will be this season. “Christmas is a time to excel with heart-warming foods, seasonal delights and yummy foods that do not cost the earth.
“Traditionally I like to serve a nut roast on my Christmas table. But my real favourites are potatoes roasted with rosemary, olive oil and salt to a perfect crispiness on the outside, but still soft enough on the inside. I also like Brussels sprouts (cooked al dente, as I like them to have a bit of a bite, instead of soft and mushy), plus a medley of roasted winter vegetables, such as swede, turnips and parsnips topped with za’atar [a Middle Eastern spice blend]. All the above topped with lots of vegan gravy, to which I add nutritional yeast to make it thick and creamy. This will usually be accompanied by a bottle or two of good vegan organic red wine.”
He recommends people try nutritional yeast when they need or crave cheese, since “it doesn’t compromise on flavour and punch”. Gluten-free, it’s also rich in vitamins and minerals, including B12, he says, adding you can swap out Parmesan cheese and replace it with nutritional yeast when making Christmas pesto.
Gaia would serve the Christmas meal described above to the “great poet, artist and visionary William Blake” (who died in 1827); outside Christmas, he would offer him a warm oven-baked Mana Flat (flatbread) “and watch his reaction as he savours the exotic flavours of za’atar in his wholewheat bread. If anyone would appreciate the values, principles and integrity of Mana, this great man would,” he says.
David Yeung, Green Common founder
Holidaying with family this holiday season, Yeung will be sure to have the Italian sweat bread loaf panettone, the one dish he cannot celebrate Christmas without.
“I am blessed to have very talented cooks in the family, which means I am not much of a cook at all,” he says, to explain his lack of a signature vegan dish he likes to prepare. One easy vegan food substitution anyone could make over the holidays is the plant-based “turkey” from Canadian food innovator Gardein, he says.
He would choose to host a meal for his late father.
“As a long-time vegetarian himself, I believe he would enjoy eating dishes that use the [plant-based pork alternative] Omnipork at Green Common, as both are creations by his son.”