Partnering with fine dining establishments to present plant-based tasting menus, OmniFoods by Green Monday and Impossible Foods are trying their hands at a notoriously meat-focused cuisine – traditional Chinese.
When the Impossible™ Burger burst onto the Hong Kong scene in 2018, the American product seemed to truly do the – ahem – “impossible”: making meatless patties taste like meat – an enjoyable plant-based option that could actually appeal to meat-lovers.
Now, there seem to be plant-based options present in every food and beverage location: restaurants are constantly creating their own in-house pseudo meats, plant-based milk alternatives are on every coffee shop’s menu and there’s more and more interest in the traditional temple-style soy protein commonly found in Buddhist restaurants.
Alongside Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods and OmniFoods are two of the best-known names in Hong Kong offering plant-based fake meat – but you’re most likely to have seen them on the menus of Western establishments. Now, both brands have taken a step into traditional Chinese cooking, partnering up with acclaimed and established fine dining restaurants to present plant-based tasting menus. We spoke to the chefs behind the menus:
Green Monday x Ming Court Wanchai
“Fresh pork is the soul of Cantonese cuisine,” Chef Tsang Chiu King says.
In particular, it’s used in making soups and sauces and at Ming Court Wanchai, the culinary team simmer Jinhua ham, a Chinese dry-cured ham, to bring a “special fragrance” to the stock they use.
But, inspired by the rise of vegetarianism, increasing concerns about health and the very real threat of climate change, the restaurant has been making a grand effort to provide more vegetarian options to diners as well as demonstrating how plant-based meat can be used in Cantonese cuisine – including Cantonese fine-dining.
Chef Tsang is a restaurant industry veteran. He joined Ming Court Wanchai as culinary director just last year to much fanfare – he’s best known for working in the kitchen of Ming Court at Cordis, which retained a Michelin star status for four consecutive years under his leadership.
He calls the four much-acclaimed Chinese restaurants under Great Eagle Group “pioneers” in offering diners a plant-based fine-dining experience in Hong Kong: “I have never seen plant-based meat in Cantonese fine-dining before.”
Chef Tsang included OmniPork dishes in Ming Court Wanchai’s main menu two months after it opened. It was his first time creating dishes with plant-based meat.
More recently, Chef Tsang has experimented with the new OmniSeafood series from OmniFoods.
“The Omni Classic Fillet from the OmniSeafood series can be applied to most of the dishes in Cantonese cuisine. We used the product to bring variation to existing classic dishes in Ming Court Wanchai or applied the seasoning techniques for cooking meat when cooking the Omni Classic Fillet,” he explains.
One of them is the Fried Omni Classic Fillet with pistachio in Kung Po sauce. It’s a variation of “Fried French codfish fillet, Kung Po style”, a classic dish at Ming Court Wanchai.
“We blended sauces traditionally used in Beijing cuisine into Cantonese dishes – bringing savoury, sour and spicy flavours into one single dish. The strong flavour of Huadiao wine in this dish also enhances the overall flavours.”
His favourite dishes on the new Green Monday x Ming Court Wanchai menu are the fried Omni Classic Fillet with chilli pepper and the sautéed OmniPork meatballs with fresh peppercorns in casserole.
By offering different healthy vegetarian options to diners, Ming Court Wanchai hopes to present diet change as one way to alleviate some of the world’s most pressing issues, such as climate change and food insecurity, and tackle the challenges of sustainability together.
“Meat is indispensable in Chinese cuisine,” Chef Tsang says. “But the appearance of plant-based meat offers vegetarian options to diners and encourages them to make diet changes.” And real change.
The Green Monday x Ming Court Wanchai menu is available now.
Impossible Foods x Peking Garden
The seasonal Impossible Meat Series menu at longstanding and much-acclaimed Peking Garden marks the first time Impossible has joined hands with a Chinese fine-dining establishment.
Peking Garden was first established in 1979 and boasts one Michelin star. Its executive chef, Mr Kan Chi-Kwan created eight signature traditional Chinese dishes with Impossible Beef, his (and Peking Garden’s) first time using the meat alternative.
With over 30 years of culinary experience under his belt, Chef Kan is more than capable of taking on a challenge. But he calls Impossible Beef the “perfect substitute”, calling the plant-based meat an ideal 1-to-1 replacement for ground meat from animals: “It sizzles, cooks and tastes just like ground beef from cows, and can be steamed, grilled, sauteed and more.”
The cooking method is the same – for the braised Impossible™ meatballs dish, Chef Kan seasoned the meat alternative and turned it into meatballs; for the sweet and sour, he made cubes of the Impossible Beef, fried until golden-brown and then quickly stir-fried with a sweet-sour sauce.
“It has the same juicy, delicious and savoury flavours that people love in conventional animal meat,” he says.
His favourite dish from the plant-based menu is the minced meat thick soup, “it’ll make you feel like you are in Hangzhou, with an authentic taste and refreshing feel.”
Despite meat being a mainstay in traditional Chinese cuisines, Peking Garden is making an effort in going “green”, with Chef Kan citing everything from animal welfare to health and climate concerns for the new direction.
Impossible does promise heavy nutritional and environmental benefits – its beef (water, soy and potato proteins, sunflower oil, coconut oil, and heme) has 0 cholesterol and claims to deliver as much high-quality protein and bioavailable iron as animal-derived beef.
And according to a 2019 environmental lifecycle assessment report by sustainability firm Quantis, Impossible Beef uses 96% less land, 87% less water and 89% less greenhouse gas emissions.
“So our food choices do impact the health of the Earth and our ecosystems,” Chef Kan says.
The Impossible Foods x Peking Garden menu is available now until Friday, 10 September.