Header image courtesy of @guusan_hk (via Instagram)
Famed as a nation for having an impressively high life expectancy, it comes as no surprise that Japanese cuisine tends to be light, healthy, and deliciously wholesome. Aside from being one of the main consumers of fish and seafood in the world, there is also a great appreciation for fresh vegetables and seasonal ingredients that make for some seriously delectable dishes. Without compromising on the signature Nippon style of cooking and traditional flavours, here are the best places in Hong Kong to explore the breadth and depth of Japanese vegetarian food.
An element central to a winning bowl of ramen is its broth, and Soulmate Ramen knows a thing or two about packing in the umami. As the first to offer meat-free ramen in the city, this homely spot is a hidden gem tucked away in the backstreets of Lan Kwai Fong, lending it an air that rings with visions of Tokyo’s narrow lanes filled with humble roadside shokudō (食堂). Its deliciously thick and gratifying soups are made from several base options, including tomato & carrot (starting from $88), pumpkin & bell pepper (starting from $88), as well as a four-mushroom mix (starting from $98), all of which are completely vegan and compatible with a Buddhist diet.
Soulmate Ramen’s menu allows you to pick your own favoured combinations, with mouth-watering toppings like fried baby sweetcorn, okra, pickled oyster mushroom, and more. Classic Japanese side dishes and snacks such as Japanese fried dumplings ($45), and edamame ($28) are a few complements to indulge in side-by-side. Lovingly stewed, every heart-warming serving leaves you with a full belly minus that greasy, stuffed feeling.
Soulmate Ramen, 16 Wo On Lane, Lan Kwai Fong, Central | (+852) 6378 8196
Founded by a native of the nature-filled Yamanashi Prefecture in Japan just southwest of Tokyo, this adorable eatery draws inspiration from the gorgeous curvatures of Mount Fuji and the crystal-clear lakes that colour its ingredients with vibrant flavours. Its gorgeous, floral-infused interiors are a nod to the shop owner’s memories of growing up in a family-run flower shop, adding a delicately symbolic touch to the whimsical environment.
Placing an emphasis on the nourishing qualities of plant-based dishes, meals like the Japanese curry with vegetarian chicken & vegetables ($88) have been arranged magnificently, whereby the accompanying butterfly- pea-flower-infused rice is sculpted into a Mount Fuji-like shape. Its hōtō noodles (餺飥), served claypot-style in a sea of delectable toppings, is a must-try item of regional Yamanashi cuisine.
Hanano Vegetarian, Shop LG7A, G/F, Mikiki, 638 Prince Edward Road East, San Po Kong | (+852) 2866 7803
Step inside this bright space and find a sanctum of calm alongside a roster of contemporary and refined Japanese eats, evocative of Kyoto-style classics. At the heart of Isoya’s dining concept there lies an emphasis on using seasonal vegetables and fruits in a manner that honours authentic tastes.
Isoya’s chef takes the lead in this kaiseki (懐石) restaurant, where the offerings are on a constant rotation based on the best available ingredients. Keeping dishes simple, the creativity lies in playing around with well-known components and familiar recipes—think sushi topped with plump red slices of marinated bell pepper in place of raw salmon, or a cooling block of tofu that emanates the aroma of sesame. You might get a fishy feeling about the familiar food being plated up, but rest assured that its components are certified fish-free!
Isoya Japanese Vegetarian Restaurant, 9/F, 83 Wan Chai Road, Wan Chai | (+852) 5500 8812
For an option that is grab-and-go than sit-down-and-savour, there is Japanese speciality supermarket Guu San’s very own Kome Korner and Salfee Bar. Kome Korner is a pit stop for efficiently delicious and nutritious onigiri, soups, and vegetable side dishes, presenting a whole range of fillings ensconced in pearly grains of rice imported straight from Japan. As for the adjacent salad bar and café, you will find nine different types of salads that change every day, making for a refreshing bite that will not weigh you down during the dreaded afternoon slump.
Guu San, Shop 01–02, 15 Middle Road, Tsim Sha Tsui | (+852) 2892 0868
Hong Kong’s café boom has brought with it a broad assortment of mash-ups in addition to a plethora of quirky themes, and this trend has not seemed to slow down—in fact, neither has our appetite for it! Combining a tasteful dining space bedecked in a well-loved tan and cream colourway, with a menu of set meals alongside a roster of trendy baked goods, That’s It throws together a bundle of popular traits into a fail-proof melting pot.
Laced with ideas derived from mindful eating, the featured listings have been conceived with the ingredients’ natural goodness and inherent flavours in mind. Although the items mimic popular Japanese dishes visually and upon first taste, there are elevated depths to the flavours. Indulge in the comforting warmth of oden ($108) or a yaki miso onigiri with fermented bean curd mushroom ($98), and revel in the plant-based deliciousness. On a good day, a visit will earn you a run-in with the resident cats Mr Barcode and Ghosty.
That’s It, Unit Q, 10/F, Phase 4, Kwun Tong Industrial Centre, Kwun Tong | (+852) 6512 1088
Having experienced its fair share of moving around the city, this beloved diner has finally made its return in San Po Kong. Reflecting its modest and well-balanced food on offer, the location is decorated in humble wooden desks and chairs that give off a nostalgic feeling of being in a school cafeteria, while the simplistic one-page selection of scrumptious items evokes a fuzzy, satisfying mood. Tuck into a set meal (starting from $100) built from three or four sides of your choice, with hot plates like braised eggplant in ginger & onion sauce or cold ones such as the zesty yuzu vinegar marinated tomato, all of which are loaded and hearty without hurting your body or the planet.
Mum Veggie Café, G/F, 34 Yan Oi Street, San Po Kong | (+852) 2115 3348