While the founder of Grassroots Initiatives is all about plant-based eating, there are some Hong Kong memories that stick around

As part of our series celebrating the vibrancy and community within Hong Kong’s dining scene, we spoke to several of the industry’s leading lights about why they love the city’s unique food culture. Here, Peggy Chan—former chef-owner of pioneering vegetarian restaurant Grassroots Pantry and founder of Grassroots Initiatives Consultancy, who help businesses implement sustainable, plant-based food operations—talks about the best local ingredient for making tofu scramble and why curry fishballs are one of the city’s greatest food inventions.

See also: Provenance Is A New Plant-Based Cookbook By Chef Peggy Chan

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Above All hail the curry fishball (Illustration: Stephen Collins)

Tell us about some of your favourite Hong Kong food memories…

I think all '80s babies growing up in Hong Kong must have been fed 70 per cent of the time by the neighbourhood 7-Eleven. While my parents worked to make a living, I remember making my daily visits to the nearby 7-Eleven to buy snacks, before spending most of my after-school hours at my dad’s office. Coca-Cola slushies, pale-ass fake sausages wrapped in orange plastic socks, Ginbis seaweed animal biscuits, Sze Hing Loong spicy corn rolls, and Four Seas butter pretzel sticks… Anytime I enter a 7-Eleven (which is rare these days), it just brings back so many memories!

And how about hawker-style curry fishballs? People lining up to eat fishballs from a cart, poked by a hawker with a cigarette dangling at the edge of his lip. Hong Kong-style curry fishballs are one of the greatest local food inventions.

What are some of your favourite local ingredients to use?

Local firm tofu from Sun Fat Heung. They make the best tofu scramble and no other Western-style firm tofu can compare.

I also like buying spices from Yuan Heng on Tung Street – I love when ingredients come in sacks and the cabinets are dusty, it feels like it’s been lived.

Recently, I’ve been experimenting with black cardamon (草果), which I painstakingly found at Chung Shun, a Traditional Chinese Medicine store on Gage Street. It’s an ingredient often used to make pho soup; pho was huge for my family and has been ingrained in my memories since I was four years old. There used to be a super dodgy but incredibly delicious Vietnamese restaurant on Jardine’s Bazaar in Causeway Bay, which my whole family frequented weekly—yellow curry chicken wings with a baguette, balut with salt and white pepper spice mix, and chicken pho were the ultimate highlights. When we immigrated to Canada, those same experiences carried on with us as Montreal had a very strong Vietnamese immigrant culture, so the Vietnamese food we had there was legit too.

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Above Spicy Sichuan hotpot at Pure Veggie House is one of Peggy Chan's favourite Hong Kong meals (Illustration: Stephen Collins)

If you could only visit one restaurant in Hong Kong again, what would it be—and how does it sum up what you love about the city’s food scene?

Sichuan hot pot with a side serving of dim sum at Pure Veggie House. It’s difficult enough being vegetarian [in Hong Kong], but even more so when I can barely tolerate alliums, ultra-processed oils and MSG.

I feel like I can get a spectrum of Chinese dishes at Pure Veggie for really great value, and be assured that I won’t feel like crap afterwards either. Their original location on MacDonnell Road in the Mid-Levels also brings back so many memories growing up in that area. What I also love is that Pure Veggie uses a lot of mushroom varieties in their dishes—my favourite ingredient to cook with!

Peggy’s Picks:

Yuan Heng Spice Company, G/F, 19 Tung Street, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong, +852 2542 0275

Chung Shun Medicine Company, G/F, 12 Gage Street, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2544 3343

Pure Veggie House, 1/F, Ka Wing Building, 27 Granville Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong, +852 2525 0552

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