Vibrant Vegetarian DelightsOno, You Know
March 11, 2018
Story By: Ali Resich | Photos by: LAWRENCE TABUDLO
I recently had lunch with a friend at Vegan Hill in Kaimuki, and it made me so happy to see a restaurant that caters to diverse dining preferences not only popping up on the local foodie scene, but also serving up delectable and satisfying fare.
With vegetarianism and its subsets on the rise, it’s about time we put some meat-free dining options in the spotlight. That’s why Ono, You Know has brought together some classic vegetarian specialties on these pages that are sure to appeal to a wide range of palates.
And even if you’re like me and you don’t fall into the vegetarian category, you might just end up loving to incorporate more healthful, veggie-filled dishes into your personal dining routine — just like I did.
FUN AT FAIRWOOD
Fairwood Drive Inn & Pho 27 Cafe is one of Hawaii’s go-to spots for affordable dine-in and takeout goodies that cater to Chinese, Vietnamese and local-style cravings. Owner Tiffany Ko is known for her homestyle approach to cooking, as well as her willingness to customize orders to suit diners’ preferences — a key reason this spot is loved by local vegetarians.
Did you know? Sir Paul McCartney of The Beatles and his late wife, Linda, are known for their vegetarian lifestyles and animal-rights activism. Other celebrity vegetarians include Natalie Portman and Jessica Lange.
In addition to offering a number of vegetarian selections, Ko can make many of her eggplant, stir fry, chow fun and fried rice offerings into meat-free meals. “When customers order, they can let us know what they like, and what they don’t want us to put inside, and we’ll make it fresh for them,” she says, adding that this includes requests for low-salt and -sugar selections.
Among the most beloved vegetarian dishes on the menu are Lemon Grass Tofu Cold Noodle and, of course, Jai, the Chinese New Year specialty that Ko says she offers year-round due to popular demand. Fairwood’s Jai ($10.75 a la carte, $10.25 with rice) features an intricate mix of black mushroom, fungus, lily flower, carrots, Chinese cabbage, long rice, bean curd, tofu and snow peas. The owner confirms that the dish also is made with a vegetarian alternative to oyster sauce.
Vegetarianism gained popularity in the U.S. after the 1971 publishing of Frances Moore Lappe’s book, Diet for a Small Planet.
If you’re looking for a nice appetizer to go along with the Jai, try Vegetable Tofu Summer Roll ($7.25), which will brighten your day with its burst of basil rolled into each piece. The pupu is divine when dipped into peanut sauce, although vinegar sauce also is available by request.
Ko shares that pescetarian patrons will enjoy Fairwood’s fresh fish selections, including ahi, ahi belly, saba and salmon. And for those who eat meat as well, the Saba and Katsu Combo ($11.95) is a popular choice presenting a large fillet of pan-fried saba with chicken katsu, rice and mac salad.
CAN’T BEAT CANTON
Chinese eateries are often dream destinations for vegetarian diners, seeing as their long menus tend to be filled with meat-free choices. Among the top contenders is Canton Seafood Restaurant, where soups, noodle dishes, stir fries and veggie options galore — including spinach, broccoli, eggplant and string beans with preserved veggies — are lined up to make your table feel like one big garden.
On a global level, some cultures have been vegetarian for centuries due to environmental, religious or cultural reasons. India is one example, where the vegetarian sect is among the largest in the world.
A meat-free favorite that’s nice and filling on its own is Braised Tofu with Vegetables and Mushrooms ($11.99 regular, $10.99 on special during March). It’s served with rich gravy and protein-filled tofu that make it just as comforting as it is satiating. Manager Henry Gong adds that there’s also baby bok choy inside (but it can be switched out with your vegetable of choice).
Be sure to ask for crispy vegetarian Spring Rolls ($6.99 regular, $5.99 special; four pieces) filled with cabbage, black fungus and carrots for a warm, crunchy start to your meal. Those looking for healthier options, however, are in luck too, as Canton Seafood is known for using less oil, salt and MSG than competitors. (Customers also can request no MSG.)
Go for the nice-and-clean flavors of Fungus with Celery and Snow Pea ($12.99 regular, $10.99 special), which presents a well-rounded medley of carrots, bell peppers and snow peas, for starters. The real showstoppers of this dish are the celery — associated with healthy cholesterol and blood-pressure levels — as well as black fungus, which is said to improve circulation.
A 2016 Harris poll presented by the Vegetarian Resource Group estimates the number of vegetarian adults in the U.S. at 3.3 percent. (Source: NPR)
The Keeaumoku Street eatery also is home to Jai ($11.99) year-round, as well as great lunch special and party menus — both of which can be catered to vegetarian and carnivorous taste buds alike. Lunch specials start at $7.99, and you’ll want to try the two-choice plate ($8.99) that comes with soup and rice. As for the party menus, they range in price from $188 to $398 and offer nine to 10 courses that are good for 10-12 guests.