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Good food that carries a feel-good factor

Update: July, 12/2015 - 06:32
Popular: Loving Hut is a favourite place for both Vietnamese and foreigners, who flock to it for lunch and dinner. — VNS Photos Truong Vi

Delicious, reasonably priced food served at the Loving Hut Restaurant in Ha Noi opens a window into the vegan world, underprinned by a message of peace. Thanh Ha is left chanting a mantra.

I first tasted vegan food several years ago at a buffet that served both vegetarians and meat eaters.

The Indian-style dishes made such a strong impression in my mind that I spent hours over the next few says trying to find out what were the ingredients used and how I could make them at home.

For many reasons, I've had no chance yet to practice cooking those dishes, but there have been the occasional opportunities to taste similar ones, thanks to an Indian vegetarian colleague who is quick to extol the virtues of a veg diet - good for you and good for the planet, he says.

I know that I have not been brave enough to change my eating habits, but I now try to avoid meat as much as possible, and one place that has motivated me is a restaurant called Loving Hut, conveniently located near my house.

The restaurant is owned by Ha Thuy Mai, who has been a vegan for about 20 years. Her chef Nguyen Thi Oanh and almost all the staff there swear by the food, as well.

"I really want to make sure that food cooked at my restaurant is pure and carries the real vegetarian taste. You cannot make it if you are meat eater, that I know for sure," Mai told me on my first visit.

This combo works: Fried tofu wrapped with seaweed is a simple dish, but tastes special.

To start, I ordered dishes that are very familiar to me, and to most Vietnamese. A bowl of soup with slices of carrots, mushrooms, gio (vegetarian pork sausage) and celery, topped with black pepper. A clear soup sans oil, that brought the taste of all its ingredients together in each sip, or slurp, if you will.

There was a catch, though. You cannot order just one small bowl of this soup. So I had to ask for enough soup to serve two or three people, although my friends had already made their choices. Ironically, the waitress had advised me moments earlier not to order too much in order to avoid wasting food. I wanted the soup, so I did not argue this point.

Another dish we ordered was crunchy onion rings. I've seen people cooking this many times on TV, I have cooked it myself and tasted it in several eateries, but this was the first time I was really satisfied with the dish. The small rings were evenly covered with batter and sprinkled with sesame. They smelt good and were crisp. Biting into it after dipping it in a hot chilly sauce was very satisfying.

The next dish was a revelation - fried tofu wrapped in seaweed. I ordered it because of its looks and combination of ingredients that I had never thought of before.

The buttery taste of tofu went smoothly with special smell of the seaweed. We always have tofu and seaweed at home, but never cook it together, I thought.

But the dish that won the day, for all of us, was ca kho to (fish stewed in claypot), served with rice. It was incredibly tasty, my friends, all regular meat eaters, and I agreed.

Chef Oanh told us that the "fish" was made from "essence of starch" and required a lot of time and labour to make.

Nothing fishy about it: Fish stewed in claypot, which goes well with rice, is a huge hit at the Loving Hut restaurant in Ha Noi.

The "essence" was processed in several steps before being shaped like a fish. Normal ingredients used to cook real fish, such as ginger, lemongrass and galangal, were used in this dish as well. It was so tasty that I ate two bowls of rice, double my usual quota.

My friends went further. They chewed and swallowed the galangal slices and sucked every piece of lemongrass before ordering another portion to take home.

This restaurant not only serves many tasty dishes, it also gives great value for money. A set meal with different dishes, a soup and a portion of che (sweet dessert) costs just VND25,000! It is difficult to find such a deal elsewhere in the capital city.

Loving Hut Restaurant

Lane (Ngo) 4, 192, Quan Thanh St., Ha Noi.


Tel: (04) 627 37403

Price: from VND20,000

Hours: 7.30-21.30

Comment: Good food and very reasonable prices, helpful staff. Posters encouraging vegetarianism.

Ah, the soya milk (VND10,000) is also good, but the canned veg beer, although imported from the Netherlands, cannot be called beer, in my opinion.

Loving Hut also sells many kinds of packaged and preserved food that are worth trying, especially because the friendly staff and chef are ready to explain what they are and what you can do with them.

Mai said her restaurant also serves a lavish spread of 30 or so dishes for a buffet on the first and fifteenth of every lunar month, but only very early birds can find a table without waiting.

Like my Indian colleague, Mai is also willing to talk to everyone about the benefits of being a vegan. I listened to her for about half-an-hour, and eating vegetables and benefits of this habit. After listening to her in about half of an hour I returned home, almost chanting the restaurant's slogan: Be Vegan, Make Peace. Be Vegan, Make Peace. Be Vegan, Make Peace. — VNS

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