As much as I enjoy a good vegetable, it would be near impossible for me to become vegan, as there are just too many delicious things that I would miss. There are, however, in my opinion, two chefs in Hong Kong that make vegan food exciting. One is Peggy Chan from Grassroots Pantry; the other is a chef I have only just discovered, Kanch Porta-Panjabi, who runs a private kitchen called Masalas & Olives.
After a stressful career in the fashion industry, Kanch decided to pursue a career in health and wellness to become a health coach in Hong Kong. This naturally led her towards the kitchen, as food is at the root of all wellness, and she completed a course at a leading culinary school that specialises in raw plant-based cuisine. She set up Masalas & Olives towards the end of last year and runs private dinners either at her own home in Mid-Levels, or at your home. You can book for a minimum of four guests and a maximum of 16.
Arriving at her home with stunning views of Hong Kong, we were asked to take our shoes off and make ourselves comfortable, before we were served some homemade green tea and ginger kombucha in champagne flutes. I sometimes find this fermented drink a little unpleasant, but Kanch’s kombucha was utterly delicious and I quickly asked for a second serving. Once our meal began, Antonio Quartulli from Flavours From Apulia had prepared a selection of organic Italian wines from his hometown of Puglia to match each course.
As we waited for the remaining guests to arrive, we were served tasty canapés of dehydrated chia seed crackers topped with a turmeric, ginger and blueberry jelly. Kanch told us all about her food philosophy and why she decided to focus on raw plant-based food. It takes Kanch five days to prepare for each dinner party, as she uses a range of techniques, such as fermenting, dehydrating, smoking and marinating to preserve the nutrients in each ingredient.
Our first course was a Masala cheese plate. Cheese is one of the things I would miss most if I were vegan, but Kanch manages to create these incredible dairy-free alternatives using nuts. I swear, if you didn’t know they were vegan, you’d actually never know. The first was a kimchi chilli cheese, which we were recommended to eat with the dehydrated pineapple; the second was a curry leaf soft cheese; and the third a creamy explosion almost resembling goat’s cheese, topped with dehydrated papaya. I was blown away. So, it seems, is everyone who has tried Kanch’s cheese, as she has been persuaded to make it available commercially and will be selling it by the end of the year! This was paired with a glass of Pirro Varone Vigne Rare Bianco, a crisp and refreshing white wine.
The kimchi dumplings that followed took me completely by surprise. Sure, they looked pretty, but nothing particularly special. I couldn’t have been more wrong and was basically heartbroken when I took my last bite. Encased in a spinach and coconut pulp wrapper was a heavenly blend of kimchi and cashew nuts that had a beautiful texture and gorgeous flavour, drizzled in a beetroot, cabbage and ginger sauce. Antonio paired this dish with a glass of Feudi di Guagnano Vegamaro Negroamaro Salento, a vegan red wine (I had no idea wine in general is not considered vegan-friendly!) that was medium-bodied and surprisingly easy to drink.
To follow, we sampled one of Kanch’s new dishes – creamy saag with naan chips and mung salad. This was another success that had us scraping our plates clean.
The last of the savoury dishes was a smokey pho, with zucchini noodles, cashew tofu and a rich, aromatic broth made with celery juice, tamari and aniseed. We all commented that it was hard to believe there was no meat in the broth, as it had that same rich, comforting flavour as a hearty beefy pho. This was paired with a beautiful full-bodied Pirro Varone Primitivo di Manduria.
Raw, vegan desserts often have something about them that doesn’t quite satisfy a sweet tooth. This chocolate cake, however, served with passionfruit ice cream, was everything I look for in a dessert, without the guilt. Despite being full to the brim, I devoured the entire thing and almost licked the plate clean.
We finished with some goji and Sichuan pepper chocolate to round off a wonderful and delicious meal. Masalas & Olives’ menus are priced from $600 per person, depending on the number of courses. Wine pairings can be arranged at an additional cost.
Remember what I said about it being near impossible for me to be a vegan? If Kanch could be my own personal chef for the rest of my life, I might have a change of heart!
For bookings and enquiries, contact Kanch on firstname.lastname@example.org