A discrete diner in Dakao, Kay Vegan Bistro, is knocking out vegan food so good that even diehard carnivores are coming back for seconds. Review and photos by Simon Stanley.
After a weekend of meat and beer-based gluttony, my system is clearly in need of some nutrients as I practically inhale Kay Vegan Bistro’s organic carrot soup starter (VND 54,000). It’s a great introduction to manager and chef Nguyen Kim Chi’s unique offerings which have been flipping local perceptions of vegan food since 2014. Browsing the menu, I can see why. With dishes that follow Kim’s globe-trotting past, from Japan, Korea and Thailand, to Spain, Italy and beyond (and Vietnam, of course), there’s a whole lot more than tofu and morning glory on offer here.
“I’m trying to change the thinking about vegan food”, says Kim. “So many people say that it is boring. My passion is to create something different and to make healthy and delicious vegan food from all over the world”.
With daily specials and a completely new menu each month, no two visits will ever be the same, although you’re absolutely guaranteed a meal made with passion. From the way Kim greets guests to the manner in which she places each dish onto your table, you can see how much she cares. “I just love my customers so much!” she says with a beaming smile.
While some ingredients are imported to ensure the authenticity of her recipes, most of Kim’s supplies are sourced much closer to home. Whether they’ve been picked up at an organic shop, purchased directly from an organic farm, or plucked from her own organic garden in Dalat, quality is paramount.
After a colourful Italian salad of homemade tofu, mushrooms and olives (VND 109,000), the next plate takes us to Mexico via a hefty burrito (VND 159,000). Stuffed with rice, beans and green leaves, it packs a whole lot of flavour. Served with guacamole and a crisp, refreshing salad topped with mango salsa, it’s seriously authentic and seriously tasty. For the non-vegan naysayers, come and see for yourselves – there’s absolutely nothing ‘missing’ here.
Kim’s famous homemade tempeh comes next. Coated with a homemade sticky barbecue-style glaze, this Indonesian fermented soybean ‘cake’ is slightly meaty, without being at all meaty; like tofu with attitude. Whatever, I’m devouring it. Like everything else on the menu, it is extremely affordable at VND 139,000.
Over a pot of Japanese rice tea, our friendly hostess tells us the tale of how she came to run a vegan restaurant, produce her own vegan cheese and milk, and, ultimately, turn her life around for the better. If she’s around when you next visit, you have to hear it. “Since becoming vegan I am calmer, happier and much healthier. I’m just so relaxed!” she says. For those looking to make the switch themselves, Kim also offers diet and detox programmes, cookery lessons and lifestyle advice. It’s all part of the package.