Hong Kong’s MANA! Is Changing The World 'One Bite At A Time'
In partnership with Food Made Good

Hong Kong’s MANA! Is Changing The World 'One Bite At A Time'

MANA! is the winner of the Food Made Good One Planet Plate Award, for their pioneering efforts in combining delicious, plant-based food with sustainable practices.

The knife and fork are the most powerful tools in the hands of humanity today – MANA! Mantra No. 10 

MANA! is a pioneer of plant-based restaurants in Hong Kong, and Bobsy Gaia its founder is the ‘OG’. Although the first MANA! opened relatively recently in 2012, Bobsy, a self-proclaimed “Eco-preneur” has been at the forefront of green activism in Hong Kong since his fateful arrival way back in 1992. He settled on peaceful Lamma Island, just a short ferry ride away from the vibrating energy of Hong Kong Island. There, he set up his (already established) eco-fashion label and launched Able Charity with the goal to preserve Lamma’s natural environment by planting trees. Today, due to his activism and the commitment of dedicated volunteers, the Lamma forest is lush and thriving – you would never know that the same land was nearly clear-cut in the 1990s.

We're not on the planet for business, we're in business for the planet. – MANA! Mantra No. 7

Related: How to Cook, Eat and Order Climate-Friendly Meals

MANA! founder Bobsy Gaia. Photo: MANA!

In my conversation with Bobsy, it was apparent that the common thread in all his endeavors over the last two plus decades, whether it was opening Hong Kong’s first vegetarian lifestyle café The Bookworm, in 1998, to developing Hong Kong’s first paper recycling bins in 1996 to producing his recent podcast MANA! TV, is to inspire conscious change by building a community with a common worldview - or what he calls the ‘Tribe’.  

Food, however, was always a natural way for Bobsy to build that Tribe, because it is the great connector - something that all humans share, everyday. In 2012, he partnered with a classically trained (and likeminded) chef, and MANA! was born.

Exclusive blend of ZAATAR for MANA!, by Bobsy’s childhood friend. Photo: Debbie Wong 

MANA’s flavor profiles are taken from Bobsy’s Lebanese background. An exclusive blend of ZAATAR, the backbone of Middle Eastern cooking, is a staple of the MANA! kitchen, offering that deep, woodsy herbaceous-ness to many of their signature flats and salads. Middle Eastern flavors lend themselves to plant-based food so well: hummus and babaganoush provide dairy-free creaminess, legumes are a source of meatless protein, and the diverse textures and colors of vegetables provide the body of MANA!’s hearty, flavorful and energizing array of flatbreads, “flatzzas” and burgers. Rounding out the menu are green juices, V-coffees (V for vegan), and an array of creative sweets, such as their spirulina truffle and cacao cake.

Related: Amber at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong Serves Up Contemporary Fine Dining

The MANA! - A raw cacao infused flat white V-Coffee. Photo: Debbie Wong 

I started with a mug of one of their new V-coffees - The MANA!, an organic raw cacao butter infused flat white. Its tongue-hugging creaminess debunked the myth that dairy free beverages can’t be indulgent or rich.

Signature Flat - MANA! Peace. Photo: Debbie Wong

Next, I tried one of their signature flats, the MANA! Peace, a simple and perfect combination of za’atar, tomato, haloumi and mint wrapped with either a wholemeal or gluten-friendly flatbread. I always say that my favourite kinds of food are simple things done right, and this flatbread was it.

Related: Hong Kong’s SpiceBox Organics Is A Small Business Making A Big Impact

Shakti “Flatzza”. Photo: Debbie Wong 

Finally, I tried the Shakti, one of their “flatzzas” - this was my favorite, with meaty balsamic portobello mushrooms, the subtle acidity of roasted tomatoes, peppery fresh arugula, and briny kalamata olives. It’s a flavor combination seen before, but this one was executed perfectly: quality ingredients, seasoned properly, and with the right proportions. The kicker was their smoky, sweet and spicy chipotle BBQ sauce. 

MANA! currently has 2 locations and a production kitchen, and offers delivery to most of Hong Kong Island. Both locations  feature custom-built​ in-house recycling and compost bins​, which turn over 4 tonnes of food scraps and MANA!’s compostable packaging into renewable energy every month. Also notable is their ​“Free Water For All” fountain​.

Related: Healthy Asian Takeaway? Fete Up Shows Us How, With The Help Of ‘Rainbow Vegetables’

Community happenings in the “Zen Den”. Photo: Debbie Wong 

The newest branch in SOHO features the “Zen Den”, a community space for their ever-expanding Tribe. It’s a cozy space with a low communal table and plenty of cushions. There, you can catch up on issues of ‘Positive News’, Bobsy’s newsletter, attend talks, screenings and Community events. Currently the Zen Den is closed due to Covid, but they’re looking forward to reopening soon. 

Diet Change, not Climate Change – MANA! Mantra No. 5 

The vibe at MANA! is lively and energetic, yet there is a quiet urgency to Bobsy’s message. For him, food is the ultimate vehicle to not only sustain and nourish ourselves, but to inspire conversation, awareness and ultimately, change. 

As evident in his clever and powerful ‘MANA! Mantras’ and his other activist writings, words matter to Bobsy. I understand this deeply, language creates culture, and culture creates belief systems – Bobsy is intrinsically aware of this. Each word he utters and each decision he makes feels rooted in his purpose - it’s inspiring, to say the least. And with that, I will close with a few carefully chosen words from him: 

“Winning the One Planet Plate Award was a good recognition for MANA!'s efforts in being zero-food-waste, zero-plastic, and eco-friendly over the last nine years. It was a prescient award to win because the award was directly connected to food and the planet, which has been fundamental to our effort at raising awareness and education about what on Earth is going on.

We sincerely hope that Food Made Good as a platform can help speed up the change we need to see across the F&B community in Hong Kong and the wider Asia Region. After all, restaurants have a moral obligation to be part of the solution and not to continue business as usual, sadly eating up our natural resources and filling up our oceans with plastic and waste. It's time for the F&B community to join the positive and proactive changes happening across the world.” 

 

Debbie Wong is a professional cook, writer and classically trained actor based in Hong Kong. She is the host of Food Wars Asia, Kitchen Quickies, and her ongoing international culinary series on YouTube - Debbie Wong’s Wok and Gong. Follow her on all socials @ms.debbiewong.

This article was created in partnership with Food Made Good HK.

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