Hong Kong is a recipe for a diet-related disaster: long working hours, fast food and pesticides are starting to take their toll on locals’ health. But Vivi Cheung, a therapeutic chef, is using the healing powers of food to reverse the damage.
In a city where flavourings, preservatives and MSG are used in almost every restaurant, Dandy’s is something of a trailblazer. Heading up this all-organic café in Sheung Wan is Cheung, a therapeutic chef who wants to change Hong Kong’s eating habits.
“A lot of local food in Hong Kong is really unhealthy,” she says. “I only serve what I would eat at home. I don’t believe in serving people low-standard food just to turn a higher profit.”
Cheung is working to raise awareness of the importance of a healthy diet, which is not easy in a city where convenience is king and long working hours dictate eating habits.
“People in Hong Kong don’t have time for much self-care or to look after their bodies,” says Cheung. “They pay such little attention to what they eat. It’s only when they start getting problems that they grow concerned and quickly start looking for quick fixes.”
Having previously suffered with IBS, Cheung used the healing power of food to overcome the disorder, and this has become her motivation to help others. She has since helped over 400 people by recommending foods and dietary programmes that will help with their diet-related ailments.
“A lot of people now have family members who might be ill, with diet playing a big role in that, and so people are becoming more concerned about what they eat, where it’s coming from – and they are worried about their health too.”
Her core philosophy is “let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food”. It’s this philosophy that informs her exacting standards. “I have to do a lot of research and make sure I know exactly what the ingredients are made of and where they come from.”
Some ingredients, like organic mushrooms and organic tofu, are sourced from local farms, but the rest is sourced from Australia and New Zealand. “A lot of the vegetables sold at wet markets in Hong Kong – around 95 percent are from mainland China,” says Cheung. “Unfortunately, they use a lot of pesticides and chemicals, which can affect your kidneys and liver, and so we don’t use them.”
Her cooking also incorporates some aspects of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and she trains all her chefs to ensure they understand the philosophy behind the food. “I strive for more of a balance in my dishes,” says Cheung. “If foods are too yang (or hot) they can affect your blood and make it too congested and thick. If you eat food that is too yin (or cool) it can lower your blood pressure and make your body weak.”
“People are becoming more aware of what they are eating. They can also tell the difference in their bodies. When they eat fast food from local Hong Kong cafés they can feel it kind of sits in their stomach,” says Cheung. “Our stomachs are like a second brain. So if there is something wrong, it will tell you. Your stomach doesn’t lie. It may take another six or seven years, but I think organic restaurants are going to be extremely popular in Hong Kong,” she says. “We’re just a small taste of what’s to come.”
Dandy’s is an all-organic café based in Sheung Wan whose food philosophy is driven by TCM principles and organic produce that is free of preservatives, pesticides and artificial flavourings. The menu caters to omnivores, vegetarians, vegans and almost every other dietary need you can think of, including low-glycaemic, low-cholesterol, detox, gluten-free and even the blood-type diet.
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