Written by Melody Cao
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto
Story shared by Alice and Friends’ Vegan Kitchen, a partner of the Very Veggie Movement: “I love food, I also love life, so I veganize food.”
It all began with a documentary.
Mun Wong has upheld a vegetarian diet for more than ten years. But Mun hasn’t given up on her pursuit of gourmet cooking. She wants to make good food while also protecting life on earth. And at her restaurant, Alice and Friends’ Vegan Kitchen, Mun is carrying out her mission to veganize all kinds of foods — deliciously and nutritiously — and attracting more and more customers while doing so. During the pandemic, the restaurant has continued to receive enthusiastic support from guests.
“I have a very good impression of Tzu Chi,” said Mun. Throughout her participation in Tzu Chi’s Very Veggie Movement, Mun has worked with thoughtful perseverance to promote the vegetarian initiative.
Mun Wong, who originally is from Macau, is full of vitality. Before running the vegan restaurant, she and her husband were in the business of electronic security systems. Then, one day when Mun stepped out for a meal with a vegetarian client, Mun had asked why she was vegetarian out of curiosity. At first, the client only smiled without a word, but once they parted, she provided Mun with a CD. It was a documentary about vegetarianism and environmental protection.
“I was shocked after watching it and didn’t sleep well that night. I didn’t know the meat we ate came like that!” After this revelation, Mun immediately decided to adopt a vegetarian diet. At the time of starting up the documentary, Mun had no idea that she’d also be starting up such a lifestyle shift as well.
A New Vegetarian Menu Exploring the Vegan World
“When I started to be a vegetarian, there were very few vegetarian restaurants in Chicago. We had to drive to Canada, California, or New York to eat good vegetarian food.” Recalling those early days, Mun said she’d been perplexed as to why it seemed so hard to promote such a nice concept. Then, when speaking about prior conversations, she described the concerns she’d heard from others. “People will ask, ‘do you really get enough nutrition being a vegetarian?’ I feel that there are many misunderstandings about being vegetarian.”
Mun has always wanted to find more opportunities to promote the varied concepts behind vegetarianism, and so, she’d determined that one good way to do so was by making delicious and nutritious vegetarian cuisine for others to enjoy. Just about seven years ago, Mun purchased a vegetarian restaurant whose original owners wished to retire. She finally had a chance to turn the idea in her mind into action, and gradually, the restaurant became better and better.
“After becoming vegan, I have changed a lot psychologically. Whenever there are difficulties, I will think positively and feel that I can definitely get over it. I feel peaceful and happy every day.” Mun became a mother at the age of 36 and she said that with the help of her healthy vegan lifestyle, she gave birth smoothly, and raised her child in good spirits. “Everyone said that I look young, and I do feel energetic when taking care of my kid.”
Inspired by Mun, her family members have also taken on a vegan diet. “There were family members asking me, ‘if my child can’t eat eggs and milk, how can they get enough nutrition?’ They think I am too selfish,” said Mun. However, she believes that by following a vegan diet properly, one can still fulfill the nutritional needs required to thrive in good health. The important thing is to learn how to manage the diet. Mun had taken a course in Nutritional Sciences at Cornell University four years earlier, and the knowledge she gained not only ensured the health of herself and her family, but also benefited her creations at the restaurant.
Turning Gourmet Foods Vegan
“My husband and I, we love delicious food,” said Mun sincerely. Upon witnessing her lifestyle shift, her husband also stopped eating red meat, but still ate seafood, and Mun endeavored to recreate the taste of seafood with vegan ingredients. “I am vegan not because of religious reasons. I just hope to protect animals and the environment, so I have been working hard to veganize all kinds of food. This is also the concept of our restaurant.”
At Alice and Friends’ Vegan Kitchen, Mun has recruited a diverse team. “Our chef is Malaysian and can cook all kinds of Malaysian delicacies, such as Laska. The second chef is from Thailand, and we have delicious Tom Yum Soup. And we also have a Mexican chef, so our taco dishes are very tasty.”
Their most popular dish is Crab Rangoon. It’s a rare find at most other vegetarian restaurants, but at Alice and Friends’ Vegan Kitchen, Mun and her team have developed a secret recipe that delivers a taste that’s reminiscent of crab. With its crispy shell and creamy center, the vegan Crab Rangoon quickly became a signature dish. “We often sell hundreds of them a day,” Mun said proudly.
Handmade dumplings are also very popular, and can be made with a variety of vegetables, like cabbage, carrots, onions, zucchini, shiitake mushrooms, and more. Fresh fillings and unique seasonings merge together for some truly mouth-watering handmade dumplings. Their vegan burger, made with oats, brown rice, soy protein, onions, and mushrooms, is also a very popular item on the menu.
“My favorite is our ramen: roasted sesame miso ramen.” Normally, vegan noodle soups are light, or utilize soy sauce flavorings, but at Alice and Friends’ Vegan Kitchen, the ramen soup is very rich — closer to that of pork bone soup. The soup base is made using Japanese-style broth with kelp, onion, eggplant, and more. It’s boiled for at least one and a half hours, and then added to the miso soup base. The combination of the two soup bases forms the dish’s robust flavor. With the addition of buttered corn, sprouts, seaweed, fried tofu curds, and finally grated roasted sesame seeds, it is incredibly tasty.
Dessert is also a major attraction at the restaurant. Tiramisu, which is on the special menu, has a charming story behind it. “One year, my mother came to the United States to visit me, and we celebrated her birthday in Chicago. In Macau, she always went to Portuguese restaurants and ate tiramisu every birthday, so I wanted to make tiramisu for her.” Motivated by filial piety, Mun tried numerous times and slowly modified the recipe until it was perfect. “See, like I said, my wish is to turn everything delicious into vegan food!”
For the Love of Veganism During the Pandemic
After the COVID-19 pandemic shook the nation in March of 2020, Alice and Friends’ Vegan Kitchen halted dine-in services, and soon only remained open for takeaway. Fortunately, however, the business has not experienced too harsh of an impact. “We are really lucky. Customers have always come to order takeaways.” Mun said that because the restaurant is located near a residential area, people who work from home order more takeaway. With the continuous love and support of her guests, Alice and Friends’ Vegan Kitchen has been doing pretty well during the pandemic.
“When I opened the restaurant, I went to some Tzu Chi events. I tasted their free vegetarian dishes. They were very delicious. I was impressed by Tzu Chi.” Mun said she has always felt that Tzu Chi is an organization that embodies a lot of love and passion. Tzu Chi members and volunteers also have visited her restaurant previously, and so they happily introduced her to the Very Veggie Movement. Mun felt that working with Tzu Chi to promote vegetarianism was like two friends working toward a common goal, and joined the movement without hesitation.
After experiencing the pandemic, Mun believes in the future of healthy eating and the merit of her vegan restaurant even more. “It’s really hard to run a restaurant. If I can, I would rather be a customer and enjoy tasty vegan food. But I also feel very satisfied now; because of my hard work, I get to feel the support of our guests,” Mun said earnestly. She is looking forward to opening another branch in the future. “There are many customers who drive from far away to our restaurant. I hope to go to places where there are fewer vegan restaurants and open branches for more vegan lovers. I enjoy vegan food and I believe we will do better.”
Alice & Friends’ Vegan Kitchen
5812 N Broadway, Chicago, IL 60660
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