Written by Melody Cao
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto
Story shared by VG Wok, a partner of the Very Veggie Movement: “Vegetarian diets open a new world for everyone.”
In the minds of many, a vegetarian diet is strongly associated with plain flavors and a lackluster menu — but not for Tomy and Tammy, two siblings with a passion for making delicious vegetarian dishes. Indeed, discovering vegetarian alternatives has brought worthwhile new adventures into their lives.
VG Wok was founded by Tomy in Finland, and seemed to bolster a growing trend for healthy, ethical vegetarian cuisine. His sister, Tammy, opened her new restaurant during the COVID-19 pandemic, bringing an array of vegetarian flavors to Houston’s Chinatown. Then, the Very Veggie Movement arrived to help, hoping that more people will embark on their own vegetarian adventure.
From Finland to Houston
“If you see my younger brother, you would never think that he is a vegetarian,” said Tammy Pham. Originally from Vietnam, Tammy speaks with a tone of voice that is sweet and gentle, and tales of her brother are delivered with a quality that lifts one’s spirits. “He used to love meat a lot, but suddenly, one day, Tomy felt that he should live a healthier life. So he decided to start a vegetarian diet. Not only did he become a vegetarian, but he also bought a small tofu workshop to try to provide veggie food for others.”
Later, Tomy felt the tofu shop was not quite enough. He bought a hamburger restaurant that was about to close in Turku, Finland, and turned it into a simple but pleasant vegetarian eatery. He had no idea that he’d opened a door for such wonderful opportunities to enter through. VG Wok, which specializes in Southeast Asian-flavored vegetarian noodles and sandwiches, had seen excellent business as soon as it opened. Customers line up at the door every day, and rave reviews came in like a tide on the internet.
So, why did Tomy’s business suddenly become so successful in the very same spot where the previous venue had only been just about to close? As it turned out, the number of vegetarians in this Finnish community had been steadily rising, and gradually formed a “vegetarian village.” Business at VG Wok was getting better and better. In just four years, Tomy and his brothers opened ten chain stores all across Finland. The brand is also listed among the best vegetarian foods in Finland, and has led a trend in healthy eating.
When Tomy came to visit his sister Tammy in Houston last year, he felt that Houston’s Chinatown would be suitable for opening a vegetarian restaurant as well. “So we planned to drive VG Wok to Houston.” Tammy explained that it’s not only she and her brother who are vegetarians, but the rest of their family as well: “Starting with my mother, our whole family has gradually become vegetarian. Being vegetarian has really positive effects on our whole family.”
Tammy told us about how their father used to eat meat and drink alcoholic beverages regularly, which contributed to him not only becoming a diabetic but also fostered a bad temper. And, opposing the idea of eating vegetarian food, he’d said that he would never become a vegetarian. “We spent a long, long time convincing him, and taking him along to try more vegetarian dishes.” Eventually, he began to change his perceptions regarding vegetarian foods. “My dad is now eating vegetarian with us. He eats a little fish and seafood very occasionally, but no red meat.” Because of this shift in eating habits, Tammy’s father’s health has improved significantly. He shed 30 pounds within a year, and the conditions that troubled him have gone.
Having personally experienced the benefits of adopting vegetarian lifestyle choices, Tammy hoped to sow these seeds further. After deciding to open a vegetarian restaurant, she carefully considered the situation in Houston’s Chinatown and worked out a menu that would be suitable for the area.
The Start of a New Adventure
“In Finland, my brother provides simple meals in the store, but we adjusted the menu according to the situation in Houston’s Chinatown by adding a lot more variety.”
VG Wok’s menu includes Vietnamese-style soup noodles, green papaya salad, refreshing and delicious vegetable spring rolls, Vietnamese sandwiches, satay grilled vegetables, Thai-style Tom Yum Soup, a variety of Thai curries, Chinese-style stir-fried dishes and herbal soups, and even Korean-style fried crystal noodles.
“We hope to break people’s perception of tasteless vegetarian dishes, and let everyone know that vegetarian food can be so flavorful and has so much variety. There are 60-70 dishes on our menu,” said Tammy. “Sixty percent of the menu comes from our home recipes. We also like to try different vegetarian restaurants, learn from them, and create our own unique dishes that taste even better.”
Every morning, Tammy and her husband select vegetables to ensure that the ingredients used at the restaurant are fresh. Each dish is finely polished, offering its own interpretation of traditional tastes.
Vegan Pho: Traditional Vietnamese Pho broth is made through a process that includes boiling pork bones or beef bones.
The broth used in Tammy’s vegan Pho, however, is quite different. The broth is boiled with a variety of fresh vegetables and appetizing additions such as ginger, cinnamon, and star anise. Tofu, mushrooms, bean sprouts, and other fresh vegetables are combined as well, and then, finally, the Vietnamese noodles — yum!
Hot Pot: This menu category was specifically launched by Tammy at the VG Wok in Houston. It offers a series of hot pots suitable for the whole family to enjoy. Soup options include Vietnamese-style soup with fresh vegetables and tropical fruits, Sichuan spicy soup with dried chilies and rice wine, healthy soups with Chinese herbs, and Thai-style Tom Yum soup. Further plates include mushrooms, fresh vegetables for stews and braised soup, vermicelli, and beyond, to ensure that everyone feels content.
Tasty Mushroom Appetizers: In addition to their ‘famous’ green papaya salad, VG Wok also has many more homemade appetizers. This includes their Onion Oyster Mushroom Salad, consisting of mushrooms, onions, bean curd, roasted peanuts, and laksa leaves. Their Lemongrass Chili Shiitake Mushroom Salad boasts delicious shiitake mushrooms combined with a special ginger garlic sauce. The vegetarian appetizer is said to remind one of a famous French dish: Escargot.
A Healthy Eating Movement
“We opened on June 15th of this year. Yes, unfortunately, [the COVID-19 pandemic began] and people tend to avoid eating out now. It was very difficult for us,” said Tammy, but she maintains that there’s still hope. “Fortunately, in our community, there are actually many people who love vegetarian food. Many Vietnamese eat a vegetarian diet regularly, many Chinese like to eat clean vegetables — oh, and Indian customers, too, are the main visitors at veggie restaurants. Everything is getting better.”
Tammy stated that she hopes to bring forth a trend of healthy eating. When Tzu Chi volunteers visited to introduce the Very Veggie Movement, Tammy expressed immediate interest, and was happy to participate as a partner of the movement.
VG Wok provides a 15% discount on all menu items to customers that sign up for the Very Veggie Movement. She even graciously put Tzu Chi’s brochures and magazines in the restaurant for customers.
“If we want a trend of eating healthier and more ethical, we need everyone’s help.” Tammy hopes to bring smiles to more people through her gratifying vegetarian dishes in the future. “We want to cooperate with organizations like Tzu Chi and maybe participate in some outdoor health activities in the community, we can set up stalls to provide yummy vegetarian snacks for people, also with healthy eating information.”
Learn more about the Very Veggie movement and join us by transforming your diet into a vegetarian one, or take part as a partner of the movement!