Sunao: Zen and the art of vegan

Updated: 2012-01-26 09:34

By Ye Jun (China Daily)

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Sunao: Zen and the art of vegan

Sunao vegetarian restaurant is located at Dongsishitiao, Dongcheng district, Beijing.

To show their appreciation for a gentle, candid and sincere attitude, the owners of Sunao named their restaurant for the frequently used Japanese word to describe the outlook. Recently opened in Beijing, the vegetarian restaurant is a comfortable place to try out some clever dishes made entirely without animal products.

Located just around the corner from Da Dong Peking Roast Duck's Nanxincang branch, the restaurant creates a natural ambience with a sense of Zen by using ancient rattan, old elm and an unvarnished Japanese iron kettle along with original wood, big white lanterns and an ink-colored floorboard.

The owner is a Buddhist and the chef has long experience cooking vegetarian cuisine at both small restaurants and big hotels. The chef's experience enables him to craft vegetarian ingredients into various culinary styles including Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Western.

Like many other vegetarian restaurants, Sunao uses seasonal and organic products without monosodium glutamate or other chemical additives. It is strictly vegan, which means no eggs or milk either. Chinese Buddhist rules are also followed, so the chef cooks without shallots, garlic or leek.

Tea lovers will be delighted to find beautiful tea tables and complete sets of brewing utensils in two private rooms. Customers eating at the public space can also order tea made by a professional tea brewer. The menu seems to reflect manger's good appreciation for tea - it not only has common varieties like puer, tieguanyin and the dahongpao oolong from Fujian, but also some famous names in white and black tea.

Sunao: Zen and the art of vegan

My general impression of vegetarian food is that it is bland, but the chef is capable of turning out some tasty dishes. Yellow morel mushrooms in vegetarian "abalone" sauce is a good example. The health-giving fungus is prepared with a soup that has such flavor one wants to finish it all. Home style tofu and sweet and sour "pork" are two other dishes with good flavor.

On a recent second visit, I discovered some other dishes worth trying. "Pork meatballs" and brown-braised "pork" chops are good companions for rice. The chops are especially good and it is a good idea to top it with fresh jackfruit. The restaurant's winter vegetables and broad bean soup, served nicely in heated clay pot, is healthy and soothing.

Sunao uses soy protein and konjac to make imitation meat dishes. If that is a shortcoming, it is one that can be excused due to the high fidelity of the imitation. A "salmon" roll in tofu, for example, looks exactly like the real thing. The taste and texture are quite familiar, too.

Even so, many dishes at Sunao might be too light for many Chinese consumers used to eggs, milk, garlic and shallots in their food. Another problem is that some of the restaurant's signature dishes such as "pork" chops and morel fungus are a bit pricey. Still, it is a nice place to try some well-presented veggie food.

A meal can set you back 120 yuan ($19) per head. Business lunch is priced at 28 yuan a person.