Located in an industrial building in Lai Chi Kok, Cafe Ateen is a social enterprise restaurant that specialises in vegetarian food. While maintaining a low-key presence with little publicity, Ateen usually expects a full house at lunch time.
Cafe Ateen was established in 2014 with the aim of providing job opportunities for rehabilitated patients, single parents and underprivileged groups. Since Ateen was founded by a Buddhist organisation, it mainly offers vegetarian dishes. Unlike other traditional Chinese-style vegan restaurants, Ateen is flexible with ingredients and cooking methods. To give customers a taste of refreshing and healthy vegetarian dishes, Ateen also uses less oil, salt and seasonings. The restaurant emphasises avoiding food waste and makes the best use of every ingredient. Mushroom stems, for instance, will be dried and ground into powder, which can enhance the flavour of a dish.
Secret Tip for Preparing Vegetarian Food
Venerable Yin Yeung, the founder of the Cafe Ateen, was proficient in cooking. After joining the sangha, she focused on sharpening her vegetarian cookery skills, hoping that more people would practise vegetarianism. To ensure that customers can eat healthy, she gave advice to Ateen’s recipes and taught cooking techniques to the staff.
Many people find that the vegetarian dishes served in a Buddhist temple is more delicious, while those served in regular Chinese-style vegetarian restaurants are more oily. Winnie WONG, who works as the Operating Manager of Cafe Ateen on a voluntary basis, shared with us some tips on vegetarian cooking. ‘A venerable master told me that the ability to withstand heat varies among different ingredients,’ said Winnie. ‘In a Buddhist temple, ingredients are usually cooked separately until half done and then mixed together. This helps bring out the best flavour of a dish. To ensure excellent quality of our food, everyone has to work hard together. We have to be very precise about how the ingredients are rinsed and cut.’
Giving Back to the Community with Healthy Food
Cafe Ateen offers a good selection of quality food at a reasonable price. With simply a few dozens of dollars, customers can enjoy a meal that comes with a bowl of soup, a dish of vegetables and two other side dishes. Winnie explained, ‘Some of our dishes can be cooked at home, but they take a lot of preparation work.’ She hopes that Ateen can provide ready-to-cook food packages in the future.
Despite its comparatively limited resources, Cafe Ateen is committed to giving back to the community. On the last Saturday of every month, the restaurant gives away free lunches to 50 to 60 elderly persons in the community.
Winnie WONG used to work in the jewellery business. Following her retirement, she has become an active volunteer for Cafe Ateen. When Winnie managed factories in the Mainland, she had meals irregularly and went on binge-eating sprees on occasion, thus becoming overweight. After consulting a dietitian, Winnie started to be conscious of her eating habits and eventually turned her interest to the promotion of healthy eating. She not only oversees the operation of Ateen, but also assists in writing recipes and cooking.