When I first started eating vegan for Veganuary on the first day of the new year (see here), I hadn’t given much thought to what it would mean for eating out and meeting with friends. There is a social movement towards becoming vegan, I pay more attention to restaurants and pubs that offer a vegan menu, but when I’ve asked at some of my favourite haunts for vegan options, the choices are quite limited.
Imagine my excitement when I came across The Ninja Kitchen at Bourbon where this is a non-issue! The concept started off when Head Chef Markus travelled to Seoul, South Korea, after a trip to San Francisco in 2013, resulting in The Ninja Bun being born. Based on steamed buns sold by a food van in Taiwan, Markus and his then business partner, Inga, started promoting the buns (now called Gua Bao Buns) at food markets and wedding venues.
Although the business partners have separated ways, lucky Edinburgh residents and visitors alike can still get a taste of these wonderful buns at The Ninja Kitchen on Frederick Street. The street food, bar and nightclub venue allows customers to dine comfortably before meeting with friends in their booths for drinks at night.
Finding authentic Asian food which doesn’t always consist of noodles in soup or rice bowls can be a bit of a challenge in Edinburgh, especially for vegans. The Ninja Kitchen is great that way: all dishes are clearly marked for vegetarian/vegans, those who are gluten-free or have nut allergies. As you can imagine, this covers a lot of ground for people who have a food intolerance or dietary requirements. If you’re not sure whether the dish is suitable, the staff are also very friendly and happy to help. You can always phone ahead as well to check.
The dishes are all wonderful and I’m very pleased to say for my first vegan meal out, I couldn’t have picked a better venue. There are vegan options for every course and some sides and small plates offer more than one choice. Like you would at a dim sum restaurant these days, you decide on the dishes you’d like to order and put the number of portions you’d like to order for each dish. If you’re going for the combo meals, turn over and tick the relevant boxes for your choice of bun and fries, and slaw if you’re going for the full meal.
Thai corn dumplings (top) and Korean fried cauliflower
Miso glazed aubergine
My teriyaki tofu steamed bun with salted fries and Asian slaw
The OH’s non-vegan fish finger steamed bun with vegan chilli garlic fries and peanut slaw
All the side plates tasted amazing with just a hint of spice. The Korean fried cauliflower had a bit of a bite to it, but it wasn’t overwhelming, so I think a lot of people who can’t handle too much spice (like me) would be fine with it after a sip of water.
For someone who’s Chinese, I can’t say that I’m a big fan of tofu and wasn’t sure how I would like my bun, but the texture of the marinated tofu was excellent and wasn’t at all soft like the firm tofu I’m used to eating in Chinese dishes. If you’re not a big fan of tofu like me, someone had ordered it for you and you didn’t know what it was, ‘tofu’ would definitely be the last ingredient I would have come up with. The steamed bun is reminiscent of my childhood steamed buns from dim sum and my Asian food cravings have been properly satisfied that night.
I also tried a bit of the OH’s peanut slaw and I absolutely loved the flavour. I couldn’t decide whether I liked my Asian slaw (which was dressed in a hint of sesame oil) better or the peanut slaw.
If you fancy a bit of change from your usual picks of pan-Asian street food options, The Ninja Kitchen is definitely one I would recommend for you to visit with your omni friends. It’s not easy trying to explain why being vegan is important to friends who aren’t so I like to try and keep a happy medium by supporting restaurants that are either 100% vegan or offer vegan-friendly options. I am happy to say that this is one place I will be adding to my ‘frequently visit’ list of restaurants, I don’t think I can ever get tired of the teriyaki tofu bun and I hope there will be more Gua Bao Bun options for vegans soon!
01/04/2017 Update: The Ninja Kitchen was a pop-up restaurant until 31st March, so is no longer available and another restaurant has now settled in at Bourbon on Frederick Street.