Veggie restaurant: Sharing a love for vegetarian cuisine

Veggie Restaurant

By Vittoria Pasca

Originally from China, Xiao Lian (also known as Lucia) moved to Suva in 2017 and soon after, opened Veggie Restaurant in Flagstaff. She became vegetarian 14 years ago for religious reasons and since then, she has been very passionate about sharing her love for plant-based cuisine.

In the beginning, Xiao was running the restaurant on her own as a small vegetarian eatery serving quick Chinese meals such as dumplings, buns and vegetables. However, a few months later she renovated the space and that’s when Veggie Restaurant took its current shape, becoming the minimalist and cosy space it now is.

The big change came towards the end of 2018 though, when Xiao hired a professional chef from China, who specialised in vegetarian cuisine. Chef Yang Xiao Lu, mostly known as Lucky (or Lucke), completely changed the menu by adding several dishes from a range of cuisines, from Chinese to Western – in particular, the Italian dishes he learned while training with an Italian chef.

He included in the new menu many Chinese and Asian classics (like several rice and tofu options, tom yum and tempeh), as well as veggie burgers, pasta and pizza, Middle Eastern dishes (such as falafel, burnt carrots and hummus with Egyptian seasoning) and vegan desserts like lemon cheesecake, pistachio ice-cream and Chinese sweet rice balls.

Veggie Restaurant

The innovative menu saw the restaurant’s popularity with both vegetarians and omnivores soar.

The high quality of the food and ingredients have always been the pride of the restaurant. That continues to be its hallmark, even after chef Lucky returned to China in 2022. The secret to a smooth and successful transition was the dedication of Xiao and her talented Fijian chef, Louisa Fehoko.

Louisa initially started to work at the restaurant in early 2020 as a waitress, occasionally lending a hand in the kitchen as well. Slowly but surely, she started to work with chef Lucky, learning all the secrets of vegetarian cuisine, a style of cooking she wasn’t very familiar with.

“Before working here, I didn’t know much about plant-based cooking and ingredients like tofu or tempeh, so I had to learn everything from scratch. In the beginning it was quite hard; Lucky is very precise and demanding, he would show me how to make a dish once and then he would ask me to prepare it under his supervision,” she recalls.

She had to learn the basics of vegetarian cuisine: how to prepare the different ingredients and give them the right texture, how to make all the different sauces and how to choose fresh, high-quality ingredients. “It wasn’t easy, but now I see that all my efforts and sacrifices really paid off. Now I feel very confident in this role, and I can do everything independently, from choosing the best ingredients to making dumplings or pizza from scratch really quickly.

Veggie Restaurant

“Even if I’m not the owner,” said Louisa, “I do care about this place as if I owned it. I’m very proud of the food I prepare every day and seeing our customers enjoy their meals makes me happy.”

Xiao considers herself very lucky to have Louisa work in her team, as she’s very talented and reliable: “She has a skill that is very important in a stressful environment like a restaurant kitchen; she’s very resilient and always in a good mood despite all the pressure we go through during busy days”.

Xiao and Louisa are now also good friends and enjoy working together and relying on each other to run Veggie restaurant.

Earlier last year, Lucky surprised them and came to Fiji for a short visit to help them expand the menu. “We had no idea and one day he just showed up at the restaurant, we almost couldn’t believe it, we were so happy to see him!” Louisa said. “He tried our food and congratulated us; he was so proud of how good we had become! We only made some small changes to some of the dishes to adjust them to our style, but he was very happy to see how well the restaurant was doing even without him”.

After spending almost seven years in Suva, Xiao feels she has become more Fijian, adjusting to the slow pace of Suva, which is quite different from the big Asian cities she was previously living in. “I think it was fate that brought me to Fiji. Before coming here, I used to live in Thailand, and one day a good friend of mine had the idea that we should move to Fiji and open a restaurant together even though we had never been here before. We decided to spend some time in Suva to see if we’d like it.” But the irony was that as soon as they arrived, her friend had to leave for personal reasons, so in the end, Xiao stayed and opened the restaurant on her own.

“It was a bit frightening in the beginning, but now I’m very happy I did it. It was great to be able to introduce to Suva a new style of vegetarian food and I’m very pleased with the response we received”.

She enjoys her life in Fiji a lot. “Before coming here, I was always keeping myself busy, checking out new cafés or restaurants or catching up with friends, but when I came here, I started to live a more simple life, with fewer distractions, and I feel that now I’m more present to myself, and I can enjoy more the simple things in life.”

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