Hannah Nguyen from Singapore’s The Kind Bowl spills the secret to her award-winning vegan pho

9 Mar 2022

@preethiness profile image

Hannah The Kind Bowl

Vietnamese cuisine offers a wealth of appetizing dishes, with a strong emphasis on fresh herbs and powerful spices. Its most iconic dish? Pho. Pho is traditionally a meat-based noodle soup that not only comes with slices of beef or chicken, but also a clear broth that’s been simmered for hours to extract all of the ingredients’ flavors.

The Kind Bowl in Singapore manages to serve up unctuous bowls of vegan pho that our members love. So well-loved actually, that it has earned the top spot in abillion’s annual 50 Best Vegan Dishes in Singapore two years in a row. In fact, six of The Kind Bowl’s dishes won spots in this year’s awards – that’s an incredible feat given the restaurant only has 12 dishes on its menu.

We caught up with proprietor Hannah Nguyen at her cozy restaurant to chat about her love for Vietnamese food, her food philosophy, and how a delicious bowl of vegan pho can make even the most ardent Vietnamese meat-eater a convert.

What compelled you to go vegan?

I was raised in a Vietnamese household in Sweden. At home, our diet consisted mostly of meat dishes. But I never liked the taste of meat, so I ended up eating a very simple diet that largely consisted of vegetables.

At school, I could request for a vegetarian meal, so when I was around nine years old, I started transitioning to vegetarianism. It started with disliking the taste of meat, but I slowly realized the impact of eating plant-based food on animals and the environment, which led me to a vegan lifestyle.

How did the idea for The Kind Bowl come about?

After working in the corporate world for a huge part of my life, I decided to switch my career to a more compassionate one. Ten years ago, when I got an offer to buy a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Oslo, Norway, I instantly jumped on it. I had no idea how to run a restaurant business, but I knew my love for plant-based food would take me far. After learning all the skills on the job, I realized this is where I was meant to be.

After managing two restaurants, my parents decided to move to Singapore for their retirement. I wanted to be with them, so I moved here and found the right location to start my first outlet at Killiney Road.

Thus started The Kind Bowl – a journey to make simple home cooked food, deliciously and compassionately. The restaurant was started in June 2020 with a vision: we believe that everyone can create an impact by switching to just one plant-based meal a week.

The Kind Pho Photo: Royal Spicy from The Kind Bowl

What’s the inspiration behind your menu?

When I initially moved to Singapore, I used to eat out a lot. But, every time I ate at a restaurant, there was always something missing. Despite Singapore’s diverse food culture, I felt like home-cooked food served in a cozy environment was missing.

I wanted The Kind Bowl to be a place where locals and expats came in feeling warm and welcome. Everything on my menu is cooked with love and compassion. I have only eight main dish offerings but they are made to be comforting and satisfying. Even though I have a small menu, I believe in making sure the consistency and the quality of food are superior.

If there’s one thing Vietnamese cuisine is known for, it’s the meat. How did you replace meat with plant-based meat?

In today’s context, meat is easily replaced with plant-based protein options. We use fresh and raw plant-based ingredients to recreate the same taste as traditional Vietnamese food. For chicken we use seitan, which has a chicken texture. We also use mushrooms, soy and tofu to make a healthy and delicious meal.

In fact, 70 percent of my customers are meat-eaters. They come to my restaurant, not because it's vegan but because the food is good. When they eat my pho they feel like they’re eating pho in Vietnam. There is an emotional memory connection when customers eat here.

The Kind The Kind Pho from The Kind Bowl.

What makes a good bowl of pho?

Pho is one of the most complicated dishes to make. A good pho is all about the right balance of the spices, herbs and aroma. There are no shortcuts in cooking pho. We make our pho in a traditional manner by slow cooking.

We use 10 different fruits and vegetables to extract the natural sweetness of the broth. We use seven different spices to recreate the traditional balance and lightness of the pho.

In fact, Vietnamese residents are probably the hardest to convince to try plant-based Vietnamese dishes, but they come in, try my pho and fall in love with it. Some have told me it's one of the best pho they have ever eaten. I feel so overwhelmed when I hear such honest customer feedback.

The Kind Bowl Photo: Papaya Salad from The Kind Bowl

What’s your food philosophy?

There is a famous quote by a French author named François de la Rochefoucauld, “To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art.” I believe food is an essential choice we make every single day.

We have a social and moral responsibility to eat compassionately without harming the animals, environment and our own bodies. Switching one meal a week to plant-based makes a significant difference in the long run.

I’m trying to inspire people to choose that one meal for the greater good with my restaurant. Usually, people think that vegan food is fake and boring, but with my menu people just walk in order pho without even knowing it's vegan and are pleasantly surprised how good the food was. If the dish is tasty, they will come back repeatedly.

What is the most rewarding aspect of running a restaurant?

Despite many challenges of running the day-to-day restaurant business, I feel emotionally charged when customers walk into my restaurant, order a meal and leave satisfied. Some days can be very stressful at the restaurant but no matter how busy I am, I make sure I chat with my customers, check-in with the regulars and answer all the questions from a new customer. I’m glad to be part of the plant-based movement and to help inspire a few of my customers to try plant-based food who might eventually go vegan.

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@fulfilling profile image
fulfilling8 MONTHS AGO
Thank you so much for this article. It is beautiful to read about the story behind a business. The business is no longer just a business. It has its own soul within.