I was lucky enough to interview Kim – owner of Kay’s Vegan Bistro on Nguyen Dinh Chieu in District 1. My inspiration behind this interview came from Kim herself. The first time I went to Kay’s, Kim practically held my hand through the menu describing each and every dish I had a question about and described them in such detail I could taste the food in my mouth. She displays a rare passion and pride for her restaurant, her food and life with such energy and positivity that you can’t help but feel better about yourself and the world when you are sitting with her. Don’t you wish you could have a meal with her?
Your name is Kim – where did the name ‘KAY’ come from?
In the old language Kay means fire or flame. I really love fire. I think fire is one of the best inventions of human beings because fire keeps us warm in the winter. And we do a lot of cooking so we see the fire everyday, we need it.
K – The first letter in my name. K/Kim.
A – My daughter, Analia. She gave me the passion, inspiration and a lot of great advice.
Y – Means YOU; The customer. I feel that customers are our friends and our family. Without customers, we are nothing. Everything that we do, the customer is priority.
Third meaning: KAY means spice! We have Thai food that uses a lot of fresh herbs and spices like chili and pepper. I think spice is one of the characteristics that are important for a dish.
When and why did you become vegan?
Three years ago. I was in a very bad motorbike accident and the doctor told me that I was lucky to be alive. I could have lost my life. My neck was badly injured. I was laying in bed looking at the ceiling for six months; I felt I was really lucky to be alive, and if I could survive I would live a healthy, happy and balanced life.
I find when I eat healthy food – organic, homegrown, natural, raw, nuts, vegetables – I feel healthier, and I appreciate myself and other people more ( I LOVE THIS! ). I am less hot tempered, less tired and exhausted, so I started eating more and more vegan food.
A lot of people think eating vegan is boring/nothing to eat/not many choices and I know that’s wrong. You still have many choices when you are vegan and you can make a lot of delicious home cooked cuisine and be creative.
My passion is traveling and seeing the best ingredients all over the world. This includes experiencing different cultures and talking to different people to find a way to make recipes and dishes that reflect different cultures, different countries in the world.
Is it hard being vegan in Vietnam – Do you struggle to get the ingredients that you need to cook different types of dishes?
I do not think it is difficult to find ingredients that we need for vegan dishes. We are lucky because now there are more and more people eating vegetarian and vegan foods. There are more ideas and more choices in cooking to support the vegan community. Organic food is more difficult because it is extremely expensive compared to other ingredients on the market. You also never know if what you are buying is truly organic. However, being a vegan is much easier than in the old days – and when I say old days I mean ten years ago haha.
You have your own garden to grow your own vegetables and herbs, is that right?
We have a small garden for herbs and a small garden that supplies 30-40% of our vegetable consumption. We have to import 60% of our vegetables. Our goal is to grow all of our vegetables here on site.
You mentioned that you lived in the Netherlands? How long did you live there?
Yes, on and off three years. Every year I go to Europe. I usually stay two months, every year. I have also lived in Italy, Spain, Belgium. I love Europe. LOVE. It’s so charming!
What are your thoughts on street food?
Street food is something that I find amazing. I think it reflects on our culture. When you’re sitting on a corner enjoying street food that is the easiest and fastest way to embrace/indulge/ the culture of Vietnam. You feel like you are apart of it, so in that aspect is it great. Some of the street dishes are amazing – when you know the place and have a good experience, fine. On the other hand, not all of them are hygienic and the oils they use are not good for you – it can be a bit unsettling. Especially the lack of refrigeration of the food.
Are your kids vegan?
I wish! I could not convince them
What is your favorite part about being vegan?
Being vegan gives me good health. It helps me balance myself. I feel pure, calm, more balanced; I appreciate my life and others. It’s one of the bet things I have ever experienced. Of course I have many other nice things in life, but being vegan is actually very special.
What makes me feel great is when I have happy clients that tell me that they have had one of the best vegan dishes. No matter matter how difficult the day is, no matter how much of a challenge it is I say to myself, ‘Kim, keep up the good work, stay strong, see more culture, talk to more people, find more fresh ingredients, make new, fresh and tasty vegan dishes.’ Everyone who comes here are like my friends and family. I’m so happy that I have found my passion- vegan food, health, balance and people.
I really enjoy doing what I am doing today.
How awesome is she!? Thank you Kay for providing me with probably the best vegan dishes in Ho Chi Minh. And one of the best smiles. You make me happy to be here.