Chay Long crafts flavorful and inventive vegan and vegetarian Vietnamese food to fool (and please) even the heartiest meat-lover.
“Buddhist” is more than just a bio for a hammock-swaying (not-so) hopeful Tinder-date. At its core, Buddhism is focused on a lack of violence—on a life of conscious kindness, of respect to all living things. According to the Angulimaliya Sutra, the “Blessed One” states that, “There are no beings who have not been one’s mother, who have not been one’s sister through generations of wandering in beginningless and endless samsara…”
You get the picture. And so does Hien Dinh-Graf, the owner of Chay Long, a vegetarian and vegan Vietnamese restaurant that had my meat-eating, not-so-Buddhist mates hankering for more.
After a particularly enlightening trip to Thailand, Hein Dinh-Graf was inspired by the teachings of Master Ruma–a staunch vegetarian, raised Buddhist and Christian. For Hien, the Buddhist message of “don’t kill shit” translates to a particularly vibrant, gorgeous, thoughtful menu–one that doesn’t lack in delicious flavor, or protein.
In fact, many menu options use the vegan-warrior seitan, a type of gluten-based protein that, with the right dose of magic, sauces, and time, can resemble everything from chicken, to duck, to fish.
Is “Fake Meat” Actually Worth It?
Having not have duck in recent memory, I can only trust what editors Andy and Tom tell me: that somehow, Hien’s crafted seitan “duck” with just the right “texture,” with the crackling on top.
For me, it didn’t taste “meaty,” per se; the attempt for meat didn’t turn my stomach. Rather, the sauces, the vegetables, and the seitan created a vibrant, multi-layered flavor experience, one usually lacking in traditional tofu curries. The “fake chicken” suited some kind of “snack” craving I hadn’t known I’d had–complete with the gummy yet delightful chicken “texture” I remember from my childhood chicken finger days (plus a crunchy batter coating).
Hien’s delightful smile was a mainstay throughout our dinner experience, as she provided us with several stacked platters: sesame “balls” or dumplings, stuffed with red bean paste; fake-chicken-skewers with homemade vegan dip and vegan soy sauce; spring rolls; thick udon noodles; and curries. Everything was inventive, thoughtful, and filling. And best of all? Everything was under 10 euro, making this one of the more affordable meals in Prenzlauer Berg. And well worth it.
Riding a gluttonous high, Tom and I ordered mango and avocado smoothies for constant dessert-like support. Luckily, though thick, they weren’t incredibly filling, nor sweet–offering more of a palate cleanser as we dove from curry to “duck” to “chicken skewer” to udon noodles to vegan soups.
Due to Master Ruma’s teachings, Chay Long doesn’t offer alcohol. It’s a complicated thing for us Berlin heavy-boozers, but forces us to reckon with ourselves. We had to face this meal completely and totally sober. Which means, maybe, we enjoyed it for all it could be: down to the very last specificity of Hien’s vision.
Berlin, Germany 10437