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 bowl of wontons
Photograph: Jess Hand

Hype Dish: Tofu Vegan’s wontons with ‘special’ sauce

Founder Zhang Chao shares the secrets to this stellar dish

Chiara Wilkinson
Written by
Chiara Wilkinson

‘It’s not about the wontons, it’s about the sauce,’ says Zhang Chao, founder of Tofu Vegan in Islington. Since the plant-based restaurant opened up year ago, from the same mind behind Xi’an Impression in nearby Highbury, it’s become a cult plant-based favourite. Chao has just opened up a new branch in Golders Green – complete with a private dining and karaoke room.

‘I came up with the whole concept about eight years ago,’ he says. ‘You have all sorts of regional food in China, I wanted to bring every popular flavour to one menu using vegan ingredients. It’s not easy, but that’s why we hired three regional chefs.’ He talks us through its star dish: wontons with a special spicy sauce. 

The sauce

‘We use chillies from northwest China that are fragrant, rather than dry and spicy. Then we add ginger, garlic, chilli oil, sichuan peppercorn oil, soy sauce and black vinegar. The proportions are key.’

The filling

‘We use tofu, vegetables and ginger sauce, with king horse mushroom and water chestnuts for an unusual crunchy texture. We make around 20kg of tofu in-house each day.’

The wraps 

‘We use a machine from China to make the wraps; it saves times and standardises the size. They’re shaped by our Cantonese chef and then steamed to cook.’

The flavour 

‘I can’t find an exact way to describe the taste, even in my Chinese mother tongue. It’s sort of sweet, sour, spicy, fragrant, and numbing, all combined together. You just have to try it.’

The reaction 

‘People love them. Regulars keep coming back – even the meat eaters, who were probably forced to come here the first place. It’s been quite overwhelming.’

£7.90 for six wontons. 105 Upper St and 28 North End Rd.

Read more from the series: 

Mangal 2’s seriously smoky cull yaw kofte.

Zahter’s pistachio baklava is syrupy-sweet deliciousness.

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