At Dandelion the most popular dish is its sticky barbeque-pork spare ribs, sizzled on the coconut grill (literally grilled over coconut). “They’re definitely not vegetarian,” says chef Geoff Lindsay (ex-Pearl) of the contemporary Vietnamese restaurant.

Despite this, on Wednesday May 14 the kitchen will go beyond vegetarian and even beyond vegan. None of the dishes it serves will require the killing of a plant. “So we only take leaves off branches or fruit off a tree, for instance,” says Lindsay.

The menu celebrates Buddha’s Birthday, a festival across Southeast Asia reflecting the Buddhist belief in non-violence of all types, be it toward a duck or a carrot. “It’s been a bit of a challenge,” Lindsay admits. But despite perceptions of Vietnamese as a meat-centric cuisine, the country’s many Buddhist citizens have passed down a rich tradition of non-violent recipes. Dandelion’s Buddhist chefs have been behind the annual dinner since 2011.

“You have to build the flavour profiles in and have plenty of proteins,” Lindsay says, noting the importance of mushrooms, pulses and beans. He lists Vietnamese grain Bo Bo (similar to barley) and spices such as cassia bark, star anise and peppercorns as his tools to lift vegetables and add body to dishes. “The rule of thumb is to incorporate as much flavour as you possibly can,” he says.

As well as six vegan dishes, Dandelion’s celebrations will include water blessings from Buddhist monks. “It’s a meal for the mind, the body and the soul,” says Lindsay.

Tickets are selling quickly. If you can’t make it to the event you can try Dandelion’s recipe for mushroom and tofu pho, which captures the full-bodied flavour of vegan Vietnamese. Begin the path to enlightenment at your local Asian grocer.

Mushroom and Tofu Pho with Lily Buds

What you’ll need:

100g dried wood ear mushroom
100g dried shitake mushroom
50 g enoki mushrooms
1L warm water
1 brown onion, halved
100g ginger, thickly sliced
50g rock candy
100ml soy sauce
400g bahn pho soup noodles
400g bean shoots
1 white onion, finely sliced
1 bunch coriander
350g silken tofu, sliced
100g dried lily buds, reconstituted in warm water

Garnish: small red chillies, Vietnamese mint, lemon wedges


  1. Soak the dried mushrooms in the warm water until rehydrated (2 hours) then strain and set aside, keeping the liquid. Trim the stalks from shitake mushrooms and slice thinly.

  2. Meanwhile, soak dried lily buds in warm water until rehydrated (1 hour). Drain and slice lengthways.

  3. Put the mushroom liquid into a pot, topping it back up to one litre and add the soy sauce and rock candy.

  4. In a pan over high heat, grill the onion and ginger until charred (10–15 minutes) and add to the mushroom stock.

  5. Bring stock to the boil then reduce heat and simmer for 2 hours, adjusting with more soy sauce or rock candy to taste.

  6. In four soup bowls, place a handful of bean sprouts.

  7. Separate shitake mushrooms, wood ear mushrooms, enoki mushrooms and noodles into four portions. In boiling water over high heat, blanch each portion of mushrooms and noodles for 3 seconds. Strain and add to the bowls.

  8. Add four slices of silken tofu to each bowl. Add boiling stock. Garnish with more bean sprouts, sliced onion, lily bud and coriander.

  9. Serve with Vietnamese mint, lemon wedges, red chillies and remaining bean sprouts on the side.

Dried shiitake mushrooms, dried wood ear mushrooms, dried lily buds (also called golden needles; the dried, unopened flowers of yellow and orange day lilies), rock candy (also rock sugar) and banh pho noodles are available from most Asian grocers.

Buddha’s Birthday Dinner at Dandelion
Wednesday May 14, from 6.30pm
$65 per person
Call (03) 9531 4900 to book.