Alexander wants to go greener, but Europeans prefer meat

Carien Overdijk Energy, Venue, Food 28 October 2016

‘I think the climate and the environment are very important,’ says Anja Hu-Ma, chef and co-owner of Alexander, a large Chinese restaurant situated in the Stevenshof-district of Leiden. ‘That’s why we use renewable energy and have energy-efficient appliances and LED lighting in our kitchen. We've been here for twenty years and have strived for sustainability from day one.’

No demolition

Hu-Ma took over the restaurant from its first owner. ‘The interior was only three years old. Aside from a few small alterations, we kept it as it was. A renovation only took place fifteen years later. Even then we left a lot of elements intact, because good materials don’t need to be demolished.’

Less laundry

The atmosphere in the restaurant is important to her. ‘That's why we don't have LED lighting in the restaurant area yet. But since I’ve heard that there is pleasant LED lighting that can be dimmed, I want that too. And recently we did away with all our table linen. That way, we have much less laundry, which is good for the environment too. Some guests have stayed away because they do not like the plain wooden tables, but most of our clientele accept it.’

Vegetables from the field

As part of the first women's team, Anja recently won second prize at a World Championship in Chinese cooking in Rotterdam. In the same competition, she also won an individual award for ‘best taste’. She positively glows when she talks about cooking. She loves the flavour of vegetables grown in the field (as opposed to greenhouses) and will be cooking with, for example, mushrooms and pumpkins this autumn. ‘Every two months I compose a new, small seasonal menu, rotating fresh products.’

Take-out menu

Alongside the seasonal menu the restaurant also has a menu with dishes that are current in China nowadays. And at the take-out counter, Alexander uses even a third menu, which includes nasi, bami and most other well-known Chinese-Dutch signature dishes, in many variations. All together, the take-out menu consists of 154 starters and main courses. ‘I would like to make the take-out menu a little smaller, but we're an existing business with an established customer base. They expect this broad offer from us.’

Meat eaters

A scarce ten take-out dishes are vegetarian. Hu-Ma has an explanation for this: ‘Europeans are real meat eaters! The meat dishes are by far the most popular. So we can't simply change that. Only the Tjap Tjoy allows for more vegetables. It's hard to find a middle ground.’

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