Our World Vegan Month/Veganuary Adventures

I have recently become aware that veganism is a term that is more all-encompassing than simply following a plant-based diet. Veganism generally means eschewing all animal-produced products such as leather, honey, etc. and I admit that I have not thrown away my leather shoes (I am more likely to seek out alternatives in the future). I have been and in this post will continue to use the word vegan to refer to the more limited meaning of a plant-based diet.

To follow this kind of diet, you don't need to buy organic food. If we all refused to eat food farmed using conventional methods (i.e.non organic), a good portion more of the earth's population would be going hungry right now as organic farming methods produce smaller crop yields in some cases by as much as half. No, we can't just farm more land as most of the earth's decent arable lands are in production already. We could cut down more forests. How do we feel about that? Organic foods are pretty much a first-world privilege. It also does not provide increased nutrition but it is true that some truly rare people may have sensitivities to non-organic foods. Anyway, if you can afford it, be my guest.

To be a vegan, you don't have to refuse to eat GMO crops. If we only ate non-GMO foods, again a good percentage more of the earth's population would be going hungry as GMO crops have increased yields worldwide. Non-GMO food is another first-world privilege. It is usually insisted upon by people who incorrectly associate GMOs with Monsanto or who are science deniers believing that GMOs present untold dangers. The fact is that GMO crops are more carefully regulated and tested than the stuff we have been cross-breeding over the millennia using the hit and miss method (and surviving for the most part).

I have oversimplified above and I am not a scientist but I listen to both sides of the story and try not to be sucked in by advertising and pay-for-publish magazine articles that present whatever will sell their product as the truth. Do some open-minded research for yourself and follow the money.

Anyway, you don't need that stuff or any of the expensive products available at your vegan supply store. Being a vegan can actually be quite satisfying and nutritionally complete and above all simple and inexpensive. In broad terms, eat fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds and you will be fine. There are a couple of micronutrients that are not readily available in a vegan diet that would need to be aware of if you were pursuing this as a long term lifestyle but not for the month-long things that I have been doing. 

Do this stuff and you will be doing yourself and the whole planet a favour. A plant based diet leads to a smaller carbon footprint. It is healthier. It is cheaper. And you don't have to kill any animals. In there somewhere, you will probably find some kind of worthy motivation. You, Metro Vancouver food bloggers, might think about whether you could be promoting something of great importance by emphasizing vegetarian and vegan-friendly joints.

In November of 2020 (World Vegan Month), Mharie and I visited 9 restaurants in Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley that have vegan menus or options. In January of 2021 (Veganuary) we visited another 10 restaurants and cafes (and a truck), offering the same. You can read about them on this blog obviously. We tried some interesting vegan products that were not available the last time I did this (actually 2 years ago) and tried some interesting recipes.

Right off the top, I was happy to find vegan mayo and margarine in comparably priced standard brands (rather than the vegan store expensive versions).

The jump from carnivore to vegetarian is almost less traumatic to me than the jump from vegetarian to vegan. Giving up eggs and cheese is somewhat painful.
Fortunately, some decent products are now available and are frankly not too bad! The above pictured Presidents Choice product is not ridiculously priced and it was close in flavour and texture to American slices (which may horrify you). It was melty and cheesy.
One thing that I did buy from the recently opened, Vegetarian Butcher in Gastown is vegan blue cheese. It was pretty good and the taste of brewers yeast was limited (almost always a vegan cheese ingredient). I did not like it as much as my usual dairy blue cheese but for the sake of the planet, I am willing to spend the extra coin for a treat! $15 for this small taste of 'blue cheese' was OK.
We tried tempeh a couple of times over the last few months. It is a traditional Indonesian fermented soybean product that was not developed for the vegan culture. I have to admit that I was not enamoured of it until Chau Veggie Express offered it based on peas rather than soybeans. It doesn't mean that you shouldn't try it in its traditional form. You can buy it at regular grocery stores.
We also tried seitan for the first time. This is probably unnecessarily expensive if you buy it already made, like most convenience products. We were able to buy the vital wheat gluten from which is made, at a local health food store for a surprisingly reasonable price. It is also easy to make! I made it a couple of times and used it a few different ways.
One of the things that we made is this Thai Larb Lettuce Wrap which you may have that I posted on Instagram. BTW, if you are not following us on Instagram, why not? There are dozens of recipes that use seitan which is maybe the best meat mimic that we have come across.
Another interesting product that we tried is tofu skins. Again, this is a product that has been a part of Chinese (and probably other) cuisine long before veganism became a movement. Literally, the same as pudding skin which you may fondly recall from your youth, tofu skin is the top layer! Easy to find, in most Asian markets, it stir-frys or braises well and provides that extra layer of protein that we so desperately believe that we need (but really don't).
Still, there is no need to get complicated. If you don't really enjoy getting crazy, a simple Lentil Shepherds Pie with some nice sauteed vegetables is the perfect vegan meal!
If you are like me and not ready to commit, then give thought to making an effort beyond just Meatless Monday. Why not try making meat and cheese and eggs, the rarer ingredients and gradually move away as far as you dare? That is what we are doing and we feel better for it!
Hopefully, you can be tempted by Orange Tofu! For ideas scan through our Instagram feed (I always try to give the recipe websites as a reference) or this blog. 

Vegan Cave - Veganuary

Websites are so important. The Vegan Cave website (at least the desktop version) makes it look a little like a convenience store and I have just never been enticed. Fortunately, Google has a listing for them (with pics and all!) that gives a very different feel. It makes them seem more inviting and provides a more realistic idea of what they are about. I hope to do the same.

Located on Abbott between E Hastings and Pender, V.C. is sort of right on the crest of the gentrification wave that starts with Woodwards. Not exactly spacious, timing will be important here (or take out anytime) and we arrived sort of mid-afternoon on Saturday and were able to sit down to eat.
Our enthusiastic host walked us through the menu and we took his suggestions. We started with a pizza which came with an almond flour crust (you have the options of whole wheat or cassava flour) which was very good! At his suggestion, we ordered a half and half arrangement of  Buddha on the Beach (Mharie's favourite ham and pineapple) and Prestoprana with all the vegetables. Ordinarily, we don't think of broccoli as a pizza topping but it worked well here! Along with pesto, cashew ricotta, mozzarella, ranch, cilantro and artichoke hearts, this was quite an amazing combination and we loved it! The Budda in addition to the bacon, pineapple, red onion, red pepper and mozzarella came with a barbeque sauce drizzle. To be honest, the barbeque sauce was a bit overpowering (a little too much tang) but the combination, in general, was pretty tasty.
Eating out as a vegan means ordering a lot of 'bowls' but as they go, this one might well have been the best. At the ridiculously low price of $11, there was a lot of food here!  The La Tinga featured Mexican style marinated jack fruit over rice with guacamole, cashew sour cream, and tons of salad and veges! It was spicy and great! An $11 bowl that satisfies and your nutritional and taste needs and nothing had to die! This provides a bridge to a plant-based diet that would satisfy the pickiest eater!
Despite the fact that we were full and packed up our bowl to go, we wanted to try at least one dessert here. It turned out that they were running short but just less than a block away, the Caveman Cafe (their sister restaurant) featuring vegan, paleo and keto dishes, had a similar dessert line up. So we stopped in and tried a vegan Cheesecake (with some kind of fruit topping ) and were suitably impressed.
One of our best vegan restaurant experiences was inadvertently saved to the end of Veganuary. Vancouver truly is hospitable to the vegan and this place was no exception. Comfortable and friendly even if a little bit on the small side. Don't be shy about ordering to go. 
Food                4 out of 5
Comfort           3 1/2 out of 5
Service             5 out of 5
Value                5 out of 5

Vegan Cave Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Pink Avo - Langley - Veganuary

I admit that I was a little hesitant about rushing to Pink Avo as it kind of sounded like an avocado toast and overpriced smoothie place. Even on their website, they admit that avocados are kind of their specialty. Now it's not that I don't like avocados. I buy a bag every week on grocery day but I can put them on toast myself. The whole 'avocado toast' trend feels a little too Los Angeles and I naturally expect it to come with a side of organic wheatgrass and a coupon for some Gwyneth Paltrow endorsed products. Nevertheless, P.A. offers a nearly fully vegan menu and that is what we are all about this month. Also, I was fully over my prejudice by the time we had enjoyed their hospitality.

Located right in the heart of Langley on Fraser Hwy between 204 and 206, Pink Avo offers an excellent place to grab a coffee or a brunch or lunch in a relaxing setting.
I have said (to anyone who will listen) that the step from vegetarian to vegan is made difficult by the giving up of cheese. And so we are constantly on the hunt for good 'cheez'! At Pink Avo, the Grilled Veganeeze is one of the best that we have had! Melty and rich with 2 kinds of plant-based cheese, a little bit of basil and tomato, Mharie and I wolfed this down a little too quickly.
The sandwich comes with a daily housemade soup which as if the gods had intervened, turned out to be tomato for the perfect combination! This was also wonderful soup with a perfect meeting of acidy and creamy. 
We decided on a Coconut Rice Bowl also and that turned out to be a wise decision.  Down at the bottom of the bowl, there was some very rich coconut basmati rice but the rest was a pretty tasty combination also. Smoked tofu and squash and a nice variety of greens made up the major part of this and it was topped with an apple cider vinaigrette that we chose to spend some time trying to recreate at home. Watermelon radish, the above-mentioned avocado and pumpkin seeds rounded out a very nice dish.
Speaking of dishes, everything is compostable here which is good. A strange side effect of COVID is that we don't seem to wash dishes in restaurants very often and so have reverted to single-use utensils and containers. Recycled materials and compostable are the least of that evil. Everyone is masked up and tables are well spread out. Service is order and pick-up at the counter which is social distance friendly. The folks behind the counter are helpful and enthusiastic about what they are serving.
BTW, they don't have regular drip coffee so I had a latte with oat milk which was very tasty and Mharie enjoyed her decaf Americano. Not a bad place for a vegan or anyone else who finds themselves in Langley.
Food             4 out of 5
Comfort        3 1/2 out of 5
Service         3 1/2 out of 5
Value            4 out of 5

Pinkavo Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Veg Out Plant Based Burgers and Shakes - Veganuary

The Port Moody Winter Farmer's Market is a pleasant little outdoor market with a lot of vendors of produce and products leaning towards the organic and whole foods end of the spectrum. So you can imagine that a food truck specializing in plant-based menu items might fit in well.

The fact that they serve burgers and fries and shakes is not startling in itself but the quality of the product (especially considering that it is plant-based) is!
We started with an order of Wings and we chose the sweet and spicy sauce. I'm going to come right out and assume that they are using seitan as their near chicken product and say that it is quite tasty. I've played around with seitan at home (the vital wheat gluten product and not the dark lord). The texture is pretty good, the flavour 'meaty' and it fries up nice and crispy! These were some pretty decent vegan wings!
We went all out and ordered a Veganator! This sandwich includes a deep-fried 'chick'n' patty as well as their beyond patty (I'm not sure if they are referring to the commercially available Beyond Meat or their own recipe). At any rate, it came with really good veg bacon, cheese, and sauce not to mention, lettuce, tomato and onion. This was an amazing sandwich! Way on the messy side, I could hardly get my paw around it to hold it for a picture! Find these guys to get yourself a Veganator!
The fries were good too and come with your choice of sauces. These are the type of fries that are coated with something (rice flour?) and so are extra crispy.
Finally, knowing that we would pay as it was a cold morning, we had to try a shake. Plant-based shakes can be challenging and this one was coconut-based. We ordered Cookies and Cream and enjoyed it greatly! Note the biodegradable straw. Veg Out makes sure that all its containers are environmentally friendly. We did notice that there was no place at this community park where things could be properly recycled or separated for composting. If a business is being conscientious at its own expense, we need to make sure that our public spaces are doing the same.
Definitely worth your while to find the Veg Out Food Truck.
Food                 4 out of 5
Comfort            NA (really....its a truck...you make your own comfort)
Service             4 out of 5 (pretty quick to get the order ready)
Value                4 out of 5 (not cheap but good value all the same)

Veg Out Plant Based Burgers and Shakes Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Copper Branch - Veganuary

You may not have heard of Copper Branch. I hadn't either until I Googled "vegan eats in Vancouver" and there it was. They have heard of this place in Eastern Canada where they are based and there are a dozen outlets in Montreal alone.

C.B. is located on Nelson in Yaletown and it is likely only the first of many Metro Vancouver locations (just a hunch). This may well be the largest vegan chain in the world. It s a casual place where you order at the counter, they bring you your food when it's ready, you get your own water and bus your own table when you're done. As for the menu, it is varied and on the creative side with a lot of the usual bowls, burgers, sandwiches and other warming and healthy fare.
We started with a bowl of chili which was tasty enough if not startling. There was a good helping of quinoa in with the other usual ingredients which we enjoyed. We were surprised by the price which was only $5.95 leaving us expecting the serving to be much smaller. This seemed like a good value.
Also surprising price-wise was the Aztec Bowl which we ordered in the"mini" size at only $10.95 which to our thinking was not mini at all. You have your choice of bases and we asked for Konjac Noodles. Konjac is a root from which Japanese style noodles are made. They were almost clear with just a nice light chew. You also chose a protein and we opted for carrot keftedes a sort of carrot meatball. This was all topped up with a bunch of nice beans and vegetables including salsa, some tortilla chips and sour cream to make it Aztec. This could almost be lunch by itself. BTW, this was some of the best vegan sour cream that we have had.
We were a little disappointed with the Sweet Potato Shepherds Pie. A little like the experiences you may have had at MacDonald's, the website picture did not represent the actuality. It was served cold which was just wrong. The texture was not what we expected (again the website photo was what set up our expectations). So not a great dish but the side salad was at least more than an afterthought. Presumably, just a dish being tried out on their menu.
Finally, we ordered a Copper Deluxe Combo (yes, we had leftovers for dinner later) which came with oven-baked fries. I am a big advocate of plant-based restaurants having deep fryers but that doesn't seem to be the case here. The oven fries were, however, quite good. They came with a nice bit of charring and were coated in the house spice which was salty and just a bit middle eastern, I think.
The burger itself starts with a beet patty which was very beet forward and worked well! A really decent bun, caramelized onions and fixin's including potato chips. Very nice! 
So as far as we're concerned, all hits and one miss. We liked it here. Being Yaletown, the heavy timbers and wood floors created an enjoyable rustic surrounding. I think we should get used to seeing Copper Branch around. They serve comforting healthy food at a reasonable price. It is a direction that we should all be moving in even when it is not Veganuary.
Food                     3 out of 5
Comfort                4 out of 5
Service                 4 out of 5
Value                    4 1/2 out of 5

Copper Branch Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Down 2 Earth - Veganuary

Does the "7th most popular city in the world for vegans" include the burbs? You can tell that I am excited that Vancouver has received that recognition by 'Chef's Pencil' as this is the third straight post in which I have referenced the award. And vegan and plant-based joints are popping up all over the place in the whole of Metro-Vancouver. Down 2 Earth is one example of that found in Walnut Grove just off 88th Avenue on 202nd.

I arrived in the afternoon just around 4 so I could hopefully order from their lunch menu but also off of Nonna's Italian dinner menu. To my chagrin, the arancini was not available (it happens) so on that first visit, I tried their Grilled Cheese from the lunch menu.
This was an excellent toasted sandwich with smoked provolone, bacun jam and pear slices. On the side was a nice assembly of seasonal greens that was supposed to come with apple miso vinaigrette (I didn't get mine but I did go back and ask for dressing). I enjoyed this crunchy and rich sandwich but I am not sure that I would pay $19.50 for it again. I expect that sometimes vegan items are expensive because for example, the cheese is made in small quantities and probably by hand but still, $20 seems a little steep even compared to our recent vegan adventures.
On a second visit, a week later (this time I knew the arancini was only going to be available on Friday), I was again anxious to try something from Nonna's menu but the Lasagna D'Constructo was not available. They are keeping the Nonna's menu items limited at the moment and that is understandable and admittedly, restaurants must do what they can to survive. That being said, communication is key and that is what websites are for. Anyway, I had the Mac Daddy from the lunch menu instead. This was impressive for vegan fare, creamy and cheesy without any hint of brewers yeast, that ingredient that seems to be fairly omnipresent in vegan cheese. With a nice side salad again (this time dressed) and an impressive side dish of house-made ketchup. I could not quite nail down the earthy mild spice in the ketchup but it may have included turmeric or cumin? I rarely go on a ketchup tangent but this was tasty! At $19 for this, I again feel like the pricing is on the high side. Maybe the inclusion of a salad which was clearly not just an afterthought, makes it right.
I did order one item from Nonna's menu. The Garlic Knots were salty, cheesy, warm and very enjoyable. Nicely done on the bread which came with marinara and a sort of pesto, it was very comforting.
D2E is a wonderfully designed comfortable space. Attention to detail, even in the washrooms is warm and inviting. Someone can be proud of their effort. The food here is not unimpressive but it would be nice to have some smaller plates available as the garlic knots and only occasionally available arancini leave room for something else. What about soup? There are really nice people running this place and they have a nice gracious vibe that is reflected among other places in the plant-based menu. Still a little on the pricey side but I suggest that you should give it a try.
Food         4 out of 5
Service     3 out of 5   (servers are great; unavailability of Italian menu items less great)
Comfort    4 out of 5
Value        3 out of 5

Down 2 Earth Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Acorn Restaurant - Veganuary

Since we are now eating vegan in the "7th most popular city in the world for vegans" (Chef's Pencil), we thought that it was about time that we ate at the "best vegan-friendly restaurant in the world" (Big 7 Travel) which is located in said 7th most popular city in the world for vegans. It is sort of a pinnacle, isn't it? Although on the one hand,  I worry that it will be all downhill from here, on the other, I know that we will never really enjoy our food less after this just because it comes with fewer accolades!

Located at 24th and Main, The Acorn is open for dinner only and you will want to make a reservation. Although the small restaurant was fully occupied (according to the rules) and seemed a little bit crowded, we felt safe as they are as serious about social distancing as any place that we have been in recent history.
The Acorn offers a three coarse dinner for $49 per person which as you will see, is very reasonable considering what they put together. We still opted for a sharable starter in addition. This was essentially pumpkin with lobster mushroom 'fish sauce' vinaigrette, hazelnuts and a taste of cayenne. It was our first amazing moment of many. Delicious! The menu lists the ingredients for each dish in exhaustive detail which felt a little annoying and confusing at first but as we got into our meal, we found ourselves referring back to the menu as "Oh my God, that was amazing! What was that exactly?" moments came.
Mharie's first course was called Romanesco. It was cauliflower in 5 forms with a goat gouda fonduta (her meal was vegetarian but not vegan) and a lemon leaf vinaigrette. I didn't even realize there were 5 kinds of cauliflower (including the romanesco) nor 5 ways to prepare it. Grilled, pureed, pickled etc., the result was that each bite was different and needed to be savoured and appreciated.
I started with the Shitake. If I understood the menu, 2 types of shitake mushrooms prepared 3 ways (including a house-made X.O. sauce) with leeks, kelp and lemongrass! The surprising combination of textures and flavours made us very happy. The kitchen likes to use pickling which cuts through the richness of other elements to provide a balance.
Mharie's main course was called Corn and featured house-made pasta. The pasta was not surprisingly very good and was supported (or the other way around) by radicchio, garlic, chanterelles, preserved corn, buffalo ricotta and something called crosnes. This is also known as Japanese artichoke and the root was pickled for this dish. We did not isolate this ingredient at the time but we're convinced that everything contributes to the whole.
By ordering the Brassica, I did not initially realize that I was ordering the barbeque plate! Buttermilk ranch slaw, burdock molasses-baked navy beans. maple syrup collard greens and sour pickles were the give away (and all a step above the usual and perfectly fine barbeque sides) but the Savoy cabbage and quince were the stars here. Brined, rubbed and smoked, and served with Kumbuccha barbeque sauce (which was more than a little piquant), we would never have expected the cabbage (which in no way mimics brisket or any other barbequed meat) to be such a perfect 'viande'. 
For dessert, I had Peach. Peach and a sort of peach tuile over Gin and peach sorbet and served with sorghum popcorn. Another dish where each detail was an enjoyable surprise.
Mharie had one of the day's specials, western larch tip and squash ice cream topped with squash pearls, oat crumble and candied jelly tooth mushrooms. Wow! As you probably have been able to tell, the creativity in the kitchen here is on a different plane from our usual forms of sustenance. They have proven once and for all, that a big old slab of meat is not necessary.
Small, romantic and dimly lit (made photography challenging and I came close to walking into plexiglass) this is a very nice space. Service is very good and our servers were quick to answer our many questions. The Acorn should definitely be on your bucket list whether you are vegan or not.
Food                5 out of 5
Comfort           5 out of 5
Service             5 out of 5
Value                5 out of 5 (did you know that you can pay $200 for a steak in Vancouver?)

The Acorn Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Are you guys eating again? At some point Marie and I became the kind of people who take pictures of everything we eat, whether in a restaura...