When I travelled to Tokyo, I got hooked on ramen. Due to jet lag and poor planning, I even had ramen for breakfast. Once I returned, I tried replicating the dish at home. My ramen was pretty good, but it just wasn’t the same.
After looking up all of the ramen shops in Toronto, I narrowed it down to the places that offered a vegetarian broth. The vegetarian option was usually topped with a soft boiled egg, but I hoped it could be made vegan by removing the egg. Then I learned that most places exclusively use egg noodles.
One time the waiter was kind enough to bring the noodle packaging over so I could confirm the ingredients were vegan. The rest of the time, I’d be seated and then awkwardly leave after discovering the ramen wasn’t vegan. Since I felt bad about wasting their time, I started only going to places that had reviews mentioning a vegan option. There weren’t many, but over time more and more ramen shops started offering a vegan noodle substitutions.
Only after eating at Jinya Ramen, I finally found a vegan ramen that really hit the spot. Jinya Ramen has two vegan options. The first is called Vegetable Soup Ramen. It is either vegan, or can be made vegan upon request. The vegetable broth reminds me of the one I enjoyed in Japan, but it is piled high with greens and vegetables. While this option is very good, it doesn’t begin to compare to the Spicy Creamy Vegan Ramen. The fact that the second option has vegan in title is already a huge win. I don’t have to double check for hidden fish sauce, or worry about egg noodles. The flavours in the Spicy Creamy Vegan Ramen are complex and layered, making each bite taste completely different.
The one thing that stays the same is the quality. Jinya Ramen consistently delivers delicious food and friendly service. The ramen is always as good as I remember it, no off days. The warm broth, the rich garlic flavour, and the spice make it the perfect dish for a chilly day (especially if you’re fighting a cold).
Last time I went in to escape the cold, I was seated in a warm and toasty window spot. I got to enjoy the incredibly tasty ramen while basking in the sun and people watching. It was also the first time eating in public without my chopstick helper (a little device that makes it easier to eat with chopsticks). Since I often travel to Japan, I wanted to improve my chopstick skills. It wasn’t easy, but at least by eating slowly I was able to savour every slurp.
After a bad experience at a restaurant I always wonder if I should even write about it. There is enough negativity in the world as is, and so many other great spots I could write about instead. My lunch wasn’t even that bad, the meal was just surprisingly bland. But the interesting part is that all of the factors that usually make a place great are the reasons it went poorly.
When a restaurant has tons of highly positive reviews, it’s usually a good sign. The downside though is that positive reviews elevate expectations. Since my meal was one of the more popular options on the menu, there were complementary reviews about this specific meal. Maybe my lunch had no chance against my high expectations.
When a restaurant has beautiful decor and friendly staff, it usually means they are successful enough to afford investing in their atmosphere. After tasting my meal though it became clear that the resources spent on the vibe should’ve been spent on the food.
A lunch set makes it easy for people to order, and can be a great way to showcase the most popular dish. Sometimes though a daily special means the restaurant is trying to get rid of leftovers and ingredients that are about to expire. I mostly ordered the lunch set because I like dishes with lots of variety. I hoped that the long wait was an indication that everything was being prepared fresh. While I couldn’t tell if anything was premade or borderline stale, I was surprised that not one thing on the plate was properly heated or seasoned.
When everything on the menu is plant-based, and even organic, it’s much easier to place an order without the stress of substitutions. Since this is pretty rare to find, especially in some cities, people tend to be more forgiving about the food itself. As much as people can’t help but being honest about any grievances, they usually feel the need to give a place 5 stars when it caters to their specific dietary needs. This is exactly why I don’t plan on naming this restaurant. I’m just grateful they exist, and hope they either had an off day or will get better.
On my way to lunch at Green Earth for the second time, I stopped by Public for a drink. I noticed the cute cafe when I first walked by, and planned to pop in if I returned to the area.
The cafe was beautifully decorated with various seating options. After picking a spot, I browsed the english drink menu on the table. The chalk menu by the counter was in Japanese, so I walked over to translate it. I was curious about the daily specials, and discovered they offered lunch and baked goods.
I ordered an espresso soda and their freshly baked oatmeal chocolate chip cookie. I had never heard of an espresso soda before, but should’ve known to stick with a latte as I don’t usually enjoy carbonated drinks. On the plus side, the sweetener was served on side making it easy to add as little at a time. The oatmeal chocolate chip cookie was huge and delicious. While breaking off a piece, I noticed the table had a “made in Canada” stamp. The strange coincidence reminded me of home, but the brief moment passed as I excitedly returned to mapping out my trip to Uji.
The good thing about arriving in a surprisingly busy area of Kyoto, was the amble choice of teahouses. In an attempt to be open to new experiences, I embraced under-planning and walked into the first teahouse I came across. After drinking matcha in Shinsaibashi in Osaka, I wanted to try a matcha flavoured food. The menu had a variety of matcha noodle dishes, and appetizing desserts. Since matcha is an acquired taste, flavoured ice cream, tiramisu, and parfaits are a great alternative for those who don’t yet appreciate ceremonial matcha.
There were many food items, but unfortunately no vegan options. Instead, I ordered a ceremonial matcha and hoped it would be served with a sweet treat. In Japanese teahouses, the most expensive matcha on the menu is the highest grade ceremonial matcha and is served with sencha and wagashi. Wagashi is a small Japanese confection, often made from sugar and rice flour. It is typically plant-based, even when it includes a filling.
The order did end up including a delicious pink wagashi. The matcha itself didn’t have that distinct umami flavour, however, it was still extremely fresh and skillfully prepared. I also ordered an iced matcha, which was smooth but much sweeter than expected as they added a generous amount of syrup.
Sometimes it’s nice to stroll around, and visit a place without looking at reviews. Though, I have extremely high expectations for my next matcha tasting as it would be in the highly regarded teahouses of Uji.
After months of searching for the best hojicha Kyoto has to offer, I’ve finally found hojicha worth sharing and have officially launched Hōjicha Co. Japan Today kindly featured the exciting news, including more about the origin of Hōjicha Co. and our future plans. If you’d like to celebrate the launch and taste my new favourite tea, use code: DANIELLE10 to get 10% off any of our products (yes, even the Hojicha Launch Pack).
If you have no idea what hojicha is, you’re not alone. Although it was invented nearly 100 years ago in Kyoto, hojicha is only now beginning to gain popularity outside of Japan. Hojicha is a roasted green tea that has zero bitterness and is reddish-brown in colour. I only discovered the naturally sweet tea last March in Osaka.
During that trip to Osaka, I also visited Kyoto for the first time. After wanting to experience the modern urban vibes of Tokyo on an earlier trip to Japan, I was now ready to slow down and explore nature. Kyoto was always described to me as a peaceful hiking destination. That is why I was utterly shocked when I arrived at a bustling shopping district.
As I tried to navigate through the crowded streets, I double-checked that Maruyama Park was in fact nearby. The cherry blossom season started early this year, and I didn’t want to miss out on the blooms near Yasaka Shrine. When I arrived at the park, I walked towards the cherry blossom viewing spot Google Maps had suggested. However, I was once again caught off guard as the spot turned out to be a festival area full of food stands. I continued to venture deeper into the park, determined to find a quiet spot.
A few moments later, I was surrounded by nature. On my stroll I came across ancient shrines, beautiful buddhist temples, serene ponds, and colourful cherry blossoms. It dawned on me that there was much to see in Kyoto, and it was best experienced first hand with an open mind. A realization I hope to remember throughout all of my travels.
Last weekend, on my way to the park, I noticed a new cafe had opened up on University and Adelaide in Toronto. It looked like a cute brunch spot, and I got even more excited once I saw it was Cafe Landwer.
When I visited Israel, I met some of my childhood friends at a cafe by the same name. I remember it clearly, because the food looked great and I regretted only ordering their mint lemonade. I especially remember the name of the cafe because I had trouble pronouncing it, and accidentally referred to it as Cafe Lavender.
After checking online, I confirmed that the new cafe was in fact a new branch by the same company. I wasn’t hungry then, so I made plans to try out their food the next day. When I arrived, the place was filled to capacity and the wait for a table was 20 minutes long. Even though that is a pretty decent wait time for great food, it was unbearably hot by the door and I was starved. I debated leaving, but was too eager to try their vegan breakfast option. I decided to endure the heat.
While standing by the hostess, I overheard two separate parties boldly request to be seated before others on the list. I say boldly, and not rudely, because of the charming way they asked. The same way you’d expect people to ask at any other Israeli restaurant, with the notion that you don’t get what you don’t ask for. A more extreme version of “If you don’t ask, the answer will always be no”. The hostess politely laughed, and continued to seat people according to the list.
Between these interactions, people watching, and scoping out the food, the time went by quickly. Once over, my wait was rewarded with booth style seating and a great view of the bar. Since I already knew what I was getting, I only glanced at the menu to make sure it was the same as the one online. Water arrived swiftly after, and I was delighted that it came before placing my order. As one of the few water lovers out there, I always appreciate when waiters bring water in addition to drinks and keep my glass full (especially if the food is spicy).
The vegan breakfast took up the whole table, as the omelette was served on a plate and the sides were brought on a wooden tray. I believe this is the first plant-based omelette I’ve ever had at a restaurant, and it tasted a million times better than my own homemade attempts. The herbs and grated carrots elevated the omelette’s flavour, resulting in pure perfection even without the accompanying dips and spreads.
While the sun dried tomato spread paired beautifully with the omelette, my favourite was Cafe Landwer’s roasted eggplant and tahini spread. After dipping the freshly baked bread in the tahini and salsa, I couldn’t imagine a better combination until I tasted the eggplant spread. I’ve encountered millions of eggplant dishes over the years, and they all pale in comparison to this small masterpiece. I’d love to know their secret, or at least be able to buy a tub of it weekly.
The vegan breakfast also included carrot spread, halva spread, jam, coconut yogurt & berries, and a guacamole which would be the highlight of any other brunch. I savoured every bite, and started plotting my return for their legendary coffee and a plate of halva Rosalach.
If you’ve seen the highlights from last year’s Veg Food Fest then you know better than to read this post on an empty stomach. Though I bet the best eats of Veg Food Fest 2018 will still make your mouth water.
Hana James – Rise ‘n’ Blend: A Plant-Based Smoothie to Kick-Start Your Day
How does a smoothie demo last an hour? It does when the speaker shares must-know facts about the ingredients you should be using to upgrade your breakfast (read:anytime) smoothies. Hana also spoke about the innovative way she scaled Greenhouse Juice Co., and how she founded the successful Toronto-based company in the first place. As for the samples, Hana made a chocolatey Rococoa Smoothie.
Before heading to the next demo, I grabbed dinner at BRGR KVLT. As someone who doesn’t usually mix cheese and meat (yes, even as a vegan), I was surprised by how delicious the mac and cheese tasted with BBQ sauce. Does this mean I have to stop cringing when people top their mac and cheese with ketchup?
Tina Stokes – Vegan Cheese Making
Although I had no intentions of making cultured vegan cheese, by the end of the demo I was ready to give it a try. After learning about Tina’s fermentation process, a few extra steps seem doable and worth the health benefits. Not to mention the improved cheesy flavour compared to uncultured cashew cheese.
Knowing how crazy long the line up would be on Saturday and Sunday, I got my fix of Apiecalypse Now! on Friday night. Chocolate cake for dessert, and apple pie for breakfast. The apple pie would have probably tasted just as good heated in the microwave, but that would be an insult to the hard work gone into baking the perfect vegan pie crust. The extra few minutes in the oven were worth it.
Doug McNish – Veganizing the Classics
Since launching Mythology Diner, Doug has somehow gotten even better at making tofu scramble. He also let it slip that he is working on his next cookbook tentatively called “Veganizing the Classics”. Sounds like it’s going to feature some epic recipes.
Confession time: I’ve never eaten McD’s. Ok, I have had their sundae, and tasted a french fry. But that’s it. That’s why I didn’t get as excited as others did about Globally Local’s ‘Famous Burger’. This year though, I decided to give it a taste and was blown away. Believe the hype. The plant-based double cheeseburger tasted absolutely incredible. From the fluffy toasted bun, the secret sauce, all the way to the house-made chickpea patty. This burger was by far my favourite thing at this year’s Veg Food Fest. A close second were Globally Local’s BBQ wings which I devoured before taking a photo. Can someone please open a location in Toronto?
Taymer Mason – Pumpkin Everything: A Caribbean Vegan Fall
Thank goodness when Taymer says pumpkin she means all squash varieties. Peeling a butternut squash is just so much easier than preparing a pumpkin. The only soup I’m able to make is butternut squash soup, but turns out it pales in comparison to Taymer’s version. I can’t wait to try to replicate her recipe now that it’s suddenly fall weather.
Away Kitchen + Cafe
I followed the smell of freshly baked double chocolate cookies to Away Kitchen + Cafe’s ice cream case. Pictured is their blueberry lavender lemonade ice cream sandwich in an easy to share container. Favourite dessert award over here. Best part is that I can come back for more with their new Queen street location. Oh, and their Saskatoon berry kombucha is the first kombucha I’ve ever enjoyed drinking. House-made and also available in their cafe.
Naza Hasebenebi – The Art of Injera
This was my first time eating injera, but, as Naza promised, I don’t want it to be my last. Injera is a fermented flatbread which tastes like sourdough bread. I enjoyed it alone, and even more with Naza’s flavourful red lentil stew. I usually make my own curry powder, but the one she used smelled so good I had to take a picture of the container for future reference.
Sam Turnbull – Fuss-Free Vegan Cooking
It was great to see Sam back at Veg Food Fest, especially since her cooking style is perfect for vegan beginners. Sam takes crowd-pleasing recipes, like pumpkin pie and cheese balls, and veganizes them in minutes using easy to find ingredients. Truly fuss-free.
Amy Symington – Transitioning to a healthful, balanced plant based diet
Although this demo may sound like it’s only for new vegans, Amy’s nutrition advice served as a great refresher. I also enjoyed her encouragement of adapting recipes to your own tastes. Don’t be afraid to omit the cilantro, switch romaine lettuce to spinach, and add more chili flakes.
Amy Longard – Cooking with Seaweed
It took me a while to warm up to nori in sushi, and years longer to appreciate kombu broth. But now that I’m a fan, I was curious on how to use more seaweed. Amy used seaweed varieties I’ve never heard of in popcorn, miso soup, kale salad, and chickpea tuna. I was so excited to taste the samples that I completely forgot to take a photo of the colourful food. Now comes the hard part of tracking down Hana Tsunomata, kelp flakes, and dulse to recreate the delicious recipes.
Matan Volach – Edible IQ – Chocolate Dreams
Ever wanted to learn how to properly temper chocolate? No chocolate dream is too big with Matan. The chocolate hazelnut spread recipe was exactly what I needed. I’ve been craving Nutella for a while, and avoided buying a vegan version with just as much refined sugar and oil. Luckily I hadn’t resorted to making my own yet, because I would have never guessed how important it is to roast the hazelnuts first.
Veg food Fest 2018 was full of good food, and recipe inspiration. Now all that’s left is to attempt to cook them at home while waiting for next year’s event.
The annual Veg Food Fest is this weekend, and I’m getting into the spirit by looking at photos from last year. Turns out there’s a whole lot of them. Here’s a taste of veg food fest 2017.
From the team that brought you Apiecalypse Now! comes the tastiest, biggest, and most inventive vegan burger menu you’ve ever seen. I’m talking about BRGR KVLT of course, which were last year’s main event. Oh, and they’re back at it again this year so don’t miss out.
It was a tough choice, but I finally decided to get the EYEATETHOU. This giant burger is actually a mouth-watering chicken and waffles sandwich. Two gluten-free cornbread waffles barely hold together the following: gluten-free southern fried crunchy tofu, sweet potato salad, buttermilk ranch, coconut bacon, and corn succotash. Are you drooling yet? It was so good, I had to get it twice. The other burger pictured? Oh, that’s just BRGR KVLT’s most popular burger: WOLVES IN THE BURGER ROOM! Imagine a double cheeseburger gone wild. This burger has a white bun, lettuce, two soy patties, cheese, bacon, mac and cheese, chips, deep fried pickles, maple bbq sauce, and garlic mayo. The best part? These burgers are 100% plant-based so you won’t feel like crap afterwards. Now all that’s left is to head to Apiecalypse Now! and scope out dessert.
This french toast doughnut from Bloomer’s has got to be the best doughnut I have ever eaten. After finding out about this doughnut online, I headed straight to the Bloomer’s booth on Saturday morning. Good thing I arrived early because the french toast doughnut sold out fast. My guess is that once people tasted the doughnut, they couldn’t help but tell a friend and get at least one more. I know I did.
Richa Gupta (Good Food For Good) Cooking Demo
Aside from the amazing food vendors, Veg Food Fest also has presentations, yoga, workshops, and cooking demos. In between taking notes and nibbling on samples, I forgot to take photos of the most of the food served after the cooking demos. However, I do have a photo of the incredible food prepared by Richa Gupta from Good Food For Good. Pictured is popcorn, soup, tea, tofu scramble, and chickpea crepe. All made with turmeric! Who knew you could use turmeric in so many ways? It’s tough to pick a favourite, but if I’d have to choose I’d go with the curried coconut carrot lentil soup. For some unknown reason, I am terrible at making soup, and so I’m always impressed when I taste one that is spot on.
Sam Turnbull (It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken) Cooking Demo
Another cooking demo where I remembered to take photos of the food was Sam Turnbull’s demo with recipes from her blog It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken. After Sam’s demo, I was an instant fan. She had a great positive energy, and made cooking seem fun and effortless. In addition to baking a classic chocolate chip cookie, Sam made sweet Korean lentils which I’ve never had or even heard of before. She also made her Melty Stretchy Gooey Vegan Nacho Cheese, and managed to convince me of how easy making plant-based cheese can be. I vowed to recreate the fuss-free recipes the following week (and successfully have made them many times since!).
One of the last things I had at last year’s Veg Food Fest was a steamed bun from King’s Café. The freshly steamed dough was pillowy and light, and the vegetable filling was perfectly seasoned. I’ve wanted to try a steamed bun since discovering Mean Bao, but figured the filling couldn’t possibly be vegan. After having my first taste at Veg Food Fest, I wanted more and was amazed to find how many steamed bun options across the city were accidentally vegan.
Veg Food Fest 2018 starts this Friday (September 7th – 9th), so stop by Harbourfront Centre to celebrate all things veg!
The last time I stopped by Sweet Hart Kitchen, I got their blue lemonade and yellow lemon bar. The bright colours made for a perfect summer treat, especially knowing they weren’t full of artificial colours and flavours. They both tasted even better than they looked.
Every time I enter the shop, I spot a new and temping item. Here’s a few of their creative vegan and gluten-free creations I’ve had in the past.
This cake requires patience and precision. I know because I’ve tried to replicate it. After soaking cashews for hours on end, you’ve got to blend them until the texture is silky smooth. After avoiding cashew bits, you need to worry about matcha clumps. Too much matcha may also affect the delicate balance of flavours. Sweet Hart Kitchen’s Matcha Vanilla Cream cheesecake has the perfect combination of matcha, vanilla, and natural sweeteners.
This beautiful cake appears simple, but since it’s gluten-free I’m betting it took several attempts to perfect. As a London Fog fan, I loved this flavour.
If you’re running short on time, you can always grab Sweet Hart Kitchen to go. Warning: some treats won’t make it all the way home.