After a busy afternoon tasting hojicha and matcha in Uji, I spent the following morning relaxing among the cherry blossoms at Osaka Castle Park. The area was beautiful with plenty to see. Last time I visited the park, I went straight to the castle. However, this time I wanted to explore the quieter spots by the river.
As part of the Japanese tradition of hanami, everyone was quietly adoring the blooms. Then as soon as it got windy, people rushed to capture the petals falling to the ground known as hanafubuki.
At lunch time I made my way to Umeda district. The giant station and surrounding malls offered a variety of food options. Even with the wide selection, it was tough to find something plant-based. Since I was craving noodles, I came up with the idea of ordering Kitsune Udon without the dashi broth. I explained the reason to ensure they wouldn’t worry about my enjoyment of the dish and they kindly accommodated me. The Kitsune Udon came with udon noodles topped with flavourful deep-fried tofu, a sprinkle of seaweed shreds, and sliced green onion. Even though I’m sure other people thought it was crazy to be eating noodles without the broth, the noodles tasted amazing with a drizzle of soy sauce.
Just to be sure I wouldn’t leave hungry, I also ordered the Inari sushi. This type of sushi is usually vegan by default as it is simply rice stuffed in the same deep-fried sushi pocket that comes with Kitsune Udon. After this filling and delicious lunch, I was ready to go looking for dessert.
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.
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.
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.