Strictly Vegetarian Restaurants
- 175 52nd Street SE, Calgary
- (403) 235-6028
- Hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 11am to 10pm
- Fully licensed
- Cash, Debit, CC
- Take-out available
What was for years a fixture on the vegetarian scene in Calgary, the Anpurna was sold when its owners decided it was time to enjoy the fruits of their labour and retire. This took place at the beginning of 2007, and though the expected transfer, renovation and re-opening was expected to be accomplished within a month or two's passage, the Anpurna didn't re-open until March 2008. The new owners expanded the dining area and went to great lengths to update the décor and layout, transforming it from a simple, utilitarian dining space to a room with much potential for ambience, all in keeping with the plans they have for this strict vegetarian establishment.
The Anpurna of old was owned and run by a sweet couple who hailed from Uganda, of Indian extraction; the food reflected their heritage with subtle African influences. Today's Anpurna follows some of the food stylings, the focus being on a South Indian cuisine from provinces such as Tamil and Gujarat, as well as Goa. People came here for the Masala Dosa, a huge lentil flour crepe folded over and stuffed with a choice of curries, served with Sambar and a coconut chutney. They will not be disappointed since this is a standard offering in South India, and thus a standard bearer for the Anpurna.
What is quite striking however, is that this is a predominantly vegan restaurant, where just a handful of the dishes contain either yogourt, milk or butter, and of those all of them can be made vegan. It is recommended that the Vegan diner mention their particular needs prior to ordering; the intention at the Anpurna is to eventually label the dishes accordingly, to make the diner more comfortable in their food orders. In the interim a quick question will elicit the answers sought.
The menu is simple and straightforward, broken into sections such as Starters, Mini Meals, Dosa, Entrees and finally Desserts. All the selections per category have the same price. Starters for example, all cost six dollars, Entrees are priced at eleven dollars, and so on. The entrees indicate the province or region they are representative of, such as the Goan Vindaloo, the Tamil Thenga Satham and the Punjabi Ghee Rice. As well, everything is made fresh on the premises from scratch, though some of the foods are made in sufficient quantities due to being so labour intensive that they are frozen for use throughout the week. This is true with some of the appetizers such as the samosas, and the chutneys as well.
I can attest to the food quality being as impeccable as it was during the first incarnation of the Anpurna, having become a 'regular' there in the short time it has been open under new management. The Masala Dosa was superb with an eggplant curry nestled in its folds, and the Sambar was a great salve to my Spring 'bug'. For a Starter, we had a Tamil Platter which offered a sampling of four starter 'bites', the samosa, vada, nylon bajia and the non-vegan pakora. I have this weakness for Bajia, thinly sliced potato that is deep fried in batter and served with a chutney, and I was not disappointed. Nor was I with any of the other bites, in particular with the Vada, a lentil, spinach and rice doughnut shaped morsel that was so savoury and delicious or the Samosas. The Pakoras are made here with a dairy component in the batter generally, but we did order them specially as 'vegan', and they certainly did not disappoint.
There is a lunch buffet available as well, where one is able to sample and thrill to the exotic flavours of India's south provinces. The bread served, the Puri, is so addictive in its puffy warmth, especially when accompanied with the Chickpea Curry. Dosas are made on request, to ensure their freshness; as with crepes they can dry quickly if not attended to quickly, though here the accompaniments tend to keep that from happening.
The Anpurna is fully licensed as well, the expectation is to introduce entertainment on weekends so as to transform it into a club afterhours, where people can kick back and dance, socialise and on occasion there will also be movie nights for the Bollywood aficionados. At that point, the transformation of the Anpurna from a small family run eatery to a focal point of food and good times will be complete. Those who miss the Anpurna of old will not be disappointed in the foods served now, and those who seek something more than just a meal will also be left happy upon frequenting the 'new' Anpurna.
BUDDHA’S VEGGIE RESTAURANT
- 5802 MacLeod Trail South, Calgary
- (403) 252-8830
- Hours: Wednesday to Monday, Lunch: 11am-2pm, Dinner: 4-9pm. Closed Tuesdays.
- Cash, Debit, CC
- Take out available
This being Calgary’s second, and perhaps more familiar Chinese-style vegetarian restaurant, it is a restaurant with an amazing selection of excellent dishes, from a traditional style to a more contemporary, and even experimental style of cuisine. Buddha’s is now firmly established in their own building, having made the commitment to purchase a building with the realization of their dream-a restaurant that has been embraced by the community. Being in the business for the long haul took a lot of work, but it has paid off, after having had such a humble beginning, back in 1997.
Irene and Kam Lau are the owners of Buddha’s; they had an idea to open a restaurant that would cater to vegetarians and non alike, where anyone could come and eat without fear of being unable to find dishes they were familiar with because it was a vegetarian establishment. To do so meant adapting traditional meat-based Chinese dishes to a vegetarian format, using what has become quite familiar now, “fake” meats, usually made from soy or gluten, textured in such a way as to mimic-often quite successfully-the meats they replace. To turn their idea into reality they needed both a commitment reaching their goal, and some familiarity with that which they wanted to offer, Buddhist style Chinese fare.
Kam grew up in Hong Kong in a Buddhist environment, where his family had a Buddhist temple. From his youth he learned the ways of Buddhism, the vegetarian diet and cooking and, coupled with his talents for and mastery of this cuisine he was able to see it put to use through the germinating of this idea he shared with Irene.
The start of the dream began in the basement of another restaurant in the heart of Chinatown, the Noble Restaurant, right on Centre Street. It was an experiment, to see if there was enough of a demand for a sit-down style restaurant that specializes in Chinese vegetarian fare. After six months of being situated there, an overwhelming success, Buddhas moved away from the downtown core south, eventually getting to the point where the decision was made to purchase their own building, availing themselves of the opportunities this would entail.
From a small and simple basement space in a Chinatown restaurant they moved into their own location in 2003, on MacLeod Trail, where they could serve foods restricted only by their own imaginations.
The décor has a simple elegance that brings to mind its Chinese origins, reflecting Kam's Buddhist beliefs with the serenity one would expect from a Buddhist culture. It is very bright, with large windows looking onto the street, deceptively simple and elegant in its decoratives; the atmosphere has been maintained from its previous location(s). Clearly, dining here is an experience to be savoured, and savoured it is! Equally apparent is the fact that there can exist several Chinese Vegetarian restaurants in a city the size of Calgary, especially since they are so different in their approaches.
When I spoke with Irene, one thing became obvious, their love of food. She admits to not being the talent in the kitchen, but her love of the food ensures that the dishes served are intended to satisfy all one’s senses. Kam will not compromise on the quality of the food and, to be certain on the purity of the sauces, that they be 100% vegetarian, he makes them from scratch. No dyes, MSG, or anything artificial are used in the creating of these culinary delights! In fact, the gluten used in the various dishes is also made on the premises.
Kam is an innovator, always striving to introduce new dishes and flavours to the vegetarian palate. Buddha’s was the first to introduce the Vegetarian Ginger Beef, which wound up rating extremely high on food critic John Gilchrist’s list, better than many of the meat-based ones found elsewhere. Other standard dishes that were modified, include Lemon Chicken, Sweet and Sour Pork, and Fried Crispy Eel, among others. Each of these dishes are expertly prepared; without compromise in any detail whatsoever, including the lives of others.
Needless to say, there is a sizeable selection of dishes available for those who prefer not eating dishes that resemble meat ones. Spicy Eggplant comes to mind; it is a wonderfully spicy dish that retains the subtleties of each ingredient while melding them all with a nice spiciness.
As well, what with a continual updating of the menu, through the introduction of new dishes, there is always an opportunity for regular patrons to be asked to sample something previously unavailable. Kam likes trying new styles of foods, so it is always an adventure for those who frequent Buddha’s. They have started doing Dim Sum on Saturdays and Sundays, as a lunch event, and based on its reception, Dim Sum has become a regular feature for them. Additionally they now have a small 'store' off to the side, where people can purchase both ingredients unique to their dishes along with some prepared foods, frozen and ready for home serving.
While talking with Irene we both agreed that there is a continued, growing interest in a vegetarian diet/lifestyle; people are not only less intimidated. Or threatened by it, but many of them are now seeing the value of vegetarianism, even if only from a health perspective for the time being. Certainly the response from the public for Buddha’s bodes well for them, and for vegetarianism in general. It is such a pleasant place to dine in, the food speaks for itself and the staff is friendly and very attentive. Another sign of Buddha’s success, is that staff turnover is virtually non-existent. What restaurant can lay claim to that statement?
- 924B 17th Avenue SW, Calgary
- (403) 541-1041
- Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, open for Lunch from 11pm until 2:30pm, open from 5pm until late
- Fully Licensed
- Visa, MC, Debit, Cash
- Take out available
As of November 35th, 2004, The Coup became the latest fully vegetarian restaurant to open in Calgary, thanks to the determination and energy of its owners, Tabitha Archer and Dalia Kohen. The purpose behind The Coup, is to offer refuge from other places where meat is a fundamental part of their menus, but in a way that is non-judgmental, where the experience is positive rather than negative and preachy. There are plenty of opportunities for people to inquire about vegetarianism and more, at The Coup, by asking the staff, but this establishment is intended to be fun and funky, where a person can feel great, and relaxed, and leave feeling the same way, but sated too. In the three years of knowing one another, the commitment to realizing the opening of The Coup has been going on for fifteen months.
When entering The Coup, there is a warmth that envelopes you, with the sunlight bathing the dining area, the plants framed in wood extensions of the walls, they of a muted orange. Much thought went into the interior décor, another of Dalia’s sidelines. She has a creative flair and enjoys creating organic living spaces, as The Coup can attest!
When it came to finding a place ideal for their new project, their initial idea was to situate along 4th Street SW, among the other restaurants and cafes. Good fortune provided them with this location, as the walk-by and vehicular traffic is greater along 17th Avenue, an area undergoing another renaissance, with much new development going on.
Through their travels, and coupled with their catering backgrounds-all self taught, incidentally, T. and D. used their researching skills and experiences to create a menu of melding tastes, a global fusion of flavours, as it were. The menu is 80% vegan, with the remainder of it vegetarian. As well, they use separate pans to ensure that anything non-vegan would not taint the vegan foods. Everything is made fresh, either locally or on the premises-with one exception. That would be the organic ketchup, purchased bottled; they simply don’t have the time-yet-to make their own ketchup, though that will likely change later on…. Most of the produce is locally grown, and organic; whatever eggs are used are free run eggs as well. Desserts are either made at The Coup, by a family member-the organic pies for instance, or come from Fiascos, as in the sorbets and gelatos.
Looking at the menu, its obvious that much thought went into the foods that would be offered. Under the appetizers section, “Small Bites”, there are items such as Sushi, Yam Fries, a rather intriguing dish called “Field Trip, a platter of foods including a cashew carrot pate, lentils, lime salad greens, accompanied by a choice of 3 dips and bread, including an Armenian (non-vegan) flatbread called Lavash. The choice of dips includes Sundried Tomato Hummous, Aji(Chilean Salsa), Toasted Almond/Eggplant Dip, Sesame Yam Dip, Curried Squash, and Daal. All of these are vegan as well; those who choose can substitute the flatbread as well. Then there is also a Warmed Goat Cheese Spread with bread, to round out the selections.
For salads there are five options, including the “standard”, the Organic Greens Salad. As well, they have “War and Peas”, a soba noodle salad consisting of noodles, tofu veggies and toasted sesame seeds, the Green House Effect-a salad made from chickpeas, feta, toasted nuts, carrots and beets. Then there is the Cajun Tempeh Ceasar, with marinated tempeh with romaine lettuce bather in a Dijon nori dressing. Finally, we have a Peanut Satay Salad, with sautéed broccoli, tofu, greens and vermicelli noodles with a sweet miso dressing, an absolutely delicious lunch meal unto itself, as my wife can attest. Actually, one can request any of these dressings for their salads as well, or instead of, the Balsamic/Dijon or the Coconut Mango Lime dressings.
Main dishes include:
Falafel Quesadilla, using falafel, goat feta accompanied by veggies, tzatziki and swathed in a whole-wheat tortilla. It is served with a choice of soup, salad or yam fries.
Wok Away Veggies-a veggies and tofu stir-fry, with an orange/sesame sauce and served on a bed of basmati rice.
Curry Pasta-a tomato and pear curry, served with rotini and sliced bananas on top. Quite eclectic!
Balsamic Portobello Burger-Grilled Balsamic marinated Portobello Mushrooms,roasted peppers, caramelized onions topped with lettuce and tomatoes, with a maple Dijon sauce, nestled between a couple slabs of toasted flatbread, accompanied by soup, salad or yam fries.
Keen-wa: Roasted garlic and chickpeas, with tomatoes, spinach, Swiss chard and sesame quinoa, accompanied by flatbread.
El Taco-a taco consisting of sweet beans, avocado veggies and quinoa, rolled into a whole-wheat tortilla with an organic salsa, served with a choice of cheddar or vegan cheese.
Dragon Bowl-steamed and fresh veggies , stir fried tofu on either basmati rice or quinoa.
As well, there are daily surprises, compliments of the culinary imaginations of the chef.
Available too, is the Falafel Quesadilla, accompanied by the Organic Greens Salad, including sunflower sprouts, beets, seeds, etc, and the coconut Mango Lime Dressing. She too enjoyed a slice of the apple pie. During our lunch I had the chance to have a Pisco Sour, made from Pisco-a grape distillate typical of Chile, similar to Mexico’s Tequila. It has been sooo many years…!
Desserts served here include a npme-made Vegan Apple Pie, the Vegan Ginger Ice Cream Sandwich-a decadent throwback to the days of ice cream sandwiches, with this variation being a ginger soy ice cream sandwiched between two massive ginger cookies and the Chocolate Orange Torte, a divine confection.
Other selections offered at lunch include 3 choices of Grilled Panini, a TLT-Tofu, Lettuce and Tomato sandwich, and a Fritata, using egg of course, that changes regularly.
The Coup is the culmination of everything that Tabitha and Dalia looked for in a restaurant and, with the help of their chef, it has been born, quite successfully. Their ideas and ethics, their food preferences and décor, with the added touch of a chef who shared in their vision, who could help create foods that were not only appealing, but healthy and flavourful, what more could one ask for, of any restaurant?
- 101, 227 10th Street NW, Calgary
- (403) 984-4433
- Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-10pm
- Cash, Debit, Visa, MC
Gratitude Cafe opened in June, 2009, its mandate unique among any restaurants I have visited or dined in. Kristi Reich, the owner of Gratitude, decided that she wanted to open a venue that would show people-encourage individuals-that it is both okay and possible to pursue their dreams, and to succeed in so doing. She wanted to be able to reach people, to affect their lives in a profound and positive way, where fun would be a key component. So many people seem to have lost the art of pleasure, simple a concept it may be, where reality and inhibitions have submerged the desire for fun.
Gratitude Cafe was created with the idea that we can and should enjoy our lives without regard for whatever it is that would say otherwise. The cafe reflects this with the names given the dishes, with an interactive menu that engages the staff with the patron, and with the availability of games, along with nights dedicated to certain gatherings or themes. Friday nights are given over to Raw Food Friday, with raw food chef Kathryn Wolfe feeding and entertaining patrons. Saturday is Vegan Indian Cuisine, with Lisa Krasnow as the special chef foe the evening. Sunday morning is most intriguing, with the Sweet and Savory Vegan Brunch.
While this is the mantra of Gratitude, the foods prepared here are taken most seriously, with the emphasis being on it being vegetarian, with 50% of the dishes either available as vegan, or can be made so on request. There are also Raw Food selections to reflect the increasing interest in this lifestyle, and no tofu is used in the making of any of the dishes served here-perhaps a first for a vegetarian restaurant to make such a claim. As well, there is no microwave oven on the premises, and they use almond milk rather than the traditional soy milk here.
The menu is divided into categories such as Grateful For You: breakfast fare, I Am Hungry: 'traditional' appetizers and light meal options, I Am Very Hungry: for those who want something heartier, and for dessert, I Am Still Hungry. Selections range from salads and soup, through to pasta and burritos and sandwiches too. Best would be to check the menu on the website, although some samples include a vegetarian sushi, the I Am Thrilled, the I Am Sharing, the vegan pizza, or the I Am Filled, the vegan chili with a salad. Desserts feature a raw vegan cheesecake, the I Am Treasured, something I will be sampling very soon I expect!
Gratitude Cafe is proud to feature a wine list comprised entirely of organic along with some vegan wines. Many wines still use animal based filtering agents, such as isinglass or bone matter. Organic wines, not to mention 'vegan' ones, are still hard to find even as they are a growing part of the wine industry, so Gratitude is to be applauded for seeking out a rather impressive selection of such wines.
When visiting Gratitude Cafe, make a point of engaging Kristi in conversation, to discover all the wonderful aspects of this cafe, from the organised evenings of games and such, or the nights given to camaraderie with different groups and themes. Consider Gratitude a sanctuary for the soul and the stomach...
- 3250 60th Street NE, Calgary
- (403) 280-7373, (403) 280-7374
- Open from 7 days a week, 10:30am to 10:30pm
- Cash, Debit, Visa
- Take out and catering avaialable
J’s Pizza has been open since April 2003, at least, this strictly vegetarian location. It is run by Prit and Kulwinder Gill, as a family enterprise, and is part of a small chain of pizza places. There is one other of the chain that is strictly vegetarian, and that is in Abbotsford, British Columbia.
J’s is what is known as a “two-for-one” style of pizza place, where take-out is the general stock of trade, although there are a few tables where one can dine in as well. One can order two of their ready listed pizzas of the same set price, or custom order pizzas based on the ingredients options. The selections already available are quite interesting, and exciting to the palate; one can order them at varying degrees of “heat” or spiciness, as befits one’s inclinations and stamina. Some of those listed include:
Paneer Special: Paneer, Mushrooms, Onions, Green Peppers and Fresh Tomatoes.
Homestyle Special: Mushrooms, Onions, Green Peppers, Cilantro, Ginger , Cheddar Cheese.
We sampled these two, and came away very impressed, especially with the added piquancy of Indian seasonings, on request. I chose a medium spice, and was not disappointed; I can’t really think that either pizza was better than the other, since the ingredients were sufficiently different, but the Homestyle was slightly more spicy, likely because of the addition of ginger.
Other pizza selections listed are: Vegetarian: Olives, Mushrooms, Pineapple, Onions, Green Peppers and Fresh Tomatoes.
Taco Style: Tangy Salsa, Onions, Sour Cream, Fresh Lettuce, Fresh Tomatoes and Cheddar Cheese.
Greek; Black Olives, Onions, Tomatoes, Feta and Mozzarella Cheeses, Tomato Sauce.
Hot Mexican: Onions, Green Peppers, Jalapenos, Chili Peppers, Banana Peppers, Sauce.
Their menu list offers a rennet-free cheese but no soy cheese option, so for one to dine as a vegan one simply orders a cheese-free pizza. Of the cheeses available, there is also the Indian cheese Paneer, both freshly made on the premises, or store bought, depending on whether they’ve run out. One item they offer, outside of pizza, is a Paneer Pakora, which is, for those unfamiliar with the term “pakora”, is a deep-fried paneer cheese, in an Indian style seasoned wheat flour coating.
As well, J’s sells a variety of Indian Sweets, all of them made on the premises, thus retaining a freshness in flavour and texture. They have quite a good selection of Gulab Jamom(cooked in a ball shape, of milk powder, and drenched in a sugar syrup) and Burfis, both of which are made from milk-or powdered milk, flour and sugar. The Gulab Jamom comes in coconut, regular(traditional brown) and a version stuffed with Khoa. The Burfis, similar to fudge, comes in Mango, Chocolate, Coconut, Plain, Khoa, Cashew and Basin flavours, with a more subtle degree of sweetness, tempered by the milk ingredients.
They also have the traditional Indian Sweet, which looks like a shiny orange rope or tubing, all twisting and incredibly sweet. Its made from flour and sugar, is then fried and dipped in syrup. Makes a person’s teeth positively sing, they do. As well, I discovered a most amazing sweet, made from the flesh of pumpkins, called Patha. I sampled a box of it, and it brought to mind a candy I’d once had from Mexico, rich, intensely sweet yet tasty, with a distinctly crisp texture to its translucent appearance.
Given the fact that they also have available homemade Indian sweets, a large segment of their clientele is East Indian, but it isn’t at all their sole source of customers; they do also serve the typical pizza eater, where the opportunity to sample traditional style or exotic pizzas exists. For this reason, J’s has never really looked back since opening, they have found there is more than sufficient demand for a pizza establishment that caters to a vegetarian market.
The intention, therefore, is to build on their popularity, by adding more Indian dishes, easy finger foods such as chapattis, and curries in the future; it is likely that there will be a much greater selection there once the book is published.
UP THE ROAD VEGETARIAN, VEGAN AND ITAL CAFE
- 105, 4908 17 Avenue SE, Calgary
- (403) 452-7667
- Hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 11am–10pm; Sunday, noon–7pm
- Cash, Debit, Visa
- Take out available
Opening up May 22nd 2009, Up The Road seems a little misplaced, to be located in Forest Lawn. At least, at first glance until one remembers that not only is 17th Ave SE a strong blue collar district but it is also very ethnic, with a variety of communities and cultures living and working side by side; in that respect Up The Road is a perfect fit for International Avenue, with its Ital style vegetarian and vegan cuisine.
Ital means 'pure' in Jamaican slang, and thus, Ital cuisine is unprocessed, organic fare that comes from the earth, predominantly vegetarian or vegan especially. At Up The Road, the food is entirely vegetarian, mostly vegan, other than pizza, which can be ordered with either soy or real cheese, and a few other dishes that currently use butter in the recipes. Elizabeth Stanley, the propietress, felt it more important to focus on opening up her restaurant and to get established before beginning to alter her dishes so as to be virtually entirely vegan.
Elizabeth is Nicaraguan and vegetarian, and her husband Lemuel is from St. Vincent, a Rastafarian vegan. The decision to open a restaurant, was based on the desire to make available a cuisine not common to Calgary, that of Rastafarians, and the Caribbean. Being strictly vegan, Lemuel and Elizabeth too felt it important to be able to have a restaurant where the cooking implements aren't tainted by other foodstuff; here one can feel safe in the knowledge that nothing has that taint. The selection here is deceptive in the number of dishes posted on the chalkboard, but they are wonderfully savoury and hearty, cooked mild for the Canadian palate, but with a variety of hot sauces on hand for those seeking that 'bite' so typical of the traditional fare.
Elizabeth creates from her own recipes, and the rice of the day can range from a basic steamed rice, to fried, a pilau style, or perhaps even a rice and pea, as an accompaniment to one of the main selections. She will stray as it suits her, using at times, Pigeon Peas, a variety of green peas that is much 'meatier' than the sweet ones we are used to, such as the Congo Pea, or even the Black Eyed Pea.
Her entrees include, as mentioned, Personal-size Pizzas, Kebabs with marinated tofu and fruit and veggies, a Tofu Plate, chunks of tofu cooked in a wonderful sauce with veggies, a dish that is similar but using soy chunks and a different sauce, and of course a dish of Peas. The day I was there I sampled her Congo Peas on steamed rice, with the Tofu Plate and the Soy Chunks. They were indeed excellent and very nourishing. Available too are the Tofu French Toast and Vegetarian Crepes.
The Ital Stew was unavailable then, but it too promises to be superb, in its exotic flavours and textures. This is one of her signature dishes, and it is definitely recommended, for those seeking the tastes of the Caribbean.
She makes 3 different kinds of Patties, soy, tofu and apple, currently vegetarian, and for dessert Elizabeth recommends either the Slice, either coconut or raisin, vegetarian, or the Sweet Bread, a vegan treat. To top the meal off she makes too a Peanut Punch, which sounds perfect, to capture the flavours of the islands....
Elizabeth is intent on branching out further as Up The Road becomes more established, by starting up a catering business as well, to cater to functions; she is often found at the annual Reggae Festival, with her booth of wondrous foods...
Definitely worth visiting over and over again.
- 303 Centre Street SW, Calgary
- (403) 294-0626
- Hours: Open every day except Sunday, 10:30am-8pm
- Cash only
- Take out available including some frozen fake meats
The Veggie House fast became a favourite restaurant of ours, shortly after they opened in 1990-91. It was a mixture of surprise and delight upon discovering that there was now a pure vegetarian Chinese restaurant in Calgary, and in Chinatown as well! The Veggie House is located in a food court, and the ambience is casual, as reflected by its surroundings. The consequence to such a location of course, is that the food is inexpensive, much more so than traditional Chinese restaurants, in fact.
It has undergone a number of changes, not the least of them being in ownership, with the Veggie House now owned and operated by Jimmy and Jenny, his wife. They bought the Veggie House from Mandy Chow and her husband, daughter of the original owner.
The menu selection is quite large, and plans are underway to introduce some Taiwanese cuisine to the public, who are not as familiar to it. In the interim the menu had expanded over the years, and in my humble opinion, there is not one dish here I can honestly say I do not enjoy!
The Veggie House is predominantly Vegan, with a few exceptions that do allow for alternatives to make them Vegan. Typically, Chinese fried rice often contains egg, but for those who do not want egg included it is a simple matter of asking that egg not be included. As for some of the noodles used, specifically the “chow mein” variety, they will happily substitute them with rice noodles. Most commercially and/or traditionally made chow mein noodles contain egg, so there is often little choice for Chinese restaurants that include chow mein on their menus. As well, Buddhists shun vegetables such as onions and garlic, the belief being that the consumption of such vegetables makes one aggressive in spirit, so the dishes that contain such root vegetables can be made without them.
In the appetizers section there are a number of selections available, such as the Deep-Fried Spring rolls-a tasty dish with 8 mini spring rolls that have a taste and consistency I liken to breaded butterfly shrimp. There is also the Stuffed Tofu Rolls, made as one would, spring rolls but using sheet tofu rather than a dough-based wrap. Then there is something called the Deep Fried Taro Root, which is a rolled dough and taro root paste, sliced and then fried, served with a sweet and sour sauce. One can also order mini springrolls, exactly what it sounds like, or the now favourite of ours, their version of Sausage, sheet tofu rolled up, deep fried and then sliced and served with sweet and sour sauce.
The Veggie House has become well-known for its gluten “combo plate”, with its quality comparable to that which is found in Hong Kong. At this point the Chinese Grocery Store T and T is selling their gluten at the deli/sushi counter, and at the BBQ shop, both located in the Pacifica Mall, formerly known as Franklin Mall, on 36th Street NE. This dish is available in two sizes, as well as being served on a bed of steamed rice.
The menu is broken into categories just as with any other restaurant, including appetizers, rice dishes, noodle dishes which, as mentioned earlier, can be ordered with rice noodles if desired, hotpots, and specialty vegetarian dishes. Rice dishes are either of the fried variety, or are dishes of steamed rice as a bed for other delicacies, such as their Ginger Beef, or the Vegetable and Bean Curd Ball on Rice. The Salted Fish Fried Rice as well as the Veggie Ham and Pineapple Fried Rice are standouts, the latter having a nice smoky flavour to it.
Noodle dishes available include Chow Meins, Vermicelli style rice noodle, such as the Singapore Curry Rice Noodle, and the Shanghai style of thick rice noodles, some which feature veggie meats while others are stir fried with chinese vegetables in different sauces. A delicious example that comes to mind is the Veggie Beef in Satay Sauce.
Soups run the gamut of traditional style chinese soups, from the Won Ton and Shark Fin soups, to their version of Hot and Sour Soup, as well as a good selection of Congee, essentially mashed cooked rice in a thin broth accompanied by a variety of options such as corn, 'meatballs' and more. These are mildly flavoured, well enhanced by the addition of some hot sauce, to one's own taste. I love coming for a huge bowl of noodle soup on a cold wintry afternoon, or the Hot and Sour if it particularly crisp outside.
The 'signature' dishes here include such standards as Ginger Beef, Sweet and Sour Pork, both made from soy, as well as a wonderful Chicken with Cashews, the spicy Mah Poh Tofu, and this perennial favourite of ours, the Veggie Beef and Green Bean in a Black Bean Sauce. A recent addition would be the Sweet Rib, strips of gluten deep fried in a rich molasses and ginger style sauce served on lettuce, and one would be remiss to mention the Salt and Pepper 'Eel', made from ribboned mushroom caps, deep fried then cooked with green peppers and mushrooms.
For the premium dishes there is again a great variety available, especially with respect to hotpots, the Curried Lamb Hotpot being a regular at our table. The curry is sufficiently mild so as to not scare anyone away, its rich and creamy flavour perfect for serving atop any rice threatened with being ignored. Other dishes include Sizzling Rice, along with a couple that require pre-ordering due to they being fairly labour intensive.
As well, the Veggie House has available a variety of frozen products, such as frozen “prawn”, mutton, etc, for those who would like to utilize them in home cooking, again very reasonably priced.
That there is a consistency in quality of the food, is attributable to the fact that the succession of owners and chefs originates within the family, so the recipes and the techniques behind the cooking have been transferred through the family lineage. Everyone here is gracious and very friendly, and more than willing to accommodate everyone’s requests.
When dining there, the flavors of the dishes allow one to forget that they are in a food court in a mall in Chinatown, instead causing one to think exotic thoughts to compliment the flavors being enjoyed.
WHITE OAK II RESTAURANT
- Far East Shopping Mall - 132 3rd Avenue SE, Calgary
- (403) 263-8993
- Hours: Tuesday and Wednesday 10am-7pm, Thursday-Sunday 10am-8pm
- Cash, Debit
- Take-out available, including the purchasing of frozen foods
Walking through the Far East Shopping Mall one is confronted by a number of shops, each of them typifying the experience of being in the orient; there are floral shops and gift shops. A jewelry shop, a butcher and of course a produce store. In and amongst all these are a number of restaurants, some of them institutions, known for seeming eons, and others, recent arrivals.
The White Oak II, is one of the now fairly recent arrivals, having had its beginnings in the Fall of 2005. When approaching it from the entrance of the Mall, it seems like an add-on, having simply walled off a small section of the Mall’s concourse and claiming that as a dining area. From what I’ve been told, this is quite authentic to Vietnamese businesses, where they situate themselves wherever they may. So, from the point of view of reality, the White Oak II succeeds. The reason why it is given the ‘II’ designation, is that prior to its incarnation, there was another ‘White Oak’, on the 8th Avenue Mall, that was a more eclectic food place, offering all and sundry to the lunch crowd. In fact, the first location was intended as a means of subsidizing the White Oak II, at least until it was sufficiently established, that the owners, Kim and Loi, could focus their energies on the newer location. They closed the first location much quicker than anticipated, due to the great response to their Buddhist style Vietnamese and Chinese cuisine.
Loi, husband to Kim, has been the mainstay of the kitchen up until the Fall of 2006, when his health became an issue, but he has since returned, though at a decreased capacity. He used to cook at a few local Chinese restaurants when, between he and Kim, the decision to open their own restaurant was made. Initially, the menu was made up mostly of cross over dishes, where traditionally meat-based entrees were adapted to the vegetarian palate. There were, and still are, dishes that are vegetarian in origin, but the incorporation of formerly meat-based ones has worked well for them too-and with the patrons, myself included.
The vast majority of their menu is vegan-only where some of the fake meats are the kind that contain whey powder will one find the compromise. A simple question to Kim will ensure the purity of the plate. The menu is divided into Vietnamese and Chinese sections, to make it easier to make selections based on ethnic origins-if that is one’s desire. We don’t-simply because we love everything we’ve had there, but for the aficionados of one style or the other, it simplifies the choosing process.
On the Vietnamese side there is a healthy selection of rice bowls-known as Com, and noodle bowls-known as Bun, as well as two different kinds of salad rolls, along with soups, known as either Canh or, in the case of the rice noodle soups, Kho.
The appetizers, either the Salad Rolls, or the Spring Rolls are fabulous. Of the Bun that I’ve sampled, I love the ones that have cut up spring rolls an a bed of rice vermicelli, as well as the sautéed meats and veg on vermicelli. Outside of the items mentioned earlier, they also have three different stir fries, two on rice noodle, one being the Veggie Beef, the other Satay Beef, and also the Stir Fried Vegetables with ‘Meat’ on crispy noodles.
Of the Com, that is, steamed rice dishes, I find that they are also quite excellent though I usually order the Lemongrass ‘Fish’ on its own since I usually also have a fried rice dish from the Chinese side of the menu-something easily accommodated here. Due to the amount of preparation required, the Kho-both of them, and the Cari Chay-curry with veggie meat on vermicelli, are only available on Saturdays and Sundays.
Going to the Chinese selections, the choices for appetizers is more extensive, ranging from Spring Rolls and Deep Fried Shrimp and Deep Fried Won Ton, to Taro Root Rolls, Vegi Oyster and Homemade Dumplings, as well as the Bean Curd Sheet Roll. The oysters, made principally from eggplant are very juicy and quite similar to the real thing. The shrimp, a perennial fave of mine, is superb and inexpensive, as is everything here. Another dish that is listed among the appetizers, that definitely bears noting, is the recently added Dry Rib, formerly a badly kept secret dish-which most people ordered. Where the other appetizers are all generally deep fried, the Dry Rib is first deep fried then stir fried with spice, sprouts and peppers, yielding a most delicious and addicting start of every meal had there….
Noodle dishes are also quite good, with different sauces making for successful experiences. The Fukien Chow Vermicelli has a rich brown sauce to accompany the veg, ‘meats’ and noodles, and of course there is a good selection of shanghai style noodle dishes, along with chow mein dishes, using the eggless style of chowmein noodles.
For rice dishes the BBQ Pork Fried Rice is ahem, to die for-ironic since no animals died for this version, and also there is the Salted Fish and Vegi Chicken Fried Rice-another hit.
Apart from these dishes there is a good choice of soups, ranging from the traditional Won Ton, Wor Won Ton and Hot and Sour Soup, to the Lo Hon Veggie soups, among others.
Topping off the Chinese section is a grouping of dishes served on steamed rice, such as the Lo Hon Mixed Veggies, Cha Cheung Tofu, Shredded Ginger Gluten, Sour Mustard and Veggie Sausage, and the Grilled Veggie Sausage. All of these can be ordered without the steamed rice if one is already having a rice dish, should one feel that too many rice dishes isn’t a good thing.
Kim and Loi have been looking at moving to a location that will remove them from the glare of Mall activity, with real walls and an ambience more befitting the foods. Being Buddhist, the serenity of the experience is missed, so they would like to bring that to the diners, as well as to themselves. There are Buddhist cards and books along the shelves there, and some nice visuals on the walls to bring a sense of the Vietnamese life to downtown Calgary. It is working, evidently, since they haven’t really had to look back since opening the White Oak II.