By Barbi Lazarus, Donor and Volunteer Resources Coordinator
Yes, I’m going to say it again. It’s really clear and obvious that vegetarianism has hit some sort of tipping point and Toronto is one the best examples of the increasing visibility and popularity of vegetarian options in the dining world. Want proof? Savour Toronto, a local company that does walking food tours of Toronto’s best restaurants, approached us last year for assistance creating the first vegetarian walking tour in the city.
Savour Toronto has now run three of their popular Vegecursion tours which takes attendees to five vegetarian hot-spots (including the TVA Resource Centre!), and I was giddy as can be when they invited me along for a complimentary tour at the end of April. It was, of course, delicious. What else would you expect from Toronto which we all know has no shortage of supply of incredible vegetarian restaurants? I was expecting a little bite size sample at each of the stops and was surprised by the wide and large variety of different items we got to try!
The first stop was Thomas Lavers. There was a spread of fresh baguettes to dip into mushroom pate and spicy chili oil, along with a big plate of different pickled products to try including pickles (duh), as well as spicy vegetables and kimchi. We were also treated to their famous vegan bahn mi and reuben sandwiches which made me feel just darn silly for having never yet taken the short walk over to grab one for lunch. I know where my first stop will be when the weather finally warms up!
At the Samadhi Tea House we had an absolutely enormous cocoa truffle, which was so creamy and decadent. I had to resist picking up an extra one on my way out, knowing we still had three stops to go. We popped up to the TVA Resource Centre, where other attendees had a chance to scope out the library and bookstore, learn a bit more about TVA and meet some of our resource centre volunteers.
Then we headed downstairs to Vegetarian Haven. The question I receive as often as the “where do you get your protein?” one that vegetarians complain about, is “Oh you must eat at Vegetarian Haven every day if you work at TVA!”. Well, despite the fact that I am tempted to dine at Veg Haven often, I never tire of the food and was as always, floored by their amazing dumplings and sizzling seitan we received when we arrived. The omnivore sitting across from me just went on and on about how much he enjoyed it too.
By the time we got to Grasslands I was surprisingly full (those who know me well, or even a little bit, know that is no small feat!) but my appetite came back when the beautiful food was presented to us. Classic bruschetta with a vegan goat cheese and balsamic drizzle on top, followed up by huge plates of fried “chicken” and roasted potatoes, and finished with an incredibly soft and warm chocolate cake surrounded by strawberries and various syrups. It’s hard to describe just how great it all tasted and how gorgeous the plating was.
What I wasn’t expecting of the tour was to learn such fascinating information about the history of vegetarianism, vegetarian food and even some of my favourite restaurants. Tour leader Neil told us Shing Tong and Jack Li’s (of Vegetarian Haven) stories about how and why they opened the restaurant and how it has changed into the landmark it is today. I learned that seitan is not in fact a modern western creation to replace meat but that it has been around in Asian cultures for thousands of years! I also learned that the term vegan was coined in 1944, just one year before the Toronto Vegetarian Association was founded in 1945!
What was great about being on the tour was not only my own enjoyment of the food and the facts, but also seeing the excitement and interest of others on the tour. Ten years ago, would a tour like this have been so successful? I’m not sure. But now there is no question. People in this city, and others, are excited about vegetarian food and are delighted to indulge in the wonderful options this city affords us. I can’t wait to see what Savour Toronto comes up with next!