Sunday, February 26, 2012

Vegan Adventures in Boston: Friendly Toast and Kam Man Asian Market

Today I went up to Boston to see a friend of mine from college that I haven't seen in YEARS. It was really nice to see her, and we ended up having a lovely meal at a cute little breakfast place called "A Friendly Toast" in Kendall Square. The restaurant has has a nice youthful atmosphere, quirky decorations, and a lime green wall so bright I'm pretty sure gives you vitamin C by looking at it. I also love the fact that "A Friendly Toast" has kind of a double meaning, in that the establishment sells both actual breakfast toast, and brunch cocktails. So you really can get brunch and get crunk at the same time.

The restaurant is definitely not all vegan, or even all vegetarian, but it has enough of a selection that omnivores, vegetarians, and vegans should all find something satisfying. The staff was really nice, so I am sure that reasonable substitutions would be accommodated easily as well. However, I went with a straight menu item called the "Vegan Valhalla"* wrap (how much do you love that?!). And, in all seriousness, I was not disappointed. The wrap was a savory nutritional powerhouse consisting of a flour tortilla filled with portobello mushrooms, sesame-baked tofu (yum!), brown rice, baby spinach, olive oil, green onions, and tahini dressing. Don't you just feel like you got a good meal reading that? It also came with some really good spicy sliced potato home fries. The olive oil in the wrap was admittedly a little excessive, and my hands got kinda greased up while I ate. But it was totally worth it. I think I understand the word "umami" better now that I've eaten this sandwich.

*Is it insanely ironic that the word Valhalla was taken from the old Norse Valhöll meaning "hall of the slain"? I mean, vegans are a pretty anti-slay sort of group right? Friendly Toast has lots of creative names for their food and cocktails, but this one was a real "thinker"...

After some well-enjoyed catch-up time with my friend, I headed for home and she headed for the airport. Almost by accident, I took a turn off the road on my way back to the highway, and ended up in the Back Bay Shopping Center. I drove toward the back of the center's parking lot and got very excited to discover the Kam Man Farmer's Market. It isn't really a farmer's market per se, but it was a really nice semi-diverse (though largely asian-focused) grocery store. I wandered around the sizable square-footage for a couple of hours looking at everything. There were many items you'd find at a large chain grocery store (Oreo's, Pringles, etc), but there was also a nice hispanic foods section, and even a few Caribbean food offerings. I was excited to find some fruit and vegetable offerings (as well as lots of other items) that I've never heard of. Grass jelly, anyone? FYI pictures on the packaging make it look like black jello...

Anyway, one of the best surprises at the Kam Man market was the pretty huge selection of vegetarian and vegan meat substitutes in the frozen section. There were all sorts of imitation seafood, chicken, pork, beef, and other assorted offerings, including sizable cylinders of vegetarian "ham" and bean curd molded to look like fish, complete with seaweed "skin" and "scales." Some of the more processed items like the faux fish made into battered and fried "filets" were kind of on the pricey side, but might make a really nice special occasion purchase for those who miss their seafood. Word to the wise though, definitely still scour your nutrition labels, because many of these items, while truly meat-free, still contained dairy ingredients. Some items like the faux "lamb chunks" were specifically labeled as vegan, but I can't help but read labels at all times, because you never know what someone else's definitions of "vegan" might be. There was some "100% meatless" imitation shark fin on another aisle that was made entirely of animal gelatin.

Anyway, I came home with a number of goodies, including oyster-free oyster sauce, canned jackfruit (because the Veganize This book has some recipes calling for it), some glutinous rice balls filled with peanut-butter, egg-free wonton wrappers, matcha powder, and a really great-looking selection of teas. The plain faux fish also made the trip back to RI. It actually had religious symbols on the package which I assume to be the Buddhist version of kosher certification. I was told once that wearing Buddhist beads in an asian country will help you to communicate your cruelty-free preferences at a restaurant. Has anyone experienced success with this method?

But all-told, it was a wonderful day, and I look forward to cooking up lots of new flavors in the near future. Score 1 for veganism today in the Northeast!

Enjoy the rest of your weekend all!

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