As we sit at MeeT in Gastown eating sweet-chili cauliflower, Hannah Enkerlin tells me she thinks vegetarians are more evolved people than omnivores, more in touch with animals and environmental health. My guide on Vancouver Food Tour co-founded this vegan tour in 2017, after an explosion of new local vegan businesses. She’s excited to show off some of the best vegan food the city has to offer and to share vegan fun facts with tourists. For example, the world has entirely too many methane-producing cows headed for dinner plates and that the term “veganism” was coined in 1944 by a British gent named Donald Watson.
Vancouver Food Tour’s most popular offering is the Gastown Tasting Tour. Despite the recent uptick in vegan consciousness, the company gets far fewer bookings and participants on the vegan tour. Enkerlin’s average Gastown Tasting Tour routinely gets up to 30 participants. For the vegan tour, eight’s a crowd. But the company is committed to offering it and will even conduct the tour if only one person signs up.
Enkerlin, a long-time vegetarian, and company owner Carlos Gomes dreamed up the vegan tour together. They visited all the new vegan restaurants, thoroughly vetting menus to decide which dishes would be best to offer guests. Then, they put together a five-stop tour that adds up to more than enough for a filling lunch.
First stop, MeeT in Gastown. “It’s a very, very busy restaurant, no matter what day of the week,” Enkerlin said as we found a table on a rainy September afternoon. MeeT serves burgers, bowls, fries and the ultimate Canadian comfort food, poutine (French fries covered in cheese curds and gravy). If you just wandered in off the street, you might not realize it’s a vegan place, as it looks more like a hip comfort food joint. Vancouver Food Tour pre-orders the food so that it’s ready for tour-goers when they arrive.
Enkerlin told me that cauliflower is very trendy right now in Vancouver. In addition to its nutrients, it has a reputation as a cancer-fighter. Plus, when beer-battered, it’s delicious. “But MeeT has something no one else has,” she said. “Tamarind sauce.” On the tour, the appetizer comes with a small glass of beer or wine. For non-drinkers like me, you can substitute something off the menu. I opted for a ginger shrub.
After MeeT, we walked about 10 minutes through Chinatown to the vegan pizza parlor called Virtuous Pie. This fast-casual restaurant has modern, industrial decor and specializes in creatively topped, single-serving pizzas. Vancouver Food Tour’s chosen pie is the ultraviolet, which has a thin crust topped with walnut arugula pesto, cashew mozzarella, dried tomatoes, kale, caramelized onions and pine nuts. Virtuous Pie opened in 2016 as the first of a new batch of non-Chinese businesses in Chinatown. Known for its pizza and homemade ice cream, Virtuous Pie has since opened shops in Portland, Victoria and Toronto.
By this point in the tour, it feels like lunch is over, but there’s still one more entree before dessert. After another short walk, we arrived at Kokomo, also in Chinatown, which specializes in healthful vegan bowls and smoothies. Options include a coastal macro bowl and hemp Caesar salad. I chose the photogenic Nood Beach Bowl, with noodles tossed in tahini sauce, snap peas, pickled carrot, furikake, mint and green onion and topped with cilantro, sesame seeds and watermelon radish. Owner Katie Ruddell opened Kokomo in 2017. As we waited for my bowl, Enkerlin told me Ruddell built the serene, understated spot out of an old automotive garage. Now, it looks more like an upscale yoga studio. Diners sit on stools around an off-white boomerang table encircling huge indoor plants.
Next comes the highlight of the tour, at least for dessert lovers — a visit to Umaluma. This small shop makes dairy-free gelato in everything from familiar flavors, like mint chip and dark chocolate truffle, to exotic options like black sesame, drunken cherry and lemongrass kaffir. The owners use organic ingredients whenever possible. They go the extra mile by making their own nut milks, squeezing oranges or pressing espresso, depending on what the flavor in question requires. How much vegan gelato did I eat on the food tour? I don’t want to talk about it.
The tour ends at an all-vegan grocery store called Vegan Supply. Enkerlin gave me five dollars of spending money. I recognized lots of familiar products imported from the U.S., but I also discovered many Canadian brands. I asked a worker which products are local, and he just happened to be in charge of inventory. “I love to show off our stuff,” he said cheerfully, taking me on a full tour of cases and shelves. Many of the plant-based faux meats come from British Columbia, plus some prepared sauces like Golden Glop, a turmeric and cashew blend, are produced by Vancouver-based KAPOW NOW!.
The tour is a fun way to get on the inside track of vegan Vancouver, and Enkerlin, vivacious, warm and well-read, makes a fascinating guide. I hope that in the future, Vancouver Food Tour gets more “evolved” visitors who choose the vegan tour over the company’s meatier and craft beer-focused offerings.
Photography by Hannah Enkerlin and Teresa Bergen / Inhabitat