Thursday, April 28, 2016

Eating Vegan in London, Ontario (Our Road Trip)

You know darn well that any time we are travelling anywhere at all, I am googling for vegan food at our destination. Until this past weekend, it had been two decades since I'd been to London, Ontario. I got my master's degree in journalism at Western University over 20 years ago. Holy cow!

I always liked London. We walked pretty much everywhere and it was lovely to walk along the Thames River (usually to get vegetarian wraps at Sammy's Souvlaki). London is actually where my husband and I first became vegetarians. With our own apartment came the responsibility of preparing our own food. We decided then and there that we would never prepare something that had once had a face. It's different when somebody else prepares meat for you. The first time I pulled the little bag of weird stuff (giblets?) from a whole chicken I knew that eating animals wasn't for me. Fortunately my husband agreed, and we have been vegetarians ever since.

While we were in London for the weekend for my son's basketball tournament, we stopped off to take a quick photo of the house that contains our very first apartment - our apartment was in the basement, but the house is set on a hill so we had good large windows on two sides. There was a storage room outside our door. The people on the first floor kept a freezer full of meat there and one time it broke down, causing all the meat to spoil. Ironic? Perhaps.

We were new to vegetarianism then - one of my UWO classmates was a vegetarian and he suggested we get some bulk TVP - textured vegetable protein. He gave me some recipes to use it for too - we rehydrated so much TVP that year - mainly for veggie burgers and pasta sauce. (We ate a lot of soup and homemade tomato sauce.) We laugh now when we think that we used to spend about $30 or $35 on groceries each week. I honestly don't know how we did it! (Of course prices were lower, waaay back then!)

My googling led me to HappyCow's listings for London, Ontario. This cow was unhappy to discover that there was a great London vegan restaurant, Veg Out, that had closed down just a few weeks before we got to London. Crap. But never fear - there are still awesome vegan and vegan-friendly places to go in London.

After the first basketball game (they won!) on Friday night, we decided to head to Zen Gardens for dinner. We got into the car in the school parking lot, left the lot and rounded the corner. I was just beginning to put the address in the GPS. "Is it called Zen Gardens?" my husband asked. "Yeah, how did you know?" I responded. "Because it's right there," he said. Lucky.

Zen Gardens is an all-vegetarian restaurant, with many of the options being vegan. The non-vegan options are marked with symbols indicating they contain egg or dairy. We discovered when we opened up the menu that the restaurant is a sister restaurant to Toronto's King's Cafe, one of our favourite Kensington Market restaurants. We all decided to start with soup. My son and I split the most incredible vegan wonton soup. I used to love wonton soup as a kid and haven't had it often since. My daughter had miso soup with tofu and my husband had hot and sour soup.

Then we shared a few entrees, starting with this house specialty bean curd with a seaweed crust on bok choy. (The seaweed crust is under the tofu so you can't see it in the picture.) This dish is very tasty - the teriyaki-style sauce is flavourful, so I would recommend serving the bean curd over plain rice.

I can't remember the name of this dish - suffice it to say that it's a chow mein dish with tofu and mushrooms and it's outstanding!

We also had a delicious "ham" fried rice, with soy ham.

All the photos at Zen Gardens were taken with my cell phone, so they are a bit grainy, but here I am happy as a clam eating at a vegan-friendly restaurant with my daughter. My family was very patient with me that weekend, I must say. We were able to zip off to a few restaurants in between basketball games, swimming and socializing with the other team members and their families.

I kind of squished everything onto one plate and scarfed it down. So good!

The next day, in between games, we headed to The Boombox Bakeshop, a bakery and coffee shop specializing in vegan baked goods (some gluten free), including their signature cupcakes. You can place special orders for cakes and pies too.

The Boombox Bakeshop is focused on supporting local business, from local bands to locally roasted coffee, locally sourced tea and fresh organic produce from local farmers and distributors.

The shop's interior is super cool and, as you may have guessed from the name The Boombox Bakeshop, the owner is a music enthusiast! She also likes to re-paint furniture. I love the blue dresser with the glass on top, used as a station for coffee add-ins.

I had a lovely vanilla bean latte, made with coconut milk by a super friendly and helpful barista/server.

My husband was really taken with the assortment of speakers used to decorate the open counter. There was a time when we had enough large speakers to make this ourselves, but we eventually got rid of the giant speakers from the nineties!

The star of the show was, of course, the vegan cupcakes. I enjoyed my Twizzler cupcake a lot. It was sweet but not over-sweet. Isn't their takeaway box so cool too?

The work of local artists is also featured on the walls of The Boombox Bakeshop.

On Sunday, we were scheduled to play the gold/silver match in the afternoon. We stopped off at
London's newest vegan restaurant - Plant Matter Kitchen - before the game. We figured a healthy vegan smoothie was just the thing for our boy, who was a bit nervous to play a game that his team essentially knew they couldn't win. (The other basketball team they were facing was put in a lower division by mistake.)

Plant Matter Kitchen has a beautiful interior, with a sleek, exposed food preparation space on one side of the restaurant.

I believe they are not quite ready to offer a full menu yet, but they have these great $7 to-go boxes, full of healthy, tasty, organic, local, vegan foods. My daughter got a large Caesar salad with a garlicky sauce (I could tell by her breath, haha). She thought she wouldn't finish it all herself, but she did.

We didn't end up getting any of the sweets, but this V-Bomb looks interesting.

I took this healthy, vegan sushi to go, eating it in the car on the way to the game. It was fresh and tasty, but I confess I was longing for a bit of soy sauce. Salt addiction over here.

If you follow along with me on Snapchat (WomaninRealLife) you'll know that I also way over-packed (as usual) for our weekend. My husband had to carry in a big green bin full of food and my fave little Hamilton Beach blender. One of the other dads said, "You know there's a free breakfast, right?" There weren't any options I'd care to eat at the breakfast buffet though. They didn't even have fruit.

So I had a smoothie made with chocolate hazelnut milk, a banana and Vega vanilla and greens protein powder each morning. I brought along enough snacks to fill a drawer too, and some homemade trail mix. I even packed limes, a cutting board and my citrus reamer to make vodka drinks with! What can I say, I'm more content with the comforts of home.

I also had Barbara's Peanut Butter Puffins with coconut milk beverage one morning.

We swung by Western to show the kids where I went to university. All of my journalism classes were in this beautiful, historic building, Middlesex College, above. Of course the kids were too busy arguing to notice, but I enjoyed seeing the building again.

We timed our journey home well - stopping at my in-laws' house to pick up the dogs just in time for a pasta dinner! Because I always travel with meals in mind, ya know. (Oh yeah, and my son's team came away with the silver medal. They fought hard.)

How about you? Do you travel with food in mind? Have you been to London, Ontario?


  1. The food is so colourful and looks delicious. I'd consider being vegan if such food was easily available to me.

    1. Yes it's nice to have healthy options prepared by others. Makes life easier.

  2. OH Jo the food looks so good, and on a different note did u cut your hair off, and has my darling nephew gown another foot he looks as tall as your hubby

    1. Finally cut the hair, yes! And the boy has indeed grown another foot. :)

  3. That takeaway box from the bakery is the best I've ever seen! I tend to overpack on holidays, when I insist I need my blender I only end up using it once. Well done on the silver medal :D

    1. Isn't it such a cool box? Trouble is, they told me, people like to pick it up and turn it over, thus smooshing any cupcakes inside. haha. I think a lot of moms overpack. And vegans are probably worse. I used my blender a few times, so that's pretty good. ;) (Thank you on the silver medal!)

  4. Looks like it was a wonderful trip! The peanut butter puffins look yummy :)

  5. I think I would like some of the food here but not all of it :-) I actually like tofu, depending on how it is cooked. I like to bring my comfort foods from home on a trip too.

    1. I always suggest that people start with extra-firm tofu if they are new to tofu. I think the soft is harder to get used to!