It’s so nice to discover that a friend you haven’t seen for ages is in town. A few days ago I received an email saying “I’m here, let’s hang out!” from Amy, a tree planter I used to cook for and have kept in touch with over the years. The last time I saw her was July of 2011, when we’d finished the season and were both pondering the next stage of our lives. We hugged, said “see ya when I see ya,” and headed back into the real world. Neither of us expected the next time we’d “see ya” would at Spicy Vegetarian Cuisine in Richmond!
This restaurant is located just south of Aberdeen Mall, and practically hugs the Canada Line. In other words, it’s very easy to get to. Amy and I showed up right at 5:30pm when it opens, and received some of the friendliest service I’ve had in my 56 days of dining. The server was all smiles, and willing to help as we struggled with our order. It was really hard to choose, with the process slowed down tremendously by the 12 months we had to catch up on. One thing we noted was that many of their dishes include imitation chicken, pork, ham, and more. Clearly, many of their customers who gave up meat still miss it.
We settled on the avocado salad with cashews and ginger lemon dressing ($9.99); the pearl pumpkin soup ($7.50); the diced tofu with red peppers and cashews ($11.50); the stir-fried thick noodles with shredded vegetables; and the sweet ginger dumplings ($6.50).
The salad was a large portion of lightly dressed greens, surrounded by an entire avocado and topped with tomatoes and cashews. We were happy with it, and IT FELT SO GOOD TO EAT SALAD. Although the menu doesn’t say so, this dish is also vegan!
Our next course – the pearl pumpkin soup – was also healthy and light. The pureed squash was mildly seasoned – so mild in fact, that on first spoonful I thought it might be bland. The soup’s pure, sweet taste ended up hooking us both, however, and we dished up bowl after bowl.
The ‘pearls’ in it were fresh corn kernels, which added a summer-y texture and flavour. I think if you asked them to leave the swirl of cream off the top, this dish might also be completely animal product-free, though of course you’d have to ask.
Next up was the diced tofu with red pepper and cashews, which our server had told us is one of their most popular dishes. And for good reason! It was spicy, with crunchy zucchini, carrots, crispy fried tofu, cabbage, chili, and what appeared to be imitation fried pork.
The ‘pork’ actually tasted surprisingly like the real thing, which was kind of strange. This was our favourite of the main dishes, and I’d definitely recommend it.
Our second main was the stir-fried thick noodles, with shredded vegetables. The menu listed them as “Shed Vegetables,” and it took us awhile to make the connection. Embarrassingly, I was entertaining ideas of shed vegetables meaning foods that can be kept in cold cellars (or sheds) and the possibility of mistranslation didn’t even occur to me. Amy figured that one out, and I felt mighty dumb! This dish was ok, but the flavours weren’t strong enough, especially in comparison to the spicy tofu. I liked the crunch of the bean sprouts and texture of the thick noodles, but wished it had more of an obvious umami flavour.
For dessert, we had the sweet ginger rice dumplings.
They came swimming in a gingery broth, and were made from the same glutinous rice dough as the peanut dumpling I had from Mega Bakery. They’re all about texture – a chewy one! They were filled black sesame paste and chopped peanuts, and while entertaining to eat, I probably wouldn’t order them again. I just haven’t come to crave this kind of thing yet.
They also offer a sweetened walnut soup which intrigued us, but it must be ordered a day in advance. At the end of the meal, we started chatting with a mother and son at the table next to us, and they let us in on a little secret; at Spicy Vegetarian Cuisine, they sometimes offer complimentary desserts, usually fruit in the summertime and sweet, hot soups in the winter. I’m not sure if it’s because they asked, or if they were just offering it to every table, but we ended up with a plate of fresh watermelon! It was a refreshing and congenial way to end the meal.
Both for vegetarians and vegans, I’d highly recommend this restaurant. Vegans, of course, should check with servers about what they order, but I’m confident there’s a number of things on the menu that are completely animal-free. It has a convivial atmosphere (the place filled up quickly after 6pm, mostly with groups sharing food around packed tables), and was one of the friendliest places I’ve been to so far. It’s also a great choice if you’re not in the mood for really heavy food, which is especially common at the height of summer.
In honour of this warm, fruit-filled season, here’s a recipe (vegetarian, not vegan!) from blogger Valeria Necchio. She’s a fellow UNISG-alumna whose blog My Life Love Food is filled with achingly-beautiful photographs and prose. This is her recipe for Raspberry Almond Basil Cake which, in my opinion, is the baked-goods equivalent of summer. And guess what – it’s gluten-free!
Thanks to Amy for the visit, and thanks to Valeria for sharing. See ya when I see ya.
Raspberry Almond Basil Cake
2 1/2 cups almond flour
1 1/2 T baking powder
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, plus more for dusting the cake
2 T finely chopped fresh basil
1 1/4 cup natural greek yogurt
2 cups (fresh or frozen) raspberries
1 teaspoon large grain salt (I used Maldon)
Preheat oven to 400° F. Grease and flour an 11-inch tart/pie pan. Combine the almond flour, baking powder, sugar and basil in a large bowl. In a separate medium bowl whisk together the eggs and the yogurt. Pour the wet mixture over the dry mixture and stir until just combined – do not over mix. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it evenly. Drop the berries across top and push them down lightly into the batter. Sprinkle with some more sugar and the salt. Bake for about 30 minutes or until the cake is cooked through (a toothpick in the center should come out clean). Remove and cool on a rack before serving.