Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I Love Planet Veg!

Nevermind settling on Mars in geospheres - I'd like to live on Planet Veg!
1941 Cornwall Avenue, Kitsilano (near the beach)
But first, a little background as to why choosing vegetarian meals benefits our planet:

Vegetarianism has long been associated with environmentalism (all of us “hippies” get lumped together, I suppose!) and has recently been touted as a way to battle climate change (read article at here). 

While there are many, many fantastic reasons to kick the meat habit (like weight loss, heart and cardiovascular health, animal cruelty issues, antibiotic resistance and human pathogen concerns, awesome ethnic food choices, etc.), environmental issues are some of the most pressing. Most of the trouble with the meat industry is deforestation (usually rainforest) in order to provide more grazing land for beef and other livestock. The beef industry itself is estimated to produce 2 billion metric tonnes of CO2 emissions directly (yep, cow gas!) and another 2.8 billion tonnes in rainforest destruction (source here). 

Regardless of how you’d like to estimate or display the numbers, “Livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems” according to senior UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) official Henning Steinfeld (article here, from UN News Service website).

Vegetarianism is also a great economical option. Before vegetarianism became socially acceptable, home-maker’s magazines often featured (quietly) meatless dishes as a way to save money.

Earthsave Canada has a vegetarian directory for Metro Vancouver listing vegetarian and vegetarian-friendly restaurants in the local area, including the usual suspects like The Naam and The Foundation (both excellent choices, as is Bo Kong on Main Street or in Richmond).

Also listed is my favourite Vancouver restaurant of all time, Planet Veg, a gourmet Indo-Western vegetarian fast food joint on Cornwall by Kits Beach. I can’t promote this place enough – I don’t think I’ve eaten more often at any other restaurant in my life, and I really only started stopping by a year ago. I’m here weekly, which is also a testimony as to the affordability of Planet Veg’s menu choices and its proximity to both buses and the beach.
Planet Veg in the early morning (before the bistro tables and sandwich board)

Planet Veg began at its present location in 1997, a labour of love for Chitra Bansal to share healthy, delicious vegetarian food with others. Chitra and husband Babu are originally from Northern India, and have been running the restaurant non-stop, 7 days a week for the past 13 years. In my interview with Babu today, he admits that running a restaurant is probably more work than it’s worth, but Chitra’s drive and obvious talents have kept them going strong. 

Planet Veg has a loyal clientele (myself among them) that refer friends, but they don't advertise much which is why I'm keen to help them out. There are precious few Mom-and-Pop restaurants left in our city - just look at the chains like Nando's popping up along the same stretch. Support the worthy!

I asked Babu what they have done to lessen their impact on the environment (besides offering vegetarian fare and being small-scale and independent), and I had a hard time keeping up and jotting down all of their improvements! Eating in is obviously the best choice (stainless steel plates and platters, cutlery, etc.), but for take-outs, paper bags replace plastic ones. Gone are the Styrofoam take-out soup pots (replaced with microwaveable plastic - the next best choice). And the gelato plastic cups have been substituted for corn-based plastic ones. 

The sidewalk patio is a great place to people watch, as is the bar along the window on a non-sunny day. They have tap water in reusable cups available, a clean bathroom for pit-stops, and a mouth-watering menu that makes decision making quite the challenge! Fortunately, the friendly and approachable employees are always patient and helpful. If in doubt, go with the two most popular items – the Garden (Veggie) Burger with a Mango Lassi to wash it down.

Highlights at Planet Veg:

The Roti Rolls:
The Delhi Roll, Bombay Roll and Masala Roll are my favourites – choose your level of spiciness in these delicious, healthy and very satisfying curry wraps. Everyone I expose these wraps to love them, even the self-proclaimed ‘carnivores’ and young men between the ages of 19 and 25. Quite honestly the best wraps I’ve had anywhere, ever.

The Baked Samosas:
It might be hard to believe, but these are actually more delicious than their deep-fried cousins (and I like deep-fried!). They come in three varieties: curry potato, vegetable and spinach & tofu, the latter of which is vaguely reminiscent of and tastier than most spanakopita. 

The Tamarind Chutney:
Put it on and in everything – there’s a squirt bottle on every table. Mmm mmmm mmmm!

The Sandwiches:
Grilled Aloo (aloo = potato) and Grilled Paneer (paneer = mild Indian cheese). I have to admit that I’ve only tried these once (and loved them) because I always crave the Roti Rolls so badly. Nevertheless, these are just awesome – a better take on Panini than those of many Vancouver cafes and restaurants!

The Veggie Burgers:
The best selling menu items and what has made Planet Veg famous. Try the Garden burger (mushroom-based homemade patty) or the Mexi-burger (soy-based homemade patty). You can’t go wrong with the burger combo – you get a baked curry samosa on the side.

If you’ve never had a pakora, it’s time! India’s improvement on the French fry and onion ring and probably just about as healthy. Life’s short, indulge!

Beverages and Dessert:
Mango Lassi – traditional and very satisfying. Delicious, thin (and refreshing) mango and yogurt smoothie. Good for putting out the spice fires!
Gulab jamun – for the sweet-toothed only, this traditional Indian dessert is best described as hot TimBits in warm sugar syrup. (Pronounced “goo-Lob ja-mun”)
Mario’s Gelati – oh yeah, they have a freezer and cones! My favourite gelato in the whole of the country (maybe the world?!), Mario’s makes ridiculously tasty gelati, sorbetti and tofulati. I had 'Tiramisu' from Planet Veg this very afternoon - it made me very happy!  If you get a chance to go direct to the source (Main and East 1st), keep on the lookout for the “Italian Wedding Cake” flavour which I had once and almost died of pleasure. I think it might have been a one-time, on-a-whim creation but I’m not giving up hope yet….

Not being a Celiac (I am thankful for this everyday), I have to admit that I’ve never knowingly had a gluten-free bakery item. I figured they’d be almost, but not quite, as good as the real thing. Babu generously gave me a banana chocolate chip muffin to try. I had already decided that I would say “Yum” no matter how gross that muffin was, but I didn’t need the pre-empting. This was honestly, hand-on-heart the tastiest banana chocolate chip muffin I’ve ever had, and sadly that includes those I’ve baked myself. And it’s completely free of gluten! If all gluten-free muffins taste as good as Chitra’s, maybe I don’t have to be eternally grateful that I can tolerate gluten.

Over half of Planet Veg’s menu is (surprisingly to me) gluten-free, and there’s rumours of more menu options to come. You can even have the most popular menu item of all – the Planet Veg Garden Burger on a tasty, gluten-free bun.

Something else I'd like to mention is how accomodating they are for any allergies. I have been cursed with a sensitivity to garlic and red onions, which makes eating out insanely difficult. I have just learned to avoid either as best as possible but expect certain consequences. And yet I've never had 'issues' after eating at Planet Veg. Turns out that Chitra's recipes, like any real chef's, don't rely on garlic for flavouring. Her delicate mixtures of spices aren't only original and extremely toothsome, they also don't make me sick. I'm sharing this nugget of anti-garlic gold with my Facebook support group, the Campaign Against Garlic!

Not ready to go veg yet? Not to worry – you’re either the “quit cold-turkey” type or the “baby stepper”, and if you’re the latter, you might be interested in Meatless MondayGiving up meat for one day a week will have a positive impact on the environment and your health. You’ll be shocked at how easy (and yummy!) it is. You’ll also be delighted by the reduction of your grocery bill!

Stop by Planet Veg this Monday for dinner, or pick up a Roti Roll and a Snapple iced tea on your way to Kits Beach. Say hello to Chitra and Babu for me!

No comments:

Post a Comment