A few weeks ago, I escaped a windy afternoon in Toronto by joining our friend Gabby at Hibiscus Cafe in Kensington Market.
It was the first time I had ever been (as there is often a line-up to get a seat, which is always bittersweet for me when it comes to veg restaurants). The menu at Hibiscus is gluten-free, vegetarian, and organic.
Gabby and I sat by the window, which was lovely as even in the fall a lot of light comes in.
It’s very unusual for me to order a salad — I’m not much of a salad person, and I had actually wanted to go to Hibiscus after seeing someone post a photo on Instagram of their vegan dulce de leche crepe — but when I read the description for Hibiscus’ salad I made my decision.
The ingredients listed on their menu are just the tip of the iceberg for this 42-ingredient salad. FOURTY-TWO. I ordered it with a side bowl of their butternut squash soup. At $12.50 I definitely felt that I had received my money’s worth.
She ordered the vegan mozzarella, tomato, basil, spinach, and mushroom crepe, which was also delicious.
I completely understand why Hibiscus is such a popular spot now. The staff was knowledgeable and friendly, and despite its popularity, I felt as though Gabby and I had plenty of space to ourselves.
I can’t wait to go back this winter for something sweet and comforting (I’ve got my eye on the chocolate hazelnut crepe)!
I learned about Bareburger back in February, and despite living only a few minutes away (walking) it has taken me half a year to get out and try it! Unsurprisingly, I’m glad I did.
Bareburger is not a vegan restaurant, although it has some great, clean-eating, completely vegan options. Their restaurant is organic and GMO-free with salad and burger options. They have three types of vegan patties (sweet potato & wild rice, black bean, and quinoa), which I believe most of my plant-based friends would find incredible, considering many burger joints have questionable veg options at best.
(By the way, if you’re Gluten-Free, they also clearly mark all of their GF meals on their menu)
I ordered their Farmstead burger which features their sweet potato & wild rice patty, cauliflower hummus, tomatoes, and baby kale, all wrapped in a collard green (they have vegan buns too but Lord knows I love my dark leafy friends).
And while I rarely order side-dishes, I decided to order a small jar of sweet pickles for my friend and I to share. They also have dill and spicy pickles, claimed to be a 101-year-old family recipe.
I would definitely go again. Everything was made with fresh, clean ingredients at an affordable price for eating out (my burger was $11.25). Next time, I’ll have to snap a picture of their other vegan burger the Guadalupe (a blackbean burger with red onion, tomatoes, sprouts, and guacamole on a sprout bun)!
I’m the first to admit that I haven’t a clue when it comes to gluten.
So, Steph and I have turned to our friend Gabby from the Veggie Nook to answer all of our gluten-related questions. Gabby and I met in Marni Wasserman’s Food Studio and got along instantly. She’s a student at the Institute of Holistic Nutrition in Toronto and her blog is full of suggestions for healthy, vegan, and gluten-free recipes (and mega food porn!). Check out our interview below:
Okay first thing’s first: What is gluten, exactly, and what are some of the most surprising sources of it?
Gluten is simply a protein found in wheat and other grains. Any protein carries the risk of allergy and immune reactions, and gluten is a particularly problematic one. Gluten is found in many surprising places like soy sauce, salad dressing, processed luncheon meats, broths, breading and coating on things like fries as well as in other grains besides wheat, like barley and rye.
What’s the difference between a gluten intolerance, a gluten allergy, and celiac disease?
A gluten allergy is exactly what it sounds like: the person has a classic allergy just like a person with an allergy to peanuts. Allergies are the body’s reaction to a perceived foreign substance.
An intolerance is encompasses any negative reaction to the gluten protein. This isn’t a classic allergy, and is harder to determine since negative reactions can take varied forms and can be very subtle.
Celiac disease is different again: this is an autoimmune condition where the ingestion of gluten causes an inflammatory reaction that damages the lining of the small intestine.
If someone isn’t intolerant or allergic to gluten or wheat, is there still a reason to avoid those things?
Gluten is very hard to digest – it is the component of the grain that gives dough elasticity, helping it to rise. It is sticky and gummy in nature and is very tough to break down in the body. Not only that, but modern wheat has been bred to be higher in gluten, increasing the risk of digestive upset.
Most people eat gluten multiple times a day, and this increased exposure actually increases our risk of developing an intolerance or allergy to it. Plus, avoiding gluten tends to bring more variety into the diet by relying on other grains, which is always a good thing!
So what are some signs to look out for that you shouldn’t be eating gluten?
Honestly, the signs could be almost anything. Digestive upset, skin problems, brain fog, joint pain, headaches and fatigue are some of the most common. The best way to tell is to try cutting out gluten for just 2 weeks, then reintroduce it and watch for any bad feelings for up to 3 days later. Often it’s hard to notice gluten’s effects until you cut it out for a bit then bring it back. Sadly, we have gotten used to feeling crummy!
Gluten-free seems to be really trendy right now…And it seems to have a bad reputation.
I think some of the bad reputation is deserved, but some isn’t. It’s certainly true that more and more people are developing problems with gluten. Gluten has become so pervasive in our Western food system. When you eat too much of anything, you run the risk of developing an intolerance or allergy to it, and as I said before people often eat gluten with every meal!
Complete avoidance of gluten isn’t necessary, but reducing our consumption of it should be something everyone strives for.
It’s made me more aware of all the processing and manipulation our food undergoes: anything that comes in a box has been altered, making it harder for our body to recognize as food and digest. Even conventional produce has been sprayed with chemicals which are foreign to our bodies, and genetically modified foods introduce even more confusion.
“It’s all about expanding your food horizons beyond what you grew up with”
You’re vegan and gluten-free. Is that as hard as that sounds?
It has its challenging moments, but once you’ve been doing it for a while, it becomes second nature. It’s all about expanding your food horizons beyond what you grew up with (sandwiches, chicken fingers, etc.) and learning about appropriate substitutions. Eating out is probably the most challenging, but you learn where to go and how to order so soon even that’s not too bad.
People must get really skeptical that your food can taste good. What’s your favourite recipe to make for the skeptics?
Dining out must be hard! Any tips for making it easier?
It’s really not that bad, I promise. It’s all about dong your homework before you go out and knowing where to go. Scope out menus beforehand and call ahead if you have any questions. Many restaurants are getting better about offering gluten-free options these days. They often offer gluten-free pastas and breads and some sushi places will even carry gluten-free tamari (soy sauce).
Also, sticking to ethnic cuisines is usually easier – Thai restaurants often use rice noodles, Mexican restaurants often have corn tortillas and Japanese cuisine is all about the rice (just watch out for the soy sauce!). I find that it never hurts to be prepared.
If you think there isn’t going to be a lot for you to eat at a restaurant, bring some things along to supplement your meal! Nuts to sprinkle on salads and even bringing a piece of gluten-free bread from home can make all the difference.
Thank you so much to Gabby for sharing her knowledge with us! If you have any other questions for Gabby, let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @GreenGuineaPigs and we’ll try our best to get them all answered. Make sure to check out The Veggie Nook and thanks for reading!