By JENNA KRETZMANN
“Do you mind if I have a look at your menu?”
“I don’t mind where we go as long as I can check out the menu online beforehand.”
“Are you sure you can get something there?”
These questions are likely all too familiar if you are vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, or prescribed any ‘alternate’ eating lifestyle. With the rising emergence of veganism in South Africa, more restaurants have been forced to transition to a “vegan-friendly” status. Even notorious steakhouses such as Spur now include vegan schnitzels and burgers on their menu, and popular pizza chains are introducing vegan ‘cheeze’. But finding vegan food in Makhanda is not a problem. We’re not only spoilt for choice when it comes to the arts.
Surrounded by cattle and dairy farmers in the Eastern Cape, Makhanda surprisingly boasts several local restaurants catering to a vegan clientele. We took to the wobbly streets of Makhanda to find the hot (and sometimes lukewarm) spots for vegan wining and dining, including some pop-up stalls operating at The Village Green.
Well-versed vegan menus:
If you know Makhanda, you will most likely be familiar with High Street. Best known for its historic buildings, the Cathedral, and potholed roads populated with donkeys, it is also home to numerous restaurants, Red Café being one of them. They describe themselves as an “awesome, chilled and quaint coffee shop where customers become friends”.
This cosy spot boasts the most extensive range of plant-based dishes in town. From numerous vegan wraps to sandwiches, salads, burgers, cake, and tramezzini, the owner, Lousie Boy, leaves no vegan stone unturned. “I am not a vegan myself but thought it is important to provide good options for those who are, without being condescending about it”, says Boy.
Airy, light and aesthetically uplifting, the Fork and Dagger prides itself on providing its diverse clientele with value for money. The extensive menu offers vegans the option of coconut curry, tofu salad, soups, burgers and even basil pesto pasta. (Cue the vegan shock – 9/10 times, basil pesto is not vegan). Owner Janine Harris creates an accommodating menu and a space where customers feel welcome. “If I have a table with a diabetic, gluten-intolerant, pescatarian, vegan and omnivore, they can all have something to eat,” says Harris. Additionally, the weekly specials menu has at least one vegan option.
Bathurst Street’s newest inhabitant offers customers a quaint coffee shop, dynamic restaurant, and carefully curated second-hand store. After a month of trading, artist and owner Zane Kai Brown saw a demand for vegan food and soon introduced several vegan options to the menu. “The new options do really well, and we even have non-vegans who enjoy our vegan options,” says Brown. Over the fest, a curated menu will be available, including vegan butternut soup, sundried tomato sandwiches, and chickpea curry.
Bonus points: All meals and soups are served with a complimentary glass of wine. Hot beverages may be served with OKJA oat milk…. Free-of-charge!
Spots at The Village Green:
Shopping can be hard work, but do not forget to get in a good meal to sustain the festivities of the day! Here are some spots not to be missed.
For over 30 years, Atma Food Co has served festival-goers Indian vegetarian and vegan cuisine. Options include four different plant-based curries (served with fluffy basmati rice), vegetable wraps, and an assortment of samosas and spring rolls. Their famous chickpea fudge is also back in business. To pair with your meal, fresh juices and smoothies will be available. Based in Cape Town, owner Rupa Syama was excited about being back at The Village Green and noted that all ingredients are sourced locally and cooked fresh.
- The Pizza Wagon
The hard-to-miss green food truck provides vegans with some pizza bliss. Listed explicitly on their menu are the notes that all bases are made vegan (with a gluten-free alternative), and the three vegetarian pizzas (Mediterranean, Vegetarian and Margarita) can all be made vegan with the substitution of vegan cheese. Extra vegetable toppings may also be added at an additional cost.
- The Root Den
Ironically placed next to a very meaty burger stand, the exclusively plant-based pop-up food stall promises customers a unique street food experience. Mixed veg or chickpea “chuna” rootis, breakfast scrambles and flapjacks are a few items available.
Notable mentions around town:
The Theatre Café is a melting pot of students and staff located at the Rhodes’ Drama Department. Amongst the buzz of the lunch rush, you may struggle to find explicitly vegan options. However, I have quite easily, free-of-charge, ‘veganized’ their many vegetarian options. The Mexican-style bowl is a personal favourite but ask for no cheese or tzatziki (which may be replaced with extra beans and avocado). Smoothies and hot beverages may be made with soy milk at no additional charge.
Well-known for its 2-for-1 cocktail specials and live music, they have a few vegetarian options that can be altered to suit a vegan diet. There is a good ol’ stir fry, “veggie patch” (ask for no garlic butter), an avocado and veg wrap, veg pizza (ex. cheese), a vegan burger and a tomato-based pasta dish. Paired with a Moscow mule, I don’t think you could go wrong
*Cue immense vegan panic*
We have finally reached our last stop on our vegan foodies’ tour of Makhanda. Panda’s Asia Kitchen serves Chinese cuisine, sushi, coffee, cocktails, and breakfast. Vegetarian options include fried rice, vegetable chow mein, vegetable spring rolls and the veg combo sushi platter. However, if you are vegan – watch out. Once after ordering fried rice without egg, I was brought chicken instead. Tread with caution around the chow mein as egg noodles are used and cannot be substituted. However, the spring rolls and veg sushi combo (w/o mayonnaise) are delicious and great value for money.
Much like this year’s NAF programme, we are certainly spoilt for culinary choices. I suggest treating the meals on offer as an experience of their own. Good luck and prosper foodie friends.