Vegetarianism is clearly a mainstream movement. When I stopped by the NYC Vegetarian Food Festival on Sunday, just like last year, there was a long line to gain entrance about 30 minutes before the official open. It’s clear that vegetarianism is a big draw, and the festival attracted both the committed diehards and the veg curious alike. The momentum didn’t subside as time went by. Both floors of the Metropolitan Pavilion were packed with people curious to try the latest food products and attend various speaker series. It was a bit insane but all in good fun.
The caliber of food products displayed at the festival is high, and this year was no different. I really appreciated the fact that there was so much variety in the things to sample. There were hot, savory items, lighter snacks, as well as delicious desserts–you can clearly enjoy a tasty, balanced meal on a vegetarian diet. It was no easy task trying to sample everything, but I did manage to get through most of them, and below I’ve highlighted my favorite vendors from the festival. For the most part, you can get these products at Whole Foods or natural food stores in the city, as well as online.
Emmy’s Organics: Emmy’s mini macaroons were my top pick for best sweet snack. These macaroons are vegan and raw, yet they still pack as much flavor as their dairy-based counterparts. They’re clearly not as crispy as a baked cookie, but they were firm and retained their shape quite well. The lemon ginger macaroons were the best–an explosive burst of bright, tart flavors in one bite, the perfect choice for a post-meal pick-me-up. Also extremely helpful to have around during work events where non-vegan desserts abound. You can find them at various Whole Foods, natural food and mainstream food stores in New York City, and you can also buy them online.
Simply Protein Chips and Bars: Everyone loves a good snack bar to hold them over between meals, but a lot of the popular brands out there are surprisingly not that healthy. A single Clif Bar, for instance, has 23 grams of sugar, which is almost the max daily serving recommended for adults, and has 230 calories, which isn’t all that light. Simply Protein Bars, by comparison, have ~160 calories and only 3 grams of sugar, as well as an impressive 16 grams of protein in one bar. They taste just as good as Kashi granola bars and have the same texture and density, but are vegetarian friendly and are supercharged with nutrients. Same thing with the protein chips–these pea-based chips also contain 15 grams of protein per bag, which is much more than the competition. The chips have a nice crunch to them, and they have a slightly nutty taste like edamame crisps–my personal favorite was the chili. You can buy their products online, at Amazon.com, and at most CVS and GNC stores in New York City.
DF Mavens: Vegan ice cream is very hard to pull off, but DF Mavens’ product manages to successfully replicate the creamy texture and rich flavors of a milk-based ice cream. I was very impressed that their vanilla actually tasted like vanilla, not like some odd ball concoction of mashed nut dough. The ice cream comes in three different non-dairy lines–soy, coconut and almond milk. It didn’t matter that it was a cold day, I just wanted to keep eating samples of the mint almond cookie and the key lime creme ice cream. DF Mavens is going to open a storefront on the corner of St. Mark’s Pl and 2nd Ave in spring of 2014, but in the meantime you can buy a pint or two at Whole Foods or other specialty natural food stores in the city.
The Real Vegan: Chips and dip ranks high on snacking’s greatest hits, but sometimes you need to branch out from the usual suspects of hummus and guac, which was why I was excited to try the vegan nut spreads from The Real Vegan. I absolutely loved the Superfood Pesto, which basically tastes like it sounds – pesto on super healthy steroids. The spread tasted so fresh, and the flavors were so bright and intense, you could feel the kale and supergreens charging your palate. This product is extremely versatile, you can use it as a tasty sandwich spread or incorporate it into your cooking. Looks like Superfood Pesto vegan pasta might be on the books for lunch next week…
I was also intrigued by the Faux Gras, a walnut pate inspired by the famous duck liver delicacy. While the texture and consistency were similar to the real thing, it couldn’t capture the gamey decadence of the original. But the sweet and nutty spread was perfectly fine on its own, and I would certainly incorporate it into an hors d’oeuvres dish or a sandwich. The Real Vegan showcased the Faux Gras in their vegetarian banh mi, which I thought was a creative use of the product. You can buy the spreads at Whole Foods, Russ and Daughters and other specialty food stores in the city.
Beyond Sushi: Beyond Sushi definitely had the most visually stunning display at the event. I was mesmerized by the various technicolor strata of beautiful sushi rolls arranged right in front of me. The sushi here isn’t meant to replicate the cooked white vinegared rice that you find at most traditional Japanese restaurants. Beyond Sushi uses forbidden black rice or six-grain rice in their rolls, which right off the bat signals that this a completely different and unique experience. Think of it as another way of incorporating clean eating into your diet, and elevating your vegetarian experience beyond just salads and carrot sticks. The sushi rolls tasted extremely fresh, and the vegetable combinations were very thoughtful and substantial, which is much more than what a meager cucumber roll can provide. To try more of these vegan sushi creations, visit Beyond Sushi’s restaurant at 229 E. 14th St or The Green Roll counter at Chelsea Market.
Gardein: I’m not a big fan of “mock” meat products. It sort of defeats the purpose of going vegetarian if you’re craving meat the whole time and want some inferior knockoff of the original, right? But I’m going to make an exception for the delicious mandarin crispy chik’n samples that Gardein was serving. These were very, very close to what actual chicken tenders taste like. The breading was golden and crisp, and the mock protein meat inside was tender and plump. I will definitely pull these from the freezer aisle of Whole Foods and pan-fry these one day. It tasted so great, I was skeptical that it was healthy, but at 150 calories per serving and 17 g of protein, it’s not too shabby. The 260 mg of sodium is a bit on the high side, but when you’re pan frying golden chik’n nuggets, that’s not your biggest concern, is it? You can try other frozen mock meat products from Gardein at any of the major food retailers in the city.
Runa: Here’s another superfood to add to your list–guayusa, an Amazonian super-leaf that balances caffeine with antioxidants. Runa’s guayusa-based teas provide you with the jolt of caffeine in 1 cup of coffee, but without the jitters and the subsequent 3pm energy crash. It also contains twice the antioxidants found in green tea, leaving you energized and fortified at the same time. Still not sold? You’ll also support a socially responsible cause, since Runa supports the indigenous farming families who source the guayusa tea. I tasted freshly brewed samples of their loose leaf teas, and I found the smooth, non-bitter flavor extremely appealing. The next time I head to Whole Foods or the local bodega, I’m going to have to grab a box of the organic ginger citrus. Cold and don’t want to go outside? You can also order them online from their website.
Way Better Snacks: I first discovered Way Better Snacks at the vegetarian food festival last year and have been hooked ever since. The quality of these chips is impeccable. There’s great texture from the real, sprouted ingredients that go into them, and the unmistakable crunch that you get when you bite into the chip is especially satisfying. At the festival, the brand unveiled two new flavors, Sriracha and Mustard + Onion, but my heart belongs to the Multi-Grain Tortilla and the Sweet Chili. You can find Way Better Snacks in most food stores, although I haven’t seen these new flavors yet.