The display counter below the chalkboard menu at Anais Café, at Hala Plaza in Zinj, exhibited beckoningly colourful desserts, immediately rousing my inner Sweet Tooth, making her eyes grow round, as if hypnotised. “Not now; later,” I chided. So, she reluctantly retreated while I chatted to the chef and marketing manager who run the café, both from Romania. Wait, did they say vegan? While I’m not a hardcore carnivore, I do enjoy my meat. And yes, I also do know that plant-based diets are the true sustainable path to preserving our health and our planet.
Veganism eschews animal-derived food (including dairy and eggs), as well as that which is processed, like sugar and other factory-produced edibles. A lofty lifestyle for many like me, who like to have their meatballs and eat them too, but hey, I’m all for trying something new to see where it takes me.
When the stewardess approached me with a cup of cappuccino, Sweet Tooth had one eyebrow raised. She whispered disbelievingly: “Really? No sugar? Yeah, right!” The toupee of rich, creamy froth that the beverage wore, enticed me to take a sip right away, although I half expected a bitter, wooden taste. The medium roast coffee (there’s a dark roast available as well) embraced my palate with a velvety smoothness, leaving an unmistakable touch of sweetness in my mouth, thanks to the addition of fragrant Sri Lankan cinnamon, and the natural goodness of almond milk that is made in-house at Anais Café, minus any preservatives or additives. It made Sweet Tooth sit up and take notice.
There are no pre-cooked ingredients lurking in Anais’s kitchen. Almost everything is made from scratch to serve organic food that’s as fresh as can be, and it was well worth the wait. The omelette arrived first, looking like a fête of colour. Garlic chives, vegan cheese, red and yellow bell peppers, the most delicious mushrooms and a dash of paprika flakes lent character to the chickpea flour-based omelette. It paired excellently with an outlandish pomegranate-mustard sauce.
The dishes to come were just as interesting in their flavour pairings. Tasty vegetable meatballs came with a side of silken, truffle-laced mashed potato. The hummus was imbued with cumin and siren-red, roasted Romanian kapia pepper, giving the humble staple an incredible twist. Bulgur wheat was omitted from the tabbouleh to make it suitable for gluten intolerant folks, but finely-cut parsley stems gave that similar ‘bite’ to the salad.
Sips of ‘Not Lemonade’ – made with the fantastic combination of orange, lemongrass, honey and a shot of ginger juice, kept me happily hydrated through the meal.
The tagliatelle with mushrooms was a moreish creation, hard to believe that the pasta was made without any wheat flour and had none of that heavy mouthfeel of its store-bought, no-gluten counterpart.
Giving in to Sweet Tooth’s sulking, I turned my attention to the artisan desserts. Much to her elation, I sampled a variety of vegan, bite-sized options, starting with the Middle-East Kiss. The essence of this creation was as exotic as its name; lemon and saffron flirting coyly on the taste buds. The Choco Mango and Forest Fruit cakes were deliciously decadent (the sweetening power of agave is impressive), but it was the Tiramisu that was nothing short of heaven. I tucked in guiltlessly, bidding sugar-induced blemishes and dairy-brought-on bloating farewell.
Aiming to be a hub for healthful eating, Anais Café also retails a variety of superfood-laden sweets, biscuits and crackers, imported raw honey, jams, cold-pressed oils and juices, and nut-free vegan ice creams and cakes, as well as Keto-friendly dishes.
So, while my Mondays are already meat-free, places like Anais Café help me look forward to the habit of nutritionally-dense, yet extremely satiating, Vegan Wednesdays.