What happens when a die-hard foodie decides to go on a health kick? Well for one thing, dining out gets complicated.
After building up to it for several months (during which I worked very hard at giving myself pep talks about how it won’t be that hard to take the focus off eating “well” and put it instead on eating “healthy” for a 30-day yoga challenge), I couldn’t put it off any longer. I took the plunge and went for it.
For the first two weeks, I was eating clean; no refined flour, sugar, potatoes, white rice or dairy. (That also ruled out coffee, since I see no point in drinking it without sugar and cream.) I also started substituting a super healthy, veggie-packed smoothie for breakfast, and eating high-veggie-content lunches.
Meat was still on the menu, although in extreme moderation — and even then it couldn’t be fried or grilled, only stewed or cooked in soup. Fish, chicken and lamb were grudgingly allowed, but no beef or pork. For the last two weeks, I was down to a low-carb vegan diet, focusing on smoothies, fruit, vegetables, quinoa and millet.
I decided to keep heading out for lunches with friends as the opportunity came up, treating it as an experiment in living like vegetarians and/or people with gluten sensitivities do. But for the last two weeks, there wasn’t much hope of lunch out beyond a salad.
On one of my first days on the diet, I had a lunch date at The Ivy. While it was suggested that the steak sandwich was excellent, that was two strikes against my diet: steak, and bread. It was a pretty sandwich- and pasta-heavy lunch menu. Even the lunch special, salmon, which sounded promising, was served with butter sauce and potatoes. Ix-nay on the auce-say.
I managed just fine, however, by making a special request (oh, no, I’ve become one of THOSE people!) to have the salmon, sans sauce, served alongside a salad. That turned out to be delicious and satisfying. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad!
It’s one thing to be vegetarian, and it’s another to be gluten-free; it’s a whole other ball game being both, and unable to eat dairy as well. I met a girlfriend at The Underground Café for lunch another day, and had to avoid all sandwiches. (My friend, a vegetarian, was quick to sing the praises of their apricot-cheddar Panini, which of course was not an option for me because of the cheese and bread. But I’ll be sure to try it another time.)
That left soup (lemon lentil, which was absolutely creamy smooth and delicious). I opted to not ask whether it contained cream — one of the rare moments in my life where I willingly chose to remain ignorant — and a salad. Again, I was quite satisfied by my meal, but resolved to return when I could eat bread and sample one of their fantastic-looking sandwiches.
This got me thinking about the plight of vegetarians in Saskatoon. There are lots of healthy options if you’re willing to eat some version of bread and cheese. Lots of places serve hummous and have a few salad options, and usually a vegetarian soup. Caffe Sola, for example, almost always has a vegan soup and salad option. But take away the bread, and you’re not left with much. At Souleio, they usually have a vegan soup and their salads could serve — if you got them to forego the goat cheese, and sometimes bacon…
Root Down Workers’ Co-operative won Best Vegetarian option in this year’s Planet S Best Of Food and Drink Readers Poll… right before it closed — dammit! (That closure is hopefully only temporary, as they were on a short-term lease and are now apparently looking for a new location.) I’ve enjoyed their soup and sandwiches many times, but there weren’t many of them that didn’t rely on cheese and, obviously, bread.
If you can’t (or shouldn’t) eat white rice, that limits you even more. Asian restaurants are usually pretty forgiving for vegetarians, with several vegetable and tofu dishes. But if you’re trying to skip the white rice and flour? You’re in trouble. Genesis used to cook up a batch of brown rice at lunch, and I had lots of friends who opted to go there for the brown rice — but they stopped doing it. Really? Was there no demand?
If you don’t want to eat white rice but still want to eat meat, Vietnamese cabbage salad is a wonderful option. Imagine a chicken/beef/pork/shrimp stir-fry, tossed with fish sauce and set on top of a bed of shredded cabbage: noodle bowl meets coleslaw! Having rethought my position on the relative healthiness of a bun dish (fried springroll, white rice noodles, and very few, light-coloured vegetables), this may be my go-to option from now on.
In hopes of sparking the competitive nature of Saskatoon when it comes to comparisons with the Queen City, I’ll tell you that I had better luck eating out in Regina. The 13th Avenue Coffee House offers up a killer “Power Salad” of dark leafy greens, marinated tofu, chickpeas, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and sunflower seeds. Fantastic! Their soups are vegan, and their rice bowls are jam-packed with veggies and served over brown rice, with the option of substituting quinoa for rice. Where’s our veggie-friendly restaurant, Saskatoon? And on top of that, Nature’s Best Market in Regina has a juice and smoothie bar—a far cry from Booster Juice.
Soon I’ll be back to no limitations on my diet, but I’ll definitely carry forward a newfound appreciation for what “healthy” really means. This is a shout out to Saskatoon restaurants: there’s a growing demand for truly healthy and delicious dining. Beyond this dining columnist’s month-long health kick, people are eating healthier for a myriad of reasons, from health problems to fitness goals. It’s about time restaurants caught up to the trend. Toss the iceberg lettuce and ranch dressing! Break out the kale and quinoa! Your patrons are hungry for it!