October is Vegetarian Awareness Month! Head to Gorilla Food for a delicious vegan meal, and you’ll find some takes on omnivorous classics like sandwiches and pizza
As you walk down the stairs of Gorilla Food on Richards Street, you see the staff busy at work, grinding nuts, blending shakes, rolling lettuce wraps, and putting the finishing touches on an array of desserts.
436 Richards Street, Vancouver
When I stopped by for lunch, the clientele was made up of downtown professionals, post-workout yogis and dreadlocked devotees happy to be a part of owner Aaron Ash’s mission to “create peace and support non-violence” through raw, vegan, organic foods.
Ash grew up in the prairies and was exposed to fresh foods at a young age through his mother and grandmother’s gardens. His first job was as a vegetable picker at a local farm and then at a restaurant in his teens—where he first learned an appreciation for the restaurant culture, different ingredients and food quality.
When he was 19, he became a vegetarian, which was definitely not a mainstream choice in a farming community.
Even though he felt strongly about his decision, Ash wanted to make sure he was making healthy choices and getting all of the right nutrients, so he began researching plant-based diets and studied nutrition at the Alive Academy through correspondence.
The Inception of Gorilla Food
Gorilla Food owner Aaron Ash realized at an early age that providing people with vegan foods, like these Thai wraps, was the kind of activism he wanted to be involved with. (Image: Catherine Roscoe Barr)
The more he learned, the more people asked him about his diet, and eventually friends began requesting he make vegan meals for them. As word spread and demand for his food grew —what he jokingly referred to as “guerilla food”—one client told Ash about a small space available in a building he owned: and so Gorilla Food was born in the form of a take-away window.
After more than three years, it outgrew that space and an opportunity arose a few doors down that allowed Ash to open the current Gorilla Food, which seats around 25. The restaurant is a cheerful and cozy mix of warm colours, wood and original brick and stone from the century-old building.
Ash uses local foods as much possible and buys the majority of his produce from a few BC farmers. He says his goal with the menu is “to make vegan food super tasty, so that anybody would enjoy it, just because they like food, not because it’s vegan food.”
Sprouting foods, like the seeds used for this pizza crust, is thought to increase their nutritional content. (Image: Catherine Roscoe Barr)
Vegan versions of wraps, sandwiches, pizzas, soups, cookies and cakes dominate the menu at Gorilla Food.
Ash says, “I think a lot of people are under the impression that vegetarian foods or vegan foods aren’t going to be good, or that raw food is just going to be carrot sticks or something, so I think by having those familiar names and just tweaking the ingredients, it allows people to stay in their comfort zone.”
Sampling Some Gorilla Food
I was definitely in my comfort zone when I tried the Thai Fresh Leaf Wrap, $6, and Pesto Pizza, $6.50. The Thai wrap comes with three, meaty collard green wraps filled with a sprouted sunflower seed and vegetable pâté, seasoned coleslaw and a super tasty raisin chutney on the side for dipping.
The Pesto Pizza has a dense crust made from sprouted sunflower seeds, buckwheat, carrot and flax seeds, and is topped with sun-dried tomato sauce, hempseed basil pesto, walnut “cheez” crumble and a slice of fresh tomato.
Yes, raw vegan desserts can be delicious! Gorilla Food has a wide range of desserts including the Cinnamon Almond Goji Crunch Cookie and Dark Raw Chocolate Fudge pictured above. (Image: Catherine Roscoe Barr)
For dessert I tried the Cinnamon Almond Goji Crunch Cookie, $3, Dark Raw Chocolate Fudge, $2.50, and Jungle Peanut Butter Cup, $3 (not pictured). The fudge was one of the best I've tried: not too sweet and nicely dense and chewy.
The peanut butter cup was incredibly rich. It looked small enough to eat in one bite, but I learned the hard way that isn't the case. Three to four bites are recommended.
My favourite dessert was the cookie, made with soaked seeds, nuts and fruit. It was very substantial and had a great crunch.
Gorilla Food, at 436 Richards Street, is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and also offers delivery, take-away and catering.