An Chay is a welcome addition to Jasper Avenue’s burgeoning vegan scene
The southwest corner of Jasper Avenue and 112 Street is rapidly becoming Edmonton’s unofficial vegan district. Vegan pizza parlour Die Pie has been joined by An Chay, a new Vietnamese place that looks to do many of their soups and noodle dishes without animal products.
An Chay has installed itself in what was, roughly forever, an indie coffeeshop and loiterer’s paradise on said corner. The new ownership has put a lovely gloss on the ersatz café environment, from the mirror-shiny laminate and faux-stacked stone wall, to newly erected dividers that ‘nook-ify’ the formerly wide-open dining room.
Appetizers, noodle entrees (that can be done with brown rice or baguette, in some instances, at your request) and soft drinks are the extent of the menu. An Chay does not proclaim vegan status for all of its food—perhaps something eggy in the spring roll wrappers or a preponderance of sentient life in the grilled soy paste? It didn’t occur to me to ask at the time, but vegans certainly will.
Unlike a lot of vegan places that come up with ingenious ways to counterfeit meat, An Chay’s kitchen relies on tofu as its go-to protein in nearly every dish. They deserve credit for wringing some novelty out of those oft-derided cubes of bland.
Take, for instance, the green papaya salad ($10) my party enjoyed as an appetizer, which came topped with paper-thin tofu sheets steeped in soy sauce and something a tad smoky—hence, “soy jerky” on the menu—to complement the crunchy shredded green papaya and carrot dosed with garlic, chilies and rice vinegar for the perfect amount of tongue-tingling heat. Thick, sweet soy sauce is provided on the side should further enhancement be needed.
Four salad rolls ($7) and six spring rolls ($9) were procured, the former featuring a tasty slab of pan-fried curry marinated and bound up with vermicelli, cucumber, lettuce, mint leaf, pickled radish and carrot in a rice-paper wrapper, the latter packing a meaty melange of noodles, fried bean curd (a.k.a. tofu), taro, yam, and mung bean.
The entrees were likewise consistently impressive, though I fear I might have made the most boring order by going with the vermicelli special. I love a big bowl of Vietnamese noodles and this one laid on the lettuce, mint, shredded carrots and two kinds of seasoned tofu to keep my interest, but maybe nothing can be done to compensate for the absence of pungent fish sauce and salty, sleazy meat. One co-diner tried to counter with a few lime wedges with a degree of success.
Everyone else was completely pleased with their orders, which each boasted a bold but not intolerable spiciness. Co-diner to my right received enough sweet and sour soup ($16) for two people—the huge tureen of tangy pineapple-scented broth was teeming with tofu, okra, bean sprouts, tomatoes, celery, and herbs to which he added vermicelli from a side dish as he went. He advises not consuming two slices of Thai chili in the same mouthful.
Co-diner across from me loved the substantial satay noodle soup ($13) with its well-spiced peanut-y broth and smart substitution of tofu, king mushrooms and lotus root for the usual animal rinds. She suggests not wearing a nice silk blouse to eat at An Chay.
Co-diner to my left had the stew-like coconut curry ($12) with vermicelli that was thickened by potato, yam and taro, and contained fried tofu, bamboo shoots and edamame. It packed a well-calibrated spiciness, and was my favourite of the bites I stole.
All agreed it was a successful cruelty-free meal, though An Chay may not yet have the front-end chops to deal with such success. We arrived early on a weeknight and enjoyed speedy, efficient service, but by the time we left the joint was jumping and they were clearly back on their heels—our empty plates remained in front of us for the duration of our time there and eventually we had to go to the counter to fetch our bill. Consider avoiding peak hours while An Chay sorts this out.
11203 Jasper Ave.