At the turn of every year, almost every person decides it’s time to do better. Our resolutions range from being healthier to being kinder, and for those attempting both, Veganuary is the perfect place to begin.
Veganism has grown enormously in recent years, and at an increasing rate that seems set to continue. No longer viewed as a niche cult, vegans have gone mainstream, as people start to understand the benefits that it holds, individually and environmentally.
But such a lifestyle change is not always simple, and Veganuary eases us into it collectively with an animal product free month. Whether detoxing from festive excesses or intending a permanent fix, this new year trend is helping people adapt together.
With more demand, of course comes more supply. Big brands such as Greggs and KFC have gained much publicity for their new vegan options, and beyond the fake steak bakes and quorn burgers are a host of great independent eateries offering a variety of finger-licking plant-based goodness.
Perhaps the most successful meatless place in Leeds opened prior to the current craze and has been serving mouth-watering vegetarian cuisine to herbivores and carnivores ever since. Bundobust came about as a unique collaboration between Bradford pub The Sparrow and veggie Indian restaurant Prashad, combining cracking beers and delicious small plates. Whilst not entirely vegan, Bundobust’s menu includes plenty that is, with a vegan combo of okra fries, bhajis, bhel puri, raghda pethis and masala dosa representing an irresistible way to sample the selection.
Indeed, the food of India is an attractive way to adapt to a vegan diet, with much of the country’s cuisine naturally so. Consequently, the British curry house cooks up some spicy vegan delights beyond the lamb bhunas and chicken vindaloos. Leeds has one such place showcasing the flavours that can be delivered in a vegetarian meal. Manjit’s Kitchen had already developed from a pop-up yellow horsebox to a permanent street food stall at Kirkgate Market before the city showed how much Manjit’s was loved by crowdfunding their new restaurant on Kirkstall Road. Whichever site you visit, the thalis, dhals and chaats make the transition into vegan a whole lot tastier.
Plenty of vegan treats can be found in the food from other continents too; North African and Middle Eastern dishes in particular are often centred around vegetarian ingredients, and at the likes of Caravanserai and Humpit, Leeds has an array of places elevating the humble. Doing just that from a pop-up van on Briggate and a permanent stall in Assembly Underground, Falafel Guys focus on the staple that their name champions to produce falafel wraps and salad bowls which introduce the chickpea as your new best friend.
Whilst all of the above offer primarily vegan food, none of them are solely vegan, and a couple of city eateries take that mixed concept further. The Grub and Grog Shop have been catering across the city for a good few years, always with vegetarian dishes at the forefront, but with occasional non-veggie options. They now reside in Sheaf Street Studios with the same ethos of sustainable, organic produce and many vegan choices, without excluding meat from the menu entirely. This unique take continues at their restaurant, wine bar and grocery store Eat Your Greens. Here, the brunch and dinner listings are largely vegan, from kimchi hash to squash and kraut, but with an unapologetic meat dish listed with the letter ‘m’ alongside, as a twist on the usual ‘v’ for vegetarian, a move which confirms vegan meals as the norm.
There are however an increasing amount of places serving exclusively vegan food in Leeds. The first of these opened above The Old Red Bus Station a couple of years back, and Cantina continues to deliver awesome vegan grub of big bite burgers and loaded fries. Knave’s Kitchen followed a similar path at Oporto, where they feed up guilty eats with a conscience, Instead of kale and lentils, slaver on seitan kebabs or jackfruit curry. And the recent arrival of JJ’s in Hyde Park brings to Leeds a specialist vegan fish and chips joint, at which the classic British fried favourite is replicated with banana blossom for a surprisingly satisfying eat.
Still standing strong amongst the newcomers is a café in the Grand Arcade that has been vegetarian for over 25 years and now names itself as vegan with vegetarian options. Roots & Fruits is a friendly and relaxed hangout that sources ethical quality ingredients and creates homely food from the healthy plant-based lunches to the naughty vegan deserts. This old timer was ahead of the pack and moved with the times to remain relevant in an increasingly important vegan scene that is set to keep on rising.