Wednesday, June 21, 2017

vegan/salads: i strongly recommend OOH CHA CHA

No. 207, Nanchang Road, Sec. 2
Zhongzheng District, Taipei 

MRT: Guting


hours: 10AM - 9PM

$$ (about NT$300/person+)

kid friendliness: depends on how healthy your kids are. saigon bowl with tofu and potato wedges might be a good place to start. 

visits reviewed: 6/19/2017 & 5/12/2016

must orders: Saigon Bowl, Wild Mushroom Bowl, vegan Bacon Cheeseburger, garlic kimchi

IT'S BEEN AWHILE SINCE I've been to Ooh Cha Cha, a vegan cafe in the alleys near Guting MRT stop. But I've just come back from Seoul, where I've eaten a week's worth of bbq meats, kimchi, crab, octopus, and my body is calling out for some veggies. Even at 1PM, Ooh Cha Cha is busy with diners multitasking on their laptops and I've managed to grab the last table before I have a chance to glance at the menu and order at the counter. 

Opened four years ago, Ooh Cha Cha offers vegan bowls, salads, toasts, burgers and desserts. Last year I dipped my toes into the vegan scene in Taipei and was amazed with the range of restaurants I found once I fell into the rabbithole.  It's always exciting to discover more choices and options for food. Even better when you can eat clean and healthy. 

In the sunlit cafe, tables seat about 10 people and there's a small corner where solo diners can grab a seat along the wall when there's no tables left. Ooh Cha Cha also can pack orders to go and I've spotted it on Ubereats, so that's also an option. Two people walk in while I'm waiting for my food and get told that "there's no more seats." But if it were me, I would still place an order while I'm waiting for the table to clear up because tables become available pretty soon after the people walk out the door and the food takes just as long to be prepared. 

Ooh Cha Cha dubs itself a "plant based cafe" and promises no refined sugar, along with the typical no animal products, no dairy (eggs, milk, cheese) that a vegan cafe would avoid. The menu includes a good assortment of toasts, salads, burgers, bowls as well as smoothies and desserts. Diners can also add on things like tempeh, kimchi, baked potato wedges or eggplant bacon to customize their dishes. From the last time I visited, Ooh Cha Cha has smartly changed their sandwich rolls to toasts, which are (a) more on trend and photogenic and (b) more tasty as you focus on the toast topping rather than just taste the bread.

Get a closer look at their menu on Ooh Cha Cha's website. 

I upgrade my meal to a "set" by adding NT$100 and getting a drink. I opt for the Fruity Punch, which has strawberry, organic apple, mango, seasonal greens and orange juice. It doesn't have the pop in color or taste as my last drink, which had beets and apple, so I think I will stick to that next time. But because they don't add additional or refined sugar, I know I'm not drinking empty calories. 

I get a bit hangry as I wait almost 30 minutes for my food, and I remember the last time I also waited quite awhile. I can see that my plates are almost ready and I walk over the counter hoping that it's ready, and the server mentions that the tofu is grilled to order, so I ask for my plate of side dishes first. 

The beet hummus resembles a raspberry sorbet, especially with its bright pink hue, creamy texture and scoops topped with nuts, so it's an odd sight next to the sliced balsamic mushrooms and golden garlic kimchi. If you've been craving LA's Lemonade, where you can order different deli counter-like veggies to put together as a meal, I think I might have just found a vegan surrogate. 

My dish arrives to the table shortly after I've given the counter my "I'm so hungry I will pass out" look. I always forget the name of this dish, but I just remember that my favorite is the one with the tofu, and then I see that it falls under "bowls" on the menu, even though it's more of a plate. 

The Saigon bowl has non-GMO lemongrass tofu, organic quinoa with pesticide-free brown rice, pickled daikon and carrots with cucumber, a small salad with local organic greens and spicy almond butter sauce. It's so satisfying as I mix it together and add the mushrooms and kimchi and start inhaling my food. I notice everyone who leaves has eaten their plates clean also. I end up wishing I had some thin slices of toast or something to eat with my hummus, so I end up packing most of it to take home. 

You can see Ooh Cha Cha's menu from my first visit, over a year ago, and there's only been slight changes with the rolls being taken off, replaced with toasts and with double the number of burgers from three to six options. Most of the smoothies are still the same.  All of Ooh Cha Cha's sauces, spread and patties are all made in house from fresh vegetables, nuts, dried beans and seeds. 

Saigon Bowl and a side of garlic hummus and beet balls. 

Bacon cheese burger with spicy "nacho cheese" made from cashews. (NT$280) The patty is made with mushroom and beans, while the bacon is made from eggplant. I enjoyed this burger and was pleasantly surprised by the extra kick that the cheese gave the burger.

Raw cheesecake. There's also vegan beer available and an assortment of hot tea, coffee and even fair trade hot cocoa.

Sometimes people mistake eating clean or eating healthy for needing to eat bland, but I think vegan restaurants in Taipei like Ooh Cha Cha, Miss Green, Green Room and Plants challenge and dispute that. The founders are passionate about educating customers that vegan food can be both nutritious and tasty, and worth paying a little extra for.  Check out my interview with Ooh Cha Cha's co-founder Mai Bach here. 

Something like a tofu salad could come out flavorless, but by creating different layers of flavors and textures with the pickled veggies, the lemongrass, the spicy almond butter, the meal is more than just throwing a bunch of veggies on a plate. It ends up being something I crave and know that the ingredients are sourced mindfully and cooked with care.Who else has been looking for something like this in Taipei? 

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