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Tofu for me, tofu for you

Journalists - even emerging ones - like to eat as well as drink. And former Queenslander, Luke Raggatt, is no exception, especially now that he's found the Vegie Bar in Fitzroy.

The Vegie Bar  is everything that’ s great about  fashionable Fitzroy.

It’s gritty, yet oddly sophisticated, without the frills.  Plastered across its cracked brick walls is an artistic collage of poster bills for upcoming gigs of bands found around town, and old copper pipes add rustic decoration too as they snake their way up to the top of its cathedral-like ceilings.

The Vegie Bar opened its doors for business in 1993. It started small (a hole in the wall take-away joint), but always had the bigger vision: to provide diverse and flavoursome food with an ethically-minded edge. And it sought to do these things without breaking the banks of the bohemian characters that have flooded the streets of Fitzroy since the early ‘90s. 

Diverse it is. Walking in day or night, you’ll witness a venue bustling with an often eccentric, always eclectic mix of hipsters, cool kids and urban professionals.  

It’s menu includes gourmet pizzas with a twist – the kind that’d have Rafaele Esposito turning in his grave. Oh and what a picture it’d be to see Queen Margherita of Savoy wrapping her laughing gear around a slab of wood-fire cooked dough with hummus and smoked tofu on top.

Then there’s the selection of spice infused Indian curries, including one of the most delicious chickpea dhals in Melbourne. Moroccan flavours too are thrown in for good measure, such as the Vegie Bar’s special rendition of the traditional cous cous. Thai and Singaporean style stir-frys share a portion of the menu, and make tasty use of ginger, garlic, lemon grass and chilli. And there are even three choices of home-style burgers, served up with chunky fries and a dollop of classic relish that would give your own grandma’s a run for its money.

 And all of this wonderful grub is minus the one usually uber-present ingredient – MEAT. There’d have to be a couple of hundred diners sitting down for a good feed on a daily basis in this place, and this clearly suggests that a menu without ‘the slaughter’ is no longer equated with un-wholesomeness. So if you were ever sceptical of vegetarian statistics, say like those found on the website of Vegetarian Network Victoria, you merely need to step into the Vegie Bar any night of the week to see these figures being represented by bums on seats.

If you weren’t aware, it seems Australians (and definitely Melburnians) are embracing ‘vego’ meals more than ever before (are you listening Sam Neill?). As Sanitarium’s ‘Vegetarian Study’ for Newspoll discovered, more than 44% of Australians now eat at least one meat-free dish per week, with a further 18% saying they eat at least three ‘vego’ meals or more per seven days.

But all of that aside, everything about this joint just seems to work. We’re all jammed in their together, yet it’s relaxing and comfy at the same time. Most of the tables are communal, so this often means sitting opposite your lunch or dinner date, but right beside a complete stranger. A bit of unavoidable eaves dropping then is just a given, but might just be part of the overall charm. Because it’s kind of like we’re all just one big crazy family down here at the Vegie Bar, and we’re all just enjoying the experience of a warm environment and a cracking good menu.

Tonight I’ll be ordering myself the Mee Goreng – spicy marinated tofu and mixed vegetables, served with a peanut sauce, hokien noodles, fresh bean sprouts and a sprinkle of dried garlic flakes.Yum. And for dessert – if I can fit it in – I shall lick my lips to a slice of the Vegie Bar’s vegan-friendly chocolate cake.

Happy eating.

I’ll see you at the bar out back for a G&T and post-meal smoke.

Luke Raggatt is an emerging  journalist studying at La Trobe University. This piece is adapted from a posting on his Ethical Avenues blog.

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