Red Bamboo Vegan Soul Cafe New York City

Red Bamboo Vegan Soul Cafe New York City

Red Bamboo Vegan Soul Cafe New York City

Red Bamboo is not much to look at. On West 4th Street in Manhattan, wedged between the Avenue of the Americas and Washington Square West (nesting ground of NYU students), there is only a red awning with the name printed on it to let you know that this tiny below-ground spot is the place you’ve been looking for.  And that is certainly is the case if “you” are a vegan-curious person on a fairly low budget happy to splurge a bit for that tasty experience.

Yes, Red Bamboo serves vegan food (almost entirely, but if you are persistent, you might get them to put dairy cheese on a sandwich for you).  Get over it.  I am not a vegan, though I used to be (in fact, I was still eating mostly vegan when I was first introduced to Red Bamboo’s omnivore-friendly fare more than 10 years ago).  And I am always thrilled to eat at Red Bamboo.

You see, the restaurant is carrying on an ancient movement in Buddhist cuisine, one that recognizes that, while many of us are uncomfortable with the cruelty involved in eating meat, we have grown up used to having it all the time, and so we find it hard to live without it.  So they serve numerous “mock meats,” made from soy textured protein, wheat gluten and other plant products.  These substitutes approximate the texture, richness and flavor of, say, chicken and beef, while remaining completely cruelty-free.  The pleasure of eating these things is not bad, the philosophy goes, but only the source is what makes meat-eating abhorrent.  If we can have that pleasure without hurting any animals, why not?

And Red Bamboo makes the whole venture fun.  A lot of their raw materials come from a supermarket in Chinatown called May Wah, which imports them from China, so if you like what you find at Red Bamboo and want to try your hand at making mock meats at home, you can visit May Wah.  But for most of us, Red Bamboo is the place.  They give you favorites like chicken nuggets and chicken parmigiana and lots of others.  There’s a gentle soul attitude expressed in the cuisine, so you can find sweet chili dipping sauces and other accents like that.

Over the years, I have eaten almost everything on the menu.  On this occasion, I wanted to try out the Bamboo Nuggets, which my friend and co-diner Ed told me has changed over the years.

Bamboo Nuggets Appetizer

Bamboo Nuggets Appetizer

Sure enough, they were lighter than I remember them.  But still wonderful – nice lightly fried crispy breading over a delicate chicken-y interior.  And the Vidalia onion-based dipping sauce was a nice accompaniment.

For my main course, I went with the Coconut Chicken –

Coconut Chicken

Coconut Chicken

while Ed ordered the Steak and Potatoes.

Vegan Steak and Potatoes

Vegan Steak and Potatoes

If you look closely, you can see that we had already started sharing when I took my photos – one of my pineapple slices is on his plate, and I have a few green beans on mine.  Sorry for upsetting the harmony of the presentation – we were very hungry, and eager to dig into our vegan delights.  I thoroughly enjoyed my coconut chicken, and was happy to find the green beans nicely cooked – once upon a time, Red Bamboo used to be notorious for serving under-cooked, bland vegetables, but they seem to have corrected that.

Then after we had finished our meals, there were unbelievably amazing cakes for dessert – which we took with us, since we were going to a movie at the nearby Angelika Film Center. I am telling you, even if everything about vegan food appalls you, Red Bamboo’s desserts are worth a special trip.  They get them from the incredible Vegan Treats in Pennsylvania, who make a road trip to New York City once a week to supply Red Bamboo and other NYC-area restaurants and cafes.  Red Bamboo sells a nice selection of these incredible cakes, pies and vegan cheesecakes, but hurry, because they sell out by the weekend.

So in conclusion, all of you who still think vegans are weird and vegan food is gag-me territory, grow up and eat your vegetables.  You’ll find the rest of us at Red Bamboo, having the time of our lives, knowing we are helping to save the planet (or at least keep it going for a few more days) and being kind to animals and our bodies.

About Karl Peterson

Karl Peterson is an avid traveler, passionate about food and food-related entertainment, completely allergic to dairy. He is founder, owner and principle contributor to "The Dairy Free Traveler" blog. The Dairy Free Traveler perfectly dovetails two of his greatest areas of interest: traveling near and far, and searching for great cuisine (especially dairy free!) The Dairy Free Traveler publishes original material about the dairy free lifestyle, eating the best food in the most interesting destinations around the world. Karl's tours take him from thriving New York City, to exotic Marrakesh, to elegant Paris bistros -- (yes! even Parisians have gotten on the dairy free bandwagon.) The Dairy Free Traveler himself also engages with independent dairy free food producers, highlighting new dairy free product launches and events that support dairy free entrepreneurs. Peterson is among the top 7 most widely read TripAdvisor reviewers in New York City and is repeatedly cited as a Top Contributor at TripAdvisor.com. His reviews have garnered more than 542,000 readers -- half in the U.S., and half among the many countries he has visited around the world. Beyond writing this blog, Peterson is a published author, with contributions to "Savoring Gotham" edited by Andrew F. Smith (published 2015 by Oxford University) and the forthcoming Oxford Companion to Cheese (a bit ironic, yes, but a professional is often asked to stretch beyond their comfort zone!).
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