I stayed four days in Portland, seeing stunning scenery and meeting wonderful people. By the end of it all, I’d fallen in love with the city, wishing I could stay longer. Although part of my interest is due to the vibe of the city, another, much important aspect of the city was the food. I’d heard Portland is famous for its breweries, but I had to choose between getting high on beer and getting high on nature—and I picked nature every single time.
Despite not drinking or eating out much, I did sample Portland’s vegan food spots. Although it piqued my curiosity, veganism was always out of my reach. Not only was veganism still new to me when I visited Portland, but being vegan where I come from is expensive bordering on ridiculousness. Dairy alternatives are rare in my hometown so every time you buy a bottle of almond milk, you get eye rolls as if you’re pretentious and narcissistic.
Coming from such a judgemental background, Portland’s food scene seemed drastic and open to me. On my first day, I tried vegan nachos at a place called Blossoming Lotus. Not much of a fan of fried foods, I’d never had regular nachos before. Having thrown all uneasiness out of the window, I returned to my host’s house clutching a takeout container of nacho dip and a bag full of vegan crackers. Brown and sesame coated, the crackers had a mild sweet crunch between my teeth. The moment I took the first bite, I knew there was no putting it down. It wasn’t anything over the top fancy—it was, instead, a simple mix of all things that satiated my palate. Unsure of what to expect, I opened the dip container and found within, the ingredients layer upon layer, for me to devour. On the top sliced avocados nested beneath a layer of cilantro, beside a slice of lemon. Smiling to myself, I tossed a slice of avocado into my mouth and squeezed the lemon onto the dip. It was the perfect combination of cracker and dip. It started to rain outside, and I sat on the bed snuggled under a blanket, enjoying my first taste of vegan while shivering a little from the unfamiliar cold.
I’d tried vegan biscuits once before in Pondicherry, but those nachos were my first real vegan meal. For once, I hadn’t shelled out a fortune for such a wholesome meal—as I would’ve at home—and that made me visit the same restaurant twice again.
The second time, however, I chose desert over main course. I bought a snickerdoodle cookie, not sure what snickerdoodle even meant. I was more interested to find out how cookies without butter or milk would taste. My first shock was cultural. I hadn’t expected the cookie to be bigger than my palm, or thicker. As I unwrapped the plastic that clung to the cookie’s cinnamon sugar coating, I gulped at its appearance. Warming it up in the microwave, I wondered if I’d finish it at all. I did. The third time, they’d run out of oatmeal raisin cookies, and offered me a chocolate chip cookie instead. Oh, well, I thought back at home as I prodded the centre of the cookie to see if it had warmed up well enough, who could say no to chocolate?
Again, I thought I’d eat little by little, saving it up and savouring it. But as I took a tiny bite, I knew there was no wrapping up and leaving it for later.
On the last day, my friend recommended Papa G’s. There I had my first taste of tempeh. I’d never heard of it before, and had no idea how it would taste or how my digestive system would react to it. Without thinking, I ordered a tempeh sandwich—just because that’s my friend’s favourite. When I asked the restauranteur about tempeh preparation, “it’s a vegetarian protein, pressed like a patty,” he told me before I handed him my card. That day, for the first time in my life, I made a bold choice based on someone else’s word, and it turned out the best meal I’d ever had. The sandwich was so large, and so filling that I spent a good forty-five minutes munching on it. With every bite took, the favour of fermented soy seeped through my teeth and I enjoyed pairing it with sriracha sauce. As I sat outside the restaurant, a chilly breeze grazing my face and the bright rays of sunshine spreading warmth on my arms, the heat from the sauce and the tanginess from the sandwich coupled to fulfil my afternoon. I heaved a great sigh walking out of the restaurant, happy and quenched yet craving more.
Ah, impressive Portland.