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The thing about a meal in a bowl is that it suddenly becomes comfort food, no matter what the ingredients. Whether conventional proteins and vegetables or straight-up vegetarian or vegan, these dishes are variously referred to as Buddha bowls, power bowls, macro bowls or even hippie bowls.
But what, I ask, is in a name? These dishes pack flavour punch and healthy nutrients in a quaint concave vessel for eating with fork, spoon or chopsticks – and perhaps often all three.
(Priced from $8 to $28; please check with specific venues about dish availability.)
Big Umami | The Poké Box, Waterloo
Within six or so menu items under the heading “Fresh Poké Signatures,” Waterloo’s Poké Box serves a wide range of ingredients from salmon and tuna to duck and tempura shrimp. Poké is sliced and diced raw fish Hawaiian style. Bowl prices are in the $13 range. Vegetarian options available.
The “Big Umami” is the most popular “build-your-own” poké bowl at the small store near Wilfrid Laurier University, and it features salmon, ahi tuna, cabbage, avocado and green onion. There’s a rich dark shoyu soy sauce and and flakey furikake seasoning for umami richness. Tempura bits add texture.
Aztec Bowl | Copper Branch, Waterloo
This popular chain located in Uptown Waterloo features plant-based meals with several options for gluten-free eating, as well as organic and non-GMO ingredients.
The “Aztec” bowl incorporates corn, black beans, sweet potato with guacamole, vegan sour cream, lettuce, beets, carrots, broccoli and pumpkin seeds to which is added basil-olive oil dressing and organic sprouted mung beans. The bowl is served with organic blue corn chips.
Spring Roll Vermicelli Bowl | Pho Tran, Kitchener
A classic of the many Vietnamese restaurants in Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo is Bún Chả Giò – spring roll vermicelli bowl. Warm vermicelli noodles are the foundation for chopped lettuce, cucumber, mung bean sprouts, shredded carrot and mint leaves. It’s essentially a cool salad with a crisp, hot spring roll and crushed peanuts over which you pour heady, umami fish sauce.
Bauer Power Salad | The Bauer Kitchen, Waterloo
TBK chef Graham Pelley says he wanted a dish that was fresh, healthy and appealing to a broad clientele: that’s the Bauer Power Salad with heritage grains, avocado, cabbage, cucumber, carrot, hard-boiled egg, arugula, chickpea and a lemon-thyme vinaigrette ($21.95). The bowl includes a grilled chicken breast but is available as a vegetarian option with tofu or just the veggies.
Vegan Jambalaya | Puddicombe House, New Hamburg
Visit the 1868 architectural wonder in the hamlet of New Hamburg and enjoy something quite on trend in 2019: the plant-based “sausage” that goes into a classic southern-U.S. and Louisiana dish, Jambalaya. The original is made with rice and the traditional “Holy Trinity” of vegetable sofrito of onion, celery and green pepper that joins spicy andouille sausage. But the vegan and gluten-free version at Puddicombe has tweaked these ingredients to include the plant-based sausage on a quinoa base with smoked tofu, a roasted tomato coulis and fried okra fritters ($27).
Buddha Bowl | Pure Juice Bar + Kitchen, Kitchener
In downtown Kitchener’s west end, Pure JBK has bowls aplenty – a dozen or so, in fact. Perhaps a version of the name that helped start the bowl craze, Pure’s Buddha Bowl ($8) takes quinoa as the foundation and adds avocado, purple cabbage, cucumber, carrots, broccoli, roasted sweet potato, sprouts and toasted almonds. Kimchi adds some fermented goodness for gut health and the bowl is sauced with a zippy ginger-tahini dressing.
Marinated Tofu Vegetable Bowl | The Rich Uncle Tavern, Kitchener
In central downtown Kitchener, The Rich Uncle Tavern blends ambiance and atmosphere with the smokey and seductive aromas from a live-fire wood-burning hearth to produce delicious dishes that are seasonal and locally sourced. The marinated tofu vegetable bowl ($19) is herb-marinated and the grilled tofu served with kale, tomato, avocado, edamame, toasted seeds and sprouts with a base of quinoa.
Steamed Seafood Bowl | The Cambridge Mill, Cambridge
While it probably does double-duty as both a relatively healthy bowl and a cousin of an Italian-American cioppino, the Steamed Seafood Bowl at Cambridge Mill is part of a lovely menu that focusses on serving seasonal ingredients that are locally sourced as much as possible. This seafood bowl features mussels, clams, crab, shrimp, chorizo sausage, grilled lemon, herbs, tomato broth and toasted bread ($28).
Vegan Super Salad | Beertown, Cambridge
At the location that started it all for this Kitchener-based, beer-forward restaurant’s popularity (now with eight locations from here to London, Ontario), Beertown Cambridge has a robust menu of gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan menu items.
The Vegan Super Salad is grilled meatless “chick’n,” organic quinoa, black kale, apple, Muscat raisins, chickpeas, edamame and almonds with a cider-based dressing ($18.99). There’s also the Yucatan Bowl of smoked chili-rubbed chicken breast, dirty black bean rice, grilled avocado, tomato, pickled onions, corn chips, cilantro with a cider vinaigrette ($19.49).