Boldly Austin At Bouldin Creek Cafe

If there’s one establishment that embodies the Austin ethos of “keeping it weird” while uniting a diversifying community that would otherwise pull in opposite directions, it’s Bouldin Creek Cafe. Since its inception in 2000, this quirky artist’s enclave has captured the hearts of locals, cementing its place in the city’s sociopolitical map. For travelers, it shines as a welcoming beacon, from early morning to late night. Given top billing in any credible guidebook, it’s a worthy pilgrimage for vegans and food enthusiasts from around the world.

Bouldin Creek Cafe left a lasting impression on me from the first time I visited Austin, many years ago. I’ll never forget that meal shared with friends following Vida Vegan Con, watching everyone pull out their cameras as the orders arrived, feeling like I finally found my tribe. It was the first place I came back to after moving in, with pots and pans still packed away, cupboards yawning open with not a single can of beans to share. It’s where I’ve had countless dates, business meetings, solo meals, celebrations, and somber evenings. If you’re part of my life in a physical sense, we have or will inevitably spend time here together.

Always vegetarian with equivalent vegan options whenever a dish isn’t already plant-based to begin with, it’s one of the last surviving “old school” kitchens that makes veggie burgers from scratch- and actual veggies. There’s no Impossible or Beyond, no shortcuts or cheap tricks. Personally, I can’t leave without ordering something with tofu scramble, a classic take on crumbled and sauteed curds, thickly encrusted with cheesy, umami nutritional yeast. Making a truly exceptional tofu scramble is a dying art, but it’s alive and well here, executed at the highest level.

The beauty of the iconic tofu scramble is that it’s wonderful as a standalone entree, and even greater as part of larger plate. Zucchini migas folds fresh veggies and tortilla chips in with a spicy salsa, while Joe’s smokin’ “omelet” incorporates sauteed spinach with chipotle-pecan pesto. Sides aren’t a side thought, especially when it comes to the blueberry cornbread, served up in sizeable slabs so sweet and tender, you could easily satisfy cake cravings for breakfast.

More than once, I’ve witnessed rigid eaters soften their stance toward vegan food, embracing a meal without meat as a welcome change of pace, rather than a sacrifice. I’ve seen strangers connect over cashew queso, pups on the patio begging for hash browns, toddlers gleefully stuffing fistfuls of pasta into their mouths while somehow managing to wear the majority of it. Students hunch over coffees in tables next to couples dressed to the nines, kicking off a night on the town. It’s truly the crossroads of humanity, the universal answer to: Where should we eat today?

Bouldin Creek Cafe. It’s always the right choice.

Never Say No To Banh Xeo

Captivated from the moment my plate hit the table, practically radiating with aromatic herbs and the subtle, sweet scent of coconut, I was instantly hooked on banh xeo. Magical, almost mythical, it was unlike any dish I had enjoyed before, and for many years, considered it out of reach as a DIY project at home. Little did I know, anyone can make their own banh xeo with a little practice, patience, and determination.

What Is Banh Xeo and Banh Xeo Chay?

Translated as “sizzling cake”, banh xeo is a Vietnamese delicacy that’s been prized by the upper classes for centuries. Legend has it that it originated in the imperial city of Hue, where it was served to the royal court. Over time, the dish spread throughout Vietnam and became a beloved street food, becoming more accessible to people from all walks of life.

For omnivores, the filling often includes seafood like shrimp or prawns and pork of some sort. Vegetarian (chay) versions are just as popular, however, swapping meat for mushrooms and tofu. Both versions include generous amounts of bean sprouts and onions.

Tips For Success

Making banh xeo is a labor of love. The batter is made from rice flour, cornstarch, turmeric, and coconut milk, giving it a bright yellow hue and a slightly sweet flavor. It’s then mixed with beer, which adds a lightness and crispiness to the crepe.

Granted, calling it a “crepe” doesn’t quite ring true. While it may share visual similarities, it’s an entirely different textural experience. French crepes, thin pancakes that can be either sweet or savory, are soft all the way through, tender enough to forgo a knife entirely. Banh xeo, on the other hand, have a resounding crispy finish that rivals that of a lacey florentine cookie. Liberal use of oil and a gossamer thin layer of batter are the culprits, creating a perfect bite that’s both rich and light all at once.

Don’t forget to let your batter rest. While you can certainly give it a go right after whisking everything together, you’ll get much better results that are less likely to tear if you can wait.

Serving Suggestions

Once stuffed and served, banh xeo is best enjoyed as finger food. Tear the filled crepe into smaller pieces and wrap them in crisp lettuce leaves for a cool, refreshing wrapper. Add fresh herbs on top and give it a quick dip in salty, sweet, sour vegan nước chấm (dipping sauce) before taking a bite. The combination of the crispy pancake, fresh lettuce, and fragrant herbs creates an ideal flavor and textural contrast.

Of course, you can also enjoy banh xeo on its own, or with rice noodles and additional vegetables. Don’t let me tell you what to do her! It’s a versatile and delicious dish that can be customized to your tastes.

Whether or not they’re the perfect texture, I promise you’ll have a delicious meal on your hands. Most importantly, don’t be intimidated like I was, depriving yourself of such a wonderful homemade meal for so long. Making banh xeo at home is a wonderful way to experience Vietnamese cuisine and connect with its rich cultural history. As long as you’re willing to try, there are no wrong answers.

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Uncanny Kani

It’s no secret that “crab” (AKA “kani“) in your California sushi roll is anything but. Surimi has been the go-to crustacean imitation treasured by restaurateurs for its low cost, and touted by nutritionists as being higher in protein than the real deal. While that may be true, let’s not forget what surimi really is: cheap, highly processed white fish (typically pollock) with added sugar, color, preservatives, and fillers. If you’re looking for a healthier or more ethical choice, that really doesn’t fit the bill.

You know what always gets high marks for nutrition, sustainability, and versatility? Tofu! It’s the other, other white meat that is the chameleon of the plant-based protein world. Most people think of it as a meat substitute, but let’s not forget that it works just as well to curb seafood cravings of all sorts. In this case, super firm tofu is strong enough to withstand a fine julienne cut, reminiscent of the shredded, stringy texture of torn surimi.

What’s the best tofu to use in kani salad?

Super firm tofu is my top pick, since it’s ready to use right out of the package, no draining needed. If you can’t find this, extra firm is also great after pressing for 10 – 15 minutes. This helps remove a bit more of the water and create a more compact texture. My favorite brands include:

Tofu alone isn’t enough to complete the illusion, of course. Super chewy sweet potato glass noodles, better known for their role in Korean cuisine to make the most toothsome jap chae, adds the perfect bouncy bite. Nori, everyone’s favorite toasted seaweed sheets, incorporate a subtle oceanic note. It’s not hard to replicate the flavor since surimi is relatively bland to begin with.

How can you serve kani salad?

Kani salad is an excellent starter for any meal. Since it’s very high in protein, you could also make it the main course and serve it as an entree salad. If you wanted to dress it up more, you could add it to:

Tossed with crisp fresh vegetables and coated in creamy mayo dressing, this kani salad might look a bit different than the one served at your local Japanese restaurants, but the eating experience is sure to satisfy.

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Feeding Hungry Ghosts

What do ghosts eat? It feels like a silly question to consider, but at the same time, deadly serious. Presenting such offerings to the dearly departed shows respect, and more importantly, our lasting love. Like living people, I’d imagine that ghosts have diverse tastes, unique to every individual spirit. Whatever might have brought them comfort during their lives would undoubtedly be the best gift. Perhaps it’s sort of a test to keep their memory alive; if you hold dear such comparatively trivial details, surely you could maintain a better picture of the person as a whole.

In any event, what you feed the deceased varies depending on their culture, though I’ve heard that particular dishes are more auspicious than others. For example, did you know that the Chinese originally set out soft tofu for spirits, since it was believed that ghosts have long lost their chins and jaws, making it difficult for them to chew hard or crunchy foods. If there’s anyone I’d trust with this practice, it’s them; tofu first appeared in China around 220 BCE. If that’s not a proven track record, I don’t know what is.

As a person with terrible teeth, I can relate. Besides, once our ancestors have had their fill, the living are meant to enjoy the leftovers, so we should consider making something that everyone would enjoy. That’s why mapo tofu bao are ideal for celebrating the Hungry Ghost Festival.

Also known as the Zhongyuan Festival in Taoism and the Yulanpen Festival in Buddhism, it’s essentially the Chinese version of Día de los Muertos, when family and friends who have left this world come back to visit. To treat our guests of honor, I’d like to suggest these fiery little snacks that are pungent enough to lift the spirits, no matter what state they’re in.

Soft cubes of tender tofu luxuriate in a spicy sea of black garlic, fermented bean paste, and plenty of mala Sichuan peppercorns. Wrapped in a pillowy shell of steamed white bread, each bite practically melts in your mouth, exploding into fireworks of flavor. I wish I could lay claim to such a brilliant culinary innovation, but I’m just as happy to share Chez Jorge‘s brilliant formula, already fine-tuned and perfected.

It takes some time and effort to prepare, but considering the fact that your guests of honor have been waiting all year to drop in, I think it’s worth your time. Besides, the ghosts are fairly generous when it comes to sharing; you’ll be grateful for all the extras when the party’s over.

Nugget of Wisdom

I’ve never met a plant-based nugget I didn’t like. While the war over fast food nuggets wages on, I’m perfectly content to stay home and indulge my love for these savory snacks quietly, without controversy. No matter the “meat” of the matter, homemade will always win this fight. From nutrition to flavor, there’s just no comparison.

That said, I do have a clear favorite among the multitudes of contenders. Protein-packed organic tofu might seem like an old fashioned choice, but that’s certainly not the case when Hodo is in the kitchen. Slow-cooked in bold spice blends to infuse incredible flavor before frying them up for a chewy texture, both the Chinese 5 Spice and Thai Curry Nuggets are ready to eat right out of the package. Of course, there are even greater rewards in store with a little extra prep work.

These crispy, crunchy, compulsively munchable morsels will convince anyone that Hodo is the only way to go. Simple pantry staples transform into restaurant-quality breading for an amber brown, boldly seasoned crust. Thick and satisfying yet surprisingly light, that exterior coating reveals an impossibly moist and juicy golden nugget within.

Just what makes them so meaty? They’re close relatives to tofu puffs, which have been fried as a way to push excess water out, creating an incredibly chewy, dense structure within. This also makes them incredibly absorbent, which is why the flavors of curry or 5-spice make such a bold impact in any dish, even after they’ve been simmered or stewed with other ingredients, or in this case, encased in a shatteringly crisp shell of seasoned breadcrumbs.

Plus, they’re shockingly low fat. Just a light spritz of olive oil will set the finish like a sheer lacquer will seal in the fine details on a masterful work of art. Piping hot and fresh out of the air fryer, it’s hard to believe but these beauties are baked for a grease-free finish. Aside from just eating them straight up as perfectly poppable finger food, the options for adornment are endless. Consider the following:

  • Dipping options: maple mustard, ketchup, teriyaki sauce, marinara, ranch dressing, buffalo sauce, sour cream and onion dip
  • Serving options: sandwiches, tacos, pizza, wraps/burritos, waffle toppers, salad mix-ins
  • Plated entree accompaniments: rice pilaf, steamed vegetables, roasted potatoes, buttered noodles, sauteed greens

That’s just the start! Make them your own with your favorite flavors. There’s truly nothing that doesn’t pair well with a such universally satisfying taste sensation.

Picky kids, tofu-haters, staunch omnivores, and health food vegans alike will be won over with one bite. Who needs takeout when you can much do better at home?

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