Did you know there are loads of options for sourcing great vegan food in the Illawarra? Veganism is definitely growing in popularity, and long gone are the days when there were no options to eat out for our plant-based friends. I even saw plant-based Kit Kats in the supermarket this week! Think back to the nineties with Megan the Vegan from that song by The Whitlams … “She came in for a hamburger with the lot – no meat. “Hey that’s a salad roll,” I said, and we started going out”… sorry, I digress…
These days most cafes and restaurants have items on their menu that are plant-based or can be modified by the chef on request. To find out a bit more about the vegan scene in the Wollongong and Illawarra area, I reached out to Sue Daniels of South Coast Vegans.
Image courtesy of South Coast Vegans.
Who are South Coast Vegans?
South Coast Vegans are a social group who have been meeting up for around 7 years. Started by Sue and her friend Sandy, the catch-ups are a great way to meet up with like-minded people.
The group gathers and shares a picnic on the first Sunday of every month. They invite anyone interested in the vegan diet to come and join in to socialise at the Seven Mile Beach picnic area, just past Gerroa. They chose this spot as it has parking, toilets, and undercover tables if the weather is wet. This group of plant-based pals meet up at 12 noon – just look for the red chequered tablecloth! If the weather is really bad, the alternate venue is the Perfect Break Cafe in Gerringong.
The SCV crew also organise coffee mornings and lunches two or three times a month at venues around the Kiama area. Some of their regular haunts are Burnetts on Barney in Kiama, The Hill in Gerringong, The Garden, Milkwood Bakery, and Family Tree Cafe in Berry. “Everyone is welcome to come to our gatherings, you don’t have to be vegan to join us!”, says Sue. The group loves raising money for animal sanctuaries with their raffles and in the past year has raised over $1700.
Other places with great plant-based options that Sue recommends include;
- The Brooding Italian (vegan brownies and savouries),
- Moist and Glazed (vegan donuts and toasties with vegan cheese),
- Ernest Arthur (vegan pies and wraps),
- Otis Deli (lots of vegan salads to take away),
- Wild Patch (lots of vegan options), and
- Olive and Vine (great for an evening meal.)
If you would like to catch up with South Coast Vegans, you can rock up to their monthly picnic, no booking required. All you need to bring is some vegan food to share. Alternatively, you can check out their Facebook page for details of their coffee meet-ups. With over 1000 followers on their page, you’ll be sure to find someone to share a plant-based latte with.
Image courtesy of His Boy Elroy, Wollongong.
Vegongs: The Oracles of Vegan Food in Wollongong
Vegongs are a Facebook group that share info about great vegan food in and around Wollongong. I asked them for some recommendations and they gave me quite a comprehensive list to try out, including some of our regular faves like Samaras for Lebanese food, Baby Face Kitchen for an epic degustation style meal, Balinese Spice Magic, and His Boy Elroy (that’s their Pulled Jackfruit Burger pictured above).
VEGAN BUREK AND GOZLEME
If burek tickles your fancy, try Pece’s at Cringila or Alexander’s Bakery Southside, for a selection of vegan burek, donuts, and baklava. Gozleme? Head over to Mt Warrigal and check out Gozleme 4 U.
PIZZA FOR VEGANS AND CAFE FOOD
For a cafe-style feed, you can try Moore Street, Lettuce B Frank, The Brooding Italian, All Good Things, Lee and Me, Longboard, or Quay Canteen. If you’re looking for a vegan feed while enjoying a craft beer, Resin rates a mention.
Looking for great vegan pizza? Vegong’s suggestions include Da Orlando and Kneading Ruby in Wollongong and The Deck at Thirroul.
VEGAN ASIAN FOOD IN THE ILLAWARRA
The group offers loads of suggestions for great vegan Asian food, with Karma Tea House being exclusively vegan and conveniently located in the heart of Wollongong. Others that rate an honourable mention are Saigon Senses, Taste of Asia, An Chut Chut, and Mylan. We are spoiled for choice when it comes to great vegan Thai food, with venues peppered from one end of the Illawarra to the other. If you’re looking for vegan Thai food in the Northern suburbs, Coastal Thai and Sukko Thai in Thirroul are worth a visit. If you’re heading south, try out Amarin Thai, Le Rose Thai, and At Thai Corner in Windang.
ILLAWARRA GREEK AND INDIAN FOR VEGANS
If you’re after some great vegan Greek food, the crew at Vegong highly recommend Zeus Street Greek at Shellharbour. J J’s for Indian at it’s two locations in Kiama or Wollongong.
VEGAN HIGH TEA IN WOONONA
Sugar, Butter Eggs in Woonona do a full vegan high tea (don’t let the name put you off), along with vegan croissants, scones with jam and cream (yes, even the cream is vegan), and loaded cupcakes.
Thanks so much to the Vegongs group for being so forthcoming with tasty suggestions. This isn’t a comprehensive list, so if you have a hankering for something in particular, join the group and ask the question, and someone will be sure to have the answer you’re looking for.
Plant Based Eatery at Crown St Markets, Wollongong
Thomas and Evelyn Thong operate Plant Based Eatery serving up delicious Thai Street Food on a regular basis at Crown St Markets. All the food they make is 100% vegan, right down to the sauces. Some highlights to check out are their bbq and chilli ‘chicken’ dishes, as tasty as any Thai food I’ve ever had. Be sure to get your mouth around one of their sweet potato and yam spring rolls while you’re there!
“We use faux chicken that is soy-based in all of our dishes. Our stall’s menu includes vegan popcorn chicken and plant-based satay chicken skewers, choo chee chicken, sweet and sour chicken, and our cold brew lemon green tea. But our food is not strictly for vegans or vegetarians – it’s for meat-eaters as well who want a break from eating meat all the time.”
Born in Thailand with Cambodian Chinese heritage, Thomas came to Australia at only 2 years old. He learned to cook Thai food as a young man while working in his uncle’s restaurant in Perth. Despite not being allowed to cook for the customers, he honed his skills in cooking for the staff who secretly preferred his dishes! “Not sure if they were just telling me that, but I’ll take it!” he recalls, “This is where my love of Thai food began”.
A self-confessed workaholic, Thomas managed his uncle’s restaurant seven nights a week while also cooking lunches at another restaurant five days a week. The next 15 years saw him work under many Thai chefs, and he is grateful for their influence on his ability to create delicious Thai flavours today.
“At first we had no intention to make vegan food, as working at the restaurant I had recipes to make a meaty menu, also sauces with fish and shrimp.” When the pair first adopted a plant-based diet over 9 years ago, they thought their food dream would grind to a halt. Visiting other vegan Asian-inspired restaurants gave them a vision of what might be possible and that dream began to ignite once again.
“It took some effort to convert everything to plant-based / vegan. However, we got there in the end and the results speak for themself – and to be honest I much prefer it this way!”
Adopting a Plant-Based Diet for Health
Thomas started on a health journey when his grandmother was suffering from a multitude of common health issues including arthritis, dementia, weight struggles, and Type II Diabetes. When his grandmother became sick, Thomas felt like he had a duty to help her to regain her sense of health.
“I did some research and discovered that giving her plant-based foods could help her with her issues. I wanted her to maintain a quality of life. To me, it doesn’t matter how long your life is, it’s all about living life as well as you possibly can.”
At about the same time, Thomas faced some of his own health challenges. He was overweight at around 100 kgs (hard to imagine when you see him now) and was experiencing chronic fatigue and eczema. He increased the amount of plant-based foods in his diet and did several juice fasts. Eventually, his weight came down and his eczema disappeared. One thing led to another – Thomas met his soul mate and beautiful wife, Evelyn, who also shares the same health and life path. After a few years together they committed to being plant-based full time!
Plant Based Eatery has been up and running for over 6 years now, serving contemporary, plant-based Thai street food with influences from South East Asia. Although they live in Sydney, Thomas and Evelyn feel like Wollongong is their second home, as they first started here in “The Gong.” They trade weekly in Wollongong, monthly at the Central Coast, and monthly in Sydney.
The pair want people to know that vegan food doesn’t need to be boring, and their plant-based meals are as tasty as any meat-based Thai food you’ll try. So if you’re open to it, (and you certainly don’t have to be vegan to enjoy a plant-based meal), get down to the Crown Street Markets this week and give Plant Based Eatery a try-your taste buds and your health will thank you for it!
Vegan Donuts that will blow your mind
Have you tried OMG Decadent Donuts yet? They are certified by Vegan Australia and are some of the tastiest donuts you will find. Seriously.
The best thing about OMG donuts is the taste (obviously), but the second best thing is the way they make people feel included who often miss out. As well as being vegan, they are also gluten-free, nut-free, dairy-free, egg-free, wheat-free, yeast-free, sulphite-free, contain no GMOs or artificial colours or flavours. Yes, you read that right, none of those things – and they are delicious. How is that even possible? I’m not sure, but I can say first hand, they are as good as any dairy and gluten-laden, nut-sprinkled donut I’ve had.
And for those folks who are working around food preferences, allergies, and intolerances, how nice that they can join in the fun with their friends for once?
Jo Moore came across OMG Decadent Donuts in late 2019. After 31 years in the education system, she was ready for a change and as a person with coeliac disease and lactose intolerance, OMG donuts piqued her interest, as did the idea of a business model where you bought a licence to operate in a geographic area.
At that point, she had never eaten an OMG donut and thought to herself that she couldn’t buy a business selling a product that tasted less than ordinary like a lot of gluten-free/ vegan food she had experienced. Jo took her mum along to the only OMG Decadent Donut operating in NSW at the time, in Bondi, to sample the donuts. “I bought a box of 12 – one of each flavour and as we sat and had a coffee and discussed the business prospect, we devoured the box. They were the most delicious donuts I had ever eaten, including pre-coeliac diagnosis. I made up my mind on the spot to buy the business.”
Bringing OMG Donuts to Wollongong
Jo bought a license for OMG Decadent Donuts Illawarra, which encompasses Wollongong LGA and the southern parts of Wollondilly/ Camden/Campbelltown LGA’s. First launching at Crown St Market in Wollongong, she was blown away by the response to their donuts and is still overwhelmed by the continued support of local customers. Not long after launching, Jo realised the need for great vegan and gluten-free donuts stretched further than Wollongong so she branched out and bought the Kiama licence as well!
“Being coeliac and lactose intolerant, I understand the difficulties of eating out with special dietary requirements, so it’s very important to me to be able to provide a quality product that makes customers feel confident to eat safely with us.”
Converting the doubters is one of Jo’s favourite parts of the job, “I love the stories I hear from customers about them never having had a donut before or that they have to double check that our donuts are actually ‘free from’ because they taste so good … or that wives have to hide them from their husbands (who originally wouldn’t eat that vegan sh#$?) because they also love them!”
OMG Decadent Donuts Illawarra employs a number of staff, some of whom have allergies, but others who don’t. They all take allergy awareness seriously and ensure there is absolutely no cross-contamination amongst their donuts. “I love my job! I love making people happy every day and I especially like making people with allergies feel normal again,” says Jo.
OMG Decadent Donuts can be found at:
- Kiama Farmers Market
- Kiama Seaside Market
- Crown St Market, Wollongong
- Bulli Village Market
- Market Day at The Wentworth, Port Kembla
- The Illawarra Market
They can also be found at other pop-up events in the local area. OMG Decadent Donuts are available for weddings, parties, corporate functions, school/ community fetes/ fundraisers, and sports days. The hardest part will definitely be choosing which flavour to devour. There are 13 flavours available, with exotic options, but still something for the traditionalists and those who prefer their donuts nude. Are you more of a Dusty Queen, Berry Sinful, or a Spicy Ranga kind of person? You might need to pace yourself while you find out as unfortunately, they aren’t quite magical enough to be calorie-free…yet.
Mr Booch Vegan Kombucha Gelato
You might have seen Mr Booch and his “Mr Whippy” style ice cream van, affectionately named “Betty Booch” at a few local venues and wondered what makes their kombucha gelato so good. As one of their biggest fans, let me see if I can find the words… Smoother than velvet. A perfect balance between the sweetness you would expect from gelato and the delightful tang of kombucha. Original flavours that you won’t find anywhere else. Truly unique and enjoyable. Nope, I don’t think I’ve done it justice, you’ll just have to try it for yourself!
I asked Mick, AKA, Mr Booch a few things about this Wonder Dessert…
What made you decide to make your gelato vegan?
“In the past, we operated a kombucha bar that attracted a diverse clientele, with a significant portion following vegan or vegetarian lifestyles. It became evident that many of our customers had specific dietary intolerances, ranging from gluten and dairy to nuts. In an effort to cater to their needs and create a treat that would be universally enjoyed, we embarked on the journey to develop something truly special.
Traditional gelato, unfortunately, often contains ingredients like gluten and dairy that can pose challenges for individuals with intolerances. Recognising this issue, we set out to craft an alternative that would eliminate these concerns while still delivering an exceptional product. We firmly believe that everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy a treat without compromising their well-being, and Mr Booch gelato offers exactly that.”
What’s the best part about running the van?
“The flexibility in reaching customers wherever they may be is a key advantage for us. Our ability to move and adapt allows us to bring our product directly to the consumers, wherever they’re located. Whether it’s a bustling market in Sydney, an event in the Illawarra, or a festival on the South Coast, we seize these opportunities to engage with a diverse range of people and introduce them to our brand and one-of-a-kind gelato.”
Where’s your favourite spot to serve in the van?
“Boongaree Nature Play Park in Berry is a go-to destination for both weekdays and weekends. Families can always count on finding us there, ready to serve up our delicious scoops. Additionally, every Thursday night, we make our way to Crown Street Markets in Wollongong, serving up our treats to the market-goers. The support we receive from Coledale RSL in Coledale and The Jetty in Bulli is incredible, as they allow us to set up shop and serve our gelato on weekends.
We’re excited to be gradually expanding our presence in Sydney. We have upcoming appearances at the Sydney Vegan Markets and Marrickville Markets, and we’re keeping our fingers crossed for success at both.”
Mr Booch sources their kombucha from three different brewers, two are based in Sydney and the other is in Bellingen. Each offers a unique flavour profile. One focuses on botanical and herbal blends, another specialises in fruity kombucha, and the third brews exclusively with native Australian ingredients. “This allows us to provide a diverse range of options and to explore fun and unique flavour profiles”.
I haven’t tasted a flavour of Mr Booch’s gelato that I don’t love, (and I’ve tried a LOT!) Currently their biggest seller is Pomegranate Lemon but Mick also recommends that you try his personal favourite, Mango Panna Cotta.
Whether you’re a gelato lover looking for a new adventure or a kombucha enthusiast searching for a different way to enjoy your favourite drink, Mr Booch is a perfect choice. With their range being vegan, dairy-free, gluten-free, palm oil-free, and lower in sugar than regular gelato, they cater to all preferences and dietary needs.
Image courtesy of Mr Booch
EVER-EXPANDING OPTIONS FOR VEGAN FOOD IN THE ILLAWARRA
As you can tell from this onslaught of recommendations, there is no shortage of options when it comes to finding great vegan food in the Illawarra. The Dew Drop Inn Tea House at Nan Tien Temple is also well known throughout the region for tasty vegan food in a very tranquil setting.