Vancouver, I have a confession. Up until this week, I had never tried Chickpea at their amazing food truck (I know, it’s shocking and quite unforgivable). It’s true. For some reason, I had never had the opportunity to try the infamous food truck food that people like Erin Ireland and The Juice Truck boys would rave over. The truth is, this is not a result of not knowing about it, or even not trying- but for some reason, up until this week- I hadn’t had the delight of tasting Chickpea. Well, the founding team certainly changed that for me yesterday. As soon as I saw that the restaurant had opened I knew that I had to get the #RestaurantStory team in. It was a no-brainer.
It took us some time (basically, Chickpea have been incredibly busy since their opening day) but finally, we made it. As with all restaurant stories- we made sure to stick to liquids for breakfast to prepare for the feast. The thing is, we don’t ever know what the restaurant story will exactly be like, but so far- they have never left us hungry or unfulfilled. I think that’s one of my favourite parts about these restaurant stories is that each one is so unique. Which speaks to the authenticity of each business that we have the privilege of getting to know. There is just no way for us to know what we are in store for. And this visit was certainly just as unique.
We arrived at 11am on Monday morning ready to roll. When we arrived, people were already sitting down (they open at 11am), which is pretty impressive in my books. Immediately we were met by one of their beautiful servers who introduced us to Jordana (owner Itamar’s beautiful wife and baby). Within minutes, the table was full with Jordana, Itamar, Rotem (the co-owner), AK and myself. As soon as we sat down at the table I felt transported to family holidays in Jordan with my husband and his family and my time living in Dubai and the way that the men do a really amazing job of ordering for everyone (in a non-offensive way). There is a true sense of generosity and welcoming in a lot of the mediterranean and middle eastern cultures and Chickpea certainly holds this energy well.
Given that Chickpea is a fully vegan (and anything can be made gluten-free) establishment, there was no need to check-in for our dietary desires and Itamar hit the ground running with some very eloquent and interesting sounding dishes. I tried to following him with scribbling down the names of the dishes but it became clear really quickly that it was a much better idea to listen and check-in with the menu later (don’t worry, I’ve got you guys covered).
Let’s start with the decoration
From the moment that you walk into this place, you can really feel that a lot of love and thought has gone into it. And not only that, it is very accurate to the people behind the business. One of the biggest values for Rotem, Itamar and Jordana was that they were able to create a space for people to come and feel connected, irregardless of how old they are, who they are, where they are from and whether or not they have kids. In fact, Itamar and Jordana’s little one is only 3 months old and is already a consistent participant of the energy there. It is certainly family friendly and at the same time is a place to go with your friends at night and really enjoy an evening of live music, good vibes, great drinks and of course, delicious food (isn’t that one already obvious?)!
When I asked Jordana where all of the pillows came from (they are all so unique and a big assortment of styles) she laughed and said, “Yeah, we’ve been collecting them. I was really happy when we opened the restaurant because our home was starting to get pretty full with all of these pillows!” So amazing. A clear sign that this place did not just come up in a matter of days or weeks- it was a vision that took time to create and execute. The other really beautiful part of this restaurant is the variety of elements- the tree, the live plant wall, the various wallpapers and art on the walls- it is very characteristic and eccentric!
Of course, you can certainly notice the various special touches, such as the ‘Dizengoff’ street sign at the front which is a major street in central Tel Aviv, Israel. One of the other really sweet touches is that all of the menus are presented in childhood books- which is a huge trip down memory lane to find some of your old favourites staring at you when you sit down for a meal and some drinks (such as Asterix and Olivia).
Meet Rotem and Itamar (co-founders)
So who are Itamar (in the overalls) and Rotem (wearing a hat), exactly. I know, I thought the same thing.
Well, it turns out that they are two very down-to-earth, festival loving boys who just so happen to have an intense LOVE for food and who both call Israel home.
Rotem is certainly a world traveller, going from being in the army in Israel (mandatory), to getting hit with the travel bug (and no doubt a search for something more) which took him to various places around the world at 22 including Toronto, Australia, the US, Thailand, India, Amsterdam and more. After a lot of traveling and experience (and running out of money, which comes with world travel at a young age) he returned to Israel to study. Somehow, he found himself in Vancouver one day, staying at the Backpackers hotel downtown. One of my favourite stories that Rotem tells is when he first arrived in Vancouver and began his search for his favourite mediterranean classics. He found himself at ‘Pita Pit’ (which is certainly somewhere that I frequented in University and look back with some shame, I must admit). Once he saw that the falafel was being heated up in the microwave, he realised that he couldn’t stick around. It was clear that there was space for his food dreams to come true here in Vancouver. He also found that the Jewish and Israeli community in Vancouver was very tight and supportive- and he felt very at home with the mountain air and Canadian vibes. Rotem’s thing has always been hummus and he started making hummus in larger quantities (to fill that hole). Rotem and Itamar actually met through Jordana- and suppose the rest is chickpea history.
Itamar’s story is slightly different in that his travels really began when he met his wife Jordana and he came to Vancouver with her to meet her family. From the moment Itamar arrived in Vancouver, he too felt at home and excited about being here. When Itamar tells his story, you certainly get the feeling that he has done a lot and is very quick at making things happen. He’s not one of those people who takes his time in making decisions or following his instincts- he’s fast-paced and always moving forward. “I didn’t realise that it wasn’t normal to be roasting your own coffee beans, pickling and fermenting all of your food, making your own kefir and having everything set up in your home.” Clearly, he’s passionate. Since coming to Vancouver, Itamar has really jumped into a self-exploration, attending vipassana and now being a father to a 3-month old and the proud owner of a restaurant (with many stories along the way)!
They started their food truck in April 2016 and since then it’s just been a wild and crazy ride. The reception for them was really overwhelming- especially considering they were at times worried that people wouldn’t receive the concept with as much excitement. It’s always scary to trust your instincts and do something that is outside of the mainstream (vegan/plant based mediterranean). “We are trying to change the world 1 chickpea at a time. The world needs more chickpeace.”
The vision that really lead the way was to create healthy food, support local artists and the community, connect to each other on a genuine level and really getting the feeling that you are at a festival everyday. Having both worked in the restaurant and food industry substantially, the common thread was that there was a lack of support and love in the restaurant space. A lot of focus was on working hard, not taking care of yourselves and generally a lot of competition. Rotem and Itamar both felt ready to connect back to their roots and create a space of community, support and ‘festival-vibes’. “We are people people.” They wanted to create a space that is welcoming and inviting to everyone who feels called to come in. “We want people to feel like they are at a festival everyday they come into see us.”
Ok, it’s time to talk food
So we had quite a feast. One of (one of) the really lovely parts about feasting at Chickpea is that you are presented with a whole world of colours and experiences. That’s always something that I have truly loved about middle eastern and mediterranean food- there is no such thing as bland and you are basically giving your taste buds (and whole body) a party to enjoy. So many of the different flavour combinations, textures and tastes are covered in a variety of different styles and executions. When all of the dishes first arrived in front of us, I will admit- I was pretty overwhelmed. Mostly because it was 11am…and I knew that if I had the time I would probably spend about 4 hours just taking photos of these beautiful foods. Alas, we had to dig in (poor us, I know).
I will say that absolutely everything they served us was DELICIOUS. There was nothing that I felt missed the mark or didn’t impress me. That being said, I did have a few favourites (all in photos below):
Two thick savoury puff pastry pancakes stuffed with avocado and yam, tomatoes, warm chickpeas, hummus, extra spicy red shug & pickles. Lightly drizzled with classic tahini and garnished with parsley and zataar.
The French Toast
Delicious slices of bread are soaked in a mixture of almond milk and sugar then pan fried until turned crispy on the outside. Topped with a pile of sauteed banana sprinkled with cinnamon, a drizzle of Canadian maple syrup and homemade coconut whipped cream.
This is the hummus with a reputation- hand made by Rotem every single morning and a seriously secret recipe. It is the perfect blend of tahini and spices and has the perfect punch. You will be eating this with your spoon (#beprepared).
The Classic Chickpea Fries
This is really what made them famous. The chickpea fries. They are crispy, gluten-free and have a variety of toppings that you can choose. The classic comes with sweet chili sauce and amba mango sauce (sweet and spicy = always a good idea).
The Hafla Sharing Experience’ (+Salatim)
It was so good to hear Itamar talk about the hafla and introduce us to this shared experience that they are so passionate about at Chickpea. Essentially, the idea with a Hafla is that everyone (2 or more people) are invited to sit back, relax and really enjoy a moment together filled with delicious food and drinks. This is a very interactive experience that is filled with various flavours, textures and types of food. The centre of this experience is of course, the chickpea (hummus) and you will that chickpeas do not loose their rep when you walk in the door of this restaurant (or out of it). They are celebrated in a big way (Nama-Chickpea).
The French Toast with maple syrup and coconut cream *brunch item served until 4pm
Apparently, this is the only vegan french toast in Vancouver. Whether or not this is true- it is certainly one of the best! It’s amazing- so perfectly crisp, sweet, comforting and rich.
Shakshuka with vegan sausage and avocado
This is the first vegan shakshuka I’ve ever had (I’ve had it with eggs before) and I will say that this is SO good. It is really smoky and the avocado/chickpeas serve as a perfect addition. Plus, the shakshuka is all about that smoky mediterranean sauce and this one is certainly on point. The vegan sausage also gives it that hearty element and pairs really well with all of the flavours.
The Classic Chickpea Fries
The Hatzil Baladi
This is a super traditional/classic dish that I’ve had before and always love. They’re definitely done it proud with the tangy lemon sauce and the really charred eggplant. Also, you can never go wrong with traditional mint, parsley, tomatoes and chopped red onion to top.
The Malawach with avocado and yam
This dish is literally SO good. This might be my favourite. The puff pastry pancake is so perfect and when all of the juices and flavours of the topping soak into it- YUM. Honestly, I want another right now.
So here’s the thing: they just recently opened the restaurant up for BRUNCH (available 11am-4pm) and are offering a really incredible brunch menu including the AMAZING vegan french toast (pictured above). Some other amazing items coming soon include blueberry oat banana pancakes, 2 types of frittatas, latkes, malawach (SO GOOD- pictured above), and a breakfast shakshuka…. I know guys, I know. Also, they still do catering so if you are interested in having your event/wedding catered by them- head here for more information. If you’re wondering about dessert, we certainly had no more room for it but they have an amazing dessert menu including items featuring Vancouver’s local chocolate favourite, Zimt, Say Hello Sweets ice cream and of course the classic styles of baklava.
So where is Chickpea going? What do they see for the future?
Their big picture vision is to buy a big property and have a farm that is all about the things that they love. A place for family, community, food, music and overall connection. The essence? A chickpea festival.
I think that’s enough talking, let’s let the pictures do the rest. If you want to find out more or just check out more about what Chickpea is all about, here is their social media:
I’ll see you there soon!