On a Friday afternoon at 3 p.m., all the dal patties are gone. “That’s a good choice,” the cashier at Vegan’s Delight tells me with a bright-pink lipsticked smile, “but we’re out.” Behind the counter, other options present themselves: two shelves of thin orange pockets of flaky, curry-powder-spiked dough filled with spiced blends of tofu, ackee (a buttery fruit with a texture akin to jackfruit), vegetable, and soy-based “chicken,” “beef,” and “fish.” I opt for the veggie patty, which is stuffed with cabbage and carrot; it’s a little light on filling but, for $3, makes for an afternoon nosh that’ll sate you until dinner.
The tiny vegan grocer and food counter — think Nineties health-food store meets corner bodega — is located off the next-to-last stop on the 5 train in the northern Bronx. Walk past a KFC, White Castle, and Wendy’s to find it at the corner of Boston Road and Tiemann Avenue, in a strip mall across the street from a Walgreens. Tucked among the chains are small businesses that support the area’s Jamaican population: At Sundial, just up the block (which Anthony Bourdain visited on his Bronx episode of Parts Unknown), the owner, known as the Bush Doctor, makes herbal tonics. Kingston Tropical Bakery nearby makes beloved breads and patties in the island’s tradition. It makes sense that this is where Vegan’s Delight has plunked its health- and plant-focused flag.
The shop, which also offers regular yoga classes in a back room, has been serving ital cuisine since 1992. Ital cooking is part of the Rastafari movement — the word comes from “vital,” meaning it’s food that’s supposed to keep you feeling energetic — and is usually vegetarian or vegan, often (as at Vegan’s Delight) even avoiding processed salts that contain additives like iodine.
Instead, dishes get doses of flavor from spices and plant-derived fats. The menu changes every day, and from breakfast into lunch and dinner. You might think you have to choose among the handful of listed items, but someone behind the counter is likely to take charge, scooping up grains and vegetables and piling it all into aluminum takeout containers. For $12, you can eat what feels like three meals.
There’s a steady stream of customers in the morning, and if you’re a regular, the cashier will know your order: a tofu patty, multigrain porridge, a coconut water. The hot breakfast is popular, and heavy on the starches: mashed potatoes, roasted yellow plantain, and boiled green plantain with steamed broccoli. On the side, get a thin, crispy veggie fritter infused with chile-pepper heat. At lunchtime, brown rice and peas might come a tad dry, but fold in tender bits of curried seitan to pull it all together. The dish that really stands out is the ital stew, a spicy and fragrant mix of braised collards, okra, and pumpkin in coconut milk. For desserts, there are moist little coconut and zucchini breads wrapped in plastic at the counter, though you may not have room for them.
When you’re finished, pick up a bottle of kombucha to help digest your meal, and browse the aisles. The small space is packed with spices, bulk brown rice, nuts, giant jars of Vegenaise, coconut oil, and frozen vegan prawns. But even if you haven’t come to stock your pantry, it’s worth the trip for a helping of patties and ital stew. Just get here before the dal sells out.
3565 Boston Road, Bronx
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