Let’s get real: the majority of vegan cheeses and veggie burgers ain’t foolin’ no one. From the texture to the flavor to the way they cook and melt, most of these healthy substitutes are no substitutes at all for many diners. And, many veggie options are packed with weird binding agents and preservatives that mean they probably aren’t all that nutritious, either.
But the array of vegan cheeses put out by Barefood Bangkok is changing the game in the city. With a line of cashew nut-based cheeses that they’ve been honing for over two years, and a cafe and shop serving an ever-expanding range of wholesome, delicious meals, this place is putting out products that could fool the meat lovers in your life — even though the owners say that’s not the point.
Their cheeses appear on the menu at About Eatery, Sourced Grocers, and Cali-Mex, but it was the flurry of social media posts recently about their new burger — one of the latest breed of beetroot-based patties that replicate beef in appearance — that pushed us through their Ekkamai front doors.
Their cafe is a homey place with a big communal table ringed by charmingly mismatched chairs. “The concept is kitschy and emotionally run,” said co-owner Taksina Nuangsri, who runs Barefood with Italian chef Edoardo “Edo” Bonavolta.
At the eatery, which she said is more of a deli than a restaurant, diners can order up burgers, sandwiches, salads, cheese plates, and pastas to eat-in, or choose cheeses, breads, homemade kombucha, local hot sauce, desserts, and prepared meals to take away.
Talking to the pair, it’s clear to see the time, love, and detail that goes into creating their health-conscious foods. Many, many blocks of vegan cheese awaited readiness in their coolers while, back in the kitchen, red burger patties that looked suspiciously like rare beef rested in the dehydrator.
One of the most important ingredients in their popular burger is koji, a fungus used to ferment grains and integral in making soy sauce and sake. Bonavolta pulled baggies of koji cultures out of the refrigerator, joking that it looked like drugs. It smelled yeasty and beery and is used to culture each batch of burgers for three to four days. One of their more unusual cheese offerings is also coated in the fungus. Bonavolta says it’s among the most popular.
Other steps in making the burger include pressing the beetroot overnight, steaming it, cooking it, and dehydrating it. Since they use no preservatives, the burger making has to be repeated every few days.
Most everything on the menu, from the pasta to the kombucha, is made from scratch on the premises.
We started our meal with the medium-sized Nutcheese Platter (THB360), which comes with 75 grams of cheese in five varieties — classic, pistachio walnut, spicy chili, smoked oat wood, and mixed herb — with apple slices, grapes and toast slices.
A platter of this size could easily be shared by two or three people as a starter or eaten as a main course by one cheese lover.
From the first taste, the cheese surprised us with the depth of flavor, richness, creaminess and ability to melt in your mouth. The spicy and classic were the winners for us, though the pistachio was a close runner-up.
While you’d never mistake this for a hard cheese like a cheddar or gouda, it could easily be a dupe for a softer cheese. In fact, our leftovers were pillaged and the offender mistook his first chunk for a smoked goat’s cheese.
Barefood makes their cheeses from soaked, fermented cashews. A single block, which weighs in at just under a kilogram, takes a month to produce. The finished product can be adjusted by playing with the timing and temperature during fermentation, with different combinations producing a harder, softer, milder, or more full-flavored cheeses.
Next up was another of their popular dishes, Kale Salad (THB240). A serving of curly raw kale marinated with olive-oil and date vinegar is topped with dehydrated kale, apple slices, and parmesan-mimicking grated almonds. The simple plate delivers several tastes: the clean and green of kale, the sweetness of apple, and salty umami of the dressing. The dual kale types also produced a nice texture variety.
Then, we tried the shop’s star sellers: the lasagna and the burger. Kale Broccoli Lasagna (THB290) is the dish that Barefood superfans keep coming back for. In it, whole grain pasta sheets are layered with roasted broccoli, zucchini, black kale, onion, carrot, celery, and cashew bechamel. The whole thing is baked together into a cohesive casserole and, if you’re vegan, comfort food isn’t going to get any heartier or more reassuring than this.
But we were there to try that burger. The chef invited us into the kitchen to see the beet-red patty come out of the dehydrator and into a pan alongside a single clove of garlic and one sprig of rosemary, making the small eatery smell pretty great as it sizzled almost as convincingly as beef.
We had the Barefood Smoked and Spicy Burger (THB290) with grilled eggplant, tomato, ketchup, onion, lettuce, and aioli, though they do a non-smoked version as well.
Though the beetroot looks like beef — and that was important when designing their burger — it also provides a crucial flavor and richness, said the chef, noting that the patty was not designed solely for looks.
Once it comes off the grill, it’s placed on a toasted whole wheat roll and topped with caramelized onion along with the other toppings.
When bitten into, it appears like rare beef and squishes in a way that’s not unlike meat, though it lacks the telltale juiciness of a beef burger that would appear that red and rare.
It’s a very clever recipe in texture and appearance as well as flavor. The smokiness makes the burger seem especially meat-like.
This is easily the best veggie burger we’ve had in Bangkok. One of the city’s most famous versions wildly disappointed us, oozing out of the bun on the first bite and leaving us spending the rest of the meal doing damage control along the edges of the sandwich.
Handmade veggie burgers often can’t retain their structural integrity after being presented and the situation just gets more and more dire with each sog-inducing moment. With this one, we took half of it home and, an hour later, though the bun was a mess — it would have been worse with a beef burger — the patty was still firm and the flavor still pretty good, with the smokiness shining through even more.
Though the chef had to go through lots of trial and error to get his staple burger and cheeses just right, he did have a strong framework from which to build. He’s a certified raw food chef that trained in California as well as having several well-loved Italian restaurants in Bangkok on his resume.
We were impressed by the food and the homeyness factor of Barefood and can’t wait to introduce this under-the-radar spot to our plant cuisine-loving friends.
26 Sukhumvit Soi 61
Open Tues.-Sat., 11am-8pm