Harvest Community Foods – Local (BC) Specialty Store/Noodle Shop

Restaurant: Harvest Community Foods
Cuisine: Noodle Shop/Asian/Vegetarian/Organic/Brunch
Last visited: January 11, 2013
Location: Vancouver, BC (Chinatown)
Address: 243 Union Street
Phone: (858) 454-4244
Price Range: $10 or less, $10-20

1Poor 2OK 3Good 4Very good 5Excellent 6FMF Must Try!

Food: 3-3.5
Service: n/a
Ambiance: 4.5
Value: 3
Overall: 4
Additional comments:

  • Independently owned/operated
  • Specialty foods store
  • Community based
  • Farm to table noodle bowls
  • Local ingredients
  • Mostly organic ingredients
  • Sunstainable ingredients
  • Seasonal specials
  • Limited menu
  • Quick/casual
  • Limited seating
  • Family friendly
  • Affordable
  • Vegetarian friendly
  • Vegan friendly
  • Gluten free friendly
  • Mon-Fri: 11am-8pm
  • Sat-Sun: 10am-6pm

**Recommendations: Udon with Shiso and Tofu Bowl, Rice Noodle with Hazelnut & Charred Chili Bowl, Beta-5 cookies

Harvest Community Foods (1)You can’t look at the restaurant like this.

Harvest Community Foods (18)You have to look at it like this.

There. You have to stand further back, look up, and all around. It’s a restaurant that caters to the urban neighbourhood and everyone living in the building, and it’s great at doing just that. It is not a place I would necessarily drive out for, but it is a place I could appreciate if I lived in the area. And that’s no surprise; after all the people in the area are the masterminds behind Harvest Community Foods. This is their store.

The whole concept for Harvest Community Foods was based on what the neighourhood wanted. After research and votes from people living in this up and coming area, the request for “The Space” (what it was previously called), was for a community food supply store offering local products – and the rest is history which you can read more about here.

Harvest Community Foods (3)This is a “food trend” I did not mention in my Top 10 Food Trends of 2013 post, but I did consider it. I am a fan of the concept which has already taken off in alpha food cities like New York, LA, San Francisco and Portland, but not as much in Vancouver. It’s not that it is not desired, but property is expensive in Vancouver which makes these concepts hard to execute and sustain on a small scale. Others like it include Le Marché St George, Edible Canada at The Market, and Dirty Apron just to name a few.

Harvest Community Foods (5)Charming? Yes. Harvest Community Foods opened late last year and it doubles as a small specialty foods store and a casual eatery. As a neighbourhood market they offer local and organic goods, produce and products. As a restaurant they offer individual portions of Asian inspired noodle bowls made with good quality BC products for a West Coast palate.

Harvest Community Foods (8)This is their food philosophy and they carry through with it. The local food movement is continuing strong and consumers are making healthier food choices and choosing to eat and buy locally. They are choosing to support the local farmers and artisans in their communities and Harvest Community Foods is right there answering their wants and needs.

Harvest Community Foods (6)I happen to know some of the people involved in Harvest Community Foods and was invited to check them out for dinner. To be honest, I’m not the primary target market for this, however I understand and commend it.

If you’re looking for an authentic bowl of Asian noodles then no, I would not recommend you to come to Harvest Community Foods. After all, it is in Chinatown – there are endless family run hole in the walls serving bowls of noodles and soup for twice the portion of what you would get here, but is it twice as good? Answering that would be comparing apples and oranges.

Harvest Community Foods does not specialize in authentic Asian noodle bowls and it is not their intention. Instead they offer healthy noodle bowls that are driven by local and organic products made for a West Coast palate in mind. This also means value in ingredients, not in portion. It is healthier, presented nicer, for an organic/vegan/vegetarian crowd, but incomparable to traditional Asian noodle bowls. Thus to appreciate this you have to be in their niche market and/or mind set, or it is very likely you will not get it and think it’s another granola loving hipster place.

Harvest Community Foods (16)I found it very surprising that they would specialize in Asian noodles in Chinatown, but after seeing the set up it all made sense. It was a very logistical and smart decision. They have no oven, just an induction burner and a small fridge and freezer. I saw it as more of a specialty foods store than a kitchen or restaurant. There is only so much you can do with that kitchen and if it isn’t soups and sandwiches then noodle bowls are about as cost efficient, cultural, consistent, quick and simple as you can get. Vancouver also has an effortless love towards Asian inspired cuisine.

Personally I appreciate the concept, philosophy and initiative, more than I did the noodle bowls although the noodle bowls are not bad. However I’m very biased because I’m Asian and I like my traditional noodle bowls, but this caters to a market that needs to eat too and it’s not the ones that will likely go to Ramen Santouka, Motomachi Shokudo, New Town Bakery & Restaurant, McKim Wonton Mein Saga, Michigan Noodle Shop, Kam Gok Yuen, Kintaro Ramen etc. The clientele here live in the neighbourhood and they want an affordable, healthy and casual option they can conveniently have perhaps every day, and in that case – this works just fine.

On the table:

Harvest Community Foods (11)I listed Artisan Sodas & Non-Alcoholic Cocktails in my Top 10 Food Trends of 2013 and they were on top of it. They have a limited selection of artisan sodas, but they were good ones. I’ve taken a liking to Fresh Ginger Ale by Bruce Coast and although it was not available, it would be a very fitting option with their Asian noodle theme.

Harvest Community Foods (7)I was looking for #18-27, #30, and #33-38. It turns out that this is their entire menu. #17, 28, 31, 39 are the mainstays and then the other 2 are seasonal specials.

Harvest Community Foods (12)Ramen with Pork Shoulder – 3/6 (Good)

  • With pork shoulder, radish, egg, candied bacon $9.95
  • This is the only meat option and it is the most popular choice.
  • I am a meat eater, but I do love vegetables and I actually preferred the other vegetarian/vegan bowls I tried over this one.
  • It was pretty and colourful and it reminded me of Momofuku Noodle Bar ramen bowls in terms of style.
  • If you like Ramen SantoukaMotomachi ShokudoKintaro Ramen and the more traditional and authentic Japanese ramen shops, then this is not really for you.
  • This is catered for a West Coast/Western palate who appreciates a lighter and healthier take on ramen.
  • I like my ramen soup medium rich (not overly fatty rich), milky and made from pork bones. I like an intensely flavoured pork bone stock.
  • This wasn’t bland, but it could use more flavour and I found it a very clear broth.
  • It was a house made pork based broth, but the soup base was very mild and not as intense with pork flavour compared to the ones I mentioned above.
  • It is comparing apples to oranges, but if I had to pick… I pick the traditional Japanese ramen and that’s a personal choice.

Harvest Community Foods (13)

  • The toppings were good quality, local and non-traditional, besides the egg and char siu (slice of roasted pork).
  • I was hoping for more meat and it was only a very small slice of pork shoulder and once piece of candied bacon.
  • Pork shoulder is naturally fatty, but this one was overly so and most of it was fat.
  • The fat was very tender and creamy and the pork melted in my mouth, but the particular cut was just too fatty.
  • The candied bacon was also from Two Rivers Meats (local) and that was very good, crisp and barely sweet for being candied.
  • The egg was a bit too cooked for me, but the flavour was very good. It was sweet and savoury and I liked that it was included.
  • The radish was a watermelon radish from North Arm Farms (Pemberton, BC).
  • The noodles were from local supplier Toko Foods and they were actually firm and quite good.
  • I wouldn’t mind the broth hotter in temperature, but it was still a good ramen bowl if I’m not comparing to traditional ramen.
  • It’s not a huge bowl and it satisfies a small to average appetite, but the value is in quality of ingredients although I could use a bit more meat.

Harvest Community Foods (14)**Udon with Shiso  – 4/6 (Good)

  • With Shiso, tofu, shiitake, green onion (Vegan) $8.95
  • I was very surprised that I liked this one even better than the Pork Ramen.
  • It sounded a bit ordinary on the menu and I wouldn’t have ordered it, but because it was recommended I did. And I’m glad.
  • For a vegetarian soup base it had a ton of flavour.
  • It was deeper and had more flavour than the meat one which just showed  how mild the pork one was in comparison.
  • The house made broth was definitely on the sweeter side and it was made from sweet soy sauce, shiitake, kombu dashi (traditional Japanese seaweed stock), and mirin (sweet rice wine).
  • I am not vegan, but I hesitate on seaweed being classified as vegan, so if you are a hardcore vegan I’m just giving the FYI.
  • Japanese mirin is almost 40-50% sugar and mushrooms can be a bit sweet too so it was a tad on the sweet side for me, but it was very flavourful.
  • Mushrooms have excellent umami (savoury) qualities, so the juices just infused into the soup creating and intensely sweet and savoury broth.
  • There were also lots of baby shiitake mushrooms (dried and rehydrated) and it would have been excellent to have some enoki mushrooms too.
  • Shiso is a very strong prickly Japanese herb that tastes like mint meets anise or licorice and the flavour can be acquired.
  • I could barely taste any of it in this broth or taste any as a topping, so I would not say it was a featured ingredient.
  • Again, it’s not a huge bowl and it satisfies a small to average appetite, but the value is in quality of ingredients.
  • That being said, it is still slightly pricey and it could use more variety in mushrooms to bulk it up a bit.

Harvest Community Foods (15)

  • The udon was from Toko Foods which is a local noodle maker and supplier in Vancouver. This is where all the noodles at Harvest Community Foods come from.
  • The udon was nice and chewy, but I take a liking to the ones at Zakkushi Charcoal Grill. I’m not sure if it was how they were prepared or just a difference in supplier.
  • It came with diced firm organic tofu and then one big slice of meaty firm tofu which were standard, but I wish it was their smoked tofu which is great.
  • The tofu had no smoky flavour so I don’t think it was their smoked tofu (Sunrise Soyganic Smoked Tofu brand).
  • If it was smoked tofu then I couldn’t taste the smokiness and either the broth overwhelmed it, or it just wasn’t smoky in flavour.
  • Personally I like the organic Dayspring Soyacraft Smoked Tofu brand which is also local, but regardless it was still a good noodle bowl.

Harvest Community Foods (17)

**Rice Noodle with Hazelnut – 3.5/6 (Good-Very Good)

  • With hazelnut and charred chili, SOLEfood Farms greens (Vegan & Gluten Free) $8.95
  • I liked this and it was my second favourite, but it needs more sauce and I would recommend asking for more if you order it.
  • This is a dry noodle dish with no soup and it was richer than the other two due to the sauce.
  • There was a good base of warm boiled noodles, but I wish they had been pan fried for more flavour.
  • It was topped with a rich and creamy dairy free hazelnut sauce made from ground hazelnuts, gluten free soy sauce, and sesame oil.
  • It was very fragrant and peanutty (but there are no peanuts) and I thought it was made from sesame sauce or miso.
  • It is not a smooth sauce and it has the texture of puréed tofu, but it was just from the hazelnuts. I enjoyed it though.
  • It was nutty and savoury and I love the crunchy bites of toasted hazelnuts giving the soft noodles contrasting texture.
  • It was almost a play on Chinese “Dan Dan Noodles” or “Tan Tan Noodles” which is a Sichuan specialty.
  • However the addition of sesame sauce to Tan Tan Noodles is a North American addition.
  • The sauce reminded me of this almond sauce I tried in San Diego called Bitchin’ Sauce. I loved this one just as much and could eat it plain with pita.
  • It was very mildly spicy and you can always request for more chili, but they also serve their own home made chili sauce on the side which was good.
  • Again it was a bit pricey for the size and it doesn’t feel like a complete meal.
  • I would love some more veggies, tofu or chicken to complete it, but it was good and unique.
  • I would buy that hazelnut sauce if they sold it alone.

For desserts they have baked goods and chocolate from Beta-5 Chocolate and artisan ice cream from Earnest Ice Creams. I tried both at the Swallow Tail Canada’s Dessert Festival & Pop Up Soda Shoppe.

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