Vancouver is considered one of the world's best cities for sushi (we're obsessed) thanks in no small part to our geography. We're also very into plant-based eating here, so it only makes sense that the two genres should meld - and beautifully at that - thanks to a restaurant called Cofu that specializes in vegan pressed sushi.
And to take it one step further, Cofu is also home to a fully non-alcoholic bar menu, too.
Cofu didn't begin as a mecca for plant-based sushi, mind you. The restaurant had operated as a take-out sushi spot - with seafood - since its launch in the fall of 2021, but as the new year got underway, Cofu shifted its focus and re-launched with an all-vegan food and "sober bar" menu.
The reason for the change was to answer what Cofu CEO Akiko Otsuka says was a demand for health-focused restaurant fare. Capitalizing on the popularity of sushi in Vancouver, Otsuka created a menu that marries the deep-rooted traditions of pressed sushi with modern components, like fully plant-based ingredients that parallel seafood in texture and taste with a line-up of creative and colourful sauces not typically found in sushi bars.
What's on the menu at Cofu?
The Cofu menu is centred on the pressed sushi experience, with a list of set combos being the most popular draw. Customers can also order pressed sushi as individual orders, and a menu of plant-based appetizers round out the food options - things like a fried mock fish or chicken made using a soy protein, served with a vegan dipping sauce.
The sushi is machine-pressed to ensure a uniform result, and the combos are arranged attractively on large black slates with sauces for dipping. The eggplant is chewy and smokey, evoking unagi (eel), while Cofu has created vegetable iterations of both tofu and salmon for its sushi, using plant ingredients like jackfruit, carrot, and konjac. The pressed "salmon" sushi does evoke the gentle, velvety texture of salmon, though the flavour overall is more mild and gentle than its aquatic counterpart.
Otsuka says the food is meant to be not just beautiful to look at, but also nutritious. For one, Cofu uses black rice - and a little less rice per serving than at the average sushi bar - chosen for its quality, high fibre content, and antioxidants. The menu was designed to take nutritional concerns and benefits into consideration, Otsuka explains, so dishes will be lower in calories and sodium levels than the same kinds of items at a regular sushi restaurant. An ingredient like carrot is beneficial for eyesight, attests Otsuka, while the karaage-style appetizers get just a quick dunk in deep-fry oil before being sent to the air fryer to crisp up further.
Meanwhile, patrons can order mocktails from the "sober bar," featuring non-alcoholic spirits or beers. The Akutagawa, made with Lyre's Malt (a zero-proof bourbon-style spirit), is like a booze-free scotch and soda that gets its zip from the addition of dried chili. Brews come from familiar makers like Sober Carpenter and Partake, among others.
The small eatery, which is located steps from the entrance to Granville Island, offers dine-in seating (while popular anime films are projected on the wall) as well as take-out.
Although Otsuka herself doesn't follow a plant-based diet, she's keen to show Vancouver sushi's plant potential, while demonstrating that a vegan version of the wildly popular Japanese category of food is much more than plain cucumber or avocado rolls.
@vancouverisawesome Sushi without seafood and cocktails without booze?! I was skeptical… #forkingawesome #vancouverbc #sushi #mocktails #veganfood ♬ Sushi - Atwood
Cofu is located at 1833 Anderson St, #103, in Vancouver. Follow them on Instagram @cofu_20.