The Food Co Op Café is located on Kingsley Street in the CBD, just a few minutes walk from the Australian National University. The interior is split into two halves - on one side is the Food Co Op itself, where you can buy health foods in bulk and on the other side is a popular vegan café. This community-minded business is mainly run by volunteers, who work in the Food Co Op in return for discounts on the bulk foods. For students at the nearby university and locals who live in the area, it is a social way to be able to eat cheaply and healthily, whilst living a sustainable, environmentally-friendly lifestyle.
The café itself is inviting as soon as you walk in, with colourful murals on the walls, mismatched furniture and aromas coming out of the kitchen which make your stomach rumble. This spicy and comforting smell is usually the popular lunchtime special. On weekdays between 12pm - 2pm, they cook a huge pot of vegan soup, dal, risotto, curry or another vegan delight and serve up bowls for $6 for students and $8 for non-students. Get there early though - as the pot may run out before 2pm!
Carrot and Beetroot Dal with brown rice and slice of bread ($8)
The lunchtime crowd can get busy with the interior full of happy diners, as well as more people sitting outside on the milk crates and stairs in front of the café. Alternatively, if you study or work nearby, you can also take your own bowl or plastic container to fill up and take it back to your office or workplace. Every day the lunch special is a surprise and every day, it is delicious - as they use the ingredients from their Food Co Op, which are fresh and full of flavour.
Examples of previous lunch specials. Image: Original photos from Food Co Op Facebook
Although it is the flavoursome and affordable food that attracts the crowds, it is also the sense of community in this positive, eclectic space. Everyone is made to feel welcome and there is something about the relaxed vibe that makes you feel like you are walking into a friend's home. I always visit by myself and feel comfortable in doing so, without feeling rushed or hurried along for my table. To keep the café running smoothly, there are notices on each table to ask diners to take their finished bowls to the trolley outside the kitchen, so there is always a free and clean table for the next person.
Although the Food Co Op is open 7 days, the café side is only open between 10am - 3pm on weekdays only. Occasionally they have special events in the café on a Saturday, with wholesome vegan food cooked by volunteers from countries all around the world. See their Facebook page for their latest events. Parking isn't easy to come by in the area, however I would recommend the car park nearby on Watson Street, which always has a free space and isn't too far to walk to the café.
The joy of this café, which is one of my personal favourites in the city, is that you don't need to be vegan to enjoy the food here. The talented cooks create tasty and filling lunches which are full of spice and flavour - any meat-lover wouldn't even notice it was meat-free! It is also affordable for everyone - where else could you find a complete, nutritious meal within the city for just $8 (or $6 for students)?
Each day is a surprise - who knows what delicious combination they will be serving up tomorrow?