We are all reluctantly familiar with the word ‘can’t’. Recently, I’ve had to incorporate a gluten-free element to my vegan diet, and the word ‘can’t’ is starting to emerge more in my travels. Food outlets are accommodating, but usually to a certain extent. I understand that, and I’m definitely not one to seek out special treatment. Though, now I need to for health reasons. A sunny drive into Upwey in Melbourne’s outer east meant a lunchtime stop to try out Abitza Café. There was word that vegan options are free-flowing here, except I wasn’t sure how many vegan gluten-free options would be available.
Stepping into Abitza is like arriving home. This converted shopfront is a little deceiving in the sense that there are a couple of cosy breakout rooms furnished by tables and chairs, a comfy couch and cushions. Before even taking a seat, we stand politely near the counter to discover we can choose a spot wherever we like and we’re encouraged to come back to the counter and order as we wish. Sue is warm, smiling and the matriarch of this calming whole foods café. Her warmth travels along to the acoustic tune from above; the soulful urban poetry of Tracy Chapman’s self-titled album.
Sue quickly showers us with glasses, a big vessel of water and unwavering hospitality. “Yes, we can do something for you,” she declares. After a little back-and-forth, I discover that my lunch choice – Vegan Burger – will be a vegan, chickpea and lentil burger (spiced lightly), potato chips, fresh garden salad and a serve of raw pumpkin salad and sided by vegan mayonnaise (all sans bread bun).
When we go without, we are blessed with what we get in return and I realise that Abitza Café is all about what it can do for its ‘amazing’ customers. No sooner am I feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude for Sue’s positive ethic, my chai tea arrives in front of me together with its own teeny-tiny bowl of cinnamon. I pinch some of this sweet-smelling spice and roll its scratchy fineness between my fingertips. I sprinkle this light brown powder over the cloud of soy milk froth then lift the cup to my lips as my nose catches that brief scent of cinnamon. The chai, made from scratch here at Abitza, is a melody of spice and sweetness without a need for added sugar. The gentle flow of warm, nourishing chai brings homely warmth to my body; this meal is going to be alright.
My meal arrives with impeccable timing; within minutes of finishing my moment with a cup of Abitza’s chai tea. Finely chopped raw pumpkin salad is folded through a layer of fresh spinach, topped by sliced tomato and cucumber that’s speckled by a seeded dressing. A dollop of vegan mayonnaise tries to hide under my thickly cut chips. That’s what those chips are going to be dunked in before slicing through my wholesome chickpea burger. My vegan gluten-free burger is transformed into a filling lunch that sees me out through the rest of the afternoon.
Be guided by Sue’s wholesome food and hospitality at Abitza Café, Healing and Giftware, 56-58 Main Street, Upwey, Victoria Australia 3156. Monday to Friday 7.30am to 5.00pm, Saturday 8.00am to 3.00pm, Sunday 9.00am to 2.00pm. Phone: 03 9754 6850.
Stay a little longer to enjoy Abitza’s book loan corner or buy a coffee for someone in need through Abitza’s suspended coffee program. Giftware is also available to purchase.