If you think Mexican food, you might think meat. Sure, Mayan cuisine includes an exotic array of spices, herbs and plant-based delicacies- elote (corn on the cob often served with crema, chili powder, lime or cheese), tamales (pockets of corn wrapped in banana leaves and steamed), sopes (fried masa dough with beans and other toppings), and chilaquiles (fried tortillas covered in salsa). But generally, Mexico is a mutton mania. Whether roasted, slow cooked, braised or boiled, the tantalizing smells of onion, cilantro and bubbling meat linger in the air.
Playa Del Carmen is one such meat mecca (hello burritos, taquitos and enchiladas!) but surprisingly, it’s also a haven for vegetarian and vegan delights. In the small beach side suburb, there are over ten vegan cafés and restaurants.
For the uneducated, meat loving foodies, ‘vegan’ means no consumption of any animal products, including meat, dairy (milk, cheese, butter and yogurt), eggs and honey. People who are vegan believe that veganism is not just a cruelty-free diet, but a way of being that promotes respect for all living organisms.
While it may be considered extreme by some, human food consumption has a drastic and potentially irreversible impact on the planet. Raising animals for food consumption requires massive amounts of energy, water, land and food. Animal agriculture and livestock produces staggering amounts of global greenhouse gas emissions. Veganism is a movement which aims to increase consciousness and sustainability.
The Pitted Date, owned by Vancouverite Emma Faroh, is one of these conscious vegan establishments located in Playa, just off central Quinta (5th) Avenida and Calle (Street) 26.
A large port window that exhibits the café’s humble kitchen can be seen from the street, a choice that head chef Faroh consciously made. Clean eating is all about transparency and consciousness, and she wanted customers to be able to view the artistry that transpires in the kitchen. There’s nothing to hide here and customers would probably be surprised to know that all the gourmet vegan fare is prepared using only a small two burner electric stove top and a panini grill. The rest is magic, love and a whole lot of passion from Faroh and her Pitted Date team.
“The first ingredient in all of our meals is amor,” Emma says with a smile.
So how did this B.C. born gal end up owning and running a vegan café in Playa? The short story is a restaurant upbringing (Faroh’s dad was a chef), a wild and adventurous spirit, her connection to all living things, and a fateful Tinder date.
The longer version is when Faroh first moved to Mexico, she was drawn to Tulum (located about 45 minutes away from Playa) and on her second day there was offered a job as a raw food chef at a yoga retreat in the jungle. Though the opportunity didn’t pan out as she hoped, it was there that Faroh realized there was a niche market for health and awareness.
Faroh returned to her home city of Vancouver shortly after, but this ambitious manifestor put her “singing bowl out to the universe,” as she says, which eventually called her back to Playa to work in timeshares (vacation property rentals). Selling and marketing was one of her fortes, but Faroh decided it was finally time to open her own vegan café. In completing her vision, she decided she wanted a companion for her entrepreneurial journey, which lead her to ‘swipe right’ on Mexican born Tinder match, Oscar Alonso.
“Within the first week of dating I told him, we’re going to open a vegan café and have a baby,” Faroh laughs, “and he said okay!”
That vision has been realized and then some. Their vegan café is now thriving, as is their ten-month-old baby boy.
The café features nutrient dense and superfood delights like raw carrot cake (with dehydrated pineapple, kiwi and cashew cream cheese icing), banana sushi, lentil patty paninis and their infamous omelettes, made with a vegan ‘egg’ that took Faroh nearly a year to perfect. The Pitted Date’s vegan egg is featured in forms like the breakfast burrito and the bomblette (a quinoa and vegetable stuffed vegan egg that will truly rock your world). Speciality coffees are served with fresh, daily made almond milk and nearly everything in the café is made from scratch.
Inside the conscious café, the stocked vitrine beckons, full of raw, plant-based and gluten free desserts. For those of you wondering how chocolate cake without milk and eggs can still be decadent, let me tell you, it is possible and The Pitted Date’s two-tiered chocolate cake in Playa is one of the best (vegan or not).
Why ‘The Pitted Date’? Mostly all the café’s raw desserts feature dates as part of the ingredients. Dates have naturally occurring sugars that lend themselves amazingly well to desserts. The catch is, they must be pitted first, hence the shop’s name. On any given day, you’re likely to find one of the café’s employees arm deep in dates, chopping and blending the fruit to incorporate them into bases, sauces and fillings.
Business owner Faroh has been a vegan for three years now, and she says she is amazed how much more intuitive and connected she has felt since making this lifestyle change. She switched to a vegan diet after deciding to become more active about animal rights (and yes, she cries watching any documentaries or video clips about tortured animals). Faroh says when people become more conscious, they feed their body and mind, and start sharing this care and connection outwards, which extends to animals and the environment.
“Having a vegan café is not just a trend,” Faroh says. “There’s an ‘ism’ on the end of veganism because it’s a lifestyle, and when you become vegan you become more conscious about the planet and the environment.”
“I’m not here to change people’s minds about eating habits, I’m here to bring awareness and share knowledge.”
While Faroh has succeeded in creating a conscious database through her café, she has bigger dreams still. She would like to see her vegan establishment reach franchise level, with restaurants located in every city around the world.
That’s a way to go yet, but for now, the café continues to garner rave reviews on the Caribbean coastline and raise cruelty-free consciousness, one vegan plate at a time.