Each time I come back
By Elena Gibbs
You know those sour sweets, or wasabi peas—at first you’re all like “woah, no, no,” and then, as the flavour cools or the heat subsides, your taste buds adjust and you simmer down and think: “Actually, maybe I like this. This feels good. I’ll take another one.”
Earth café is the wasabi pea of NQ eateries. Green and innocent on the outside, and on the inside, a delve into an unknown dimension.
However, that’s where the metaphor ends. Earth café is not filled with mouth-burning horseradish spice—though it retains the element of the unexpected—but a canteen-style self-service counter, for which you require a member of staff to serve you from.
The element of surprise comes from the variation in feature dishes, as well as the manner in which they are served. With a smile, or a look or irritation? It is over the number of fingers on my hand that I have visited the food cave that sits so volcanically under the enlightened space of the Buddhist centre. Part of my so copious attendance is to observe, or hope for, any change in this whimsical mood.
At first I sought to pass off the less than pleased attitude as to a ‘bad day’ or ‘nothing personal’. But, after many a visit, I must conclude that to avoid the disheartening feeling of as though you’re getting in the way, one must act in an unwaveringly friendly and upbeat manner to rouse the staff from their desire to be elsewhere. A remedy can be to strike up conversation, to ask what the best dish on the menu is, but do run the risk of a look of disappointment if you don’t already know how the four item system works. Seven times in, I’m still not entirely sure, but best not to ask.
Though the solution is as simple as a smile, I must add that this does not apply to all of the staff, and reactions change from day to day.
Once the capricious task of deciphering the mood is over, one can enjoy the homely vegan and vegetarian hotpots and stews that are on offer, all served with a rotating range of quinoa, brown rice, roasted parsnips, braised cabbage and optional salad. The food here is what keeps me coming back: Healthy, wholesome and filling; it’s food you don’t have to think about.
There are vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free and generally planet-friendly cakes and brownies available, which are said to be delicious. Though, round one over, it’s really the dining experience that cools the tongue, washes the spirit in a pool of calm, brings the chakras up from the kundalini.
It’s an underground, wooden space with beams and perfectly dim lighting. Little vases of fresh yellow flowers and modestly simple salt and pepper shakers, school canteen style. You help yourself to water, take your plate off your tray, gaze out of the window and breathe in the energy of ancient wisdom that circulates, seeping in from above.
The electric shock of wasabi has dissipated from the air and the slate of your mind is wiped cleaner than before. You leave, opening your eyes to face the bustle of Manchester city centre with a new sense of self, belonging, and realisation. You are one with the earth and its café.