Nac Mac Vegan: adventures in rabbit food

17/02/2011

Exki, Paris CDG Terminal 2E

Filed under: Airline food, Eating out, Supermarkets and convenience stores — Tags: , , — Feòrag @ 10:15

Exki, T2E, Paris CDGI’m passing through Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport on my way to Boston. Last year, when I was in Antwerp, I made much use of a Belgian chain called Exki. They specialise in natural foods and have lots of vegan options. Imagine my joy therefore, to discover a new branch in Terminal 2E.

Now, I’m feeling a little paranoid. I did not see any reference to my special meal request on my boarding card. So, I’ve bought a couple of items (to go with the hummous sandwich and fruit salad bought at EAT at Turnhouse) – a rice salad with stir fried veg and tofu, and a wakame salad. Both contain a substance called Légumaise, which I am assured does not contain egg.

Food from Exki

Air France came up trumps, and the food they provided was spectacular. I haven’t eaten the stuff from Exki yet, so consider this a placeholder. The US Customs were happy to let it in, so I’ll be having it for breakfast.

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21/01/2011

Review: Stereo, Glasgow

Filed under: Eating out — Tags: , , , — Feòrag @ 15:26

Farinata at StereoThe conditions of a cheap day return meant that eating in Glasgow was the most sensible option last Wednesday, and I used it as an excuse to visit somewhere I wanted to try out.

Stereo is entirely vegan, and the sister restaurant to Mono and The 78. The menu is a lighter one, with plenty of tapas, plus a selection of mains. There is a strong Mediterranean feel, but they’ve clearly trawled the world looking for interesting ideas for vegan dishes. Weirdly, they don’t mention anywhere that all the food is vegan. They don’t even mention that it’s vegetarian, though that would be obvious as soon as you scan the menu.

I went for the farinata, an Italian gram flour baked pancake (see photo). Usually served simply with salt and pepper, here it had been turned into a meal with the addition of borlotti beans and fried porcini mushrooms, and served it with a green sauce which I think was basically basil. It worked well, having the satisfaction level of a pizza (vegan pizza and calzone are also on the menu), but with the hope that it might be vaguely healthy. My partner chose a selection of small dishes. The Patatas Bravas met with his approval, the flatbread contained more garlic than bread, and the olives were devoured by both of us.

There was even dessert, though only a couple of choices, and there was no way chocolate orange cake was passing me by! Drinks-wise it was unimpressive. The only beer worth drinking was the superb Samuel Smith Wheat Beer, and the home-made sodas you get at Mono were absent. I also think they exaggerate the pedigree of their building. Charles Rennie Mackintosh did, indeed work on it, but mostly on the tiling at the back.

Stereo, 20-28 Renfield Lane, Glasgow G2 6PH. Tel: 0141-222 2254. Full menu served noon-9pm daily; tapas served until midnight daily.

02/10/2010

Airline lounges and other hazards.

Filed under: Airline food — Tags: , — Feòrag @ 18:37

I’ve pondered for a long time whether or not to make this post. It could be easily taken the wrong way, seen as some sort of conspicuous consumption on my part. But, the truth is that I do a lot of travel on business and sometimes, not that often, I get to go business class. Part of that experience is the lounge, with food and drink for which you’ve already paid in the fare. Here are a couple of meals I had on my way to Australia.

CDG Air France Lounge meal

Vegan meal in the Air France lounge at Paris CDG.

This first tray is from the lounge at Paris Charles de Gaulle. The sandwiches were explicitly labelled as vegan (in French), and contained roast vegetables. Sometimes they have another vegan sandwich containing guacamole with chunky tomato. They’re both pretty good. Most of the biscuits on offer contained egg (mentioned in the traditional 4pt type, in French only), but the ginger ones shown are fine. Fruit salad is boring, but good, and if there’s dairy in that chocolate, I don’t want to know. The coffee is from a bean-to-cup machine and is excellent.

Hong Kong QANTAS Lounge mealA 12 hour flight and some footering at the transfer desk brought me to the QANTAS lounge at Hong Kong. At first I thought the pictured offering was all they had for me – Vietnamese spring rolls with a sweet peanut sauce and Tsingtao beer – but they also had a carrot and coconut milk soup which I found later.

On the way back, we were on a flight that left Melbourne at about 11pm, so there was very little food in the lounge. There was bottle-conditioned beer though, and I did want to sleep on the flight. We’d had a blow-out meal at Enlightened Cuisine (strongly recommended) before leaving for the airport. The Air France lounge at Hong Kong is completely useless for vegans. Even worse, every morning at 6am, several 747s arrive from Australia and disgorge their passengers for an hour while they refuel. This is why none of the shops or restaurants open until 7am. We were there for longer, but the only vegetarian-friendly eaterie I could find was landside, where I could not go.

This was particularly frustrating as the only reason I’d had anything to eat on the flight had been because another vegan on board had not been hungry and refused their meal. It did not go to waste. One big problem with Air France is that they don’t pass on special meal requests to codeshare partners, not even KLM who are the same company. On the way out, I’d asked about my meal at the transfer desk at Hong Kong, and fortunately they only need a couple of hours warning there so it was fine. But as I was an Air France passenger, it was not possible for QANTAS to add a note themselves about it.

The leg from Hong Kong to Paris was Air France though, and the food was excellent. I needed it.

10/07/2010

Review: Trader Joe’s Vegetable Panang Curry with Jasmine Rice

Filed under: Products, Supermarkets and convenience stores — Tags: , , , , — Feòrag @ 22:56

I’m on the road again, this time in Massachusetts, at a science fiction convention in the middle of nowhere near Boston. Despite the best efforts of the convention organisers, the hotel isn’t too good for vegans, but the room does have a microwave oven and a fridge freezer. I also realised food would be a problem here, and rented a car for the duration so I could escape to eat.

I’d brought along some crispbread and hummous and other cold bits but was getting fed up of that. There are two Whole Foods Markets and a Trader Joe’s in the area. I’m unhappy with the way the staff at US branches of Whole Foods Market are treated and I’d heard many good things about Trader Joe’s, so that’s what went into the borrowed satnav.

Trader Joe’s is very, very good about marking stuff up as vegan (and vegetarian, and gluten-free and a number of other things that people might take into account). They’re clueful enough to know that refined cane sugar in the US is not suitable for vegetarians. There wasn’t much of interest in the freezer section, but I decided to give the Vegetable Panang Curry a try. It’s also gluten-free as well as vegan.

It was thoroughly overpackaged, with one more layer than you’d get in a British supermarket ready-meal, and the tray itself was more substantial (a good thing, in my mind). It took about a minute longer to cook that claimed on the box.

But, oh! If you’re used to what you find in the freezer section of a British supermarket, you will be impressed. The meal could have come from my favourite little Malaysian eaterie in Amsterdam (near Nieuwmarkt) — it tasted authentic and full of flavour, with no skimping on the spices. And what’s best? According to the receipt, it cost me $2.49 (about £1.80).

Recommended. I think I’ll go back and get the Vegetable Pad Thai for tomorrow.

07/04/2010

Japan: some additional vegan konbini goodies

As mentioned yesterday, Herwin Walravens’ Japan Vegan Restaurant Pocketguide contains a handy summary of the few vegan items available in Japanese convenience stores. There are a few others too.
Sesame tofu package
Gomadōfu (ごまどうふ) is one of the non-tofu “tofu”s. It’s sesame milk set with kūzu and is rather pleasant if you like sesame. There are a number of similar looking items, some of which are flavoured tofu – shiso (しそ – perilla) is a vegan one of these; others are the aforementioned jellies set with kūzu, including a black sesame version. One warning: if you see a package very similar to the one shown, but yellow, it’s a savoury egg custard thing. The kanji for egg is very distinctive and worth learning to recognise: .
vegan daikon and seaweed salad from Family Mart
The second discovery is a daikon and seaweed salad from Family Mart. I’m afraid I forgot to photograph it until I’d eaten half of it, but the photo is enough to get the picture. The container has a small amount of lettuce at the bottom, then loads of shredded daikon, topped with a variety of seaweeds. There is no salad dressing, so you might want to sprinkle on a bit of soy sauce or something. I have been through the ingredients list with the proverbial fine toothed comb and all it contains is the lettuce, daikon and various kinds of seaweed. They’ve neglected to sneak in any fish whatsoever. Let’s hope no English-reading person at Family Mart notices this post and gets the “error” corrected!

I’ve been eating a lot of inarizushi while I’ve been here. It’s one of my favourite foods, so I’m not at all upset about it. There are many variations, and I have yet to find one that isn’t vegan. You can get it with mushrooms, or sansai (山菜 – mountain vegetables, edamame and many other things. The only non-vegan version of which I am aware is a regional variation which uses thin omelette instead of the tofu pouches. I’ve never actually seen it anywhere.

There are several varieties of small sushi roll which are vegan: the classic cucumber (adding mayo to them seems to be an American trick), yellow pickled daikon, natto and one I’d not seen before – kanpyo dried gourd reconstituted. Note the sachets of soy sauce that come with convenience store and supermarket sushi aren’t – they’re a mixture of soy sauce and fish stock. Buy your own wee bottle of soy sauce.

I am here for three weeks and can’t eat out for every meal or I wouldn’t have money to spend on capsule toys, yaoi, robots and weird Hello Kitty items. I have a kettle in the room, and there is a microwave oven in the hotel, so I plan to expand my horizons a little. I have a nice small miso bowl from Muji and a larger plastic noodle bowl from a 100 yen shop. I brought some sachets of a vegan instant dashi (enough to tide me over till I find a shop that sells it) and a small bottle of soy sauce with me. I have already bought a small bag of sweet white miso, a package containing mixed seaweed and wheat gluten coils, some fried tofu and some vegan instant ramen bought from a macrobiotic shop. The supermarket near Akihabara station sells fresh soba (buckwheat) noodles, so I can easily put together a hot meal in my (pokey) room on the cheap. I’ll try and remember to blog my efforts.

06/04/2010

Review: Japan Vegan Restaurant Pocketguide

Filed under: Reading matter — Tags: , , , — Feòrag @ 09:58

Japan Vegan Restaurant Pocketguide cover

I’ve been in Tokyo for the last week, and am finally ready to catch up and write some restaurant reviews. First though, a book recommendation.

Last time I was here, in 2007, I picked up a small booklet called the Tokyo Kyoto Osaka Vegan Restaurant Pocketguide and it proved invaluable. When I heard of a new edition coming out not long before I came back, I asked a friend who lives in Tokyo to mail order a copy for me in time for my arrival. This new edition is colour and much expanded – it’s now the Japan Vegan Restaurant Pocketguide.

Not every vegan or vegan-friendly restaurant is listed. The important thing about this guide is that the author, Herwin Walravens, has personally visited and eaten in every restaurant which has a full entry. He’s clearly an enthusiastic eater, as the vast majority of vegan restaurants are to be found within. There are plenty of photographs of the food, and the restaurants themselves, and the maps are useful. A section at the back includes shorter descriptions of interesting eateries the author has not yet managed to visit.

Further appendices contain information on veganism in Japan, and how to survive in convenience stores, including photographs of the few vegan products there are. I’ve found a couple more, which I will blog about later.

As the author is a Dutch man, writing in two languages, neither of which is Dutch, the English can be a little interesting in places, but the occasional head-scratching moment does not distract from the sheer quality of this guide and the information it contains. If you are vegan or vegetarian and are visiting Japan you absolutely need this book. Remember – you probably can’t afford the international roaming charges to access the Happy Cow’s Tokyo listings, nor Vege-Navi (a really good resource which allows you to find restaurants by nearby railway or metro stations) on the move.

Japan Vegan Restaurant Pocketguide by Herwin Walravens, Children of the Carrot. ISBN: 978-90-813822-1-2. Price: ¥1680 plus postage. Updates are regularly posted to the book’s website.

20/03/2010

Boston: The Otherside Café

Filed under: Eating out, Pub grub — Tags: , , , — Feòrag @ 15:23

I’ve been rather bad at keeping up-to-date lately – my most recent visits to The Otherside Café were during the second week of February! It’s one of my favourite haunts in Boston, being a loud, serious beer bar with lots of substantial vegan options on the menu.

Vegan BLT

The Vegan BLT at The Otherside Café

My first visit was a lunchtime trip, and I didn’t feel up to the B-4 (a black bean burrito the size of a small planet), so I decided to try a vegan version of something I’ve never had – a BLT. It filled the gap nicely.

The second visit, I tried the Nature Boy – a selection of vegan, raw food items served with dehydrated beetroot and carrots. I did this because I wanted something reasonably light. Oops. I never managed to finish it, because I was full. It was an interesting meal, thought the salads were nearer to dips. The “chips” weren’t quite dehydrated enough for my taste, and sliced a little too thickly. I’ve had similar dehydrated vegetables over at Grezzo which were much nicer than these. Admittedly they were probably more expensive, too.

Still, I’ll be back in the Boston area in July, and hope to get to The Otherside on a weekend to try their vegan breakfast burrito.

The Otherside Café, 407 Newbury Street Boston, MA 02115-1801. Tel: (617) 536-8437. [Map]

11/01/2010

London: Pembury Tavern

Filed under: Eating out, Pub grub — Tags: , , , — Feòrag @ 10:46

The Pembury Tavern is a very fine pub indeed. Noted for its huge range of real ales, it also has traditional cider and a small but impressive selection of bottles, mostly Belgian and German. There is no pissy lager here – even the draught lager is from a microbrewery. The second keg font is a guest tap. When we arrived it had Gouden Carollus Christmas (pun intended, apparently) on. Later it became Poperings Hommelbier. Fentimans soft drinks are available as well as decent coffee. They also do food, and some of that is vegan.

I went there last night to meet up with friends and to eat. I had hummus and pita bread to start. The garlicky hummus was almost certainly home-made. Having spent a chunk of the previous day moaning about stuffed peppers being the universal vegetarian option in Ireland (outside Dublin), I chose to order them. I could have had a curry, or possibly the nut roast.

When they arrived, it became obvious a starter was not necessary. There were two peppers, and an enormous pile of salad, and being stuffed with couscous and slivers of vegetables, they were filling – a perfect preparation for the abuse that followed, and continued into the night. The filling was perfect – just moist enough. It’s easy to make couscous too dry, or completely soggy.

There was even a vegan dessert (apple pie with sorbet), but I needed to leave some space for booze!

The pub itself is heaven – it’s a single room, but one with secluded corners, with very little decoration. The furniture is delightfully random, and there are no TVs, piped music, or games machines. Despite this, it’s not a quiet pub – there’s too much conversation going on for that. There is a bar billiards table in one corner, a pool table in another and lots of board and card games available to play.

Pembury Tavern, 90 Amhurst Road, Hackney, E8 1JH. Phone: 020 8986 8597. [Map]

09/01/2010

London: Itadaki Zen

Filed under: Eating out — Tags: , , , — Feòrag @ 11:56

How long did you expect it would take me to try out a Japanese vegan restaurant? Well, I arrived in London on Thursday afternoon and went to a gig in Islington that evening, so I didn’t get out to Itadaki Zen until Friday lunchtime.

The space was light and pretty much what you’d expect. The menus were printed on handmade Japanese paper, and the napkins were folded in a different way on each table. Ours were in the form of a lotus flower around a small bowl, and it seemed a shame to undo them.
an elaborately folded napkin in the form of a lotus flower

To drink, we both went for one of their specialised “teas” – Itadaki Tea – a creamy, somewhat nutty soya milk concoction served in miso bowls. Just right for the cold, snowy weather.

I ordered the lunchtime sushi set, and my partner had Misonikomi Udon. My set arrived in a bento and included two spring rolls and a mashed potato salad, as well as two types of gunken (carrot and okra), two nigiri (nori tempura and inari) and a pair of matching rolls. The photo shows the set after I’d had a bite of one of the spring rolls. The shouyu came in a small clear plastic dalek with instructions clearly printed on top: ここをプッシュシてくださ, it said, “please push this”.

The Udon were served in a miso broth with julienne strips of aburaage fried tofu), carrot and cabbage – another dish which really hit the spot.

We were impressed with the food and decided to have dessert – this is supposed to be an indulgent break, after all. The desserts were mostly kanten – agar-based jelly – and my partner opted for a sesame one. Feeling adventurous (I can make kanten at home!), I tried warabimochi – small mochi made from potato starch instead of rice and dusted with toasted soya flour. The latter proved very difficult to eat with the implement provided, but was considerably better than it looked. It wasn’t too sweet, which suits my tastes.

At nearly £30 for lunch for two, it’s not a particularly cheap place, but also not expensive by London standards. I’d like to go back in the evening to try one of their set meals, but have no time on this trip.

Itadaki Zen, 139 King’s Cross Road, London, WC1X 9BJ‎. Phone: 020 7278 3573‎. [Map]

16/11/2009

Oslo: Mamma Afrika

Filed under: Eating out — Tags: , , , , — Feòrag @ 09:58

I forgot about one of the better meals I had in Oslo!

Mamma Afrika (Schweigaards g 12, Oslo 0185) is located in a unit on the first floor of a bus station–not the most appealing of sites, but this restaurant is warm and welcoming. My local guide warned me that it is just round the corner from what passes for a crime-ridden and generally dodgy area in Norway.

The vegetarian choice on the tiny menu is limited to a platter of various vegan items, served on one injera and with another, but there’s more food then than you might think. I got two different lentil wats, spinach, cabbage and a potato dish, all individually seasoned and distinct from one another. There was also no compromise to local tastes, and the food was as spicy as you will find in Ethiopian restaurants all over the planet. Best meal I’ve had so far in Oslo.

There are a number of other Ethiopian and Eritrean eateries in Oslo, all of which appear to be vegan-friendly.

14/11/2009

Nottingham: Dotty’s Café

Filed under: Eating out — Tags: , , , , — Feòrag @ 11:48

Note: this café has now closed down.

This weekend I’m in Nottingham for Novacon, and as well as the usual place, I have found The Vegan Nottingham Guide, the latter far too late to make a printout, alas, but England is not abroad (yet) so I can afford data on my phone.

On arrival yesterday, the partner and I went to Dotty’s Café (197 Mansfield Road), which is not too far from the hotel. It’s a bizarre take on the greasy spoon, harking back to a 1950s where your average housewife was Amy Winehouse. Even the staff dressed in theme, and the furniture was all period pieces, mostly melamine.

Dotty's spicy burgerThe food was mostly sandwiches, with burgers, falafel and a few other options, and was 70% vegan. Vegan cheese is available as an option on many items, and all mayo used is vegan. I went for a spicy burger, and my partner had a (not vegan) cheese and Marmite toastie. Hint to vegetarian eateries – if you want to keep my omnivorous other half happy, something involving cheese and Marmite, especially Marmite, will fit the bill. The more Marmite the better. Both were enough for lunch and thoroughly satisfying. Dotty’s also had a range of vegan cupcakes, and I had to have one to round things off perfectly.

One observation: children, however small, are welcome at Dotty’s. The staff will engage with them, too – they seem to really like children, rather than seeing them as a nuisance. There are books and games available for them. The children who were there yesterday appeared to reciprocate by being very well behaved.

I planned to return. But unfortunately it has now closed down.

10/11/2009

Oslo: The Fragrance of the Heart

Filed under: Eating out — Tags: , , , — Feòrag @ 13:22

The Fragrance of the HeartFragrance of the Heart has two vegetarian cafés in Oslo, and before leaving for the airport I visited the one inside GlasMagasinet, a department store on Stortorvet. The café is located by the entrance to the store on the corner with Møllergate, by the large ochre-coloured half-timbered building.

A department store café is never going to score highly on atmosphere, and I think they’d done pretty well, but it still felt like eating in the staff canteen of a New Age hobbit hole. Decorating a vegetarian eaterie with dangling slices of seashells was also a little odd.

Fragrance offers a set menu at lunchtime for 99Kr, which is outrageously good value in Oslo. It consists of a small bowl of soup and the curry of the day. The soup was lentil, and was thick, rich in flavour and warming. The curry was probably curry by Norwegian standards, but I would have called it a pea and mushroom stew. There was no detectable chilli in it, though the rest of the tomatoey sauce was rich with other spices, and contained plenty of coconut. It too hit the spot on a frozen November day.

Dessert is not part of the set menu, but knowing the odds of eating anything substantial for the rest of the day were quite remote, I had a slice of the wholemeal apple pie. There did not appear to be any vegan cream options to go with this, so I had it on its own, but it was moist enough. The coffee is also good, and the meat-eating partner was more than satisfied with the omelette baguette which was apparently much larger and more filling that it appeared.

08/11/2009

Oslo: Vega Fair Food

Filed under: Eating out — Tags: , , , , , — Feòrag @ 12:48

Sunday is a bit of a dead loss in Oslo, but Vega, located in a former hydrotherapy baths run by the Seventh Day Adventists, is the one exclusively vegetarian place that is open that day (but not, obviously, on Saturdays).

The old Kurbadet entrance.It’s a bit tricky to find. You need to go in the main entrance to the baths (Kurbadet), which looks locked. It isn’t – you just need to turn the knob. Turn left, though the most spectacular Arts and Crafts corridor and turn right just before you get to the door of what used to be the men’s bath.

English is spoken, and they will guide you through the options available to you, and let you know which few dishes in the buffet are not vegan. This afternoon, the only things that weren’t were a pasta salad containing feta, and the lasagne. The lunch buffet was 125 Kr., drinks other than tap water extra.

Keep going down this corridorThere was a creamy asparagus soup, and a wide variety of salads to choose from. The hot dishes were the aforementioned lasagne, stir-fried mixed vegetables and rice – I didn’t bother as the salads were more than satisfying. By the bread were a couple of chutneys–a fantastic banana one, and an Indian style one consisting of large pieces of green chilli and whole cloves of garlic. I liked that one even more.

The atmosphere is exceptionally peaceful and relaxed. There are no windows in the dining area, yet it didn’t feel like I was in a hole in the ground. The loos are worth mentioning, too. Outrageously clean is the default in Oslo, but considerable care had been taken in their decoration too.

Update: I returned the following spring, and the food was even better. The only pain was the woman outside who wanted to evangelise me, even though she spoke bugger-all English.

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