14 September 2012

London, Vegan Mecca

So I spent a few days in London, visiting friends, and had such an amazing gastronomic experience that I had to share!

First, it's worth mentioning that England is actually the birthplace of modern/western veganism, so it's no surprise that there is an abundance of veg-friendly establishments. Also, by law, packaged foods must list all ingredients and possible allergens. Add to that, they almost always have a label indicating "suitable for vegetarians and vegans"  !!  Makes life so much easier.

I don't know if this is part of their food labeling requirements, but all of the restaurants included ingredients under their menu item descriptions, and usually had a "V" next to vegetarian options.

OK, now for the good stuff. The food!!!

My first official "meal" was a salad from M&S, a chain store that has many grocery outlets around the country. They have lots of vegan/G-F options, including salads, hummus, crisps (chips in American), nuts, bottled drinks, fresh fruits & vegetables.... etc. I shopped there twice, both times opting for for a 2-for-£4 salad deal. I got a bean salad with a mint-parsley dressing, and a garden salad with a french-mustard vinaigrette. (Make sure to check your label for ingredients, as some of the dairy/egg-free salads do not include vegan dressings.)

I had the benefit of staying with friends who took me to the tastiest, veggiest restaurants around London. (Before arriving I had done some research, but honestly I found HappyCow to be a bit overwhelming in this circumstance!)

First, we had dinner at Yalla Yalla. FIFTEEN HUNDRED STARS!
"Beirut Street Food," tucked away in Soho. The space itself is super cozy and the food & service were great. After we explained that I have a gluten intolerance, the server offered to bring a plate of carrots for me instead of pita for the hummus. She also informed us of the items that had dairy or gluten that I should avoid. And of course, most ingredients/allergens were already clearly marked on the menu!
For dinner we shared hummus, falafel, batata harra, & fatoush (which usually comes with toasted pita on top, but they served it on the side). Everything was incredible. I've had a lot of these dishes many times before, but they really know what they're doing at Yalla Yalla!

For lunch the next day we checked out In Spiral, in the Camden neighborhood. So tasty!!! Mostly vegan, gluten-free and raw. They had a really great "pick and mix" option, so I got a medium plate with curried chick peas and plantains, wild rice, vegan caesar salad, and sauteed veggies. Typical, delicious vegan comfort food. There's something about the way all the flavors mix together, it reminded me of my many vegan potlucks at Calvin. So lovely. I also got a bottle of kombucha, brewed in-house, and came back later for the grand finale, homemade vegan ice cream! Mint chocolate chip. I believe it was cashew-based. They had a whole cooler of options, I wanted to try them all! So delicious and satisfying!

My last London food experience was equally delightful: dinner at Dim T. I don't remember exactly what I ordered, but it was rice noodles with a coconut-curryish sauce, tofu, lemongrass, peppers, tasty tasty goodness. Lovely, flavorful sauce. I gobbled it all up!

I left London with a belly full of tasty food... the only thing keeping me from buying everything I laid eyes on was the crazy exchange rate. Come on USA, give the dollar some strength, please!


11 September 2012

Airplane Food (aka. "the camino starts here!")

En route to starting the Camino, both of us are visiting some friends in other parts of Europe. So, I thought I'd start by writing about my experience with the food on my airplane ride from the Chicago to Heathrow. I flew American Airlines, which was overall a good experience. I'd give the ride itself an A- (my headphone jack didn't work so I couldn't watch the movies... womp womp) and the food will get a B-.

When we purchased our tickets, there wasn't a way to reserve a special meal, so a week before my flight I called the customer service hotline, and they were able to reserve a vegetarian meal for me. Conveniently, American Airlines lists their "special meal" options online, including a sample menu. Not-so-conveniently, they do not offer a completely vegan meal.  My gluten intolerance adds another complication, but I figured the vegetarian option was better than nothing. 

I came prepared with extra snacks in case my meals weren't filling enough. I brought a little bag of almonds and pistachios, 2 Pure bars, and some powdered protein drink mix. I had an early flight, so my first breakfast was a banana and a coffee at the airport... with a side of adrenaline because I was so excited for the journey! 

Breakfast on the plane was: 
Banana french toast
Bowl of fruit
bottled water
Hot tea
(Jam, cream cheese and butter on the side)

Dinner on the plane was: 
Penne pasta with red pepper-olive-cheesy sauce (didn't eat), with one half of a cherry tomato
One bread roll with a side of butter
2 slices of honeydew melon
Ginger ale

I was desperately hungry, so I did something stupid and I ate the bagel and the roll! Perfectly vegan-friendly, but not gluten-free! :(  I felt ill later on, but honestly I hadn't packed enough food to sustain myself otherwise. Ooops. 

Even still, I wasn't super impressed with the portions of the vegetarian meals in comparison with what my fellow passengers received. They seemed to have gotten lots of snacks for the 5 hours in between meals that I didn't receive. And of course meat and eggs are more filling than fruit and bread. But oh well.

So, I wish I had brought more food! The hardest lesson to learn as a traveling gluten-free vegan is that I kinda have to look out for myself.

It's always good to check with airlines (talk to a person to get the most accurate info), check airports beforehand to see what the restaurant options are, and pack accordingly.  Be careful about abiding by the carry-on "liquids" guidelines, as well as any laws about traveling internationally with fresh fruits or veggies (usually a no-no). My hotel offered a "full breakfast," but it wasn't free and I am sure it wouldn't have been worth paying £9.50 for a bowl of fruit and maybe oats, so I had to consider that as well. (Luckily I did receive complimentary in-room tea!)

London blew my mind with vegan & gluten-free options, but that's another story!


20 August 2012

Buen Camino!


This is a blog about two vegan friends who decided to take a walk. A long, meandering walk through Spain. In September 2012 we are walking 778 km, or 484 miles, on the Camino de Santiago.

Since Spain is not (yet) known as a "vegan-friendly" country, and since most of the Camino will take us through small towns, we plan to document our culinary adventures, delights, and discoveries along the way. Hopefully we can share tips for future vegan pilgrims as well.