Vegan in Edinburgh: Part One

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After spending three years studying in Edinburgh, I’m always looking for an excuse to head back up there for a visit.  Last weekend my fellow and I managed to get a bit of time off together (no mean feat) and ran away to bonny Scotland to relax for a few days.  As luck would have it, we arrived in Edinburgh just in time for the monthly vegan night at the Bread Street Brasserie.  It’s in quite a swanky hotel, so when we rolled in fresh from a three hour train journey I was worried we’d be looked down on.  Far from it:  there was a very mixed crowd and the staff were uniformly delightful!  In keeping with vegan nights here in Manchester I’d been expecting a set menu, so having three choices per course was quite the delicious dilemma.

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For our starters, I chose the vegetable terrine which came with a couple of toast triangles and was really tasty, while my fellow had the falafel, as is his wont.  We are blessed with the greatest falafel known to man here in Manchester (Go Falafel – I can see it from my classroom window and quite often just gaze out, drooling), and had already had some for our train picnic that afternoon, so alas, this was doomed to fall a little flat in comparison, but was tasty nonetheless.

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We both chose the same main, this mushroom strudel with baba ganoush and couscous.  The strudel was gorgeous; really meaty with the succulent mushrooms, but the couscous: sauce ratio was somewhat skewed on the dry side.

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Dessert was the highlight, as is so often the case.  We decided to split two desserts due to our indecision.  The passionfruit cheesecake was a little bland and needed more flavour in the tofu, but the chocolate tart was simply sublime – the chocolate was rich without being oppressively heavy, topped with beautiful non-dairy chantilly cream, encased in perfectly cooked pastry.  I could have eaten at least another two!

I have a lot of respect for places that run a vegan night, such as The Salford Arms here in the north west which does them on a weekly basis.  Even if they don’t quite hit the high notes, the positives always outweigh the negatives and I’m so pleased that people are catering to the plant-based diet and really showing off what can be done without animal products.

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The next day we ate our main meal in Glasgow, and only had time for a hasty pie before going to Murrayfield for a spot of rugby (the less said about that, the better).  Fortunately it was not only a hasty pie, but a tasty one too, though truthfully mine was more of a pasty – the Moroccan vegetable offering from Piemaker.  There are a couple of vegan savoury options and three sweet ones, all clearly marked.  I don’t get many freshly baked pasties on the go these days, so this was a nice treat.

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On Saturday we had lunch at The Engine Shed, a nice little cafe at the foot of Arthur’s Seat which is staffed by young people with learning difficulties.  It sounds like a noble cause, but unfortunately it isn’t receiving enough funding and is closing down in March next year.  The food is all vegetarian and I had expected some solid vegan options, but was disappointed to find the only hot dish for vegans was the soup – a somewhat uninspiring vegetable and stock affair.  Still, it filled me up and I feel I was just unlucky to go on a day with no vegan option.  My companions told me that the cheesy lasagne was good, so there is every reason to have faith in their cooking.

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At least they had vegan cake options though.  I went for chocolate, of course, while my fellow got the date and walnut cake which was surprisingly moist and delicious.  I would recommend this place to vegans more for the cake than the mains, as the latter might be a bit of a gamble.  After a walk up Arthur’s Seat, what greater reward could there be than a slab of cake and a hot drink?

Still to come in part two:  haggis!  Pancakes!  Jelly and ice cream!

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Salty Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Flapjacks

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Wednesday nights seem so dull and empty now that the Great British Bake Off is over.  No more terrible puns and double entendres, no more of Richard’s pencil tucked behind his ear, no more gems from Norman (my personal favourite:  “I’m using pesto – that’s exotic”).  And no more Wednesday nights bakes from me.  Throughout the series, every Wednesday I prepared a baked good to enjoy whilst watching (although my fellow also chipped in with a tasty banana bread one week and some chapatis another).  This was the one I baked for the finale, and it was held up as the best of the series, appropriately enough.

I’m sure Paul Hollywood would criticise away, but I’d like to think its chewy texture and salty, chocolatey taste would merit a “scrummy” from Mary Berry.  A girl can dream!

Salty Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Flapjacks

Makes 9, from Isa Does It

Ingredients:

1/2 cup smooth peanut butter

1/3 cup maple syrup

1/3 cup brown rice syrup

1 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp salt

2 cups rolled oats

1 cup puffed rice cereal (like Rice Krispies)

1/2 cup roasted salted peanuts, roughly chopped

1/3 cup chocolate chips

Method:

1.  Preheat the oven to 180C and either grease and line a 20x20cm baking tin or get a foil one ready.

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2.  In a large bowl, use a fork to stir together the peanut butter with both kinds of syrup until smooth.

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3.  Next mix in the oil, vanilla and salt.

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4.  Add the oats and puffed rice cereal.  Mix firmly with the fork (or switch to your hands if necessary) to ensure all the cereal is coated.

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5.  Add the peanuts and chocolate chips and mix until evenly distributed.

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6.  Tip the mixture into the prepared tin and level it out as best you can.

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7.  Bake for about 22 minutes until it’s golden brown.  Let it cool completely in the tray before slicing it up.

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Vegan in Stockholm

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Berlin was the most interesting destination on my recent holiday, but Stockholm was by far the prettiest.  It was just as well, too – it’s a bit on the expensive side, so we couldn’t afford lots of entertainment and attractions.  Being able to stroll around and soak up the sights and the atmosphere made it much more enjoyable, and affordable.  It also helped that breakfast every day was taken care of – our airbnb hosts offered Indian vegetarian breakfast included in the cost.  I politely enquired about veganising it, and they certainly rose to the challenge, whipping up pancakes and breads and strawberry yoghurt for me.

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Our hosts also offered to feed us dinner every evening, but we opted to spend a bit more and try some of the local restaurants.  It makes sense to be cautious with money, but food is one of the best parts of travelling, so we had to treat ourselves a bit.  On our first night we went to Kokyo, a very popular Japanese/Chinese restaurant with plenty of vegan options (all the vegetarian options are vegan-friendly too).  We shared ten pieces of sushi, which were tasty but suffered in comparison to the amazing plate we’d had in Copenhagen a few days earlier.  The dumplings, on the other hand, were pretty special.  As part of the set menu they were preceded by a really fresh, zingy salad.  Then onto the main event:  there were three slightly different fillings, alas one of them pretty heavy on celery, but the other two were lovely.  A simple ice cream was all I needed for dessert, and a nice way to celebrate the reappearance of the sunshine after the Copenhagen gloom.

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Following the success of Vegegarden in Malmo, we were excited at the prospect of another 100% vegan buffet.  Herman’s was one of the only two places we’d booked before the holiday (the other was Mio Matto in Berlin), and it was definitely worth it.  It’s high up looking out over the water, so you can enjoy an actual panorama rather than the one they teased us with at Mio Matto.  Again it was an all-you-can-eat affair, though it loses a mark for not having anything deep-fried.  There were three main dishes:  Indian lasagne, bean chilli and Thai curry, accompanied by rice, roasties, bread and a marvellous number of salads and dips.  The chilli was my favourite – spiced just right, and really substantial.

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The whole meal was very substantial and I was full almost to bursting point after two trips to the counter.  But we’d spotted the dessert counter when we arrived and agreed that it would be ridiculous to miss out.  Unfortunately the desserts are not included in the buffet price (though tea and coffee are, which is a very nice touch) – you pay for a slice of your choice.  I let my fellow do the choosing, and he did rather well with this rich chocolate cake.  The fruit was a nice addition, as was the extremely generous helping of whipped cream.  We were very satisfied customers, and I had to stand outside enjoying the view for a while before I was able to start rolling home.

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During our stay our lunches were always in picnic form, picked up from Ekobageriet, a very nice bakery in the picturesque old town.  We got various pasties for picnics – one of them curried potato, one spinach and tofu, and the other one…we weren’t sure.  The pastry a bit thick, making the pasty a little dry – no problem if you’re a fan of dry food, as I am.  The spicy one was comfortably the best.

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Of course, we had a couple of other treats too – a rather virtuous tasting fruit cake, and the best cinnamon roll of the trip.

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Before we knew it, it was the last night of the holiday and time to prepare for the flight home.  After the heartache of being denied a calzone on our first night in Berlin, it made sense to visit O Mamma Mia and right that wrong.  Yes, I finally had the long awaited calzone!  And it was good.  It was filled with fake cheese, mushrooms and mock ham, and was really satisfying.  The restaurant was pretty nice as well, with a very Italian look, and it was quiet enough on a Thursday night that service was very swift.  They have an extensive vegan list, but we only had eyes for the calzone.  With that, our holiday was complete!

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Vegan in Malmo

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When I booked my trip to Copenhagen, I was particularly excited about making a day trip across the sea to Malmo in Sweden.  Any fans of Nordic noir will know that Malmo is home to Saga Noren, detective extraordinaire.  More to the point, the bridge connecting Copenhagen and Malmo is the perfect place to commit a crime.

On the screen, Malmo is a grey, gloomy place.  It was suffering from the same bad weather we were experiencing in Copenhagen (it’s only a 30 minute train journey), but nevertheless it was clear to see that it’s actually a very pretty place, and also a very vegan-friendly one.  They don’t show you that on The Bridge!

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Saga Noren is no longer my favourite thing about Malmo:  Vegegarden has claimed that honour.  It’s a Chinese restaurant with an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet, 100% vegan.  That’s the kind of challenge I like!  I had expected it to be jumping, but I was overestimating the number of vegans venturing out in the rain for Sunday dinner, so we managed to get a table easily and had our pick of the food.  There was so much to choose from, including an excellent array of deep-fried goods (I could quite happily just have piled up a mountain of the deep-fried “shrimp”).  This was accompanied by rice and numerous Chinese dishes of vegetables and mock meat, and even a Thai curry, which I didn’t try – I was sticking to my theme.  For the same reason, I avoided the well-stocked salad counter (it’s hard to say no to hummus, but I don’t like mixing my cuisines too much).

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It was also possible to pile up a plate of noodles, veg and your choice of mock meat and get the whole thing stir-fried.  My fellow mocked me for “only” managing two plates of food, but I think I did pretty well and got my money’s worth – we didn’t need to eat again for the rest of the day.

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Best of all, dessert was included in the price.  It wasn’t in the ‘all-you-can-eat’ format, but I was ready for just this:  two scoops of vanilla ice cream and some tasty chocolate sauce.  This meal was one of the few times in Scandinavia that we really felt we’d got a lot for our money, and it was just so delicious.  Maybe Saga will stop by in the next series of The Bridge – I certainly do my best thinking when I’m well fuelled.

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Vegan in Copenhagen

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What a spectacular castle!  We visited it on our last day in Copenhagen, which was the only day we actually enjoyed there.  Oh, I hated Copenhagen, almost from the moment we arrived.  I was going to give a long rant about everything that went wrong, but I think this poem sums it up nicely, composed during one of our many wasted hours at the train station (my beau contributed a couple of rhyming words and insists on a co-author credit):

Why is Copenhagen so rubbish?

It could be because of the rain.

Why is Copenhagen so rubbish?

I think it’s because of the trains.

Trains disappear from the screens

And are cancelled without prior warning,

You can begin your journey at noon

And be in the same place the next morning.

The ticket machines are so stupid,

They won’t let you pay with notes,

Staff refuse to give a straight answer,

It would be quicker to travel in boats.

Building an ark is the best plan,

For when it rains, it pours and it floods,

The skies are constantly gloomy and grey,

Copenhagen just isn’t that good.

In fairness, there were some impressive castles both in the city and within day-tripping distance, and we went to a brilliant, free art museum and really enjoyed our guided tour of the city.  But the weather and the transport made it into a headache of a destination and for my own sanity I think it best never to go back.  When our train out of the city was cancelled as well and we could have been forced to stay longer than planned, that was probably the lowest point in my life.

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But the company was excellent, as was the food.  On our first full day, after being on our feet all day and trudging around in the rain, we cheered ourselves up with a sushi feast at Green Sushi.  It was pricey (everything in Scandinavia is), but very good quality food.  Vegan options are clearly marked on the menu, and we went for the 14 piece vegan set menu.  Everything was tasty, but the nigiri pieces closest to the camera were simply divine.  I was quite tempted to go back for more, but in the holiday spirit we did a bit more exploring.

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Sticking to the idea of nibbles, we went to Simple Raw and had one of their raw tapas plates.  I was unsure what to expect from it:  I’ve had a few raw cakes (including the most amazing raw brownie at Levenshulme Market a couple of weeks ago, for anyone Manchester based), but not much savoury.  My conclusion was that the raw tapas were very fresh and flavoursome…but the falafel and patties would have been better warm.  The salads were fantastic, and the hummus and crackers were both good.  I would definitely recommend it even to fellow raw-sceptics like me.

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As tradition dictates, I had no qualms about the raw desserts:  we shared the triple chocolate cake and chocolate fudge cake.  They were both intensely chocolatey and delicious, and we hadn’t even told them we were sharing yet they came in two conveniently small slices.  Perfect!

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For our breakfasts we decided we had to honour the noble tradition of Danish pastries, and helped ourselves to lots of Naturbageriet treats.  On our first day we arrived at this little bakery too late to have our choice of the baked goods, but the banana/apple cake was nice and moist and the cinnamon bread was so nicely spiced, they made for an unusual but tasty start to the day.  The next day we had chocolate croissant, which had a delightfully thick line of chocolate on the outside as well as a gooey centre – still not as good as Dr Pogo, though.  And finally, a good old cinnamon whirl, which was a bit dry but still tasty.

There were a decent number of vegan options in Copenhagen, though not as much choice as in Berlin, nor as much affordable food.  However, the food was probably the only thing I didn’t complain about in Copenhagen, so we’ll call it a victory!  Maybe I would risk a return visit for some more of that sushi…

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Vegan in Berlin: Friedrichshain

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Friedrichshain was all about one building for us until our last few hours in Berlin.  From Warschauerstrasse station it’s just a short walk to the building that is home to Veganz (a vegan supermarket, bigger and better-stocked than Dr Pogo’s), Goodies (a predominantly vegan cafe and bakery) and Mio Matto (a vegan fine dining restaurant).

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Our meal at Mio Matto was the fanciest of our holiday and we were really looking forward to it.  The boasts of a ‘panorama lounge’ proved somewhat groundless, when the promised view was just the balcony doors over the busy road below.  But still, the restaurant was very stylish and had a lovely atmosphere.  There are three menus to choose from:  fresh, regional or creative.  Each menu lists only the key ingredients, rather than telling you what the dish actually is.  Whatever you choose, you get the same amuse bouche of zesty carrot soup.

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My beau chose the regional menu and started with this beetroot, apple, almond, fennel and peach concoction.  He enjoyed the individual components but didn’t really feel like it all came together as a complete dish.

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His soup should have been this garlic one, but our dishes got switched around and we hadn’t been keeping track, so I had this one.  The garlic came through really strongly, which I liked, and the deep-fried shrimp balancing on the crouton there was a very welcome addition.

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Unfortunately he was also pretty underwhelmed by the ragout main, which was let down by the chunks of mock meat – they were a bit too chewy and tasteless.

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Dessert, happily, was a winner in his eyes:  chocolatey and delicious, and all working together beautifully.  I had been deterred from this one by the pear listed in the ingredients, but I overcame my hatred to try a little and it really was good.

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I opted for the creative menu, which kicked off in style with this plate of sushi:  colourful, fresh, tasty.

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For the soup I should have had this one before our mix up.  The mushrooms were brought out dry, and a pot of tea was poured in to serve.  It was quite autumnal and meaty.

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I really enjoyed my main, which was a pumpkin and coconut curry with deep fried balls of normal and black quinoa for texture.  I comfortably won that round.

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Dessert, however, was a bit flat, mostly because I always choke on popcorn and so derive no pleasure from eating it, but also because I don’t technically classify something as a dessert if it contains neither chocolate nor cream.  Actually the blueberry layers in the glass were quite tasty and refreshing, but it wasn’t quite what I was after.  Overall we enjoyed and appreciated the experience in Mio Matto – it’s great that there are restaurants doing this fine dining for us.  However, the food itself didn’t quite live up to the presentation.  I’d happily go again, but it wasn’t the best food of the trip, even if it was the most expensive meal.

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Downstairs we spent a fair amount of time browsing the supermarket shelves and stocking up on rice milk chocolate (the ultimate vegan chocolate), and also sampled a few of the goods from Goodies.  On our first visit I tried the sweet potato BBQ bagel, which sounded really tasty but was alas lacking in the BBQ department.  My beau definitely won that round with his beet falafel.  Happily, we both struck gold when we split this beautifully rich chocolate and walnut cake.

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We went back a couple of times for takeaway treats, including a breakfast of cinnamon roll and croissant (the chocolate was not all oozing and nutty like at Dr Pogo, but it was still decent).

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And to fuel us at the airport on our journey to Copenhagen we got this gorgeous vegetable rosti and interesting China roll – a breadcrumbed spring roll.  It made for a satisfying and affordable meal on the go.

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That was definitely enough to fuel us because we’d already got bellies full of cake following a mid-afternoon trip to the pretty, pink, Parisien patisserie place, Oh La La.  This cafe is 100% vegan and has a good crepe menu, but we just split two heavenly cakes.

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First was the chocolate pyramid, which was just like a Snickers bar with its nuts and caramel.  After completing it, I told my beau the next one couldn’t possibly be as good.  I was wrong.

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It had an oozing centre of chocolate sauce and vertical lines of thick chocolate amongst the mousse, and a delicious nutty coating.  It was absolutely sensational, and a fitting farewell to Germany, one of the most vegan friendly places imaginable.

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Vegan in Berlin: Kreuzberg

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Kreuzberg is perhaps the most famous alternative area of Berlin, and thus it may be the one with the highest concentration of vegan-friendly eateries.  To give an idea of how ‘alternative’ it is, we went on a walking tour to see the local street art and graffiti and a member of the group with a Primark shopping bag was advised to cover it up lest she get bottled by the locals.  Hardcore!  But it’s hard to imagine the people we observed on our leisurely summer strolls attacking a tourist:  it was a really lovely and interesting place, and we were able to eat outside in the sun on several occasions.  And the food is good!

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Our first stop in Kreuzberg was Yellow Sunshine, a vegetarian fast food place with a good selection of vegan options.  I got a “chicken” burger with a heap of fries that really hit the spot – it’s never going to be the best meal of your life, but it’s satisfying and tasty when you’re in the mood for it.  We had been looking forward to a slice of vegan tiramisu but they were sold out, so we wandered along to a nearby vegetarian cafe for dessert.

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Rootz turned out to be one of our favourite spots of the holiday.  We split a peanut butter devil’s food cake, and just look how thick the icing was!  That’s the kind of cake:icing ratio I heartily approve of.

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We were so impressed that we were back for lunch the next day.  I went for the Mexican bean burger and the Square Rootz chips, from a variety of root vegetables.  The burger was spicy and good and certainly didn’t need to be doubled – one was plenty.  That’s not to say I didn’t have room in my pudding stomach, obviously.  We split a salted caramel cupcake, which I could happily eat every day.

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Every Thursday evening there’s a Street Food Market in Kreuzberg, so we made that a priority in our trip.  There was a fantastic array of food, and the vegans were also spoilt for choice.  I showed my northern roots by scoffing this pie from the Hallo Good Pie stand:  the pastry was so good (as was the filling, but I’m crazy about pastry), and the little salad was nice and refreshing.  My beau got this plate of Ghanaian food, which is all vegan except for the yam balls, which reportedly were a touch disappointing anyway.  The other bits I sampled tasted lovely.  And we also shared a couple of Turkish nibbles as well.  We found the lentil fritter a bit dry, but the rolls were really good.

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Although there were dessert options in the hall (both cake and ice cream), I had my eye on a prize just a few metres down the road:  Eissalon Tanne B, where we picked up some scrumptious Belgian waffles with ice cream and whipped cream.  What a feast!  It’s pretty rare that I see vegan waffles anywhere, so this was a real treat.

One of the downsides of being vegan is that you can’t just jump in and try any street food or local delicacies you like when you’re on the road, so any time I find an accommodating market like this I’m in my element.  It was fantastic to treat ourselves to an assortment of street food for very little money, and then get a sumptuous plate of dessert as well.  All hail Kreuzberg!

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