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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Vegan in Berlin: Neukӧlln

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Ah, post holiday blues.  I hadn’t been on holiday for so long, I’d almost forgotten about the inevitable comedown, but here it is again.  While I’m far from enthusiastic about returning to work, I have had the blow somewhat softened by a timely tax rebate and the exciting prospect of having lots of good food to write about.  During the last two weeks I travelled to Berlin, Copenhagen and Stockholm and ate some wonderful, wonderful food (oh, and saw some nice sights too, of course).

In Berlin we did most of our eating in three areas:  Neukӧlln, Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain.  My first holiday post is going to focus on Neukӧlln.  This holiday was my first time using airbnb for accommodation, and more through luck than good planning I ended up choosing a room in vegan-friendly Neukӧlln.

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On our first night we were torn between two almost-neighbouring, 100% vegan establishments:  Sfizy (a pizzeria offering the elusive vegan calzone) and Let It Be (a creperie).  The decision was made for us when we discovered that Sfizy was closed for the rest of our stay, and so our German adventure began with some fine French food.

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Let It Be is small but bright, and has a wall of interesting art and a shelf of vegan cookbooks to browse.  They serve sandwiches, burgers and cakes, but we were all about the crepes.  Each crepe on the menu is named after a famous herbivore.  For my main course I was tempted to order a Woody Harrelson purely because my beau refuses to believe that he’s a vegan (how could someone as cool as Woody have anything in common with me?), but instead I went for the Erykah Badu, a tasty chickpea curry wrapped in a crepe.  It was pleasantly spiced (not too fiery) and really delicious.  Unsurprisingly my beau also refused the Harrelson, opting instead for the Daryl Hannah, a vegan twist on the Caprese salad, which he thoroughly enjoyed.

20140824_19180520140824_191133 We are not the kind of people who shy away from eating a double course of crepes:  we ordered a sweet one to share for dessert.  We were hoping for an Alicia Silverstone (chocolate, cream and bananas), but as it was late they were out of bananas so we settled for the Prince instead.  It was sublime – a very Nutella-esque filling with a sweet caramel sauce on the side.  A hot chocolate alongside it may have been overkill, but I can’t say no to a bit of whipped cream when it’s on offer.  We rolled our full bellies home feeling excited at the prospect of all the holiday food awaiting us, and relieved to have a good back-up plan so nearby if all else failed.

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Still slightly disappointed by the lack of vegan calzone, the next evening after a long day of exploring the city on foot we  went to a local vegetarian pizzeria with plenty of vegan options, Trattoria Ponte Verde.  I decided to keep things simple with the mushroom and olive pizza – it was tasty, and the vegan cheese was mercifully inoffensive (I find that stuff a bit hit and miss), but the pizza was a wee bit oily.  My beau got the four seasons and found the mock meat slightly unpalatable – all in all, a good but not amazing pizza experience.

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Eating out for breakfast every day is a sure fire way to break the holiday budget, so we tried to keep the costs down by coming prepared.  The morning that we flew from the UK, my fellow got us ready for the journey with one of his delicious cooked breakfasts.  We packed up the surplus tofu scramble with a pack of tortillas, and those wraps provided our breakfast for the first two days in Berlin.  After that we treated ourselves to some nougat croissants from Dr Pogo Veganladen Kollektiv, a small all-vegan supermarket not far from our apartment.  I wouldn’t describe them as nougaty, but full of delicious, nutty chocolate filling that oozed out with each bite.  Delicious!

20140829_09334020140829_091617 And we did allow ourselves one breakfast out during the trip, with a meal at Pele Mele, a lovely little cafe.  Hot drinks there are served with a little biscotti, which always equals an extra point in my book.  We both chose the hearty Mediterranean breakfast  featuring salad, Mediterranean tofu, olives, sun-dried tomaotes, a tofu/tomato/pesto Caprese salad and a bread basket.  It was a tasty, summery breakfast, but perhaps a bit too much – we had to smuggle two of the bread buns out with us for our picnic lunch.

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Speaking of picnics, we frequently stocked up at Dr Pogo’s for light bites to take with us for lunch on the go.  These falafel moons were our first choice, and we supplemented them with either spring rolls or lucky stars for a vegan feast at the Bundestag or a castle in Copenhagen.

All in all, we were extremely satisfied with our Neukӧlln eating and it’s definitely the area I’d opt to stay in again.  It’s not quite as hip and alternative as the other areas we ate in, but that’s probably why I liked it so much!

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Raspberry Crumble Squares

Raspberry Crumble Squares (12)

For her recent birthday, my mother expressed an interest in a celebratory afternoon tea.  There are few things I love more than afternoon tea, so I was determined not to miss out on the occasion:  I swiftly volunteered to provide the feast myself.  And so I did, with extremely pleasing results.  I put together a vintage tea set in the month leading up to it, and thought long and hard about suitable savoury options (not being a fan of sandwiches generally, it was quite tricky).  But really, of course, it was all about the cake.  Scones were a necessity, and the birthday girl herself requested a jaffa cake.  Then I opted for an easy golden syrup cake, a light and dreamy lemon poppyseed cupcake and these raspberry crumble squares.

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They have a delicious flapjacky base, a layer of zingy fresh raspberries and a sublimely crunchy crumble topping:  very special indeed.  They are also easy to throw together, and keep very well – they kept us going for almost a week afterwards!  The recipe below really does make a lot, so halving it might be a plan.

Now I just need some more ideas for my next afternoon tea – I don’t want my pretty tea set going to waste!

Raspberry Crumble Squares

Very slightly adapted from Ms Cupcake

Ingredients:

350g plain flour

300g rolled oats

100g brown sugar

100g caster sugar

50g ground almonds

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1/2 banana, mashed

2 tsp vanilla extract

250g margarine

1 tsp almond extract

350g raspberry jam

300g fresh raspberries

a handful of flaked almonds

For the crumble:

50g plain flour

50g rolled oats

Method:

Raspberry Crumble Squares (1)

1.  Preheat the oven to 180C and lightly grease a 33x23cm baking tin (or cheat and use a foil one).  Mix together the flour, oats, brown sugar, caster sugar, ground almonds and bicarb with your hands.

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2.  Add the mashed banana, vanilla, margarine and almond extract and give it another good mix with your hands.

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3.  Set aside 350g of the mixture in a separate bowl, and spread the rest into the prepared tin.

 

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4.  Cover evenly with the raspberry jam, then top with the fresh raspberries.

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5.  Mix together the 350g reserved base mixture with the extra flour and oats for the crumble.

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6.  Sprinkle this mixture on top of the fruit.

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7.  Bake for 15 minutes, then remove from the oven and scatter over the flaked almonds.

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8.  Return to the oven for 10 more minutes, then set the tin on a wire rack to cool completely.

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Vegan in Manchester: Greens

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Greens is something of a Manchester institution:  a fairly fancy vegetarian restaurant in a fairly fancy part of town (Didsbury).  I have long been a fan of Simon Rimmer, the omnivore who bought the restaurant, learned to cook and kept it all vegetarian.  For any special occasion since my family moved to Manchester, Greens has been the immediate and obvious choice.

I fully expected to love it as much once I became vegan, but truthfully I can’t say that’s the case.  While there are at least three vegan options for starters and mains, none of them are marked on the menu which means dragging over the waiter to check – not a massive inconvenience to anyone, I suppose, but I try to keep my veganism as unobtrusive as possible.  Similarly the wine list isn’t marked either, and I constantly find this the biggest problem in being vegan.

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That’s not to say I’ve completely lost faith with Greens:  the food is still good.  When I was there most recently, my boyfriend and I found the food tasty but not particularly overwhelming.  We kicked off with the taster plate of black pudding (the mayo is not vegan, that was just for my fellow), which was beautifully crisp from deep-frying, but besides that not too different from the kind we buy in the local veggie shops and occasionally add to a breakfast fry-up at home.

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The last two times I’ve been I’ve chosen the same starter and main, and I’m genuinely not sure if that’s because they were so good or just because I wasn’t massively tempted by the other options (and also my belief that where possible I should avoid ordering the same food as my companion).  This scorched broccoli is like a plate of health – I don’t care if it’s doused in oil, I always feel extremely virtuous when I eat it – and the dressing is full of Asian flavours:  ginger, soy sauce, lime and garlic, with hazelnuts thrown in for a bit of crunch.  Occasionally I feel like scorched is too fancy a euphemism for burned, but the richness of the flavours win me over.

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And for my main I’ve had these sublime aubergine koftas twice.  The tabbouleh (capsized by the waiter, not by me, I hasten to point out) I can take or leave, but the koftas are like meatballs in a rich tomato sauce.  They inspire in me that classic dilemma of wanting my beau to share in the joy, but not wanting to lose out on any of the deliciousness myself.  In scenes of unprecedented generosity, I allowed him not one but two spoonfuls.

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Dessert is where Greens falls down for me.  None of the regular menu items are vegan- you actually have to ask and they provide one option only.  This makes it seem like vegans aren’t exactly welcomed, and that wowing the vegan guests is not a priority.  And to be honest, the desserts I’ve had really don’t deserve a place on the regular menu.  Greens isn’t exactly fine dining, but it does aim to be classy and impressive, and the vegan dessert never meets the normal standard.  The first vegan pud I had was this crumble.  The presentation isn’t much to shout about, and it was just a pretty basic crumble.  On my last visit it had changed to a carrot cake – just a slice of cake with no icing.  Come on – we may be vegans but we still want treats!  This time it was back to crumble, though as the picture at the top of the page shows, at least the presentation has improved.

Bistro 1847 in the city centre is still the new kid on the block when it comes to higher end vegan dining in Manchester, and I feel like it may have surpassed Greens.  I just need to convince my fellow to take me for another fancy meal so I can begin a more complete assessment!  They do at least take much more pride in their vegan desserts and mark all their vegan options – small things which make you feel a bit more at home and a bit less of a nuisance.

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Thai Overnight Scramble

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Breakfast is, as everyone knows, the most important meal of the day.  For the first six months I was back in the UK, I never had any morning classes and could enjoy a leisurely breakfast any day of the week.  Now I’m back working mornings and a hasty bowl of Weetabix is all I can squeeze in.  This means that lazy, luxurious weekend breakfasts are once again worthy of week-long daydreaming.  I usually lean towards something sweet for a treat breakfast, but I do occasionally rustle up something savoury as well.  This scramble is lovely, and preparing it the night before is just a bonus that means you actually can enjoy it for a mid-week pick-me-up breakfast too.

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The flavours are delicious, and the sponge-like tofu just soaks it all up.  When I became vegan I thought I would miss having eggs for breakfast.  Far from it, when there are alternatives like this!

Thai Overnight Scramble

Serves 4, from Isa Does It

Ingredients:

1 pack of tofu

2 tbsp lime juice

1 tbsp Thai red curry paste

100g thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms

3 spring onions, thinly sliced

2 tbsp bread crumbs

1/2 tsp dried thyme

2 tbsp chopped fresh basil leaves

2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander leaves

2 garlic cloves, crushed

2 tsp finely chopped fresh ginger

1/2 tsp ground turmeric

1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp olive oil

Method:

Thai Scramble (1)

1.  The night before:  crumble the tofu into a mixing bowl.  This is very satisfying!

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2.  In a ramekin, mix together the lime juice and curry paste.

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3.  Add the paste to the tofu with the mushrooms, spring onions, breadcrumbs, thyme, basil, coriander, garlic, ginger, turmeric, red pepper flakes and soy sauce.  Mix well with your hands.  Cover with clingfilm and leave in the fridge overnight.

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4.  In the morning, heat the oil in a large pan.  Cook the tofu for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until warm and lightly browned.  Season and serve with toast.

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Vegan in Teesside: The Waiting Room

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Recently I saw a list of the top thirty vegetarian restaurants in the country.  My initial reaction was, of course, to drool Homer Simpson-style at all the feasts that awaited me.  My second reaction was one of outrage:  why no Waiting Room?  Being a vegetarian teenager in Teesside wasn’t particularly a challenge:  there weren’t exactly exciting offerings, but the majority of places at least provided a solid veggie option.  Now that I’m living in Manchester and enjoying the range of entirely meat-free restaurants and the prominence of marked vegan dishes on menus, I can see what a struggle it would be to still live in Middlesbrough with my current diet.  It was slim pickings, but there was always this ray of sunshine:  The Waiting Room, situated right by the train station in Eaglescliffe.

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It is such a good place, in fact, that I made a day trip back to the north east to catch up with a dear friend there rather than opting for our usual middle ground of York.  The Waiting Room is fairly unassuming from the outside, simply inhabiting the ground floor of a terraced house, and the decor is similarly low-key:  a selection of mismatched tables dotted through what would have been the living room, a pretty old fireplace, the menu displayed on a large blackboard (an extension at the back of the property houses a more modern looking section).  It’s easy to feel at home there.

Vegan options aren’t marked, but are readily provided by the helpful staff:  there were two vegan options for each course, and a couple of savoury dishes that could be adapted.  I chose the cashew, carrot and apple loaf, as it was a Sunday and I fancied something traditional.  It had to be served without the non-vegan white wine sauce, but as someone who is partial to dry food it wasn’t a problem.  The loaf was very tasty and moist, accompanied by roasted vegetables and some beautiful sesame seed-coated roast potatoes.  It was filling yet sufficiently light:  the perfect Sunday dinner balance.

We needed a bit of a breather before tackling dessert, but there was no doubt that it would be done.  I went for the summer pudding- the first time I’ve ever had one.  The layer of fruit in the middle was zingy and refreshing, bursting with tart berries.  It was sublime.  Even with the rain falling outside, it tasted of summer.

The Waiting Room may be the best veggie restaurant in Teesside by virtue of being the only one, but it is also pretty stellar by any standards and definitely deserves a place in any top thirty list.

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Vegan Adventures in London Part Two

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On our second evening in London we had a Japanese feast at Itadaki Zen, a vegan sushi restaurant.  I had been looking forward to it immensely.  Japanese cuisine has always somewhat passed me by:  I wrote sushi off as being fishy, and found vegetarian food difficult to come by when I actually went to Tokyo (just poor preparation on my part, I suspect now).  Now I’m trying to get into it a bit more, with the help of vegan-friendly places like this and Moshimo in Brighton.  The menu was a bit nonsensical to me, but I opted for the tempura set menu -who can turn down tempura, after all?  It got off to a promising start with this plate of assorted nibbles:

Starters

Followed by the sushi pictured at the top of the page.  The one on the left, topped with a piece of deep-fried seaweed, was absolutely spectacular.  The tempura itself also exceeded expectations.  The dark coloured deep-fried seaweed was beautiful, but the crispy vegetables, heavy on the onions, were the real stand out.

Tempura

My companions both opted for the chapche set, which included a vegetabley noodle dish, miso soup, spring rolls with more of a tofu than vegetable filling, and some tasty sushi rolls:

Chapche

Sushi 1

All of us decided to go for the irresistibly named zen cakes for dessert.  They are made without sugar, so were not too sweet, which was quite nice after a big meal.  They are summed up as scones with a slightly crispy edge, which may sound like it’s a bad thing, but that’s not the case at all.

Zen Cake

After so much good food, a lengthy evening walk was required.  As someone who usually gets around London on the underground, it was a real treat to explore on foot and see some of the spectacular buildings, old and new.

Ms Cupcakes

Sunday was yet another hot day when we needed plenty of fuel for our adventures.  A trip to London wouldn’t be complete without a trip to my baking idol, Ms Cupcake, in her Brixton home.  The Ferrero Rocher cake of hers that I had at Brighton VegFest remains very near the top of my cake league table, so I was obviously very excited about giving another one a go.  This time we split the Oreo and Bakewell cakes, and both of them were tasty and moist and absolutely heaped with icing.  Well worth a visit!  It was also my first ever trip to Brixton, and I loved it – there was just so much going on.  After our cakes, we went along to an art fair spreading along a nearby street.  There were some excellent paintings, if only everything weren’t so expensive.

Art Fair

Finally, before jumping on our train home, we popped over to the Boiler House market, which promised several vegan options.  There were at least three stands which proclaimed themselves vegan-friendly, and a few others where we enquired about spring rolls and dumplings and got mixed responses, for example:

Me:  Do you use egg in the batter?

Market People:  Yes.

Me:  Oh, nevermind.  (Turn away)

Market People:  I mean, no!  No egg!

So we played it safe and stuck with places that brandished an actual “vegan” sign.  We went for these colourful, hearty, amazing Ethiopian plates of food.

Ethiopian Wrap

Ethopian Plate

Last time I was in London I ate Ethiopian as well, though it’s not something we see much of in Manchester.  But it’s so tasty, I am determined to track some down.

Bellies heavier, wallets lighter, we made our way back to the north feeling well fed, thoroughly entertained, and pretty exhausted.  It was a marvellous adventure and I shall start saving some pennies for the next one.

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