Archive for the ‘Traveling’ Category

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The Best Vegan Restaurants in Berlin

August 9, 2011

(Update: Since I wrote this post in 2011, I’ve visited Berlin again and now my opinions are a little different! Check out 2012’s list for my freshest Berlin vegan picks.)

Dear fellow travelers,

As I detailed in my last post, I just recently got back from a two-and-a-half week stint in Berlin, and one of the highlights of my trip was definitely all the amazing restaurants I got to try. Berlin is home to plethora of vegan, vegetarian, and veg*n friendly restos, and I took full advantage of all the city had to offer while I was there. And now I’m here to report back and share my assessments with you!

First off, if you’re traveling to Berlin in the future, the best vegan resource I found is the aptly titled BerlinVegan website. It has a very helpful catalogue and map of all the vegan restaurants in the city, organized by the vegan-ness of their menus (be advised, however, that it is all in German!). This was how I discovered most of the restaurants I went to, and my time in Berlin wouldn’t’ve been the same without it.

But enough talk: let’s see some food! To begin, here is my…

Best of Berlin

1. CHIPPS (multiple locations, Mitte)

Somewhat surprisingly, my favorite restaurant in all of Berlin is not 100% vegan or even 100% vegetarian: it’s a hip little omni (but very vegan friendly) outfit known as CHIPPS. Far too often, omni restos, even the accommodating ones, can leave vegans with slim pickings. Not so with CHIPPS, whose vegan options are both plentiful and delectable, embodying the philosophy I strive for in my own cooking: simple yet innovative uses of whole foods, prepared so as to best let the vegetables shine and sing out. I visited CHIPPS no less than four times during my short stay in Berlin (including my “last supper”), and was never disappointed. My favorite dish though was definitely this (sorry about the smartphone photo):

That’s a potato rösti served over a beet mash and topped with green beans and bread chips. So good! And as if the food weren’t enough, the atmosphere of CHIPPS is also excellent, accentuated by the open kitchen in the center of everything. Anyway, I really can’t say enough to recommend this place. If you’re in Berlin, check out CHIPPS!

2. Yellow Sunshine (Kreuzburg)

Located in the hip neighborhood of Kreuzburg, Yellow Sunshine—along with its sister restaurants Vego Foodworld in Prenzlauer Berg and Yoyo Foodworld in Friedrichshain—is Berlin’s vegan fast food hotspot. Its menu includes a wide range of incredibly tasty vegan burgers and sandwiches, and although this isn’t generally the sort of vegan food I crave, Yellow Sunshine does it well, and most importantly, this is where you have to go if you want to have some vegan currywurst while you’re in Berlin!

(For those that don’t know, currywurst—traditionally, sausage in a curry ketchup sauce—is Berlin’s most famous specialty dish, despite its street food roots.)

3. Yorck52 (Tempelhof/Schöneberg)

A little off the beaten path, Yorck52 is a newish vegan cafe, offering a small menu of delectable delights and a welcoming atmosphere (also, free wifi!). I went here for a brunchy type meal one day and really loved it.

This breakfast plate included an incredible variety of breads, fruits, and vegetables. I could’ve done without the faux meat, but it wasn’t bad or anything. I wish I had had time to go back!

4. Lucky Leek (Prenzlauer Berg)

More on the upscale side of things, Lucky Leek is a very nice vegan restaurant, featuring careful preparations of interesting and tasty vegan dishes. Their menu changes with the season, but when I visited I was treated to this mushroom consommé…

…followed by BBQ tempeh with potatoes and sauerkraut…

…and finished my meal off with this nougat tart!

All yummy! Lucky Leek is definitely recommended, especially if you’re looking for someplace a little nicer.

Honorable Mentions

1. VUX (Neukölln)

VUX is a cute litte vegan café in Neukölln, a neighborhood which is still relatively lacking in vegan options. Their savory menu is small—just bagel sandwiches—but their sweet offerings are numerous and excellent. Lots of good coffee drinks as well.

2. Nil (Friedrichshain)

Moving to the opposite end of the fanciness spectrum, Nil is a tiny little Sudanese shop in Friedrichshain that only does a couple things, but does those things very well. Their “tofu Madagascar” pita sandwich is particularly recommended—I still don’t know exactly what all’s in it, but it’s excellent. Their vegan platter isn’t bad, either.

3. Maja’s Deli (Prenzlauer Berg)

A good vegan restaurant with a decently sized menu, offering lots to choose from on both the sweet and the savory side of things. I wasn’t blown away by the Überraschungsalat (“Surprise Salad”) I ordered—sauteed mushrooms AND strawberries? I guess that works?—but their desserts were divine, and I’m sure some of their other lunch items would be better.

4. Viasko (Kreuzberg)

I only went here for their Sunday morning AYCE brunch, but judging by how awesome that was, I’m confident that Viasko would be an excellent choice on other days of the week as well.

Not So Recommended

La Mano Verde (Charlottenburg)

LMV is, as far as I know, Berlin’s only raw vegan restaurant, and probably the most upscale vegan resto in the city. And for me, it was way too upscale, especially considering the quality of the food coming out of their kitchen. Don’t get me wrong—nothing was bad. But it was very disappointing to see that the whole menu was just raw takes on Italian dishes, all of which were ridiculously overpriced. It might look like a good idea, but unless you’re searching for somewhere to have an extra fancy meal, I think you’d do best to just avoid La Mano Verde.

Something Sweet

To wrap things up, here are some dessert recommendations! If you’re looking for some vegan ice cream, the best place you can go is probably Eissalon Tanne B in Kreuzberg, which usually has five or six vegan flavors on offer, and vegan cones to boot. However, my favorite frozen treat shop was definitely Eismanufaktur in Friedrichshain. They don’t have any vegan ice cream, but their sorbets are to die for. So good.

And that’s my report on the Berlin vegan restaurant scene. I hope this helps some fellow vegan travelers. And if you know of any other great vegan places in Berlin, be sure to let me know! I’m looking for more excuses to go back.

Until we eat again,

Willie

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Being Vegan While Abroad: Some Reflections & Advice

July 31, 2011

Hi folks!

So I’m just getting back from a two-and-a-half-week vacation in Berlin, where I had an absolutely fantastic time. Berlin is a really wonderful city with so much to explore and enjoy, and I would’ve gladly stayed longer if I could. But this is a food blog, not a travel blog, and so I’m not going to spend time here reminiscing about the many exciting experiences I had during my trip. However, seeing as food is such a big part of my life, food was a big part of my time in Berlin as well. And in particular, this vacation was unique, food-wise, in that it was the first time I was travelling overseas since I started identifying myself as more vegan than vegetarian, and, as a result, in the weeks leading up to my trip, I was faced with the following difficult question:

Will I stay vegan while abroad?

Perhaps some of you have had to grapple with this question yourselves (or its vegetarian equivalent). It really is a tough one, because it actually has so many different facets. To name a few that ran through my mind…

  • Can I be vegan?—Even if I’m committed to staying vegan, will that be possible? Will I be able to find vegan food to eat? Will I even be able to get people to understand what ‘vegan’ means, especially in a country which speaks a foreign language?
  • Should I be vegan?—Isn’t part of the point of travelling to experience the culture of where you’re visiting, and wouldn’t staying vegan involve missing out on a lot of the local food culture?
  • Must I be vegan?—Why am I being vegan in the first place? What will I really be accomplishing in staying vegan while abroad?

To make my own situation clear, my current dietary maxim is that I’m 100% vegan whenever I’m in control of what I’m eating: that is, when I’m the one making it or buying it. However, I do still allow myself occasional vegetarian allowances, such as when other people have prepared non-vegan food for me and so on. And so, the question for me was really whether my vacation should count as one of these “allowances” or not. But in addressing this question, I kept mulling over all of the above questions as well.

Now, Berlin is unique in many ways in relation to these questions. First, though it is a Germany-speaking city in a German-speaking country, the population is largely English-literate, and since my German is also not that bad, the foreign language barrier was not really an issue for me. (The situation would’ve been much different if I were travelling to, say, Laos.) Second, Berlin is a world-class, progressive city and home to many vegans, so there is actually no lack of vegan restaurants scattered throughout the city. (Again, the situation would’ve been much different if I were travelling even just to other cities in Germany.)

So perhaps I was a bit lucky in landing up in Berlin this summer. Still, I think the basic guidelines I ended up giving myself and following could apply to any travel destination. All I did was follow these two simple pieces of advice:

1. Don’t panic! (which just so happens to be generally good travel advice)

By this I mean: Don’t get overly stressed out about staying vegan—and more importantly, don’t feel overly guilty about breaking vegan. While travelling, it’s nearly impossible to be perfect. You may unwittingly order something you’d never knowingly consume, or you may be stuck in a restaurant with no other options. It’s important to recognize that these things aren’t the end of the world. The last thing you want to feel while on vacation is anxiety and guilt.

Furthermore, during my travels I was blessed to enjoy the hospitality of numerous strangers, who were kind enough to both let me into their homes and then on top of that to cook for me. No part of me would’ve felt right in turning these people down and abstaining from the lasagna or mozzarella platters they had so graciously prepared for me. And no part of me felt wrong in partaking in a little bit of cheese for the night. Travelling can really show you how big people’s hearts are, and I do not believe one should not let one’s diet get in the way of the generosity of others.

(Side note: It may seem strange or even wrong of me to say this. Most strict vegans I know are driven, at least in part, by ethical reasons, and to “break vegan” once in a while may seem like an unacceptable moral transgression. However, though I too am persuaded by the ethical arguments for veganism, I do not believe we are under some universal moral imperative never to eat any animal products, which applies to every single thing we put in our mouths. What I think is most morally reprehensible in non-vegan diets is the perpetuation of an industry which views animals as mere meat-making machines, and not as the living, breathing creatures they are. Therefore, what I am most concerned to avoid is engaging in a diet that repeatedly and continually demands more animal products from the market. This is why I don’t think vegans have to be “perfect”.

And in fact, I think this sentiment is largely in line with how veganism was originally defined by the Vegan Society:

‘veganism’ denotes a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude — as far as is possible and practical — all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose…” (I first saw this here)

Travelling often throws us into situations where veganism becomes simply impractical, and in these instances you should rest assured that there is no deity or judge looking over your shoulder disapprovingly. Do what you can, and don’t sweat it when you can’t.)

2. Don’t slack off, either—eating vegan will actually make you feel great

Nevertheless, although vacation time can provide an excuse from veganism, it should not be seen as an excuse—that is, as a vacation from veganism. For me at least, veganism is not about denying yourself certain foods, and so having an excuse is no reason to take advantage of that excuse. I’m vegan because I want to be vegan: vegan foods are simply the foods I want to eat. Now yes, it does require some extra effort to find those foods when you’re in a new and unfamiliar place, but what I realized during my time in Berlin is that such effort is completely worth it. It felt great searching out the various vegan hotspots around Berlin, and the meals were more than satisfying. Just being able to use my limited German to request a latte with soy milk rather than regular made me feel really good. And that’s because I was doing what I could to get what I wanted. Being in Berlin actually reminded me of why I’m vegan in first place: because the end result of eating good, cruelty-free food more than makes up for whatever extra effort it may require.

This relates to something I often hear from others about vegetarianism or veganism: that it sounds great, but it’s “so much work”. I can’t disagree with them—maintaining a vegan diet does require more work than most people put into food. Even for people who are practiced chefs of omnivorous cuisine, vegan cooking requires you to learn some new techniques and expand your repertoire in certain ways. But you know what else is “so much work”? Writing a novel, or raising a child, or bringing about meaningful social change. Yet we do all these things because we recognize that the effort we put in is outweighed by the value we get out. And I think it’s the same for veganism. That is, when I think about the ‘work’ involved with veganism, I don’t see it as struggle, effort, or toil—in other words, unpleasant labor—but rather, as an accomplishment or achievement, a goal that one willfully strives toward, as in the phrase your life’s work. Veganism is indeed work, but it’s work well worth doing.

In summary, then, I’d say that overall my experience of trying to be vegan in Berlin was very positive, quite contrary to the stress I felt about it going in. I was by no means perfect, but I wasn’t lazy either, and the extra effort I put into being vegan while abroad made me feel empowered—empowered to eat what I want and what I should. And although I might not have experienced much of traditional German cuisine (I did manage to find some vegan currywurst though!), I never regretted it, since I was finding so much other food that I loved.

Last but not least, I should add that, without a doubt, my most rewarding and enjoyable experiences in Berlin were when I had the opportunity to cook with others. My time abroad reminded me of the unifying force food can be—how it can bring people together, teach them about each other, and help them communicate in new ways. And even more rewarding was getting to share vegan cooking with other people and to see their faces when they tried something totally new—whether it be cashew cheese or beet hummus, tofu étoufée or dhal, or even chocolate beer pancakes. It reminded me of how vegan cooking really is its own cuisine, and can open people’s eye to new wonders in the world of food.

And that’s where I’ll leave it for today. But before I sign off, I should note that all the credit for the above photos goes to Greg Wong, who got me to do all those silly poses without either of us knowing they would get used here. Also, expect another post in the not too distant future giving a run-down of the many Berlin restos I visited.

Until we eat again,

Willie

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Affordable and Delicious Indian Food in London?

July 20, 2010

yes, please.

A few of my fellow librarians and I heard tell of great Indian food just north of our campus on Drummond Street. We meandered up there one somewhat dreary evening and our spirits were much raised by the delicious food at Diwana Bhel Poori House.

I started my meal with a delicious sweet lassi.

The lassi was followed up with a crispy, thin dosa filled with potatoes and spinach, coconut chutney and dhal on the side.

Care to take a look inside?

Just thought you might like look inside at some of this spicy and delicious potato and spinach filling!

Diwana Bhel Poori House is a great spot if you are in London and in the market for affordable and delicious Indian food. I went for dinner, but they apparently have a great lunch buffet as well.

Until We Eat Again,

Caitlin

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How I Survived 2 Weeks of Pub Grub

June 29, 2010

Okay, maybe that is a misleading title. Pub food is awesome. It’s delicious. It will clog your arteries, but is quite* worth it.

With 2 weeks in London, I certainly managed to fit in a lot of pub grub and this post will detail just some of the highlights.

Lunch at the Rocket near the British Library.  Veggie Bangers and Chips. They ran out of mash… These veggie sausages were probably the best I had in London. They were sort of like sausage-shaped potato pancakes!

Potato wedges at the Sutton Arms. Honestly, this was not as heavy and greasy as it may seem. The potatoes were super crispy and, hey, there was a little side salad.

Another attempt at Veggie Bangers and Mash, this time at the Eagle and Child in Oxford. The food was pretty tasty, but this pub is worth a visit for its famous former clientèle. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien used to chill here! I’m glad I had enough initials to fit in.

Cheese and Pickle sandwich at the Granta in Cambridge. This sandwich was ridiculously (and somewhat unexpectedly) awesome. I was told by one of our lovely leaders that the pickles were traditionally English and, therefore, delicious. This is definitely going on my “must-recreate” list! The pub also had a wonderful view of the Cam from its deck. We took in some leisurely views of people enjoying the beautiful weather by punting down the river and of a puppy or two having a fetch. The Granta was pretty top notch all around.

Eats not pictured but worth a mention: the Black Horse, the Fitzrovia and the Carpenter’s Arms (especially their Granny Corner…)

(I really should stop making that silly face every time someone takes a picture of me drinking beer…)

In short, vegetarians have nothing to fear in travelling London. Pubs are surprisingly veg friendly and the grub is pretty great!

Until We Eat Again,

Caitlin

P.S. If you would like to see the pictures I took that have little to do with noshing… you can check them out on Flickr!

*which sense of the word “quite” I am using here is totally your call. 🙂

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Guess where I am guys!

June 21, 2010

That’s right! I have been in London for a week now and will be here until next Saturday!

Now don’t panic everyone, I have been photo documenting all my eats (good and bad) and plan to update once I get a rest from my fast-paced schedule of sightseeing and learning about e-publishing!

Hope all is well wherever you are this lovely June!

Until we eat again,

Caitlin

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Restaurant Review: The Present Moment Cafe

May 7, 2010

Today I bring you a restaurant review from the last day of my visit to Jacksonville, Florida. However, I will not be reviewing a Jacksonville restaurant. This is because Jacksonville is a desolate wasteland as far as vegetarian—or even vegetarian friendly—restaurants go. So, for my last day down south, (Jacksonville) Caitlin and I went to nearby St. Augustine, to a little place I found called The Present Moment Cafe.

Although you wouldn’t know it from their website or storefront, The Present Moment is a 100% raw, 100% vegan (and I believe 100% organic) restaurant (actually, I shouldn’t vouch for these “100%”s; there may be a few select items on their menu that don’t fit the bill, but I can confidently say that they’re at least 90% those things). The space is cute and cozy, easily working as both a nice cafe to go to spend one’s afternoon and a casual restaurant to enjoy one’s evening. But I know that what you’re really here for is the food. So let me give you the lowdown (and apologies for the darkness of the photos).

We started off with an appetizer plate: Holy Guacamole & Salsa, served with dehydrated corn tortilla chips. The guacamole was indeed divine, the salsa was good, and the chips were excellent. The biggest downside to this plate was the fact that they only gave us 6 chips. Now I know that dehydrated chips don’t come cheap, so a plateful of chips was out of the question, but there was definitely more dip than there was chip to dip it with, and I don’t think it’s too much to ask for them to have provided us with some other dippers (vegetables, for example). As things were, we ended up just eating the remaining guac with our spoons (which was, of course, still absolutely delicious).

This is the Present Moment Salad, (Jacksonville) Caitlin’s entree. It normally consists of avocado, red pepper, tomato, onion, sprouts, and citrus dressing, but (Jacksonville) Caitlin had them hold some of that off. I didn’t try this, but judging from the ingredients, it seemed like a pretty tasty salad, and very reasonably priced at $7.

This was my entree: Portabella Croquettes with Zucchini Pasta & Caesar Salad. What a plate! I chose this mostly for the croquettes, which were very very good, but to my disappointment smaller than golf balls and only two in number. The Caesar Salad, though, was surprisingly good and plentiful. And the Zucchini Pasta, served with marinara sauce, was satisfying, but eerily similar to Gena’s Zucchini Marinara, which I’ve made for myself before, and so not as exciting.

Last but not least, I got myself one of their smoothies, the “Universe Drink”, which consisted of cacao, goji berry, maca, and banana. It tasted mostly like cacao, though, and I wasn’t that impressed with this in the end.

Overall, though, The Present Moment Cafe scores well on both taste and atmosphere in my opinion. Despite the drawbacks I’ve mentioned, the menu is varied enough that I would definitely want to come back if I were in the area. Even more so, in fact, since this is certainly the only restaurant of its kind in probably 100 miles. In addition, I think the menu was generally cheaper than other raw restaurants I’ve been to, which is always nice.

That being said, I would like in closing to draw attention to what was definitely the biggest downside to our dining experience: the service. Granted, it was late on a Tuesday evening (not exactly prime time for business) and so there was only one server working, but she was just barely doing so. From flirting instead of waiting on our table (or any of the several other diners), to forgetting my drink order (though she did give it to me on the house), our waiter made our night a much less pleasant experience. Thankfully, the food sort of made up for it, but I can only hope that if you go to The Present Moment Cafe, someone else is working that night. Someone more, should we say, “in the moment”.

Until we eat again,

Willie

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Jacksonville, pt. 2: Desserts!

May 6, 2010

Hello friends!

For the second installment in my Jacksonville travel (b)log series, I’m dedicating this entire post to all the lovely desserts I ate while in Florida. My two friends (whom I was visiting, in case you don’t remember) are fantastic bakers, and put their kitchen skills to work to create delicious dessert after delicious dessert.

The first dessert was awaiting me upon my arrival in Jacksonville, being made beforehand by (Jacksonville) Caitlin:

That’s Blueberry Crisp, folks, made from local Florida blueberries! This was fantastic, and that’s coming from me—someone who does not consider himself a berry person by any means.

The second dessert of my visit was something I had in fact tried before, but definitely delicious enough to eat again (and again and again):

That’s Carrot Cake with Maple Icing, à la Happy Herbivore’s stupendous recipe! This wonderful treat was made my friend Ellie, who is a baking powerhouse (she also made me some vegan cookies, which I somehow neglected to photograph—and by ‘neglected’ I mean ‘instantly devoured before the thought of taking a picture crossed my mind’). When Caitlin made me this earlier this year, we had them in cupcake form, but it turns out that the recipe works just as well as a cake!

The final dessert of my trip was another delicious treat from (Jacksonville) Caitlin:

These are Supernatural Brownies, courtesy this recipe from the New York Times, of all places. These were super rich and super super good. I really could not get enough of them.

So with so many amazing dessert options, how did I choose between them, you ask? I didn’t:

I love vacation. Thanks again to (Jacksonville) Caitlin and Ellie for making my tummy very very happy all week.

Until we eat again,

Willie

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