Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Vegan in Slovenia: Ljubljana and Beyond

If you've ever seen a picture of Lake Bled online you might be thinking "wow, there's no way that it can be as beautiful as it looks" but it can and it is! I was lucky enough to spend a few nights camping there before heading to the Punk Rock Holiday festival. I swam. I walked. I hiked. I took far too many photos. It was a blast. 


One of the best things about Lake Bled is that despite it being one of Europe's more popular, not to mention beautiful, tourist attractions it really wasn't all that busy. There's a super easy to navigate path running the whole circumference of the lake, about 6km, and then there are some more challenging trails just off of that.


Our campsite choice for this adventure was Camping Bled mainly because it's the only campsite in the area. It's fantastically located right by the lake though and there's a little jetty, a beach bar & cafe and a shop right there. The shop was stocked with a surprisingly large amount of vegan products including Joya yoghurts and milkshakes as well as soya milk, freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juices, pulses, legumes, rice cakes etc. 


One afternoon we took one of the more challenging trails from the southwest corner of the lake up to the Osojnica viewpoint which was described in our copy of Lonely Planet as a short but steep climb which I almost agree with, it sure was steep but I'm not so sure about the short part. At times it was incredibly steep but there were more mellow patches and the the view down to the lake and the island makes it so worth it. On the route Nick and I took you caught glimpses of the lake the whole way up, it was wonderful.


I enjoyed a Clif bar when we stopped at the top! I'm addicted to the Crunchy Peanut Butter version, it's one of the only kinds I buy now because they can't confirm that their chocolate isn't sourced from child slaves in west Africa so that means no more choc chip for me. I was also super irritated to discover that the banana bread flavour contains chocolate chips because I really wanted to try it. I use The Food Empowerment Project's list to check out my chocolate and whilst I'm not perfect at only eating chocolate based things from the good list I am trying my hardest.


After our time exploring Lake Bled Nick and I headed to Slovenia's capital city Ljubljana to meet up with Tabitha, one of my BFF's, who we were going to the Punk Rock Holiday festival with. If you haven't checked out my blog post about that already you can read about the ups and downs of the fest' here

Despite being a capital city Ljubljana is one of the more peaceful places I've visited on this trip. Tabitha treated us to a couple of night's in an Air B&B because she's too nice and also because she cares more about being able to shower the morning before heading to a festival for five days than we do. When we drove into the city late-ish on a Saturday night I was sure that we must be in the wrong place or at least staying on the outskirts of town because whilst I wouldn't call the streets deserted they were so empty. It felt strange! 


Because I've taught her well Tabitha used the map function on Happy Cow when picking out the Air B&B (aren't vegan friends the best?) which meant that we were an easy ten minute walk from 100% vegan restaurant Nyama. We rocked up for breakfast and ordered smoothies and sandwiches which is a great way to begin any day especially because with your sandwich order you get not one but two sandwiches!



I went for a classic combo of Cheese and Ham whilst Nick went for a more breakfasty (or so he claims) Peanut Butter and Banana. These were such a great start to the day, I need to get my shit together and make breakfast sandwiches more often. Usually I'm not functional enough to make a sandwich until I've eaten which leaves me in a tough spot when it comes to the breakfast sandwich! One of the best things to do after such an epic breakfast is to head out and walk all over a new city so that's exactly what we did.

The streets were definitely busier that day as we made our way around the city's main tourist attractions but not a whole lot busier, not the kind of busy I've come to expect from a capital city in the height of summer. We explored the castle, made Tabitha take her first selfie, checked out numerous dragon based statues, drank radler (okay, that was only me), wrote postcards and walked through all of the city centre streets and over all of the city's bridges. We had a super fun afternoon.



Does every single city with a bridge have one of these now? I suspect so!

We decided that as we'd enjoyed the food, friendly service and convenient location so much at breakfast that we'd head back to Nyama for a late lunch. The great menu also factored into our decision making, we were so tempted by so many things when we were there at breakfast time that we kinda had to go back! I chose the carbonara because in my mind it is pretty much the perfect meal. Pasta, creamy sauce, faux ham and a few veggies for colour / decoration. 


It wasn't the best carbonara I've ever had, I use a helluva lot more cream in mine, but it was filling and tasty and I definitely enjoyed it. Nick also rated his curry and Tabitha her mushroom stroganoff with polenta both of which certainly looked great. After some maxing and relaxing at the Air B&B our stomachs started rumbling again and as we were situated within a reasonable distance of the city's main Loving Hut we headed there for some more food.


As it was late in the day they were out of a lot of the menu items we were excited about so we settled upon hot dogs and burgers. These didn't seem like the most exciting choices especially as we knew we'd be eating a whole lot of burgers over the next week but these are always solid options right?


Well lemme tell you that the cheeseburger was one of the best burgers I've ever eaten. I've literally never been more pleased that a restaurant was out of everything I actually wanted to eat! I'm actually still upset that Nick and I were sharing both things and I only got to eat half of one of the best burgers in the world. I wouldn't recommend the hot dog because it comes with salad (nooooo!) and also I just told you that the cheeseburger is one of the best I've ever eaten so if you don't order it you're basically an idiot.

I decided to take a punt on dessert too as the burger thing had worked out so well and I choose something that I normally hate, tiramisu. My dessert nemesis! People are always shocked when I tell them that I hate tiramisu but I don't like coffee or rum or, normally, cream so it's not super surprising that this dessert is usually low down my must eat list. It also usually contains some kinda cream cheese which is a flavour that I hate in sweet food, like, seriously detest. Never make me cheesecake. I'm not kidding. Anyway, as I was on some kinda cheeseburger high I thought what the hell, let's give this one a whirl and holy wow. I thought that it was so perfect that I suspect you'd hate it if you like traditional tiramisu.


It was Speculoos Tiramisu (something else I also usually dislike... well, I like the biscuits themselves but strongly dislike the spread) and it was neither overly sweet nor cheesy. It was just a very light and airy whipped cream (I'd guess it was rice based) in-between two slices of speculoos flavoured cake topped with a mix of sweetened cocoa powder and speculoos crumbs. It was perfect. If I could have fitted in two I definitely would have.

As well as having the one of the best cheeseburgers ever and the only tiramisu I've ever liked this branch of LH has a fridge stocked with vegan meats and cheeses (get some VioLife slices and any of the frankly enormous Uzená sausages) and it's right by both the train and bus stations making it the perfect place to grab some take out if you're travelling around Europe by train.

After out brief sojourn in Ljubljana it was time to hit the road and head for Tolmin to spend a week hanging out in a field by a river listening to ear shatteringly loud punk rock. We were excited and raring to go but we needed to stock the van up with food just in case the festival's vegan options were lacking / expensive. We hit up the Mercator supermarket close to Ljubljana airport and found one of the best stocked selections of vegan food we'd seen in any European supermarket. 


As well as there being accidentally vegan items dotted all around the store there was also a huge refrigerated section full of vegetarian and vegan products. We loaded up a basket with crackers, tofu, seitan steaks, seitan burgers, freshly squeezed juices, chocolate puddings, soya yoghurts, garlic bake rolls (imagine a snackable garlic toast!), Manner wafers, Pom Bears, savoury spreads, margarine, peanut butter and even a brand of Radler made with vegan Union beer. As an aside I use the Vegaholic app to check out which types of alcohol are vegan - it has all of the info stored offline so you don't need a wifi connection or 3G to scope out the list. You can check out all of Barnivore's recommended app's here to find the right one for your device. 

As I mentioned already I wrote a whole blog post about Punk Rock Holiday but it was basically a whole week of watching bands, reading by the van, chowing down on ridiculously delicious tofu burgers and hanging with my homies. Good times. Mostly.


Read this book!


Beauty tip: Haven't washed your hair for five days? Throw on a bandana!

Whatever your reasons; punk rock, a love of beautiful scenery, a desire to explore a city that isn't stuffed full of tourists, I would highly recommend heading to Slovenia. It might be a small country but it's packed full of so much natural beauty that it's almost unbelievable. I kinda want to move there just so that I can wander around marvelling at how gorgeous everything is whilst eating tiramisu!

Monday, 17 August 2015

Vegan in (and around) Vienna


Staying with friends is one of my favourite things to do whilst I travel, aside from the extra fun throwing your friends into the mix brings and the ability to relax as if you were in your own home they also know all of the best vegan spots in town. As soon as Nick and I dropped our one bag off at Carmen and Joshua's place in the 4th district we headed around the corner to a hot dog spot that had opened since I was last in town a year ago. Hildegard Wurst isn't vegan but they have a vegan dog that you can doctor with an array of toppings and I love the classic americana style of the place.


We all went for the classic dog topped with ketchup and mustard because you can't really beat that combo and they arrived fast and hot. What more could you ask for?

Another place in the 4th district is Matcha Komachi, I actually wrote about this place before when it was called Metcha Matcha and it's right next door to Hildegard Wurst. This is one of my favourite places in Vienna because I love Japanese food and this is Japanese food done well. They don't have a tonne of vegan options because of the ever present dashi but they mark the vegan options on the menu and their onigiri are top notch.


This time around I tried the Avodado onigiri as well as the Ume and Wasabi that I always go for. These make the perfect breakfast lunch or dinner snack and Nick and I grabbed more to go on our way out of the city as they also make excellent road trip food. 


Another delicious and accidentally vegan delicacy Vienna has in store are apple strudel or berry strudel from Anker, an Austrian bakery chain, 


Anker label all of their vegan options which range from these delicious strudels (apple is the best in my opinion) to pretzels and even a sandwich or two. I wish more UK bakery chains would follow take some steps in this direction and offer some clearly marked vegan options. 

Bok is somewhere I visited on one of my earliest trips to Vienna and I can't really remember why it's taken me so long to go back, perhaps it was because there are just so many places to eat in and around Vienna that it's hard to keep re-visiting your favourites when you're only visiting for the weekend?! Anyway I remember enjoying Bok but this time I loved it. Maybe my tastes have changes or I just ordered better but daaamn there was some delicious stuff happening at our table after the initial fight over their last plate of inari tofu! I went for the sesame tofu to start as my love for silken tofu just grows and grows as the years pass by. 


I also needed to add in a little deep fry in the form of these treasure pouches which were crunchy and filled with veggies.


Nick ordered the Teriyaki Chicken and immediately passed all of his deliciously saucy mushrooms over to me, this caused much hilarity as Melanie's husband Mike did the exact same thing with his. We think they may be food twins.


Melanie had been looking for someone to share the sushi platter with her for a while and I eagerly jumped up to the plate. A huge platter of sushi is like a dream to me and Nick's never super into sharing anything so veg heavy. There was a little less tofu than I'd have liked and the mock duck maki could have done with a little more seasoning but everything else was perfect, we both particularly enjoyed the oshinko maki and both kinds of avocado roll.


As I've mentioned a couple of Vienna's vegan sushi options I feel like I have to mention my experience at Pirata, Vienna's 100% vegan sushi spot. I really wanted to support this relatively new business but they need to sort some stuff out before I'll go back. When we arrived at dinner time one evening they had about 8 pieces of sushi on display. They were able to rustle up a couple more but then they offered us yesterday morning's sushi for half off... I'm not a huge food snob but sushi that has been refrigerated for 24 hours is a huge no. Whilst we were all sharing our small plate of mediocre rolls they turned away at least nine potential customers who felt, as we did, that the day old sushi would not make a decent meal. I would suggest they take a leaf out of Beyond Sushi's book (as they're clearly trying to corner Vienna's quirky sushi market) and invest in some black rice and mayo based toppings as well as endeavouring to keep it all as fresh as possible. 

Vienna is one of the best places ever to do a spot of vegan friendly shopping - they really have you covered! Veganz is, like everywhere I've mentioned in this post so far, in the 4th district and after a spot of browsing we settled on a box of these Coconut and Bourbon Vanilla Bonbons to cool us down. 


They were great, if they hadn't been specifically coconut flavoured I'd have been annoyed at their coconuttyness and it would be cool (Get it?! Haha!) to see a soy based chocolate variety in the future. Veganz also have a new range of faux meat products that I jumped all over. These Lemon Pepper Schnitzels were my favourite purchase and they made a great in van dinner alongside some buttery potatoes and green beans. 


Veganz also sell this locally produced Hazelnut Strudel Bread which I crave far too often. It's the perfect brunch accompaniment. You can also pick one up at branches of Spar Gourmet .


Austrian supermarket chain Merkur Markt was another must visit spot on our tour of the city as they've recently added a lot of new vegan items in the Vega Vita range. The range spans everything you might want as a vegan from soups and faux meat products to ice creams and gummy sweets. The tubs of Almond and Pistachio ice cream are the best imho and you can also buy them at local ice cream parlour Schwedenplatz. The cheese filled sausages in the top right of this picture are another fave', they hold together even once the cheese has melted and I was left kicking myself as I only bought one pack. What was I thinking?!


Merkur is also the place to get your hands on Alpro's best flavours of soy yoghurt, the apple strudel and lemon pie flavours are my favourite yoghurts in the world and I am very sad that my stash of them ran out last week. The lemon pie flavour is so perfectly tart and creamy that I can envisage myself eating it every day forever without getting bored.


Veganista is another Vienna must-visit. Their constantly changing range of ice creams keeps things interesting even if you do decide to visit twice a day. Between Nick and I we tried Brownie, Cookies and Cream and Hazelnut and we decided that Brownie was the winner.


The vegan ice cream scene in Vienna is totally off the hook at the moment and you can get your fix by the scoop or in tubs at Eissalon Am Schwedenplatz, in chocolate covered pop form at Freiraum Deli on MariahilferStraße and/or by the scoop at Gelateria Bortolotti on MariahilferStraße, at Eis Greissler or at Eissalon Armando.

Whilst I may never have time to hit up all of my favourite spots from previous trips I always manage to squeeze in a meal at Formosa. The food there is, for the most part, cheap and deep fried which is how I like it. I'm a particularly big fan of the pancake which comes stuffed with carrots, cabbage and faux ham and topped with a sweet teriyaki style dressing as well as a creamy mayo based dressing. It's crunchy and slightly sweet as well as being both ridiculously filling and delicious.


If the pancake does't take your fancy Formosa also do burgers and schnitzel plates, which I am sure are just as wonderful as they look, as well as soups, salads and curries.



There are always new things to try in Vienna though and sometimes vegan food can be found in the most unexpected of places. Vienna's Hotel Am Brillanten Grund is definitely one of these spots.


The hotel's ground floor cafe and courtyard has more of a smart casual restaurant vibe than I was expecting and they specialise in Pinoy, or Fillipino, dishes which are created by chef Mom. Almost every single item on the menu can be made vegan using tofu or seitan and everyone I ate with loved their meals. Nick tried the Arroz Caldo, a stew like soup of rice and tofu, whilst I opted for the house speciality Bistek veganised with seitan.



The seitan standing in for meat in my traditional Fillipino Bistek dish was thinly sliced and incredibly tender and I adored the way the almost tart flavour of the citrus soya marinade meshed with the crisp fried onions and peppery rocket salad to create one of the most interesting dishes I've eaten in a long time. I would highly recommend it. Nick's stew was also a winning choice, both warming and filling and flavoured with copious amounts of ginger and a touch of lemongrass. My friend Carmen ordered the burger which came on a bun that was very steamed bun-esque. She assured me she'd definitely order it again and I hope that I get to go back and try it someday.

One place that despite not being in Vienna is on my Vienna must visit list is Gasthaus Schillinger. Nick and I made our first pilgrimage there on our honeymoon road trip almost exactly five years ago and we'd been dying to go back ever since. Gasthaus Schillinger is located 40 minutes outside of Vienna in Großmugel and you'll need either a car or a bike and strong leg muscles to get you there. We went by car so that we didn't die before getting to eat there again.

The menu isn't vast but it still took us what felt like an age to make a decision. Eventually I went with the tried and tested option of copying what one of my friends was ordering. This works well when your friends have similar tastes to you, there are some friends whose restaurant orders I would never copy as I'd end up with salad for brunch or something equally ridiculous. You know who you are!

My order was "kotelette aus de pfanne mit wheatyfisolen und barteredäpfeln" which I believe translates to pork chops with fried potatoes and wheaty and green beans.


The wheaty is chopped sliced faux meat and both that and the beans were fried in plenty of garlic butter. It was intensely amazing and it took all of my willpower not to order a second plate for dessert. Nick ordered a Cordon Bleu which, in case you haven't heard of this traditionally Austrian dish, is two seitan steaks stuffed with cheese and then breaded and fried. It came with a side of buttery herbed potatoes that I may have loved even more than my roasted potatoes. Nick's pretty nice so we shared! The dessert menu is full of divine dessert options and I really don't think you could go wrong with any of their sundaes or pancakes. Nick opted for a hazelnut and chocolate filled pancake and I chose a sundae with three flavours of ice cream, chopped hazelnuts, chocolate sauce and whipped cream.


It was one of the most intensely delicious dessert experiences I've ever had. The ice cream was creamy and flavourful and the chocolate sauce walked the line between sweet and bitter perfectly but the star of the show was the light fluffy whipped cream which was on par with the one they make at Veganerie in Bangkok.

If you're unable to make it out to Gasthaus Schillinger the owners have another restaurant, Swing Kitchen, which is located smack bang in the centre of the city just off of the main pedestrianised shopping street. Despite being owned and operated by the same people Swing Kitchen really couldn't be more different, they have a fast food focus and serve up burgers, chunky chips, wraps, desserts and soft serve ice cream. As a fast food fan I was excited to give Swing Kitchen a whirl and dived into the menu with gusto trying the chicken wrap, burgers, nuggets, fries and chocolate dipped soft serve over the course of a couple of days.




I was impressed with everything I ate although surprisingly my favourite savoury menu item was the salad heavy chicken wrap rather than the burger I tried. I also loved how fast the food really was, I have fond memories of Brighton's Red Veg but their attempts at veggie fast food had to be the slowest imaginable. It would sometimes take upwards of 20 minutes to wait for your burger or hot dog which really isn't what people are looking for when they think fast food. Swing Kitchen gets this spot on. Their soft serve ice cream is beyond perfect and I almost flipped out when I tasted the chocolate dipped version for the first time and realised that the crunchy coating was just like the one found on a Feast ice cream bar. If you aren't British you might not know what that is but trust me it's a compliment! 

I already miss Vienna and I know that I'll be back one day... maybe the route Nick and I take home from the Balkans will just have to pass through the city!