Tuesday 24 February 2015

Mallrats of Bangkok!

Let's get real for a second, Thailand is hot. Bangkok is hotter. I'm not a person who is particularly good at dealing with the heat. Having grown up in the UK you might expect this but before I embarked upon this adventure other Brit's kept telling me that I'd acclimatise. I am still waiting for the magical acclimatisation date (40 days and counting!) and I'll share just one story with you lest you think I'm exaggerating... When I arrived at the check in desk of a hotel a week or so ago the receptionist looked at me wide eyed and enquired as to whether it was currently raining? Nope, I'm just that sweaty! Good times! My bright red face and I are happily persevering with the heat sitch but in the meantime I have grown to love malls. I know right! Malls! I never thought I'd say it either, I hate shopping, but in Bangkok malls are different. In Bangkok malls are special. Air con aside some malls, like Siam Paragon, are so upscale they're verging on the ridiculous and some, like the fantastic Terminal 21, have amazing concepts. Terminal 21 is like an airport and boy have they committed to that theme, each floor has a city theme with accompanying models and signage, pertinent mall info is displayed on departure boards and even the information assistants are dressed like cabin crew. It's so fun!

Am I in Japan? No! I'm at Terminal 21!

The other great thing about the malls here is that there's vegan food everywhere! There are gourmet markets, supermarkets, food halls and restaurants and as someone who can happily wander around supermarkets for hours on end marvelling at new and exciting fruits and veggies and reading the ingredients on the most implausible things (I've hit the jackpot doing this on so many occasions that I will never stop!) they're a pretty fun place to be.

Anyway, without further ado, here's my guide to Bangkok's malls which are all conveniently located in the Sukhumvit area along the BTS Skytrain line.

Mercury Ville

As well as being the location of Veganerie vegan bakery (which I blogged about here) you can also grab a a soya based milkshake (you just need to ask about honey) from Soya Soyum or a pre-dessert salad at Dressed. I went off menu at Dressed and used the fun salad creating device to throw together a salad that included two types of greens, mandarins, almonds, tofu, grated carrot and avocado. I also went with a blueberry vinegarette dressing that complimented my salad choices nicely. The only downside being that it was freaking expensive, like, 300THB / £6 / $9 expensive which for Bangkok is a little ridic. Also the tofu was plain, cubed and silken which I'm okay with but I know a lot of people would be hating. I'd probably eat it again despite the price because it was super fresh and totally cured my weird salad craving.

Central World

Talalask in the food court (back left hand corner) of Central World Mall was listed on Happy Cow as vegan until I rocked up and saw them making spaghetti carbonara with cows milk. Everything else was vegan though and it's your classic cheap Thai fare - fried rice, pad thai and, oddly, some Japanese gyoza which I loved and ordered every time we swung by. 

Both the Pad Thai and Pad See Ew were good, I've definitely had better but this place wins points for both convenience and people watching.

The Central Food Hall here is also pretty great especially if you're craving the taste of home. I found these Fox's Chunkie Cookies there and daaaaamn are they good cookies! I also picked up some Nature Valley Crunchy Peanut Butter granola bars which are the kind without the honey. Yay!

MBK Centre

I wasn't a huge fan of the veggie place located in the food court at the MBK Centre but that had a lot to do with me hardly having any choices due to my allergies and the things I chose were definitely on the bland side. If you're looking for the cheapest plate of food this is the one for you.

Terminal 21

Okay so Pala Pizza Romana isn't exactly in Teminal 21 but it is attached to the outside so I'm totally counting it. I discovered this place when I googled "vegan pizza Bangkok" after listening to Nick whinge about his pizza craving for about an hour. I totally get weird cravings too and I'll never say no to pizza so we headed one sky train stop away to Pala and fell in love. I adore faux cheeses and mock meats but sometimes a simple marinara pizza is so perfect that it's hard to fault it. This place is generous with the garlic and they serve by the slice, half meter or meter. Geniuses!

There are also vegan labelled salads on the menu as well as a bean soup although I was sad to hear that the marinara slice topped with truffle oil had been discontinued.

The Gourmet Market located on the ground floor of T21, otherwise known as Rome, is the only place I've found in Thailand selling soy yoghurts. Joya brand were already a favourite of mine after trips to Vienna and I'd have bought many more of these for in-room breakfasts if the place I was staying in had had a fridge.

Siam Paragon

This is the spot where I bought some egg and dairy free bread that I described as "a crime against bread" in my last post. Sadness. As an aside Veganerie is the spot for all of your bread based needs. Siam Paragon isn't all shiny cars and sad bread though and I managed to hunt down some vegan umeboshi onigiri from a little Japanese stand opposite the Gourmet Food Court's checkouts.

Siam Paragon also has a Dressed if you're in the market for some (expensive) veggies.

I even managed to find Mintons in the imported gluten free foods section here. Mintons! I've never seen these in a store before. Sadly this traveller is now on a budget and I couldn't justify what works out at £4.20 for a pack despite these essentially being a vegan yoyo!

I did of course scope out Bangkok's non mall based vegan food scene but that's a whole 'nother post.

I'm currently writing this from Chiang Mai where I've just returned from spending a week volunteering at Elephant Nature Park so expect some seriously squee-worthy animal pictures in my next post. If you want to keep 100% up to date with my travels I'm trying to post to my Instagram daily when wifi will allow.

Thursday 19 February 2015

Veganerie, Bangkok

You just know somewhere's going to be amazing when there's a huge buzz surrounding them and I feel like there's been no louder a buzz recently than the one surrounding Veganerie. If you haven't heard of them yet where have you been? Do you live under a rock?! I feel like so many vegan bloggers and IGers managed to get there before me and they've only been open since October! 

This shiny beacon of sugary vegan deliciousness is located in the MercuryVille Mall which means that you don't even need to step out of the station to get there. You can just stroll right in from the BTS Skytrain walkway, pop up one floor on the escalator and you're there. It literally couldn't be more perfect.

I headed here immediately after getting off of the overnight train from Trang and the very first thing I was drawn towards was the Chocolate Waffle Plate because god damn, look at this thing. It is perfection. This is the large size and the lovely ladies behind the counter were visibly shocked when Nick and I ordered one each. I'm one of those people who could eat the vegan equivalent of a horse at breakfast time so it was okay, we killed both plates easily and didn't show ourselves up as amateur eaters! 

This is right up there on my list of dream breakfasts. Not only are the waffles chocolatey but you can add chocolate ice cream (I also added matcha) and then the whole thing's finished off with a drizzle of chocolate sauce just in case you haven't imploded from all of the deliciousness already. The whipped cream that accompanies it is the only whipped cream I've ever liked. There was an almost whipped cream thing in Stockholm once but that's it. Usually cream is on my list of no-go's but this, wow, it's so light and fluffy and not too sweet because who needs it to be when it's accompanying waffles and ice cream y'know? Apparently it's made of coconut and I totally want the recipe. Oh and that cute lil' thing that says Veganerie? You can eat that! It's really just too much.

They were also so happy that we were enjoying our food that they gave us some free granola to take away. I ate it with a pot of strawberry soy yoghurt for breakfast one morning and it was totally amazing. Super chocolatey, not overly sweet and really crunchy. I'd have totally bought more if it came in something more sensible than a glass jar because when you're travelling they just aren't practical.

The French Toast plate was the second thing on the must eat list and I can say that it didn't disappoint. I probably wouldn't pick it over the waffles again but it was great nonetheless and there was more of that amazing whipped cream which I swear you could put on a shoe and it would make it taste great. Maybe they should sell it by the jar? I'd totally buy that.

If you're in the market for something small or, in my case, a side to your French Toast plate you can't go wrong with the chocolate chip banana bread. Banana bread has always been a favourite and this is A+.

Another delightful free gift came along in the form of this matcha slice which could totally be renamed matcha shortbread because it has that perfect melt in your mouth texture and the flavours were spot on.

I have to be honest and say that the matcha ice cream accompanying the waffle plate was almost too matcha-ey for my (silly western) palate but this was perfect for me. I loved the chocolate chunks too especially as they'd gotten a little melty by the time I chowed down. I bought several more of these which goes to show that giving people free samples of new products can be a genius idea!

Another dessert that deserves an A+ rating is the Brownie Sundae and not just because of the truly epic amount of vegan whipped cream ontop of it. Again I had chocolate ice cream because I find it hard to pick other flavours when this classic is being offered up and there was a frankly ridic amount of chocolate sauce going on. It was outstanding.

The brownie itself was on the fudgey end of the spectrum and held up perfectly when topped with sundae fixings. Both this and the chocolate waffle plate were probably my absolute favourites if you're forcing me to pick. I think I uttered the words "best thing I've ever eaten" on more than one occasion during this visit!

The Pizzookie, Veganerie's cleverly named cookie sundae, is another strong option. Just look at the amount of stuff going on here. Chopped fruit, whipped cream, chocolate sauce, ice cream and underneath all of that is a choc chip oatmeal cookie the size of the bowl itself.

Lastly I picked up a loaf of Veganerie's pumpkin bread and I wished that I'd done it sooner. The only dairy and egg free bread I'd found in Bangkok up until this point was a baguette from the gourmet food court at the Siam Paragon mall and my words upon trying to tear into it were "Holy hell, this is a crime against bread" which I think tells you everything you need to know. This bread on the other hand was a dream especially when paired with PB & J, the dream combo! If you're a hotel room breakfast fan I would strongly recommend a purchase.

As well as being 100% vegan and 100% delicious Veganerie is also owned and operated by vegan activists who are helping to spread the vegan message with their delicious baked goods. In my experience this is one of the best methods, win people over with food, show them that being vegan isn't a hardship and help open their eyes to animal suffering along the way. Classy move Veganerie.

Monday 16 February 2015

24 Hours in Trang

After a bumpy four hour mini bus ride from Koh Lanta I arrived in Trang slightly the worse for wear (I get bus sick as well as sea sick apparently!) and super glad that Nick and I decided to spend a night there before hopping onto the 15 hour overnight train to Bangkok. 

The first place I was determined to visit was Kit Pung Vegetarian, an all vegan Jay restaurant located pretty close to the train station, but as fate would have it we arrived 10 minutes after they closed up for the day so it had to wait. Luckily I had plenty of bus ride snacks leftover and I was very happy to sit still and read for a while before heading out to explore Trang's bustling night markets. On Friday and Saturday nights there are not one but two night markets in this small town. One in front of the train station and one just off of Th Praram VI, the road that runs north from the station. At the non-station night market I hit the jackpot and finally found something I'd heard a whole lot about, Kanom Krok (sometimes spelt Khanom Krok). The stall selling these sweet and salty traditional Thai coconut rice pancakes was nestled right in the back corner of the market and was run by two incredibly friendly people who were fairly amused by my (over)excitement. 

The Kanom Krok I found were topped with sweetcorn and something that looked like bacon but that in hindsight (and after asking the peeps from Vegan Food Quest who adore these treats) was probably taro although I didn't risk eating them at the time.

These were just as delicious as I'd been led to believe they would be and Nick and I scoffed the whole portion in record time. Our hands were covered in sweet coconutty batter by the end. My only word of warning is that you need to know what you're looking for when you're searching for these (maybe a screenshot of a photo would be helpful) because they do look an awful lot like the little fried quails eggs that are another night market fave' - I definitely wandered back and forth past a few stalls muttering egg or pancake to Nick!

Fruit is another night market classic and I went OTT with the mango as always. I love it.

The next day we woke up bright and early because Jay eateries start serving around 7am and we both wanted to make damned sure that we got enough food for breakfast, lunch and dinner on the train. I had no idea what would be in store as we hadn't hit up a Jay eatery on our travels yet.

There were plenty of choices and the idea was to pick two dishes to go with rice. I have no idea what any of the things Nick and I ate were but I was super happy that despite finding my chilli allergy highly amusing they were able to point out about five things I could choose from.

The result was a slightly bland meal but at breakfast I'm totally cool with that as long as it involves carbs and I liked the pieces of mock meat in one of my dishes enough that I filled my tupperware with that and more rice for dinner on the train.

Jay eateries are entirely vegan which is pretty cool but it does also mean no onion nor garlic. I'm pretty okay with this on occasion if it means I can get vegan food easily and I was happy to see the shelves were full of vegan products that you could take away.

I was especially intrigued by this five spice gluten stew. If I had had access to a microwave I'd have totally bought it and given it a whirl and I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for it on my travels.

I did pick up this tasty ham and coleslaw sandwich for lunch, I'm a huge bread fan and it's hard to find it vegan style in Thailand so I snapped one up along with a few steamed barbeque faux pork buns which made an amazing train dinner alongside the tupperware box of rice and faux meat stew.

I discovered the joy of steamed buns or bao in San Francisco a couple of years ago and I love them so much. They're doughy, a little sweet and jam packed with faux meaty wonderfulness.

I spent the rest of the day wandering around markets with Nick marvelling at all of the different types of mushrooms and the size of the rats and trying to spot cats leaping between stalls.


I also bought a huge bag of oranges for the sleeper train journey to Bangkok.

Nick and I travelled in the first class compartment between Trang and BKK because we were feeling fancy and it was fun to have our own little room. It was super cosy and the time flew by really fast. I read a whole book, slept for hours and then arrived in Bangkok raring to go.

Oh hey, I'm on a train!

Thursday 12 February 2015

Vegan in Koh Lanta

I'm totally in love with the pace of island life! Koh Lanta was our third island stop after Koh Yao Noi, which I loved, and Koh Pu, which was perhaps a little slow paced even for me but we did see a monkey scampering about in the jungle so that was awesome. We booked this pretty but basic 700THB / £14 / $21 fan bungalow at Mook Lanta for four nights and quickly extended it to six. 

Koh Lanta showed immediate promise when we were able to hop off of the boat at Saladan Pier and walk for around two minutes before hitting the first veg friendly spot marked on vegan dining app Happy Cow's map of the island. Catfish Book Cafe is right on the pier itself and there are in fact books and cats everywhere. I assume the fish in question were underneath us and shall ignore their appearance on the menu.

Nick and I both went for variations on the hummus, falafel and salad wrap and mine was build your own which was fun and came with three wraps rather than the two on the ready made plate. I'm slowly learning to remember to flick my phone's camera from photo to square but on this occasion I forgot so you'll have to make do with this Instagram ready snapshot.

Everything about this meal hit the spot after three days of eating either fruit plates or the same fried rice dish for every meal. The salad was especially good as it was flavoured with dill which I adore.

One place both Nick and I become totally obsessed with is the noodle spot with no name. Their wifi network is SUNUNTHA which should give you a clue as to it's whereabouts if you're strolling near the Long Beach 7/11. They also have a tofu food page on the menu - this doesn't indicate vegan or even veggie foods as Thai cuisine is heavy on the fish sauce but if you ask for the stir fried noodles with tofu and vegetables with no fish sauce, no egg and no oyster sauce (in Thai, if you can't remember it all write it down or take a screen shot of google translate on your phone) you'll get a super cheap vegan meal that'll knock your socks off. We ate this almost every day during our eleven day sojourn on the island.

Almost exactly opposite the noodle place is a restaurant that has become know in our minds as The Mango Sticky Rice Place. It's all we've ever ordered there, well that and a big water, and I super love it because the coconut cream comes on the side so you get to decide exactly how much to add. 

A little further south from the mango sticky rice place is Faim De Loup a French bakery and cafe where you can buy bread without egg or milk products which is something of a rarity in Thailand.

Be warned that whilst the wholewheat baguette is vegan the ciabatta contains egg (I don't know what recipe they're following!) and there was a definite language barrier between some of the staff and I (probably because my Thai is still dreadful but I'm getting closer to nailing the pronunciation which is helping me communicate better) and this was the first vegan fuck up of the trip - it happens, ascertaining what's vegan on your home turf is always going to be easier than when you travel and even after nine years of veganism and many trips abroad these things happen and you just need to dust yourself off, move forward and learn to communicate more successfully next time. We ate the WW baguette with the peanut butter and jam we picked up at Lanta Mart which is near the pier in Saladan.

After six noodle fuelled days on Koh Lanta we weren't able to stay at Mook Lanta any longer, we wanted to, they just had no space for us, so we moved next door to the similarly priced but slightly louder Angel Lanta. It's a teeny bit closer the the main road and the windows are just fly screens but there was a hammock for me to read and write in so I was happy.

One of our very favourite spots on the island was Kunda Anti-Pop Cafe. Located around a kilometre south of Lanta Animal Welfare (you checked out the cats and dogs in my last post right?) it's just about walkable from there and you really feel like you've earned the right to lounge on their comfy patio for the rest of the afternoon.

First things first, drinks. Get the mango shake, no sugar added. If the totally bad ass proprietress Lena is in the house get her to whip you up one with added sweet basil. It's not on the menu but it should be. It's mind blowingly good.

Not one to order salad often I relented after I saw Giselle from Mindful Wanderlust's lunch choice one day (what a cool coincidence that these travel blogging vegans were on the island at the same time as us) so I ordered it on my next visit. 

Kunda's carrot salad is mad garlicky and comes with lettuce, black rice and peanuts. Love!

Pasta is a definite Jojo fave and I was pleased to see two delicious options on the menu, pasta pesto and pasta with tomato, garlic and basil.

Both were delicious and I only slightly preferred the tomato pasta because the tomatoes themselves were barely cooked and oh so fresh.

As well as whipping up some of the best food I've ever eaten owner and chef Lena is eccentric, hilarious, only the tiniest bit intimidating and adds sparkle to every visit. This is the place to go if you can spend a little time lingering over your meal in true island style.

The Sanctuary was another Happy Cow recommendation, added to the shortlist long before our trip even started, but after our new vegan buddies Giselle and Cody told me there was a cashew cheese dish on the menu wild horses couldn't have held me back. The mild creamy cashew cheese dip is the centrepiece of a crudités plate that's described on the menu as a salad and comes served with a flatbread described as a naan. We also ordered the Tofu Burger made vegan which was like a huge free form tofu scramble formed into a burger.

I adored the burger, chips are always a winning side, and we thought the whole cashew cheese plate was wonderful (okay, okay, not the snap peas. I hate them raw!), the flatbread was super fresh and slightly warmed and the burger bun was lightly toasted. Unfortunately on our second visit the bread was a little stale (probably because it hadn't been warmed) and the Tofu Burger that we loved was completely different... I think I got a vegetable burger instead.

Like a good food blogger I went back a third time to see what the deal was and the tofu burger was back on form. We also tried the yummy spring rolls and a couple of juices which are freshly pressed and super delicious.

The other great thing about The Sanctuary is that there are dogs and cats all over the shop which is adorable. This is Gizmo who sat on my lap whilst I enjoyed my carrot and orange juice last week. Cute!

Located at the southern end of Long Beach and just a stones throw from where we were staying The Sanctuary have a gorgeous view of the beach, especially at sunset, and if you want somewhere to sit with a cool drink the beach bar's a pretty chilled out spot with some excellently placed deck chairs.

In-between meals and dog walking at Lanta Animal Welfare I enjoyed a whole lot of beach time, my favourites are Long Beach and Relax Bay Beach, both during the day and at sunset. It really is a beautiful place and one that Nick and I are already planning to return to.