Tuesday 26 May 2015

Cool Beans, ATX

Before I got to Austin I read about all vegan Mexican food truck Cool Beans on Stephanie's blog, I also bookmarked the truck on the Happy Cow app in my "New - must visit" list but it was meeting the duo behind the truck that finally pushed me over the edge and made me think "I need to eat there now!". I met Priscilla and Rolando at Buzzmill last tuesday night and as soon as wednesday lunchtime rolled around I couldn't stop myself from heading over there to sample the food they talked about so passionately. 

One thing that made me realise how invested in making everything from scratch they are is how quickly they knew what I'd be able to order when I mentioned my allergies - they didn't need to check any packets or consult their recipes because they really know their shit.

I'd heard that their homemade corn tortillas were the bomb dot com so I knew I'd be ordering tacos. I ordered The Outkast and Nick went with The Native. We also got an order of Street Corn, hold the chilli powder, and a Sweetcorn Tamale to share.

I honestly don't even know where to begin describing this delicious meal because just thinking about it sends my brain into a spin and all I want to do is sprint out of the door so that I can go and eat it all again! That's how good it is! The outcast was not the kinda thing I'd usually go for, normally I'm a mock meat and cheese heavy taco orderer, but this simple, flavourful portobella mushroom taco had me floored. It also turned me into a total corn tortilla convert! I was team flour all the way until last tuesday and now I'm just confused and I think that maybe a really great corn tortilla might pip a flour tortilla to the post. Nick super loved his garbanzo tempeh and pineapple filled Native Taco, I could tell because he just kept saying "Oh wow" over and over whilst he was eating it which was a bit of a giveaway.

The street corn had come highly recommended by my pal Jess just a day or two earlier and I was beyond excited to learn that it's made to order so leaving off the chilli would be no problemo. As soon as it arrived at the table Nick and I both pounced upon the delicious sweetcorn, homemade mayo and sesame parmesan topped creation like grackles taking a mouthful each until it was gone. It is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the best things I've ever eaten. I'd heard of Mexican Street Corn before and I thought that it sounded like a delicious idea but I'd resigned myself to the fact that I'd never get to eat any because y'know I'm lazy and I'd never heard of anyone selling a vegan version until now. The sweetcorn tamale disappeared in about three seconds flat but I was oh so glad that they had one left so that I was able to try it, I love tamales but when you either don't have a kitchen (or do but it's at an Air B&B and it isn't well stocked) making your own isn't a very realistic proposition so I was super pleased to find a delicious chilli free version at Cool Beans.

Once we'd finished eating Nick and I were discussing how this meal was up there with the best food we've eaten all year when Priscilla and Rolando popped up with some surprise food for us! Their famous Warrier taco had been off-menu that day but because someone had driven over to the east side just to try it they got cooking and whipped up a batch of their super inventive Q-Rizo (Quinoa Chorizo!) and some of their spelt tortillas because they're nice like that. They kicked their generosity up a notch and brought one over for Nick to try and knowing that I wouldn't be able to sample it they whipped me up a little off menu creation with avocado and pickled red onions.

I was super excited that Nick got to try The Warrier but I was even more excited about how they managed to make something as simple souning as a spelt tortilla with avocado, pickled red onions and coriander (okay, okay, cilantro) taste so freaking great. I was not at all surprised to learn that these two whip these up to snack on regularly and I will probably be requesting this pretty often over the next four weeks!

Cool Beans are one of the four trucks that'll be serving up delicious food at this Friday's Vida Vegan Con Bazaar at The Marchesa Hall & Theatre. If you're into delicious food do stop by and check them out, I swear you won't be disappointed! In other Vida Vegan Con related news (OMG I can't believe how soon it is!) I'll be selling my zine, European Vegan, at the speakers table at the bazaar on Friday so come & check it out. Over the weekend you can catch me talking about Veganism & Feminism with Julia, Anika from Seattle Vegan Score & Nicole J. Georges on Saturday morning at 10:55am and my Adventures in Vegan Travel and Blogging From the Road talk is on Sunday at 4pm. I'm so ready for a weekend of fun and I can't wait to kick it all off at Thursday's meet and greet, see y'all at The Buzzmill!

Wednesday 20 May 2015

Vegan in... Austin!

These past two weeks have been a total whirlwind of excitement, travel, stress and just plain old getting shit done.

May 5th saw Nick and I hopping onto a flight from Bangkok to Heathrow and from there we headed straight to Brighton for six nights of BFF shaped food and fun at Tabitha's house. I managed to see almost every single person I like that week; I met up with friends at the new Loving Hut on Gardner Street, had dinner at Pho (which I have to admit was a little disappointing after eating the real thing all over Vietnam) with all of Nick's old friends, hung with Randi at both VBites and Boho Gelato (they made me pistachio!) and caught up with Sal for sleepover fun, much chatting and a whole lotta Pizza Face.

I also managed to cram in a whole lot of Vego bars and blustery seafront walks. It was a strong week! I also managed to get my zine, European Vegan, 99% finished which I was super excited about. Having not only a place to just sit still but also a printer really helped with the zine productivity!

After six days in Brighton Nick and I were on the move again and we had Austin in our sights. After some tasty eats at Cornucopia in Dublin, their potato salad is so amazing, and my first time ever sleeping on the floor at an airport we were winging our way to Austin.

We arrived last tuesday and checked into our super cute Air B&B. A combination of research and local knowledge from our previous trips totally paid off and we're in a brilliant location. We can walk to Barton Springs and we're a 10 minute drive from both Wheatsville and Whole Foods which is perfect. I'm definitely going to be blogging more about the food I've been eating so far but here are some of the highlights...

The Vegan Nom! I have been craving a Del Ray, their "fish" taco, since we left Austin last September and I was super excited to be reunited with it. In fact, as soon as I finish writing this, I'm going to go and grab another one because it's just so damn good. Breaded, black pepper coated faux fish, crispy cabbage and a lime creme all topped off with perfectly ripe avocado and even more black pepper... it's perfect.

Via 313 is another spot I've been dreaming of non-stop and I couldn't wait to get a slice (or four) of their vegan margherita pizza into my mouth. They use Follow Your Heart cheese and it's baked right into the perfectly oily Detroit style crust before being topped off with the most delicious marinara sauce. So damn good! I enjoyed checking out their new sit down location in Oak Hill because the Friday night bar scene really isn't my thing but I'll definitely be revisiting their truck at Violet Crown when it's quieter.

As well as eating I've been hanging out with all of the wonderful Austin (and Portland!) vegans at quiz nights, on patios, at ramen joints, at brunch spots and ice cream parlours and even in their kitchens! It's been a blast and I am beyond excited that I get to be here for four more weeks. I also managed to swing by the brand new Rabbit Food Grocery to grab some fun treats and I've been getting down with the huge range of American vegan products, from s'more fudge to canned vegan tuna and everything in-between I've probably tried it! More on that next time but as it's the first time I've ever had more than a microwave in the US you can bet your ass I've been getting a little crazy in the kitchen.

Lastly, as I mentioned earlier, my zine was 99% finished when I left Brighton and now it's 100% a reality and I am so excited about it! I've been working on it for about 7 or 8 months because translating everything and then getting it all checked over by fluent / native speakers is process to say the least. European Vegan is a pocket sized guide to reading labels Europe-wide. For years I've made lists of all of the ingredients I'd like to avoid at home and translated them into the language of the country I've been heading to, my zine sees that through to it's logical conclusion with translations in 32 languages to help make shopping abroad a breeze.

I've used the lists to find churros in a Spanish hypermarket, fun snacks at a Bratislavan health food store, and to suss out which sausages are egg free in a Belgian supermarket so it's a tried and tested method of finding vegan eats when you can't read the language. As well as including translations for things like eggs, milk and honey the zine also covers you if you're looking for shoes or clothes with translations for leather, silk, wool etc included too. If being able to shop abroad easily isn't enough of a draw I'm also donating 20% of the sale price to the League Against Cruel Sports because after the hideous election results our furry friends in the UK need our help more than ever.

European Vegan is on sale now in my Big Cartel store. It's currently shipping first class airmail from the USA so if you're in Europe please be patient as it won't arrive quite as speedily as if I was sending it from the UK. If you need it urgently I can send you any page you need as a PDF document as soon as you purchase a copy! If you're heading to Austin for Vida Vegan Con firstly, yay! I am excited to hang out with you! And secondly, I'll be selling European Vegan at the Speakers Table at the Vegan Bazaar next Friday so you can grab a copy in person.

Tuesday 12 May 2015

Top 5 Sleeper Train Tips for SE Asia

I've always enjoyed travelling by train but my adventures in South East Asia this year have sparked an even deeper love for this mode of transport. Sleeper trains were one of my favourite new discoveries and unlike in the UK they're actually a really affordable way to take a long journey. Each and every journey was an adventure, from sharing a first class cabin together en route from Trang to Bangkok to our fitful nights sleep in a cockroach filled carriage in-between Nha Trang and Ho Chi Minh City.

My very favourite train experience took place between Bangkok and Chiang Mai; Nick and I were in a four berth cabin shared with Alana, a vegetarian from the US who was taking a break from teaching in China, and a Chinese man who was travelling with, from what we could gather, his entire extended family. Things got off to an amusing start after we all turned down his pork snacks and it was down to Alana to use her intermediate Mandarin to explain why... much hilarity ensued after he assumed we were vegetarian "for Jesus" and we had to try to explain, through the use of animal and heart emojis, that no, we just really love animals. As the evening progressed Nick and his new friend got closer and he explained, again through Alana, that he thought Nick was very attractive and that he liked his hair very much... after a short pause Alana translated that it was because Nick's hair reminded him of a horse's mane. Brilliant.

Ridiculous experiences aside the added bonus of taking a night train as opposed to a day train is that you're getting your accommodation for the night included in the price of your travels which is super helpful if you're adventuring on a budget. If you're thinking of exploring SE Asia by train (and I strongly suggest that you do) here are my Top 5 Tips to help you on your way...
  1. Book ahead if possible. Everything I read before leaving for my trip made me think that hopping on a sleeper train that night would be easy as long as it isn't high season and that's not quite the case. On more than one occasion Nick and I rocked up at the station the day before we'd planned to take the train to buy our tickets only to find we'd need to wait a couple more nights or take a day train. Booking ahead is especially important if you have a preference for the type of carriage (be that first or second) and if you want to be seated close to each other.
  2. Use Seat 61 to plan your journey. Seat 61 is an amazingly in depth website which will help you work out not only the train timetables and costs but also which type of train you're likely to be travelling on. Will you be sharing a four berth compartment with a door or will you be in a more open carriage? This site can tell ya and as someone who likes to have at least some idea what they're getting into it's a super helpful resource. The more open carriages have smaller upper bunks which seemed to me like they were rocking around more than the bunks in the four berth compartments. I'd recommend booking two lower bunks if the carriage is more open as otherwise you may be woken regularly as you get thrown around... those straps in the picture above probably aren't going to stop you landing on the ground if you do roll outa bed in the night! It will also help you work out which seat numbers are together, if the trains are four berth cabin style you and your travel companion probably don't want seats four and five!
  3. Dress warm...or for the beach. Thai sleeper trains are air conditioned to the max whilst Vietnamese sleeper train air con is completely ineffective. If you're getting an overnight train in Thailand I am not kidding when I tell you to dress warm. I bundled myself up in my long trousers, a t shirt, a hoodie, a scarf, socks and a sleeping bag liner and I was still cold. In Vietnam I was boiling in my long trousers and a t and wished that there had been a curtain so that I could've slipped into some shorts!
  4. Pack an eye mask and earplugs. You will end up in a carriage with a snorer or a crying baby (or both!) and nope, you can't turn out the lights.
  5. Take snacks. As a vegan I always have snacks on hand and this is especially important when you're on a train where the meals offered are far from suitable. If you're starting your journey in a city like Bangkok, Chiang Mai or Ho Chi Minh City it's ridiculously easy to grab some take out snacks for your journey. Elsewhere that tupperware you packed (you did pack a tupperware right?!) will be your best friend, just grab an extra meal, some rice and curry perhaps, from wherever your having lunch. Don't get Pho or Hot Pot, you don't wanna be eating an overflowing tupperware of soup on a moving train, trust me.

Tuesday 5 May 2015

Reflections From Four Months On the Road

I left England in mid January to set off on my indefinite travel adventure and whilst I'm only four months in my notebook is overflowing with thoughts and ideas and reflections and I thought I'd throw some of those reflections out there in what is probably going to be an outburst of oversharing!

Beach time in Ko Samui, Thailand

I am 100% sure that Nick and I made the right decision to leave England and to travel until we want to stop. With the election coming up my Twitter feed serves as a constant reminder of the things I hate about the UK although I am gutted not to be able to help re-elect Caroline Lucas in Brighton Pavillion. I am voting, obvs, I just have to vote somewhere else now. It's a safe Tory seat so my vote will hardly count but I would never skip out on voting no matter how pointless it may seem. Even if you just show up and spoil your ballot paper you have to freaking show up to be counted, it doesn't register as a protest if you just sit at home like all of the apathetic non-voters. It's also important to vote for parties like the Greens in seats they have no chance of winning because if they get 5% of the vote they not only know there are people rooting for them but they also get their deposit back which is extra important for smaller parties.

Anyway, leaving the UK was an A+ idea. As well as seeing the world Nick and I are getting to spend so much quality time together. It's so much fun! I feel like our lives are now being buoyed along by a constant undercurrent of excitement rather than being punctuated by work stresses and pointless holidays - and when I say holidays I'm talking Easter not a week long trip to the Andalusian coast! Our plans for the rest of the year include 5 weeks in Austin, I can't believe how soon Vida Vegan Con is and I am so sad about it being the final one that I have pushed it to the back of my mind because I don't want to think about it. I'm speaking about my Adventures in Vegan Travel Blogging on Sunday which I am beyond excited to talk about and I'll also be making an appearance on the Feminism and Veganism panel on Saturday morning which is sure to be both awesome and empowering. After our time in Austin comes to an end in mid June Nick and I will be spending summer living in a van which is like my actual lifelong dream come true, I have been talking seriously about living in a van since my early twenties and it's going to be the coolest way to explore Eastern Europe. Plans are forming for Autumn / Winter 2015 but I currently have no idea what 2016 holds. Knowing that the choices are ours and there are a million opportunities we'd like to grab is both overwhelming and exciting. We're currently looking into volunteering in Japan and pondering whether we could somehow afford to spend three months living in California.

Exploring the streets of Hanoi, Vietnam

I don't want to paint a totally idyllic, perfect picture of life right now though; there have been many challenges and there are definite downsides to travelling for as long as we're planning to. Our plans at once make seeing friends harder and easier. I miss the people I spent the most time with in the UK but this is balanced out by how excited I am to get to spend more time with my friends in Austin. I'm also getting to spend more quality time than usual with my BFF Tabitha this year because Nick and I are staying with her for a week when we swing through Brighton and we have a week of punk festival fun and city eats lined up for Slovenia this summer. I'm also making the effort to send postcards and stay connected whenever possible, I don't want my friendships to fade away. They're all too important.

Heath care is also challenging, we've both experienced being sick on the road in situations where it has been obvious that we needed to seek medical advice asap but, what to do about those smaller niggles? I am so used to having the privilege (and I absolutely recognise it for what it is, a privilege) of having a GP whom I can visit whenever I need that not having that there as a safety net is an odd feeling. This year we're swinging through the UK twice so things like dentist check ups and the filling of repeat prescriptions can be fitted into those slots but how can Nick get physio for the wrist he injured months ago when an NHS referral will take months and we'll likely be away once the appointment rolls around? What happens when I need my IUD replaced? Do I need to go to England to do that? What do I do when my colitis flares up aside from quitting fruit for a bit? This throws up it's own challenges when you're in places where fruit is not only delicious but also the best vegan option available. I would love any answers y'all may have to those questions by the way because I really have no clue!

Sunset in Vang Vieng, Laos

One thing we've found is that travelling seems less sociable than we'd expected. I feel like this is probably because we're travelling as a couple so whilst we're taking the opportunities to hang with people when they come up, and have found that making new friends is a touch easier because we both have the time to devote to spontaneous socialising, we already have each other to hang out with so the inherant need to make new buddies isn't there. We've made great connections with fellow vegan travel bloggers and with people we met whilst volunteering but on a day to day basis we pretty much just hang together. I wonder if this has to do with us both a) being a little older than your average backpacker b) not being into drinking and certainly not being into getting dressed up in local "costumes" for a bar crawl and c) being quite fussy about who we hang out with. As soon as someone makes an offhand racist or sexist remark that's it I'm done. I also have no time for people who greet your veganism with an "mmmm bacon"... I think that I'm lucky that I've always made most of my friends through vegan groups or online vegan communities because it means that the majority of my friends would never do these things.

Long term travel also seems to mean subjecting yourself to that feeling where your holiday's coming to an end and you feel super sad about it over and over and over again! Those feelings get balanced out by how great it is that you get to go somewhere new and I am aware that that's a really privileged place to be but I still feel sad when I have to say goodbye to people and places and things. Whether that's the cat you fell in love with at a shelter, the waitress who was amazing at fielding your vegan questions the whole time you were at a resort, the beach you loved waking up by, the food you loved but that you might not get to eat again or even just the general atmosphere of a place. One of the benefits of long term travel is that it's often possible to extend your stay somewhere if you're loving it, Nick and I really took advantage of this on Koh Lanta and in Chiang Mai, as well as a few other places to a lesser extent, but still this is travel not moving house so saying goodbye is inevitable.

Connecting with a new friend at Elephant Nature Park, Thailand

I've also learnt that anxiety doesn't disappear when you travel, I've only had one panic attack since the trip started but my anxiety triggers are the same as ever. I am realising that feeling the sun on my skin every day, watching far less TV and going outside more (I didn't get to do a whole lot of that during my last three months in the UK because there was just so much to do) are conducive to good mental health. I also had a total revelation when I was talking to Nick about how I felt that I just wasn't doing enough activism / writing / all of the other things I want to do and I realised that this feeling comes from me constantly moving the goalposts I've set myself! I wanted to speak about vegan travel but before I'd even done my first talk I was already wondering why I hadn't made a zine yet, now that I approach my second talk and am super close to printing my first zine I'm asking myself why I haven't started my You Tube channel yet. I'm realising that happiness comes when you revel in your successes! You can't just constantly move your goalposts because then it feels like you're never succeeding. Having come from a place where answering the phone made me super anxious doing public any speaking at all is a pretty bad ass place to be and I'm trying to recognise all of those small achievements. I can only assume that I'm realising this stuff now because I have the time and space to think. Whilst travel can sometimes keep you pretty busy what with the constant need to book the next train, organise the next accommodation and research where the vegan food is at, you also have the choice to opt out of that for a few days or weeks or more. You can stop somewhere you're semi-familiar with at any time and just relax or work on projects or whatever. I am quite literally free to do whatever I want to do and it feels amazing.

I didn't necessarily set out on this adventure to "find myself" or to learn new things about myself but now I think that learning about yourself is an inevitable side effect of this type of travel. I had thought I'd learn about the world and discover new things about new countries and people and but I hadn't considered the finding myself thing to be an integral part of the adventure. When I was in my teens all of my friends went off on these big trips, exploring the Inca Trail, volunteering in Uganda or backpacking in Australia so the discoveries for me are different. I'm 31, I already know myself pretty well and my core beliefs haven't changed, although reading both Sistah Vegan and attending some of the Sistah Vegan Conference whilst I was in Thailand gave me a lot to think about in terms of what I consider ethical / cruelty free and how to be a better anti racist ally... I think that probably needs it's own blog post though. I'm enjoying having time to devote to being a better version of myself which I think is something I've always tried to work on but sometimes day to day obstacles get in the way of that, pushing myself outside of my comfort zone has given me the space to question some of my behaviours (or lack of them) and to brainstorm how to work on them which has been awesome. On a more basic day to day level I have realised that whilst I love long distance train travel I dislike travelling by bus. I've learnt that I'm less scared of bugs than I thought I was which is great although I didn't love the overnight train I took where the cabin was crawling with cockroaches. I also hadn't realised that they can fly! What the hell cockroaches?! I learnt that I need to travel in countries where people are going to stare / point / grab at me for a few weeks before having a break - dealing with that for over a month in Vietnam started to grate by the end of our five weeks there. It's made me have a bit of a rethink about how I'm going to go about exploring China although I am absolutely certain that I still want to go.

First beach day of the trip on Koh Yao Noi, Thailand

If this post publishes when it's meant to I'm somewhere in European airspace getting ready to descend on the UK where I'll be hanging with friends in Brighton, practicing my Vida Vegan Con talk in front of anyone who'll listen and eating all of the vegan cheese I can lay my hands on whilst I prepare for the next leg of our adventures and you can rest assured that wherever I am I am pretty damned excited to be there!

Friday 1 May 2015

Vegan on the Road: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City was to be our final stop in Vietnam and it was a little bittersweet. Nick and I were both excited about heading back to Thailand but sad that we'd missed out on visiting some of the places we wanted to check out in Vietnam (Sapa, Dalat) because my getting sick for 10 days followed by Nick spending two days throwing up kinda threw off our plans. The heat was also getting to me (totally my fault for visiting at a silly time of year!) and whilst I understand that people are probably staring at me and pointing and grabbing me because they find me interesting it was definitely taking it's toll. It even made me miss Brighton where nobody even looks twice at me. Still we hopped off the sleeper train with a positive mindset ready to explore. As always when I know I'll be arriving in a new city with no way of getting online (or so I thought, it turns out that Ho Chi Minh station has surprisingly fast free wifi) I'd screen shotted the locations and details of a few vegan friendly spots within walking distance so off we went.

Quan 85 is about a 20 minute walk from the station and there's no menu to speak of, not one that we could find / read anyway. Confusingly I also couldn't spot the name Quan 85 anywhere despite definitely being in the right spot - here's what you're looking for.

After consulting with a clever translation app on his phone the guy in charge told us that it's a vegan restaurant and asked if we'd like to eat rice. Asking if you'd like to eat rice / soup seems to be a common theme in casual Vietnamese cafe's and I like it! We were presented with a plate of rice, veggies, mock meat and tofu with a side of purple soup.

Of course my clever translation app explaining that I can't eat chilli did not get the message across and Nick and I had to move things back and forth so that I ended up with a plate of rice, potatoes and green beans and he ended up with a plate of rice spicy tofu, spicy mock meat and intensely spicy cabbage. I also took one for the team and drank both cold purple soups (that reminded me of the scene with the blue soup in Bridget Jones' Diary) because I know Nick does't love a spice onslaught at breakfast and he hates weird coloured soup more than I do.

Our meal was ridiculously cheap and the guy there was lovely. If you're looking for a super authentic Vietnamese dining experience in Ho Chi Minh city this is definitely somewhere you should swing by.

Another great local spot was Pho Chay Nhu which was located down an alleyway around the corner from our hotel. We both had the Pho after confirming that we like soup and it was delicious enough that we are there more than once.

To take a break from exploring in the heat we stopped at Starbucks. I hate Starbucks but I will patronise them when I'm in countries where vegan soy milk is hard to find. So, I basically boycott S'bux in Europe and the US but I will go there in Asia if I can't find another option. My ethics confuse me too but I think it's a fair stance and I'm sticking by it. This was without a shadow of a doubt the worst matcha soy latte I've ever had which is weird because I thought that the whole point of Starbucks is that they're consistent and they have wifi. The guy who made it loved my hair and wrote Ms Pink on my cup though so I'll let him off.

Of course we managed a spot of sightseeing. This is Saigon Notre Dame... It's not as impressive as the one in Paris but quite fun anyway. It's also opposite the Saigon Central Post Office which, as well as being a famous landmark, is also a working post office.

More Pho was soon in order and we went to Dieu Phap Chay, another simple noodle spot, where we were looked after by the owner who, upon spotting two clueless westerners, jumped up and explained all of the different soup / noodle / veggie combos we could go for in perfect English. I went for a more Chinese influenced bowl of Pho with thick noodles and tofu whilst Nick went for something more traditionally southern with mock meat.

Whilst we were eating I spotted a steamer full of buns and jumped all over that as soon as I was done with my Pho. They were filled with peppery veggies and mushrooms and were pretty darn delicious despite being a touch over-steamed.

Nick insisted that we check out the Bitexo Tower because he has some kinda weird obsession with going up the tallest building in every city never mind whether it's actually important or famous or not. I particularly enjoyed the display suggesting that this is one of the ten most iconic buildings in the world. Oddly the Eiffel Tower was nowhere to be seen on that list! I amused myself taking mirrored roof selfies whilst Nick gazed out of the dirty windows.

To cleanse myself from this boring (but totes iconic obvs) building I chose the next spot and we visited a museum of propaganda posters. It's really a shop of course and everything is for sale. I was sad that there weren't any postcard sized images because I obviously can't justify buying art right now but I can always justify postcards.

That night we hit the jackpot restaurant wise when we discovered the biggest shiniest Loving Hut in the whole entire world. Located on Huynh Khuong Ninh right by the park and down the street from their previous (smaller) location I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw it. This place has a chandelier FFS! We were greeted by the loveliest people who spoke amazing English and I knew immediately that I would be able to communicate my allergies and end up with a meal I could definitely eat. I was ravenous so this was exciting! We started with fancy juices and me explaining to Nick that no the stirrers were not upside down they were just decorative, something he still can't wrap his head around today.

We'd just been talking about how we hadn't had a sit down meal with more than one course for a suuuper long time and this Loving Hut had an extra bonus - air con! We went to town with the ordering and grabbed some Spring Rolls and the Deep Fried Chicken to start.

The deep fried chicken turned out to be chicken nuggets which I was excited and nervous about. I haven't eaten a chicken nugget (a vegan chicken nugget, that should go without saying really!) since I got gastro on the same day I'd eaten a whole box of Fry's nuggets sometime in early 2014 but these were differently textured and I was pleased to be back ontop of my nugget game - they're definitely one of my favourite comfort foods so it's nice to have them back in my life. I was enamoured with the spring rolls too especially becuase they came with lettuce to wrap around them and a fun non-spicy dipping sauce.

I went for the Pak Choi with Black Mushrooms as my main course and Nick opted for the Braised Gluten with Coconut Juice and we shared a side of steamed rice.

Normally I'm anti anything coconut water related and coconut juice sounded suspicious to me but apparently if you mix coconut juice / water with deep fry it becomes acceptable again. Nick had made a great ordering decision and suddenly I was up for sharing! My main was pretty great too and it complimented Nick's mock meaty choice perfectly.

I'd chosen a small main course because it looked like there were a lot of desserts to choose from including both chocolate and matcha ice creams and flan so I wanted to make sure I left space given that I hadn't eaten a dessert since Hanoi. As it turned out they were out of every single dessert except for coconut ice cream (why dont people tell you what they've run out of when they give you the menu? Total pet peeve!) so we skipped it and decided to see if there was anything delicious and sweet to nibble on in their store upstairs.

We weren't expecting much, shelves of dried mock meats and maybe some cake slices but the store turned out to be a place of joy and wonder! We hadn't seen any imported vegan treats (except for the accidental kind) since England. I tried super hard to restrain myself (for budget reasons, if I had all of the cash I would have bought all of the sugar treats) and I think I did okay given that I was faced with all of this and more!

They also had Daiya, Tofurky roasts, things from the Whole Foods 365 range and staples like canned tomatoes and olive oil. In the end we picked up a slice of cake, a couple of Sjaak's Almond Butter Bites and an Eli's Earth Bar.

I love Eli's Earth Bars, which I totally didn't realise were made by Sjaak's until right this second, and grab one whenever I get the chance. I'm not quite familiar enough with the range yet to have a favourite but the Treasure Bar sure is amazing. It's full of peanut butter crunchy stuff and caramel and it reminded me a little of the PB Sea Salt Caramel Gelato from Boho in Brighton but less sweet and with chocolate. Perfect. I've been a big fan of Sjaack's, despite having no idea how to pronounce the brand name, since I first picked up some of their PB Bites at the fantastic Vegan Haven in Seattle. The Almond Butter bites didn't seem as delicious as I remembered the peanut butter ones being but I am 100% sure it was because they were being stored in a bowl with the Sjaack's Mint Chocolates. Mint ruins everything. Never store anything with mint! The cake was, to be polte, peculiar. It was cheesecake-esque which made me take a pass after one bite but after eating the whole thing Nick couldn't tell me what flavour it was, he just described it as not unpleasant but not something to re-purchase. Do try it for yourself if you swing by, I'd love your opinion!

We enjoyed our meal at Loving Hut so much that we went back the next day so that we could try more of their vast menu. This time we started with some Deep Fried Fish and followed that with some stir fried greens, the Braised Vegan Chicken with Ginger and the Barbecue Chicken with Steamed Rice.

The deep fried fish was obviously a win because I love faux fish so freaking much and if you batter something in a crisp batter and deep fry it perfectly so that it's not dripping in oil I will rave about it. The braised vegan chicken with ginger was a solid choice and I was pleased that there was mock meat mixed into my stir fried greens. It was super tasty too and I wondered if it might be the same stuff that went into the braised gluten we'd tried the day before but cooked differently. The barbecue chicken was flavoured with five spice and whilst I really enjoyed it because the mock meat was really tender and juicy I wished that it'd been a little saucier.

After taking a LH break and re-visiting the place with the great Pho and steamed buns a couple of times we hit up Loving Hut for our last meal in Vietnam because I just had to eat the braised gluten in coconut juice one more time. We also got some Fried Okra with Roasted Garlic and a plate of mock meat intriguingly titled Veggie Scrap Salty.

Obviously the gluten was amazing again and I was so glad that I tried the garlicky okra because it was definitely my fave out of the three veggie dishes I tried there. I'd highly recommend it if you're a fellow garlic lover. The Veggie Scrap Salty wasn't that salty but it was a huge plate of crisp fried mock meat scraps which was ridiculously moorish. Despite being full about halfway through the plate neither of us could stop nibbling.

This Loving Hut is definitely more expensive than any of the other places we checked out in Ho Chi Minh City or, to be honest, most of the places we ate in Vietnam but it has a more high end feel (in a kind of amazingly tacky but brilliant way) and the food was great so I think it's totally worth the extra expense. Also the shop located just above it is brilliant, we grabbed a couple more Eli's Earth Bars for our flight to Bangkok and they were the perfect thing to nibble on when everyone else around us was enjoying their in flight meal.

Ho Chi Minh City is amazingly vegan friendly, the list of all vegan places on Happy Cow is epic so you're guaranteed some great eats wherever you base yourself in the city.