Sep 24, 2013

Travelling Vegan: Road trippin' through Italy and France

After successful sojourns through Munich and Austria, we hit the road toward France as planned. Before that we were to pass through Italy and camp for a couple of nights.

We drove towards Lake Garda stopping at a charming port town called Limone sul Garda. Limone, gets it's name from the famous Italian lemons and the people living there are proud of their heritage. All the houses have beautiful ceramic lemons adorning the top of the front doors. I read on wikipedia that Limone used to be accesible only by boat until the 1940s and it is now a very popular tourist destination. It also says that people from Limone possess a muted form of a protein that produces more of the good cholesterol and that enables them to live longer. How strange is that! I could not spot the tourists from the mutant humans, but it was worth the stop over to have lunch by the lake, walk through the narrow slopes and get lost in this wonderful commune.

Residents celebrate the lemons with these pretty ceramic pieces

Lemons of Limone

Mini Tomato varieties at a local shop

Gnocchi at a restaurant in Limone

We then ended up in Gorgonzola, Milan. Yes the very land the smelly blue cheese comes from. Our intention was to spend a day around Milan. Milan, much like Munich was a deserted city. But Munich is like that because there are fewer people. Milan was empty because more than 70% of the population was out on summer vacation. Even the restaurants and bars shut shop for the month of August. The ones that are open actually have signs that say 'We are open in August'!

I'm very confident about eating vegan in Italy because of my earlier experiences. This time was no different. I asked for the Pizzas and Pastas without the cheese and had enough gelato that would've otherwise lasted me the year. I tried a new flavour of sorbetto called ACE. ACE is a mix of Orange (arancia), Carrot (carota) and Lemon (limone) Juices named ACE not for the ingredients it is made from, but from the vitamins found in them.

ACE Gelato in Gorgonzola

Tagliatelle with Lemon

Pizza with Arugula and Mushrooms

Milan's famous Grom Gelateria has sorbettos that are vegan

After a brief night in Albenga, Italy we drove towards France. Our original route was to lead us to Provence via the Grand Canyon of Verdon. On our way to the Canyon we decided to stop at Castellane. Castellane is one of those remote ancient villages in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence area. Since it is very close to the river canyon Gorges du Verdon, it is a halt for a few tourists. The town is situated quite high up so the weather was beautiful. The houses and streets had an old world charm as if they were unchanged since the 18th century. Through the narrow cobbled streets was the town's most popular stretch with many restaurants, bars, creperies and shops selling vintage and touristy stuff.

Now in such an old, remote location the last thing I would expect to find would be vegan or vegetarian food. Mostly because I was pretty certain that people had rarely, if not ever, seen Indians there. I got a lot of "where are you from?" and "I love the colour of your skin" type conversations. To add to that we were in France, not a very friendly place for vegetarians. But to my utter disbelief, yes I was overly dramatic when I found this little place, someone had actually set up a cafe that served vegan food. I did three cartwheels in my head when I saw the word 'Végétal' on the menu. (Végétal is vegan in French).

We had dinner there and it was probably the healthiest I had eaten in a while. Healthy, vegan food in a remote town in the middle of nowhere in France! I still can't believe my luck.

Nature Café in Castellane, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence

Assiette Végétal at Nature Café.

Salad Végétal at Nature Café
Onward our journey led us through the gorgeous lavender fields of Provence until we ended up at our last stop on the road trip, Marseille. I managed to find something vegan almost everywhere and even found an Organic store in Marseille selling a lot of vegan, gluten-free stuff. There are a lot of Lactose-free milks in European supermarkets. Most of them are not vegan. I have no idea how they manage to process something that is already so processed, but read labels carefully. Even the gluten-free diet has caught on in Europe and it does not always mean it is vegan because all of the gluten free breads I saw had eggs, except one brand I found in the Bio section.

Lavender fields in Provence

Roasted Aubergine and Salad with Black Olive Tapenade in Marseille

Lima is a famous vegan brand found all over France.

Vegan Sablés (Cookies) that are also gluten-free

As Vegan MoFo is still on in full swing, here are two wonderful bloggers I came across.

Luca from Italy over at The Vegan Kitchen of Dr Caligari is making vegan sweet and savoury cupcakes all this month! You have to see all of them!

Paris Vegan has a lovely recipe for Breton Pancakes that are now popular in Mumbai thanks to a restaurant. Get the recipe and make them since Buckwheat is in season now!

My next post will be about London and all the vegan things I stuffed myself with!

Sep 12, 2013

Travelling Vegan: Camping in Austria

In my last post I wrote about how I "managed" to eat vegan in Bavaria, Germany with my rule of not going out of my way to eat at a vegan restaurant. Even though I made it to Max Pett, a vegan restaurant in Munich, this next part of my trip was not meant to be planned out. It was the five of us, a car full of camping equipment, a huge map, some food and a lot of excitement for the journey ahead.

We took off from Bavaria in the direction of Austria towards the Grossglockner, Austria's highest mountain situated in the Alps. But that was only planned for the next day. Before that we had to find a campsite and camp for the night. This was the very first time three of us had ever camped.

Europeans take camping very seriously. So much so that they pack up the entire family with the dogs in camper vans and drive endlessly during the holidays. Some families had even got their plants along. That is some sort of dedication to camping and gardening. Campsites are abundant around important areas specially close to mountains where they can hike or mountain bike during the day or next to lakes or the sea shore. Campsites are marked on the map and have road signs too - a tent symbolizes a campsite near by.

Before we left India, we had gotten our sleeping bag and tents from a local sporting goods store. After asking the opinion on what to buy from an avid vegan trekker friend, we decided to buy Quechua tents and sleeping bags because they were made from synthetic materials and the sleeping bags did not use any down. I also scoured the supermarket for ready to eat foods that were vegan as a last resort in case I did not find anything. I managed to find a few things that were vegan made by Gits that were suitable for camping. Not the healthiest option, but I did not want to leave much to chance. 

My back-up plan
Our friends bought the camping gas stove and a tiny cylinder along with some very cute fold-able, collapsible camping utensils. All these are available online or can be bought at a sporting goods store wherever you are camping.

We managed to pitch our tent!
The campsite we parked at was the fanciest campsite I've ever seen. It was situated in Zell Am See in Salzburg. We got a good spot by a small pond and they had tables and benches made of wooden logs by the pond that made a perfect dinner setting. We were quite high up altitude-wise so the weather was perfect. With some luck, I found Uncle Ben's Mediterranean Rice. Uncle Ben's is an American company making all kinds of flavoured rice dishes. This particular one was vegan and needed to be cooked for a few minutes with a little water which was perfect camping night dinner. On that first night of camping I made do with the Mediterranean rice under a canopy of stars and two lit candles.


I have to deviate a bit to make a quick mention of what I saw that night and made a point to observe every single night. The night sky has always enthralled me but this was nothing like I have ever seen before. Most of our nights camping we could see the Milky Way (!!!) from where we were. I am going to say this again, but it is NOTHING like I have ever seen before. We miss out so much living in cities with skies masked by pollution. This is something all of you reading this MUST add to your 'To Do' list. It did not strike me to take a picture and may be I did not want to, because it is something you have to see for yourself with your own eyes. The Universe is an amazing place and we are so lucky to be part of it.

The next morning we drove up to the Grossglockner and we were under prepared for the freezing temperatures. Also a landslide meant that we could not hike anywhere around it. We ended up driving around till we found a hiking trail. This is something else the Europeans take seriously. For any country to have so many marked trails for hiking and trekking it really speaks about how much exercise they get when the weather permits. I wish we were as athletic. I struggled on the hike because after freezing at the Grossglockner we were now subject to a harsh afternoon sun and also because I am not athletic. Fine I'm lazy, I admit it. My idea of exercise is no exercise at all. It's mostly because ever since I have gone vegan, my weight has remained constant. Every now and then I meet people who tell me I look skinnier or "healthier" from the last time they saw me but the truth is my weighing scale doesn't think so. From that three-fourths of a hike that I did, the views were amazing.

The Grossglockner
View of the valley from the up high
I'd read up that in Austria the Spar supermarket chain has a few vegan friendly foods. We stopped at a really massive Spar and I was hopeful. Turns out Gwyneth Paltrow is the face of a mostly organic, vegetarian and vegan line of products called Spar Veggie. These are mostly frozen products like burger patties, tofu, and a few ready to eat foods like hummus and curries. The vegan products are clearly marked as vegan so I did not need a translator. I picked up a few burger patties to try and the best out of the lot was the Organic Chilli Patties followed by the Vegetable Patties. I also tried the Spelt patties and did not like them. I managed to find Alpro's soya pudding which was my dessert for a few meals over the next day. It is hard to find stuff that does not need refrigeration but fortunately the patties I bought were "ungekühlt haltbar" or stable without refrigeration.

Spar's Organic Veggie Patties

Alpro's Vegan Chocolate Pudding cups

Camping with a view

A Few (Vegan) Camping Tips:

1. Look for vegan friendly tents and sleeping bags in your country.
2. Always have fruits and nuts handy.
3. If you find vegan energy bars, buy them.
4. Scour the supermarket as if you are memorizing all the ingredients behind every product. You never know what can be accidentally vegan.
5. Look for the "Bio" section in the supermarkets. Bio means organic and usually you will find vegan food there.
6. Vegetarian products are proudly marked as vegetarian, but most often contain eggs apart from milk. So have your translator ready to read the ingredients.
7. If you stop at a supermarket and find something vegan, buy it! You never know when your next stop will happen.

Even if you learn nothing else, camping teaches you how to pack only the most necessary things. I am a changed traveler. 

Vegan MoFo is going on in full swing. Though I am not able to post as often as the other pros are posting, I still manage to look through the amazing stuff people are making. This week I looked up bloggers from Austria and found interesting stuff.

This amazing Pumpkin Tart with Pesto Filling at Cookies and Style makes me want to jump into that picture! I love the addition of Sage in the pesto. Im going to try that next time. Also I love how she shares a picture of her outfit, this is a recipe, DIY and Fashion blog all in one.

Over at Mama Mia, this Alphabet Pasta soup looks so cute. I did not know they made such intricate alphabet pasta like that. Need to find them.

That is about it for the camping story. My next post will be about the rest of our journey through the Alps, eating vegan at random restaurants and how the vegan gods surprised me in a remote commune in France.

Sep 4, 2013

Travelling Vegan: Bavaria, Germany

Europe always elicits a sort of fear for the vegan in me. Italy was a breeze, but Germany is  a scary proposition. Germany is notorious for their love of beer and sausages and they make no qualms about it. Of course there are cities like Berlin which are very vegan friendly, but this trip was planned to be very different. We were going to places where very few Indians would've ventured, so finding vegetarian or vegan food was kind of out of the question.

Our journey began with taking the Etihad flight to Munich via Abu Dhabi. My requested vegan meal came without a hitch. We reached Munich in the afternoon ready to hit the streets with our friends. The only problem was Europe was going through a major heatwave since the day before we landed and we were welcomed with 40 degrees of sweltering heat.

I've never seen a more deserted city. Munich shouldn't be allowed to call itself a city. The roads were empty except for the main square Marienplatz which was full of tourists, the Metro was not crowded at all even at peak hours and the subway stations gave an impression that everyone had left the city.

Munich has a few vegan restaurants, but I had made a rule before I embarked on this trip. My rule was that I would not go out of my way to find a vegan restaurant. I wanted to be able to manage with whatever was within reach. It's different if you are travelling with other vegans, then you don't have to go out of your way to eat at a vegan restaurant  or shop at a vegan supermarket because there is a common interest there. It's unfortunate that lots of vegan restaurants and stores are far from most city centers. I wanted to be able to tell stories of how I managed to find vegan Sauerkraut at a Biergarten or how I found rice milk at a small grocery store. For me the joy of finding something vegan where you least expect it is much more than having to travel 1 hour to a vegan supermarket because there was one luxury we did not have on this trip - time. If I didn't find anything vegan at a restaurant, I always had fruits, nuts or salad vegetables that I could buy from a supermarket to feed myself.

The first thing we did was hit a Biergarten (beer garden) called Hirschgarten in Munich. If you drink beer, you should know that German beer is treated like liquid gold everywhere else and also the Oktoberfest is Germany's most famous festival among the alcoholics. They celebrate their beer varieties and they ought to do so. Once you get a taste of German beer you wouldn't want to drink the glycerin flavoured stuff we make in India. There isn't much food at a Biergarten for a vegan. Having been to one Biergarten in New York, I knew what to expect. They usually serve a few salads, some of which are vegan, Tomatoes in Brine, Sauerkraut (make sure it has no bacon), Pretzels and Shaved Radish.

Munich's very own Augustiner Beer

Meal at the Biergarten

There is a bakery on every street in Germany and many of the breads are vegan. The bakery staff are aware of the ingredients. I had an advantage because I had a German friend doing all the asking for me. If you don't know German, it's best to know the key words so they understand. Most of them speak English, but it never hurts to write a few translations down or have a phone with internet handy.

German Breakfast Bread

Munich houses a fully vegan supermarket called Radix Naturkost, unfortunately we were too far from it. While we were doing the usual touristy things around the city center we realised we weren't too far from a vegan restaurant. So we made our way on a very hot sunny day to Max Pett.

Outdoor Seating at Max Pett

Max Pett is a fully vegan restaurant that serves German and Mediterranean dishes veganized. I even found Palak Tofu on the menu. They also boast a dessert menu that made it harder to choose from. Being in Germany, I thought it best to try something German. I went for the Allgäuer Käsesplätzle which is cheesy pasta served with caramelized onions, a dish that comes from the Allgäu Alps in Bavaria. This is something served to kids in Germany since they love the cheese. My Käsesplätzle was served in an iron pan so that it remained hot while I ate it. The pasta was made with spinach which gave it a nice flavour but overall the dish was a little too cheesy for me. I enjoyed the first half of the dish, but towards the end I was struggling to finish it because I was so full. The thing is once you are vegan long enough, cheesy stuff doesn't appeal to you any more. I may be speaking for myself here. My non-vegan troupe loved this and also gave it the German approval.

Allgäuer Käsesplätzle
For dessert I chose another traditional German dish, Kaiserschmarren which are pancakes. Max Pett serves this with a housemade Apple Sauce and sprinkles a generous amount of icing sugar on top. It was wonderful and again got the "better than the eggy, non-vegan version" tag.

Another German fast food that a lot of us spicy-tongued Indians would like is Currywurst, literally translated means curry sausages. It is traditionally a fast food dish consisting of chopped up sausages and french fries topped with generous amounts of curry ketchup and mayonnaise. The curry ketchup is very strangely Indian in flavour and is available in three levels of spiciness- mild, hot and very hot. We found one restaurant in Munich serving up a Veggie Currywurst which replaced the sausage with a tofu based sausage. I asked them to leave the mayo out from mine.

Vegan Currywurst

Vegan Tofu Sausage with a generous helping of the curry ketchup

It is a fast food dish so it is not the healthiest but hits a nerve with its coriander and turmeric flavoured curry ketchup. I brought home some of that ketchup and the currywurst curry powder to make my own curry ketchup. What I did not realise is that the ketchup could have MSG, so if you are allergic to MSG then it's better to ask/avoid.

We also stopped at a very beautiful restaurant on the Autobahn at Irschenberg called Dinzler. Dinzler is a coffee making company from what I have come to understand and this is meant to be their quick service restaurant. But what an amazing property they have. The restaurant is a large, open space with huge windows overlooking the Bavarian Alps. They even have a coffee factory in the basement. They are known for their coffee, but I am not a coffee person sadly. We stopped there for lunch and they were more than happy to veganize a salad and a pasta for me.

Mixed Greens Salad with Endive

Farfalle with Sauteed Spinach, Cherry Tomatoes and Pine Nuts

Our next stop was an Alpine Hut on the Hochfelln mountain. We parked the car below the mountain and trekked up for about an hour and fifteen minutes until the hut. The hut houses rooms where you can spend the night and also a restaurant that serves very traditional German dishes. I took my packet of nuts and cookies with me because I knew I was going to be the only vegan on that mountain. But I was wrong. I met many fellow vegans on the way. Only they didn't eat at restaurants, had these amazing muted bells around their necks and walked on all fours!

My fellow Vegan

Aren't they beautiful?!

Grazing and Chilling

I eventually learned that this is how many Europeans like to travel. They bike or hike up mountains, have a drink or two at a restaurant situated right up there and then cycle or walk down. Then they continue biking, hiking, driving in camper vans through mountains and camp at various campsites. This was where our actual trip began because this was how the rest of the trip was going to be. We were going to camp through the Alps and the only reason we would stop on our journey would be either to take a dip in a lake or eat or pitch a tent under the stars and sleep.

View from Lake Königssee

Passion Fruit Sorbetto from a Lake Königssee Gelateria

My next post will be all about camping and how I survived with supermarket food!

Also look who I found through Vegan Mofo today. Sticking with my German vegan theme, I looked up bloggers from Germany and this is who I came across:

Mihl, from Dresden, Germany over at Seitan is My Motor is veganizing classic German Desserts all this month. Check out her Bee Sting Cupcakes. How cool are they!

Check out Elle over at VGNGF who has made a Curry Vermicelli Soup. Time to put my curry powder to use!

Sep 3, 2013

Where have you been?

First off, I know it's been a while. I was out traveling for three weeks in August, driving, camping, beach bumming, kayaking, hiking, snorkeling... you get the gist. I went from being roughly 3000 meters above sea level straight to the tropical aquamarine sea. I've gone from being wheatish complexion to an almost burnt bread crust and my feet look like they belong to another person!

But that's it about what I have been up to. In more exciting news, it is Vegan MoFo time of the year again - when bloggers from all over the world come together to blog about vegan food and things.  This year it is going on all through the month of September and I am already three days late to start.

Not being able to zero in on a theme for this year, the best (and easiest) thing for me to do this month is to talk about my travels, what I ate and where. I will hopefully be able to share a few recipes also. Like last year, I will feature one or two interesting blogs / bloggers whenever I get around to posting.

Before I begin, tell me where have you been in the month of August? What have you been up to?

I will be posting about my first destination in a few hours. Till then enjoy some of my fellow bloggers from this exhaustive list:

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