The Guacamole salad, Mexico

Hands up who doesn’t love guacamole? The creamy avocado, the crunch of red onion, the sweetness of chopped tomatoes, a squeeze of tart lime, and the fragrant balancing act of the coriander? Exactly. To not like guacamole would probably be travesty.

  This is my fourth time in Mexico, and for the first time ever, im struggling as a vegan. Normally, it’s all about corn tamales filled with veggies and smothered in a habanero sauce (the hotter the better). That, or tacos piled high with frijoles, strips of avocado, and doused in jalape√Īos. Yeh yeh, it’s ALL about spicy food ūüôā

This trip a few people have tried to sneak cheese into my food despite a “sin queso” plea accompanied by a winning smile. This winning smile has got me approximately nowhere. Also managed to buy a bottle of soya milk in the supermarket that was apparently only masquerading as soya milk. “Contains 2 percent cows milk” the ingredients said in tiny tiny lettering below the rest of the ingredients. Why? What anti-vegan jokester is enjoying their elaborate practical joke from their millionaires milk mansion?

  Fast forward to El Tabano, an open-kitchen food joint on the beach road in Tulum. Tulum’s a strange place. With the central town, (home to more backpackers types), to the low-slung beachfront all-inclusives (for the most part sympathetic with their surroundings), it’s divided into local v tourist. The food by te beach tends to be super over priced and a bit same-y, but this Guacamole Salad meant that El Tabano deserved a mention.

It’s not really that much different from guac, but the avocado is beaten so that its creamier, there are olives, which give it that umami, cheesy taste, and there are young sprouting leaves and big chunks of tomato in it.

  When the sun’s beating down and you’ve got a chilled margarita in hand, this is the sort of light, filling salad that vegan avocado lovers crave. And El Tabano have nailed it. 

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Being vegan in Georgia? Almost impossible.

  I am starving. I didn’t think it would be this hard. There are always salads and French fries if the going gets tough I had reassured myself. But I hadn’t considered the incredible heat that would make ferreting out new places so difficult. 

There is very little to eat here if you’re vegan. Georgian’s are huge cheese lovers. Cream is slipped into everything. The main food, a bread, is stuffed with cheese. And I’m jealous because everything looks amazing – Georgian food is rated among one f the world’s best cuisines.

Certainly, spice carts sit on the corner of every street filling the air with a fragrant, saffron air. 

 I found a Thai restaurant last night and ate a vegetable curry but was hungry two hours later. I suppose in a way, I’m lucky it’s so hot. I’m far from feeling hungry, but I feel the lack of food sapping at my energy, inducing lethargy. 

  
After a fruitless hunt for two places which apparently served vegetarian/vegan food, I settled on the Green Cafe on freedom square, where I’ve ordered a salad and, you guessed it, fries. After some furious googling, I found out that Mushroom Khakali – dumplings – are also vegan, so I ordered two of these as well. And the salad is excellent, covered in thyme and a salty walnut paste. I’m glad I’ve finally found a hint of Georgian food I can enjoy. And hopefully not die from …

Back to Herbivore, Mission District San Fransisco

This is a very quick blog post written purely to recommend three things. Visiting the sutro baths, eating before you get on an internal Delta flight, and eating the quesadillas at Herbivore. I could devour them every day and I don’t think I could get bored of that plate of food.

  

I’d get fat, yes, but aside from Mohawk Bend in LA, I’m not sure there’s another restaurant in the world that turns unhealthy classics vegan as well as Herbivore do. And no, I don’t do PR for them, I’m just hungry for quesadillas.

  

The mission burrito: vegan style at El Casa Mexicana, SF

The mission burrito. It had to happen. It’s a behemoth that puts all other burritos I’ve eaten to shame. It looks more like a brick than a food stuff, and after eating a quarter of it, I feel that the whole pound of burrito that is left could feed a small family for a week.

  

Although everybody says you should go to Mission Street to get the burrito if your dreams, we obviously didn’t do that, and went to a road about five blocks west, closer to Duboce and Castro than Mission. I wanted to go in because I am perennially afraid of beans being cooked in pig lard, and Casa Mexicana had an enormous range of vegetarian options including tofu. This sounded like the worst option, so I opted for that to see if they could make it work.
Like everyone in the world, they couldn’t make the white flaccid tofu work, however marinated it had been in Mexican flavour sauces. But the rest of the burrito was incredible.
First she coated the tortilla bread in a layer of rice, added black beans (with an elaborate wrist-flick) and scattered a few chunks of tofu (regret). Then a generous handful of lettuce, guacamole, hot sauce, and chopped tomatoes before packaging it all up – envelope style – and thwacking it on the plate.
If this sounds bland – thank you for your concern, but don’t panic! There was an enormous station of condiments, sauces, limes, and chopped onions to pour and drizzle over, which made the whole experience far more verdant and tangy.
I’ve been carrying around the amount of burrito I didn’t finish for about an hour and I’m concerned about developing repetitive strain damage. For $5.50, that’s an insane amount of good, tasty food, from not quite in the mission district and a free helping of some of the best tortilla chips of all time.

Eating vegan at Yosemite National Park

Bears. They’re everywhere if you’ll believe the signs. Every year 16 bears are hit and killed by speeding cars in the park, and the park rangers show vivid films of bears breaking into cars and stealing all the food. 

  

This meant that in the campground we were staying in – unheated tents in Curry Village (error, it dropped to about -3 degrees) – we weren’t able to cook our own food. We had to rely on the canteen and pizza place at the campground, both of which were very much geared towards pleasing children. The camp was probably doing the best it could, but the food was painfully expensive – a large pizza with no cheese and extra olives and tomatoes cost $28. I mean, what the hell? Surely cheese is the most expensive ingredient there – why not give me a handful of mushrooms for free? 

  

At the risk of sounding like a tight-arse miser, this felt expensive, even for the heart of the national park. 

This is a post about vegan food at the park rather than the national park itself, which is of course, incredible. Striking blue skies, powdery grey waterfalls, green trees and slate grey mountains made every vista look like it had been drawn by a child with a limited supply of crayons. But what crayons! What colour!

  

We did lots of hikes (three in one afternoon) – mirror lake, Vernal Falls, and Yosemite falls. They were all, of course spectacular, but we spent our visit desperately wishing we’d packed our hiking gear so we could tackle longer and more strenuous hikes. Sadly, our airline baggage allowance wouldn’t permit it.

  

Away from the mountains and back to the vegan food, which is surely a concern for anyone coming to visit. The grill in Yosemite Village has black bean burgers for 10.95 and there was a sizeable salad offering in Curry Village – bear in mind that each salad is measured by weight. There was also a vegan marinara sauce for the pasta dish which looked pretty good.

All in all, vegans could probably eat one evening meal fine in Curry or Yosemite Village. If you’re concerned at all, I recommend stopping off in Mariposa at the High Country Cafe, which is attached to a whole food shop (not Wholefoods). You can buy vegan trail mix there and the essential Almond Dream ice cream bites. Just remember that everything has to be put in the bear box outside your tent, and no cooking!

Ps. It’s cold at night. Get a sleeping bag at the very least. I wore two pairs of jeans, three jumpers and my coat. Still freezing. 

  

Eating alone in Florence: a how to guide

Eating alone seems to be the only rubbish thing about travelling alone.
Travelling alone is wonderful – you get to do your itinerary, and like the obsessive Bronzino fan that I am, you get to revisit his painted chapel twice because there’s no sourpuss telling me I’m being boring.
Best of all is having a press card and therefore getting free entrance into everything in Italy. I never travel with anybody else who has one of these, so that’s already a strike against me poking my head into the Uffizi twice in one day.

Best of all, I like making the decision of whether or not I want to do things. If I was with my partner, I might walk down the long hill to the river because that’s what we should be doing. Alone I can decide that that would be a terrible idea and instead sit on a bench and sketch (badly) some cupola or other. Days are longer by yourself, and in a world of haste and panic, this is not necessarily a bad thing.

But mealtimes suck. These are social affairs anywhere in the world, and nowhere more so than Italy. Being a single traveller amid enormous families meeting together for a robust Sunday meal is awkward at best. What do you do? Stare around the room? Take a book with you (that you can only read in between mouthfuls if you buy anything that requires cutting up)? Awkwardly poke your phone for no reason at all? Write long, despondent articles such as this one about the awkwardness of eating alone?
Add that to the fact that I definitely eat on British time, which means I consider 1pm to be fine time for lunch. Inevitably, this means I am the only person in the restaurant, so, as now, I have waiters hovering over me. Or, also in this care, just one man on the pizza over, chin in hands, staring at me. But hey, dining choices, it’s my bad.

When fusion gets weird: Chotto Matte Peruvian Japanese in Soho, London

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The staircase leading to the weird-ass toilets

Something isn’t quite right. It’s dark. There are lots of girls wearing short dresses and spangly earrings. The sort of music that might induce me to take speed is playing.¬†And there’s a rockery. Just the one, piled up in the corner, like an abandoned archeological dig.¬†Welcome to Chotto Matte: which¬†seems to be¬†a club, restaurant, and garden centre all rolled into one.¬†

We got a table right away at the bar, and thank god, because it meant we got the chance to feel the “curved bar made out of lava stone” which¬†the menu dedicated an entire page to describing. I wouldn’t have lived happily¬†without experiencing it.

Sitting at the bar also meant that we were able to listen in on all the staff arguments which was an absolute relief.¬†I hadn’t gone there with the intention of talking to my date, so again, praise the Lord that the staff yelling at each other about table orders which filled in all those awkward lapses in conversation.¬†

The interior of Chotte Matte at it's best-with no clientele, food, or waiters.

The interior of Chotte Matte at it’s best-with no clientele, food, or waiters.

Japanese and Peruvian restaurants¬†have flooded into Central London¬†in the last 18 months: Ceviche¬†Lima and Coya from South America and Tonkotsu, Shoryu, Bone Daddies, Ramen Sasuke and Koya from the East. It’s entirely possible somebody noticed these cuisines were proving popular and so the brainstorming meeting¬†went something like this:

“How do I make lots of money?” “Well people like ramen and they like ceviche.” “Let’s open a restaurant that serves Japanese food and Peruvian food!” “Why?” “Ceviche and sushi sound similar if you say them fast enough.”¬†

For that seems to be the only reason why you’d consider a joint venture between these two very different cuisines. My meal was comprised of whatever I’d had a chance to point at before the waiter left again, so whatever arrived had an element of¬†surprise. I was slightly hungover so had opted for corn fritters (grease), barbecued courgette (yeh, what the hell), a sushi roll, saut√©ed chilli veggies, smokey brown rice, tostaditas with yellow heritage tomatoes and “guacamole”. I’d hoped that would give me a¬†greasy kick out of my lethargy and perhaps my five a day at the same time.¬†

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Not sure what this is, but all the press pictures online were of food in a line. None of my food came in a line, but I didn’t want to be a food dick and photo my plate. So you’ve got this dish. That looks nothing like what I ate.

Meanwhile, our drinks had arrived. My date had got his beer, and¬†I’d been given a litre of sparkling water which I was apparently expected to swig throughout the evening. Only¬†after a bout of waving and gesticulating did I manage to secure a glass. Seconds later the tostaditas arrived, sadly the highlight of our meal. I say sadly, because at the time I was unaware that each dish we were served would get progressively more depressing. If I’d have known I would have savoured every bite of the tangy sweet yellow tomatoes prepared in front of us by a precise, Japanese-knife wielding chef layered on a charred tostada and soaked in lime and a guacamole paste.

Two bites and twenty minutes later our other courses arrived in that “fashionable style” of when the kitchen decides. Read: when they remember your order. How I wish they hadn’t. A bowl of soggy root vegetables stewed in the musty flavour of lotus root and miso smelt of old wardrobe and two hours later my fingers still smell of Narnia. My corn “fritters” were three chunks of corn on the cob. No oil, no grease, no indulgence. Just healthy, bites of gigantic corn to indulge in.¬†The lack of fritters resulted in a disappointment that I found difficult to accept.¬†The barbecued courgette¬†was the only dish I’d reorder if forced to at knifepoint. Slivers of raw-ish and lukewarm courgette lay in a row on a rectangular plate topped with friseed carrot on top of a sickly sweet BBQ sauce. That also had a slight aroma of mothballs. A bowl of fried brown rice and vegetables was just that: healthy, wholesome and went some way to fill the cavernous space in my stomach that hadn’t been satisfied by the other eight courses (at on average ¬£7-10 each-this is not a cheap joint).¬†

Food with flowers; presumably taken from the rockery

Food with flowers; presumably taken from the rockery

The toilets are also fucking weird. To empty your bladder you have to press a green, industrial “door open” button which reveals¬†a slightly futuristic bathroom, and not the fire exit as you may have thought. Cue lots of drunk girls walking into the door with a series of soft thuds. The cubicle doors are so heavy that I wouldn’t be surprised if the puddles all over the floor by the sinks were caused not by the ridiculous design of the basins, but because women had lost the will to hold on any¬†longer.

Leaving Chotto Matte was the highlight of my evening. The feeling that I would never have to go back and navigate the dining area with the strangely roped off areas (like enclosures for rich people) or sit on a wobbly bar stool staring at a tomato, gave me a warm feeling inside that I normally hope to get from a good meal with friends.

I headed straight to Gelupo for a serving of bitter chocolate sorbet to celebrate my bravery and foolhardiness in the face of weird fusion restaurants.