Vegan in Prague: Etnosvet Bistro

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It’s entirely possible that I am never going to run out of vegan eateries to review in Prague:  there are so many of them!  Last year I told you about Etnosvet,  a fancy vegetarian restaurant.  Well, here’s it’s all-vegan spin-off, located just around the corner.  It’s open 8am-3pm and regularly has breakfast dishes (including chia pudding and open sandwiches), panini, soups, pizza by the slice, a baked good or two and four more substantial lunch options:  fried sushi, Asian noodle salad, bao bun and a burger.

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I first went there in October when Mama HH was visiting.  My mum had the Asian noodle salad:  glass noodles with beansprouts, tofu strips, courgette, red cabbage, coriander and peanuts.  It was very tasty, though there was a bitter taste coming from something she couldn’t place.  Generally, it was light and refreshing.

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I had the bao buns with smoky tempeh, and they were delightful!  They were very messy to eat, but the dressing had a nice bit of spice and it was worth getting my hands dirty.  The tempeh was especially delicious, but isn’t it always?  Dr HH had these the next time we visited, and he was also a big fan.

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And I’ve also tried the burger, which was surprisingly hearty!  It’s the most expensive item on the menu, but I still wasn’t expecting it to be quite such a beast.  Actually, there was no burger patty, but the brioche-style bun was filled with delicious shiitake mushrooms and thinly sliced veg.  The dressing was quite similar to the ban bun, actually.  I was expecting a handful of chips on the side, but check out that gigantic bowl of French fries!  They were accompanied by bean sprouts, peanuts and sauce.  Personally, I’m a huge fan of the dry chip, but Dr HH helped me out and he certainly wasn’t complaining about the accompaniments.

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And just last week we finally tried the fried sushi.  We both absolutely love fried sushi, and the crispy texture here really didn’t disappoint.  The mayo and spicy sauce were great additions too, and there was also a pot of soy sauce.  We both enjoyed it, and my only complaint is that the filling was a little boring.  Avocado is always a winner, but the tomato was quite squishy and didn’t really add much flavour.  Some smoked tofu or shiitake would have packed a bit more of a punch.  That said, I would definitely have this again, and it’s my joint favourite with the bao bun.

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There’s always a little sweet treat in stock as well, and many moons ago Dr HH and I picked these up:  a little muffin and an apple rose pastry.  Both were really good.

I’m not the biggest fan of Etnosvet, because their menu is very limited for vegans (though I hear they have now added a vegan dessert, which is something).  But this vegan branch just around the corner is so fantastic.  It’s still a little pricey, but the food is good quality, it’s always warm in there (which is wonderful during the icy winters), and the staff are lovely.  Even if the main restaurant isn’t that helpful for vegans, the fact that they’d open up a second little branch just for us is really appreciated.  My next mission is to try them out for breakfast – if only they opened at the weekend!

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MiniMoFo: A Love Affair with Pizza

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February’s MiniMoFo prompt is the colour red, in keeping with the romantic mood this month.  I was racking my brains thinking of a red meal I’d had at a restaurant that I could review, when Dr HH pointed out the obvious:  pizza!  Not only is it red (at least partially), but I also love it, so it’s a good Valentine’s Day choice.  Here are some of my top vegan pizza choices.

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On our second date, Dr HH and I went to Dough in Manchester’s Northern Quarter.  It was my first ever vegan pizza, and it was delicious!  The restaurant also serves meat and dairy, but they make it clear which things can be veganised and have nice cheese options.  I usually go for the mushroom pizza, but one time I clearly went crazy and had lots of veg too.

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Also in Manchester, never overlook HOME, the independent cinema with its own restaurant.  There are two vegan pizza options on the menu, though I’ve only tried this one.  Pine nuts on a pizza are always classy.

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The Deaf Institute also has a vegan flatbread pizza on the menu, and Dr HH ordered it while we were home over Christmas.  It was really tasty, and he was a fan of the cashew cream on the side.

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In Prague, we usually get out pizza at Pizzeria Manna, which has a separate vegan build-your-own pizza menu.  They have the best cheese ever – read more in my full blog post over here.

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And I once had a cauliflower pizza at Puro (a great vegan cafe here in Prague – read all about it here). The base was cauliflower, rather than bread, and it was very good indeed.

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We’ve had a few pizzas on the road too, starting with this one at Trattoria Ponte Verde in Berlin.  As usual, I played it relatively safe with just mushrooms and olives.

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And I was absolutely giddy to try my first vegan calzone at O Mamma Mia in Stockholm back in summer 2014.  Cheese, mushrooms, tomatoes and ham:  never a bad combination.

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And at Christmas 2015 I had this amazing meat feast pizza at Napfenyes Etterem in Budapest – possibly the best pizza I’ve had!  (Read more here.)

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Last year I also discovered the joys of vegan frozen pizza.  I picked this up at the World Vegan shop in Prague, and it has become my treat if I’m having a night in alone.  The cheese is nice, but I’m all about the ham pieces:  delicious!

What’s your number one vegan pizza spot? Let me know if there’s somewhere I really need to try!

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Vegan in Manchester: Tampopo

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Like most couples, when Dr HH and I first began courting we used to go to a lot of effort to see each other.  I was working until 6pm in the city centre while he was working long hours as a trainee teacher out in the suburbs.  He used to drive into the centre of Manchester in rush hour traffic and pay extortionate parking prices so we could go for dinner and perhaps on to the cinema, where he would invariably fall asleep.  Tampopo was one of our regular haunts in those days.  It’s an Asian restaurant near the town hall, and it serves vegan, vegetarian and meat/fish dishes.

tampopo-1Even if we still lived in Manchester, it’s unlikely that we’d still go to all that effort to meet in the city centre after work.  But we did venture into Tampopo again during our Christmas holidays, and it was really nice to be back. Dr HH ordered the tempura, which is marked on the menu as vegan – but when we used to go three years ago, the staff told us that it actually contained egg.  I was thinking about asking this time to see if it really is vegan now, but whatever they replied I don’t think I would have risked it.  Perhaps I’m just paranoid.  Anyway, Dr HH reported that the batter was light and delicious.

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I played it safe with the fresh spring rolls.  I’ve had these a few times, and they are reliably good:  well-stuffed, with lots of fresh veg, and a delicious peanut sauce.

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There are at least four vegan options on the menu for mains, and I’m always impressed by this one:  tamarind “duck” tofu.  It was absolute perfection:  the tofu was really well prepared, the fried onions on top were delicious and the greens were perfectly wilted.  The real highlight was the tamarind sauce:  so flavoursome and delicious.

After we’d been to the cinema (just like the old days) and got the tram home, I snaffled a kiss from Dr HH and he said:  “Your mouth is still smelly.”  Apparently this was a compliment meaning that I still tasted delicious from the tamarind sauce. Hmm.  I feel like he might have phrased that differently back in the early days!

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Cookbook of the Month: Colour Me Vegan

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I always like to get a cookbook for Christmas, and I just gambled on this one when I was writing my wish list. I didn’t know much about it, but read some favourable reviews.  Ultimately, I don’t think it was a gamble that paid off.

The recipes are organised by colour, fitting in with the ‘eat the rainbow’ mentality, and I really like that idea.  However, I found that most of the recipes I tried were sorely lacking in flavour, and I abandoned the book after just two weeks, so it’s not as thorough a review as usual.  Here are the recipes I did try.

Red:

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I make a tomato/pesto soup quite regularly, and this tomato basil soup did not measure up to it, unfortunately. As with all the soups in this book, I found it very thin and watery – even with my own addition of some red lentils.  The basil flavour was too mild as well.  I’ll stick with my usual recipe.

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The apricot red lentil stew was always going to be right up my street, and this was my favourite recipe that I tried. I tweaked the recipe a bit:  instead of chopping up three tomatoes, I used two tins of tomatoes to beef it up; and I didn’t give it the suggested partial blitzing because it looked so good and inviting as it was.  I would definitely recommend it, and this is one of two recipes I will come back to.

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I was a little wary of these raspberry lemon muffins.  The recipe calls for plain yoghurt, but says any fruity flavour can be used.  The only vegan yoghurt I could find was cherry, and I was worried about how it would affect the taste.  Taste-wise the muffins were fine, but all the raspberries sank to the bottom (except for a few I poked into the tops), making the sponge rather squishy.  Still, they were good, fruity cakes.

Orange:

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The carrot and roasted bell pepper soup was quite thin.  It was alright – sometimes you had a nice hit of roasted pepper and thyme, but there just wasn’t enough substance to it, it didn’t pack enough of a punch.

Yellow:

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I made this hot tamale pie when I was back in Manchester for the holidays, and it went down a treat.  It created a few pots and pans to wash, but it was easy to make.  I used a tin of chopped tomatoes rather than chopping my own, but otherwise I stuck to the recipe.  I loved the beany stew more than the polenta/cornmeal topping – it’s not something I’ve had too often, and I found it a bit weird.  The dish as a whole was lovely though – like a twist on a shepherd’s pie.

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I added a tin of chickpeas to the curried cauliflower soup because I worried it was looking a little thin (it’s been a very cold month in Prague, and we needed some proper thick, wintry soups to get us through).  It was nice, but unremarkable – the apple was overwhelmed by the curry powder, and I have better cauliflower soup recipes up my sleeve.

Green:

I’d given up before I got to my earmarked recipes in the green section.

Blue:

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Potato and aubergine curry is a classic in our home, as both Dr HH and his mum make a cracking version of it.  Maybe it’s unfair to hold this one up to the standard of an Indian woman’s own recipe, but let’s just say it wasn’t as good.

White/tan:

parsnip-soup

The parsnip soup tasted far too sweet when I first sampled it while cooking, so I threw in lots of salt and pepper, some chilli flakes and some ground ginger to complement the chopped ginger already in.  Then it just tasted of ginger.  This was perhaps the first meal ever that Dr HH and I just could not eat.  Maybe I got some measurements wrong or misread the recipe, but it was just bad.

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I wasn’t sure what to expect from the banana oat date cookies, which were essentially just bananas, oats, coconuts and dates mashed together.  Of course the flavour combination was solid, but I was worried about the texture.  The cookies were a little crumbly and flapjacky, but I approved.  This is the other recipe I intend to revisit.

Brown/black:

mushroom-barley-soup

I adapted the mushroom barley soup to make it more of a stew, adding a tin of tomatoes and reducing the stock.  I also used bulghur wheat instead of pearl barley, because that’s what I had in.  It was a tasty dish, there were some nice flavours going on.

And that’s it, I’m afraid.  The apricot lentil stew and the banana cookies were really good, and unlike any other recipes I’d tried before. The soup recipes were all real let-downs, and as we eat soup every day for lunch this was quite the disaster for us.  They weren’t hearty at all, but they also weren’t as flavoursome as I’d like.  I might recommend this book to someone trying to eat healthily (and who was prepared to add more seasoning at every opportunity), but otherwise I’d skip it.

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Vegan in Manchester: The Allotment

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I’ve been meat-free for long enough to remember the days when most eateries just had the one vegetarian option, and nine times out of ten it was mushroom risotto.  It’s great to live in these exciting times of all vegan cafes, Veganuary deals in chain restaurants, and even vegan fine dining options.  The latter is certainly not my area of expertise, but I’m always keen to try some fancy food. The most notable fine dining chef in the northwest is Matthew Nutter, and Dr HH and I went to two of hispop-up nights back when we lived in Manchester.  Unsurprisingly, he finally got his own permanent home not long after we moved abroad and we’d been waiting for an opportunity to visit.  That opportunity finally arrived in January!

I had really high expectations for The Allotment, so much so that I was worried there was no way it could live up to them.  But there’s nothing to worry about here: it’s creative, delicious food in a lovely setting, and, surprisingly for a fine dining establishment, you actually feel full at the end.

We were there on the first day they reopened in January after the Christmas break, so we got to try the new, seasonal menu.

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We hadn’t been expecting an amuse bouche, but we were delighted to receive one.  Look at the inviting colour of this purple carrot sorbet with apple!  It was quite surprising in that it looked like a dessert and had the sweetness of the apple, but had strong savoury flavours. The contrasting textures were good too.  This was an extremely promising start to the evening.

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There were three options for each course, so Dr HH and I ordered different things to keep it interesting.  Also, it was easy to choose different things when all three options sounded incredible!  Dr HH started with the winter garden:  a parsnip crisp, flavoursome avocado tartar, thin slices of pair and fennel, some pickled carrots, and fennel gel.  Unfortunately he found it a bit underwhelming, as none of the other flavours quite matched up to the avocado.  Nice, but not mind-blowing, was his verdict.

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I was much happier with my starter, apple & sage: a crispy parsnip nest, quite soft (raw?) cracker, apple slices on lemon butter, and green apple puree.  There were some really great flavour and texture combinations going on.

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Onto the mains, and Dr HH was far more taken with this taste of the sea:  artichoke crackling, sushi rice, lots of little bits of pickled veg, spectacular mushrooms, and good sea-flavoured greens.  It was, as advertised, the sea on a plate – lots of salty and vinegary flavours, and everything seasoned to perfection.

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I couldn’t resist ordering the cheese & onion:  white sweet potato mash (probably too much, with two scoops), pickled shiitakes, chive and garlic roule (really good and herby, lovely creaminess), confit shallots, and some garlicky greens. It was absolutely sensational.

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As it’s such a fancy place, we even got a pre-dessert:  coconut and rose cream with lime granita.  It was good and refreshing, perfect for cleansing the palate.

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And finally, dessert!  Dr HH got the lemon cheesecake, which was actually more pear-based than lemon (fellow pear-haters, beware!).  He enjoyed it very much.  It consisted of a thick yuzu cream sat on a nice chilli crumb, good slices of crumbed pear and a nice pear crisp, which made a beautiful snap.

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And I had this panna cotta and tea-steeped yoghurt. The black sesame panna cotta was quite firm rather than having the classic wobble, but had a really beautiful flavour.  The highlight was the matcha and mint yoghurt, which was really delicious and a great match for the panna cotta.

This was such an incredible meal – we couldn’t rave about it enough.  And I felt absolutely stuffed when we left, though Dr HH insisted he would have had room for their cheeseboard as well.  I can’t think of anywhere quite liked The Allotment in either Manchester or Prague – it’s a lot more ambitious than somewhere like Bistro 1847 in the city centre. What’s more, it’s great to have fancy food while supporting an all-vegan business.  And as an extra bonus, service was really great and the people who work there couldn’t have been friendlier.  The decor and atmosphere were perfect, though I must report that it was absolutely freezing when we were there in the cruel January cold.

Of course, it’s more expensive than most other restaurants in Manchester, but there are early bird and Sunday specials which make it more affordable, and if you have a special occasion it’s definitely worth a splurge.

It’s also important to note that this place isn’t in the city centre, it’s in Stockport.  This shouldn’t deter you from visiting though.  There are few places I would say this about, but it’s definitely worth the 50 minute bus ride we took from Stretford.

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Vegan in Prague: Balarama

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After spending three weeks in the UK over Christmas, I had mixed feelings about coming back to Prague just over a week ago.  It’s been incredibly cold all week (-14C, which is unheard of to a city-dwelling Brit), I’ve diced with death slipping on the icy walkways, and, let’s face it, nobody likes going back to work.  On the plus side, going out for food no longer entails spending about £6 on public transport:  there are lots of good eateries within walking distance, even in this horrible weather.

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One such place is Balarama, a cheap and cheerful Indian restaurant about a two minute walk from our flat.  At the bar by the front door you just ask for a medium or large plate (medium is more than enough, even for a glutton like me – all of these photos show the medium version), and if you’re vegan, let them know.

We’ve been three times, and I’d say the food is about 90% vegan.  On our visit this week the only non-vegan dish was a salad, and they actually had a vegan alternative waiting in the fridge.  Another time I got a big fried fritter to replace the non-vegan item, so there’s definitely no missing out.  The staff are always knowledgeable about vegan options, and they always speak flawless English too.

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It’s one of those places where they just assemble you a plate of everything they’ve got, so there’s no choosing like in a buffet. Fortunately, the food is usually good and very hearty.  Generally there is a soup, salad and curry with rice.  There’s also usually an apple chutney, though we’re yet to ascertain if it’s meant to be sweet or savoury (it’s got a bit of a spicy kick to it).  And if you’re lucky, there’ll be a little portion of halva included too.

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You can pay more for some fried, crispy goods on the side – definitely worth it, in my opinion, as these extras are usually my favourite part.  Bread and papadums are also available.

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The Czechs generally love a poppy seed baked good, and you can usually find them here in Balarama.  They are vegan (but do check, just in case anything has changed), and are a nice little treat – assuming you still have any room after all that food!

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The food isn’t the best Indian food you’ll ever try. I think it’s well-seasoned, but Dr HH feels it’s nowhere near spicy enough.  It’s not food to rave about, but Balarama is certainly enjoyable with its fast, filling food and friendly service.  It’s also cheap: last week we paid less than £9 for 2 medium plates and 2 crispy sides, and we could barely move for the rest of the night. Cheap and cheerful, indeed, and highly recommended for anyone on a budget who wants to fill up as cheaply as possible.

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MiniMoFo: New Vegan Products

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The first MiniMoFo of 2017 is all about trying new things: new cuisine, new ingredients, new equipment…or simply new (to me) products in the UK.

Despite living abroad, most of my social media is full of exciting vegan finds from the UK, so it was nice to be back on home shores to try some of them at long last.  These products aren’t brand new, but it was my first chance to try them and I was very, very excited.

1.Tesco Churros

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These are accidentally vegan and may have been around in 2015 as well, but this was the first time I went to a Tesco big enough to stock them.  They were in the freezer with the party food, which was being blocked by a ditherer, and Dr HH had to hold me back from knocking her out of the way and running to the tills cackling gleefully with my precious loot.

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They would have been worth it:  they were delicious!  They just needed heating in the oven, and then sprinkling with a sachet of cinnamon sugar.  The filling was lovely and Nutella-esque.  Dr HH insisted that we share these with his parents, who had just returned from their first trip to Spain but had never had churros.  They were a hit with everyone.

2.Nutcrafter Creamery Cheese

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After I read Jojo’s review of this cheese over at Vegan in Brighton, I knew I had to try some.  I asked my mum to order me one kind, so of course, she got me three.

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The Indulgent Fresh Chive Chevre Style was very good and herby.

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I liked The Essential – Spreadable Frawmage, though it burst out of the jar when I opened it (they had all been frozen and defrosted).  This wasn’t as flavoursome as the others, but I really enjoyed it on crackers.

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And, saving the best for last, The Rebellious – Aged Roasted Garlic.  This has so much flavour, I wish I had an endless supply to it.  It was absolutely beautiful.  The only thing that stopped me from eating the whole thing in one sitting was a sense of decency and shame.

Vegan cheese can be a bit of a minefield, and I’m quite cautious with it.  This is the only time I’ve actually sat down to eat cheese and crackers like I did in my pre-vegan days, and I enjoyed it so much.  For cooking, I would stick with Violife and other brands you can get quite easily in supermarkets nowadays.  But if you’re trying to put together a vegan cheeseboard, or you want to convince non-vegans that they could survive dairy-free, then this is your top choice.  It’s the big cheese.

3.  Vegolino

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I waited patiently to be in the same country as these chocolates.  They were worth the wait. They are the Italian gianduja chocolates:  hazelnut and chocolate, that winning combination.  Vego bars are generally held up as the best vegan milk chocolate, and this is their new spin-off.  Of course, they are delicious.

4.Sweet Revolution Instant Hot Chocolate

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Instant Hot Chocolate is quite an elusive product in the vegan world, as so many brands contain powdered milk.  In fact, this is the only vegan one I know of.  It’s not cheap (around £5 a bag, depending on where you order from), but it’s ok for an occasional splurge.

You can mix the powder with milk or hot water, depending on how creamy you like it.  I tried both, and the milk was obviously better, but both were fine.  The hot chocolate came out with a lovely hint of coconut which made it extra delicious.  I’d say it’s much better than the non-vegan instant hot chocolate powders in the supermarket…but at this price, it really should be!

5.Peanot Cups

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I’m a fiend for peanut butter and chocolate, it’s just such a good combination.  I’ve had a few different kinds of vegan peanut butter cups, and these ones are a great option.  The jumbo cups are probably better, but the little ones made a great cinema snack and would probably be great for baking with.  Bonus for anyone with a nut allergy:  they don’t contain actual nuts!

6.Fry’s Battered Prawns

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I don’t have much experience with Fry’s products, though they’re now quite readily available in Holland & Barrett and some supermarkets too.  I really love fake prawns in Asian dishes, so I was keen to try these.  They’re not as good as the ones I was thinking of, and in fact they seemed a little Quorn like in texture, but I enjoyed them nevertheless. I don’t think they’d fool anyone into believing they were the real deal, so I might try some Asian supermarkets next time and try to find something more convincing.

Have you tried any exciting new products lately? Are there any other incredible UK products I should try to get my hands on next time I’m home?

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