VeganMoFo 2018: Alaska, Berlin

Cuisine:  Spanish

Tapas comes from the Spanish word meaning ‘lid’ or ‘cover’, and it’s rumoured that it started as a hunk of bread or little plate covering a glass to protect the booze inside from flies.  Whether that’s true or not, we can safely say that tapas dishes have vastly improved over the years.  I had some excellent tapas in Spain two summers ago (most notably from B12 in Madrid), and last year I found some in the slightly unlikely destination of Berlin!

I once had all-you-can-eat brunch at Alaska, and was keen to get back for the evening tapas menu.  It’s a really cosy and cool place with mismatched furniture and fun art, and really friendly service.  There were about ten different dishes on the menu, and it was very difficult to narrow it down, but here’s what we got.

Patatas bravas are a tapas must, in my eyes, and these ones didn’t disappoint.  The potatoes were very crispy on the outside, really cooked to perfection.  The alioli was packed with garlic, and the hot sauce was just the right level of fiery for me – in fact, a bit more of it wouldn’t have gone amiss!

Whenever I see tortilla on the menu, I have to try it! This potato omelettey dish was a very popular choice with other diners that evening, with good reason.  Obviously, it was huge!  The texture was great too.  I was a little baffled by the bread on the side, but Dr HH enjoyed slapping some tortilla on top.

The pastry on the empanada was top notch, but the filling was a little unexciting – all tomato and red pepper, when a bit of mushroom or olive (there was a small olive scattering on top, at least) would have livened things up a bit. Again, this was a huge portion.

And finally, we got some cheese!  The menu on the chalk board gave the impression that this was going to be a mini cheeseboard, but alas, we just had a choice between the two daily specials.  We settled on this soft cashew cheese paprika log.  It was lovely and creamy, and the spice really made it sing.  I loved it on the crackers, but couldn’t manage any bread after everything else we’d devoured!

In conclusion, Alaska is just as good in the evening as it is for brunch! The portions are generous, and the food is well seasoned and really tasty.  I’d love to tackle a few more items from the tapas menu!  And they have a great cocktail and wine menu too, if you’re looking to indulge.

And I’m not sure if this is a bonus or not, but on our visit they appeared to be playing the entire back catalogue of Savage Garden.  Dr HH and I surprised ourselves by recognising a whopping five of their hits!  When Truly Madly Deeply started playing, we had this exchange:

Me:  I thought this was the most romantic song in the world when I first heard it.

Dr HH:  And now you know it’s just rubbish.

Me:  What?!  Isn’t this the way you feel about me?!

Dr HH: What are the words again?

Me:  I want to stand with you on a mountain, I want-

Dr HH:  There’s no way I’d ever want to stand on a mountain with you!  You’d be moaning about being scared of heights, you’d be hungry, it would be a nightmare.

What a monster!

Which of these tapas plates would you most want to try? And what’s your favourite tapas dish?

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VeganMoFo 2018: Velbekomme, Manchester

Cuisine: Danish

Velbekomme is a Scandinavian cafe in ultra trendy Chorlton with a small menu including omni, veggie and vegan options.  The small cafe is decorated with various Scandinavian flags and has cookbooks from Norway, but I’m classifying it here as Danish because I went for the smørrebrød option.

For anyone not quite Chorlton enough to be in the know, smørrebrød is a slice of rye bread, buttered (or margarined, in this case) and topped with some kind of cold topping.  Velbekomme offers this vegan smørrebrød plate for £5.50, combining these open sandwiches and a salad, if you so desire. I got one each of the vegan options when I visited.

I’m a sucker for beetroot hummus because it’s just such a pretty colour.  Also, it’s delicious!  The other topping was celery, red cabbage and mushroom, and was really tasty.  In both cases I kind of wished the bread had been toasted for a nice bit of crispness, but apparently that is not the Danish way. The potato salad was seasoned with caraway seeds and was also really good.

It was nice to try something completely different – Danish cuisine isn’t something I really see much, even when I went to Copenhagen! The prices in the cafe were almost as high as in Denmark itself, so I suppose it was nice to get the authentic Danish experience…

Is there much Danish cuisine in your neck of the woods?

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VeganMoFo 2018: Arepas de Lyna, Prague

Cuisine: Venezuelan

Back in 2014 I was working at a language school in Manchester, teaching English to students from all over the world.  At the start of the year we had lots of Venezuelans enrolled, many of them teenagers away from home for the first time and having the time of their lives.  As the year progressed, their moods notably changed as the situation at home worsened, and many of them returned home not knowing what state their country would even be in.  By 2015, there were only a handful of Venezuelans left – the ones lucky enough to hold a European passport thanks to one of their family members.  Nobody else could get a visa any more.

It’s hard to believe they have been stuck in the same situation for so many years now.  I wonder what the future holds for those bright, enthusiastic teenagers who spoke of their country with such pride.

In mixed nationality classes, it was always fun to get people talking about their national dishes.  I remember one Venezuelan girl being absolutely outraged that nobody in the class had heard of arepas, which she genuinely believed should be as famous as pizza.

She would be pleased to hear that I finally tried arepas for myself in 2017.  I’d walked past Arepas de Lyna many times before I spotted the words “vegan arepas” in one of their Facebook posts, and then I was there!

For the uninitiated, arepas is a kind of corn pancake stuffed with various good things.  Nothing on the menu here is explicitly labelled vegan, but the staff know what it means and served me the vegetarian arepas without the cheese.  It was stuffed with quinoa, black beans, chickpeas, cucumber and avo, and served with a pot of spicy sauce on the side.  It was tricky to eat (we used a lot of napkins!), but worth the effort – it was really good!

It’s a lovely place to while away some time too – lively music, friendly staff (presumably Venezuelans), and happy customers spilling onto the pavements in the summer.  The food was a little steep (120czk for one, and you’ll definitely want more than one unless you’re just grabbing a light lunch), but everything was fresh and delicious.  The homemade lemonades are really good too – I had the classic citrus one, and Dr HH went for passionfruit.

All in all, a great introduction to Venezuelan cuisine!

Have you tried arepas before? What other Venezuelan dishes are out there?

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VeganMoFo2018: Angkor Soul, Altrincham

Cuisine: Cambodian

Apparently, Manchester’s Angkor Soul restaurants are the only Cambodian eateries in the north of England – so imagine my excitement on finding that they have vegan options! The first branch is in Marple, which is a way from the city centre, but this year they opened a second branch in Altrincham, which is just a fairly short tram ride from my stomping ground. Dr HH and Mama HH were very excited to be involved in my VeganMoFo challenge, and, having both visited Cambodia before, did not need any persuading to accompany me here.

There were some very exciting options on the starters menu. I’m not sure that these avocado crispy rolls are particularly authentic Cambodian cuisine, but of course I was powerless to resist them. Truthfully, I’m not sure the slightly slimy avocado texture is that well suited to a spring roll, but it was fun to try at least.

The crispy Khmer rolls were both more authentic, and more satisfying! The peanutty sauce was an excellent accompaniment, and the rolls were as crispy as I had hoped. Eating spring rolls all the time is one of the great joys of visiting Asia, and I was happy to recreate that happiness here on my local turf.

And of course, who could resist Angkor cauliflower? Again, I’m not sure about the authenticity, but all three of us were raving about this sticky, spicy battered cauliflower dish. There’s nothing quite like a really exciting starters menu, is there? Even with the slight let down of the avo rolls, this was a very promising start to the meal!

Mama HH stuck with cauliflower for her main dish too – she got the vegan General Lon Nol, which was cauliflower and cashews in a sticky sriracha sauce. She couldn’t stop talking about it the next day, so we’ll call this one a success!

Dr HH ordered the vegan spicy lemongrass saute, which he thought wasn’t very strongly flavoured with lemongrass, while I thought it tasted of nothing but! He asked for it with tofu (seitan was also available), and found it delightfully seasoned and really special.

And I went for the battambang noodles, which no longer appear on the menu. It was such a hearty portion I couldn’t even finish it (the perils of filling up on starters!), but it made for tasty leftovers too. It contained flat noodles, well-seasoned tofu, and broccoli, which are three of my favourite things, so I was very happy with this.

It was a real treat to try a cuisine that I’ve never actually had outside of Cambodia, and apparently I’m not alone in thinking so – they were so busy on a Saturday evening that they were turning people away! There were also some vegans at the table next to us, and they definitely tout their vegan menu a bit on their website, so it seems like it should do decent trade from the plant-based community. And hurrah for that!

Has Cambodian food taken off in your neck of the woods?

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VeganMoFo 2018: Paprika, Prague

Cuisine: Middle Eastern

For vegans, it’s very easy to get sick of falafel, hummus, and chips. They seem to be the default options on many an uninspired menu, and every takeaway cafe in the UK seems to have a standard dry, chewy falafel wrap or sandwich on the menu. But still – is it possible to get sick of proper falafel? I mean fresh falafel cooked by someone who knows what they’re doing.

Deep fried, crispy, flavoursome falafel with smooth hummus is still one of my favourite meals – and if there are chips on the side, so much the better. For this dish alone, I might have to consider Middle Eastern cuisine amongst my favourites. (I couldn’t find any consensus on where exactly falafel originated, so I’ve stuck with a broad Middle Eastern label.)

I have had some top notch falafel in my time – most notably from Go Falafel in Manchester, and with honourable mentions to Dr Falafel in Vienna, Hummus Bar in Hungary, and L’as du Falafel in Paris. The Czech Republic is notoriously resistant to immigration, and as such there isn’t really a thriving falafel scene here (I genuinely believe that falafel is one of the greatest pro-immigration arguments – it’s right up there with human decency as one of the reasons we should welcome people in). So I was delighted when Paprika opened up in 2017.

It’s a teeny place with some indoor seating, but it’s probably better suited to takeaway, as it’s always jumping. They serve meat, but also have some great vegan options, including shawarma along with the standard falafel and hummus dishes.

Dr HH and I love to share the vegan plate. It consists of hummus, shawarma, tahini, fries, bread, falafel, and salad. The shawarma has a great texture, and is really well seasoned – the best vegan shawarma in Prague by a mile. And the falafel, chips, and hummus are all absolute perfection (in fact, the chips are also the best in Prague).

Oh, and did I mention the bread? It’s so soft and pillowy – sheer perfection!

On less indulgent days, I’ve also been known to simply grab a falafel pita. Again, it’s hard to go wrong with this.

One of my most used phrases in this VeganMoFo is probably going to be: “I know chips don’t really belong to X cuisine, but still…” I mean, look at those chips. Beautiful!

VeganMoFo friends, do you ever suffer from falafel fatigue? And where’s your number one falafel spot?

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VeganMoFo 2018: Nosteagia, London

Cuisine: Hong Kong

When I first started this blog many moons ago, I was living in Hong Kong and working in a language centre directly above a bubble waffle place. Every day I would smell that sweet batter cooking away, and peer curiously at its bubbly shape, wondering exactly what it was. I wasn’t even vegan at the time, yet in my two and a half years in Hong Kong I never once tried a bubble waffle.

Enter Nosteagia!

This is a little bubble tea and bubble waffle takeaway place in Boxpark Shoreditch. I’d been ogling them on Instagram for a few months before finally getting the chance to visit. London vegans had revealed that there’s a weekly vegan special, but I couldn’t see any vegan info on their website, so I was a bit anxious.

I needn’t have worried – most (if not all) of their bubble teas can be served vegan, and they have a separate vegan bubble waffle menu. The waffle dishes there don’t come with ice cream – you either have to ask for some to be added in or go for the special. One of the vegan ice creams is chai, which I’m a bit disappointed I passed up on. But not too disappointed, of course…

How could anyone be disappointed with this?! This was the vegan weekly special: bubble waffle, vanilla coconut ice cream, hazelnut chocolate sauce, Oreos, peanut butter, and coconut. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that this was delicious.

Fortunately, the staff provided some tips on how to tackle this beast: don’t let go of the napkin around the bottom of the cone, use a spoon for the ice cream, and start eating the waffle from the highest point at the back. Nevertheless, it was messy. I ended up with chocolate and ice cream all over my chin, nose, and chops, while Dr HH, who has a resplendent beard and moustache, didn’t make a drop of mess – apparently he’s so used to eating ice cream cones with extreme care that he didn’t make any rookie mistakes.

It was a great novelty, and I’d recommend it for that reason, but truthfully I’d probably prefer to eat a regular waffle with similarly extravagant toppings, using a knife and fork.

With all those decadent toppings, it might not be entirely traditional Hong Kong fare, but I’m not complaining!

Have you tried a bubble waffle yet? How much mess did you make?

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VeganMoFo 2018: The Cedar Tree, Dublin

Cuisine: Lebanese

I’m no connoisseur of Lebanese food, but when this place popped up on Happy Cow while we were in Dublin this Easter Dr HH was beside himself, enthusing that Lebanese food is the perfect blend of falafel, hummus, and Mediterranean treats. That turned out to be the case! The Cedar Tree was a very popular and friendly little place, just around the corner from Trinity College. There was a vegan mezze on the menu, €52 for two, and we decided to splurge.

The “starter” occupied the entire table, which is always a welcome sight. There were a few warm dishes, which we scoffed first: some expertly seasoned potatoes; little spinach pastries (samosa-style, but a little bland as they only contained spinach); and two big, beautiful falafels.

We also had two salads: fattoush (which had a slightly bitter dressing, but those crispy bits were delicious!), and tabbouleh (fresh, light, and flavoursome). There were some pickles and olives, perfect for picking at, and stuffed vine leaves with a delicious filling.

And of course, some bread and dips! The baba ganoush was very smoky, but not especially auberginey, which was a shame. There was a broccoli and cauliflower dip, which was unusual and very exciting, and also a red pepper and walnut one, which was almost like a nut butter. And of course, hummus! The hummus was perfect. Absolutely perfect.

This was a huge, hearty spread and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s always such a treat to try lots of different dishes, and really get to explore a cuisine in this way. I barely had room for a main dish after that, so I was glad to see a relatively light portion coming our way. This was magmour: a chickpea, tomato, and aubergine stew, which was very sweet and flavoursome, with a rich sauce and melty aubergine chunks. It was a little strange to have a heavier starter than main, but I enjoyed it very much.

I would recommend this place, despite the cost – it’s got a great central location, which never comes cheap, and we left feeling extremely well-fed. I didn’t even ask about desserts, I was so stuffed! Clearly Lebanese food is something I need to be having more of.

Have you ever had a starter this humongous? What’s your favourite Lebanese dish?

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