Vegan in Granada: El Ojú

Dr HH often berates me for my unwillingness to share food, even though I’ve considerably improved since we first met and I used to scowl and harrumph if he asked for so much as a chip (in my defence, he does invariably go for the chip I was most looking forward to eating). I now almost always offer him a bite of what I’m having, and there are rare occasions when I consent to order a few different dishes to share, on the strict understanding that I manage the division of the food.

So it’s possible that he was not very keen to go back to Spain with me and have to negotiate the sharing of various tapas plates. But he needn’t have worried – I view tapas as a food that is meant to be shared, and there’s something very appealing about sitting at a bar in Spain and pecking at some tasty morsels with your loved one. El Ojú was top of our list of eateries to target in Granada, as it was an all-vegan tapas spot a mere stone’s throw from our hotel. It did not disappoint, and nor did my sharing skills, I think it’s safe to say.

The chorizo slices in the sandwich were very good indeed – really flavoursome. To be honest they got a little bit lost in all the bread, it might have been nice to have them just on one slice rather than a sandwich, but I assume the Spaniards know what they’re doing when it comes to serving tapas!

This is not entirely what I was expecting from the tortilla – a fairly thin slice of tortilla on bread, as opposed to the big hearty slab I had my heart set on. Obviously if it’s a free side with a drink, I can’t complain too much. But it just seems like a weird thing to put on bread. It was nice, but not entirely what I’d been hoping for.

We really enjoyed the meatballs – I think they were better than the ones we had in Sevilla, and you can see from the sauce that they were well-seasoned.

Like many small children, if I see chicken nuggets on a menu I simply have to order them! Is there anything more comforting than a chicken nugget?! These were great. The mock chicken was really tender, and the coating was good and crispy. I’d be happy to eat these every day!

Vegan calamari is not something you see on a menu too often, which means it’s always hard to turn down when it does pop up. I never had calamari before going vegetarian, so I don’t have a good frame of reference, but these had an interesting rubbery texture which was reminiscent of some seafood I had back in the day, so I assume they were fairly authentic. These were really tasty, but I wish the mayo had been properly on the side rather than in the same bowl – some of them got pretty sloppy.

When we returned on our last night we couldn’t resist getting the calamari again, and this time we also shared this dish of cheesy, bacony potatoes. I’m not sure if it’s traditional Spanish tapas fare, but unsurprisingly, it was really good. Gooey, meaty, carby…three of my favourite things!

This little place was jumping both nights when we went (in fact, it was busier on a work night – how wild!), and mostly filled with young locals enjoying wine and tapas, and tourists trying as much as they humanly could. It’s quite cheap and cheerful rather than a fancy spot, and it was one of our favourites in our short stay, in terms of the novelty of the items on the menu.

So if you feel that you have the generosity and maturity to share delicious dishes with someone, make sure this is on your list for Granada. Or if not, go by yourself and stuff your face!

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Vegan in Prague: Dim Sum Spot

I had been hoping and expecting to have a lot of dim sum in the coming weeks – Dr HH and I had a two week trip to Beijing, Taipei, and Hong Kong booked. That’s no longer on the cards for obvious reasons, but at least we found somewhere to get dim sum domestically! This is a relatively new spot in Prague, and I’m already a big fan. The menu is fairly small, but it’s good to vegans, with four dumplings and a soup all clearly labelled.

From the “classic” menu we ordered four each of the pumpkin and peanut, and the tofu and spinach dumplings. Dr HH preferred the pumpkin ones for taste, whereas I found them a bit sweet and preferred the tofu and spinach, though they were a little bland. We were in agreement that the tofu ones had a better texture too.

When we go back though, we’ll probably ignore the classic menu altogether though and go straight for the more expensive “specials”. There are again two vegan options: robi and spinach, and robi and tofu. I can’t remember if robi is uniquely Czech, but it’s a kind of mock meat made from beetroot, and it’s very good indeed. These little morsels had a lot of flavour and were, as the name suggests, rather special. We’ll definitely be back for more!

And there’s only one dessert on the menu, and it’s vegan! The cookies were not the perfect bake (a little too hard), but they were tasty and the chocolate was especially good. I don’t think there are enough cookies in restaurants, so this was a welcome treat.

So while this was not exactly the dim sum I was dreaming of, I’m very happy to have such a good option close by. Who needs international travel anyway?!

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Vegan in Granada: El Piano

There used to be a branch of El Piano in York which people raved about: Dr HH and I went there once and found it a bit overrated. I was intrigued to see that they also had a branch in Granada, and was curious as to how similar the two would be. Alas, our take on the Spanish branch was much the same, though I will say that their crockery was top notch!

Dr HH was substantially hungrier than I was, so he opted for a set lunch which started with a slice of quiche. At the counter it looked quite tempting, but it turned out to be sorely lacking in base, which is always a disappointment. Everybody loves some nice, crisp pastry!

And he was powerless to resist a plate of deep-fried goodies! The plate included falafel, pakora and bhajis, and Dr HH found them pleasantly crispy but not the most flavoursome he’d ever had.

I was very much in the mood for tortilla while I was in Spain, so I was pleased with this mighty slab. It was really nice – I liked the texture, but thought it could have done with a touch more seasoning for flavour. Still, I’m happy I ordered it.

Even though it was a big wedge of tortilla, I still had room for chocolate cake! It was extremely rich and chocolatey, which is just what I’d wanted. Dr HH was less keen on his orange cake, which was nicely baked but had bitter orange rind on top that was tricky to deal with. Neither of the lived up to the chocolate orange cake I tried down the road in Sevilla!

We washed down our meals with a mug of Granada chai, which I would not recommend. It was good frothy milk, but the flavour was just weird. I’m not really sure what it was supposed to be, but I was hoping for the warming, familiar spices of a chai latte and that was definitely not what we got!

All in all the food was solid but unspectacular. We ate quite heartily and it was a nice relaxing atmosphere, which was just what we needed after a long morning exploring the Alhambra.

And just look at those tiles! Every holiday snap can be elevated by a stylish tiled background, can’t it?! The Alhambra was really beautiful, and we were fortunate to see it on a day with perfect blue sky and blazing October sunshine. We can safely say that the Granada sights are significantly better than Granada chai!

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Vegan in Paris: Wholywood

Usually when I’m going on holiday the first thing I research is where to get my sweet fix. If there’s a vegan doughnut in my destination city, I’ll find it! As such, vegan cafe Cloud Cakes was a top priority for my trip to Paris, and we made a beeline for it as soon as we landed. However, we found it completely packed so we had to look around for a backup breakfast option instead. Fortunately, we’d just wandered past this vegan establishment on the same road and decided to give it a whirl.

There was only one other person there when we arrived shortly after opening, and the whole place was freezing, neither of which was a particularly promising sign. It got much busier (presumably some other over spill from Cloud Cakes as well), but not any warmer, so bear that in mind if you’re visiting during winter.

Wholywood is billed as a whole foods, vegan street food kind of place. I’m not too sure about the “street food” part – the menu was largely burgers and hot dogs, which prompted some discussion amongst ourselves about whether they are generally classified as street food (what’s your verdict?). They were all Beyond Meat based, so we decided to skip them as we don’t want to pay €10 for a burger we could buy ourselves. They also had a few bowls (again, is that street food?), and a savoury waffle, which is what we both went for.

It was a really good waffle! I always prefer sweet to savoury, but this was really well done. The waffle itself was light and fluffy, and the toppings brought plenty of flavour: avocado, sour cream, tahini, chickpeas, maple-roasted sweet potato slices…it was all good. It was a hearty and delicious breakfast.

There were also a few baked goods to be had, up by the counter. There were croissants, which are generally hard to pass up, but the cookie selection was truly a game changer! There were several different varieties, but we both ordered the standard chocolate ones to take away for first breakfast the next day. They kept well overnight, though they were a bit softer than expected. However, I love a soft cookie and they were truly delicious! They were very thick (which might explain the softness), and had a pleasant variety of chocolate chunks and smooth chocolate spread, which really added to the excitement.

I wish I could have brought a bag full of these home with me – at least I’d have been able to enjoy them in the warm!

What’s your take – which of these dishes count as street food?

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Vegan in Seville: Veganitessen

If you read my 2019 Hits and Misses post, you’ll already know how I feel about this place…

Last October, Dr HH and I left the autumn gloom of Prague for a bit of southern sunshine in Granada. We stayed there in order to see the Alhambra, and we used it as our base for a bit of travelling around Andalusia, with Seville lined up as our main target. It was a three hour bus ride, which makes for a very long day trip, but we thought it would be worth it to see the Alcazar.

We arrived around lunch time, and when booking our Alcazar tickets we’d planned just enough time to grab a quick lunch before entry. Veganitessen came up on Happy Cow as an option located perfectly between the bus station and the main attraction, so off we went. When our map guided us to a market building instead of a nice little cafe, I was a bit anxious. I needn’t have worried. Yes, the eatery is in a market, but it’s all quite stress free, with plenty of seating and minimal danger of being boshed by passing pedestrians. There were menus to peruse, we weren’t just left looking at a board, and the staff were very friendly and accommodating.

As keen fans of tapas, we decided to go for it and order four dishes to share. I think probably all British people love empanadas because they’re quite similar to pasties, so we were wholly on board with this.

The meatballs were also good, with a really flavoursome sauce. Truthfully I found the rice to be unnecessary filler though.

The tortilla had a Mexican twist, with a mountain of guacamole on top which I would never complain about! I had three slices of tortilla during our five day trip, and this was the best of the bunch. (No coincidence that it was probably also the biggest!) It was really well seasoned, and the guac was the metaphorical cherry on top.

But the best of the tapas was truly the seitan. The slices themselves had a lot of flavour and the perfect texture, and the sauce on top really elevated the whole dish even more. Unfortunately I didn’t make any notes detailing what the sauce was (I was exhausted at this time), but I can confirm that it was delicious.

We didn’t really need a dessert, but it’s not about “need” when you’re on holiday, is it? And I’m glad about that! Dr HH got a pear cake which he assured me was delicious and had a great texture – I hate pears, so I didn’t even have a nibble. I got the chocolate orange cake, which was truly one of the best cakes I’ve ever had. Chocolate orange is one of my favourite flavour combinations, so this worked like a charm, and the chocolate oozing down the side just made everything better. It was light and delicious, and I wish I’d had room for another slice!

The day trip would have been worth it just for the seitan and the cake, but the Alcazar really blew our socks off too!

Everything was so exquisitely detailed and beautiful. We’ve seen quite a lot of big European cities, but this was something completely different. The Moorish history and architecture were completely new to us, and combined with the warmer climate and plant life it wasn’t really like being in Europe at all. When I was raving about it to a Turkish friend she told me that if I liked Seville I’ll love Istanbul…so that’s our next stop!

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Vegan in Paris: La Bauhinia, Shangri-La Hotel

It’s been so long since the Brexit vote that I’d been managing to trick myself into thinking our official departure might never happen. Last Spring I had to start facing reality and getting my paperwork in order to try and make it easier for me to stay living in the Czech Republic post-Brexit, but even then it didn’t quite seem real (not helped by the fact that nobody actually knows what it’s going to mean in the long term for UK citizens in the EU). But alas, it’s happened. Dr HH and I made the most of our last weekend as EU citizens by hopping over to Paris for a final hurrah.

Regular readers will know that there are few things I love more than afternoon tea. Living in mainland Europe, they are few are far between. We had a delicious one in Amsterdam a few years ago, but that was it until this trip to Paris.

We were celebrating a birthday and an anniversary, and I’d been looking for an excuse to return to Paris especially for this vegan afternoon tea. The Shangri-La Hotel has been serving a vegan variation on afternoon tea in its La Bauhinia restaurant for a couple of years, and when I was booking it they informed me that it’s actually coming to the end of its run in February – so our trip was just in the nick of time!

I’m extra glad we managed to sneak it in, because it was quite the feast. The restaurant itself was simple and classy, and not particularly busy on a Saturday afternoon, making it a pleasant and relaxing atmosphere. There was even a pianist for background noise – very classy indeed!

The savoury plate was not particularly ambitious, more’s the pity, but if there has to be one boring plate I’d rather it was the savouries than the sweets. The dark bread was a cream cheese and spinach sandwich, while the white was roasted vegetables. These was also a fresh summer roll with tofu hiding in the middle of the plate. They were all tasty (the cream cheese was especially good), but it would have been nice to see some pastry or something a bit fancier in there.

The scones were more impressive – just look at them! We had a plain and a fruit one, which was more than we really needed, served with cream and pear jam. The scones were had a really good bake on them and a lovely crusty top. The cream was nice but a touch greasy I thought, and I hate pear so I wish they’d served a more traditional jam, but Dr HH was a fan.

And then we had not one but two sweet plates! This one wasn’t even on the stand, it was served to us separately. You have to love an afternoon tea that can’t be restricted to three tiers. These are the fancy looking desserts of my dreams, and they didn’t disappoint. The chocolate one was sublime, with a very intense chocolatey flavour and a delicious crumb on top which contrasted nicely with the sponge inside. The passion fruit mousse was a welcome refresher after that, sitting on a beautifully crunchy base. And in the background was a small biscuity tart filled with cream and topped with pear (pear again!), which was the perfect combination of textures – and taste, once that cursed pear had been scraped off mine. These morsels were the perfect size for afternoon tea…

…unlike these ones, which were just a bit too much on top of everything else! The chocolate cookie was, again, really chocolatey, with a nice hit of salted caramel. I loved the texture of the cookie, but Dr HH found it a bit too soft. We were told the pastry was filled with caramel, but Dr HH declared it to be more like some kind of nut butter (I was too full and couldn’t tackle this one) – he also found it breadier than he’d hoped, which was a shame. And in the middle you can just about see a kind of chocolate disc topped with granola – simple, but somehow probably my favourite element of the whole spread!

All in all, it was fancy, fun, and largely ambitious enough to be a really exciting treat. It was also generous, and we certainly left feeling full and satisfied. It’s a real shame the vegan option is being discontinued, but at least it had a really good run, and we managed to try it just in time. The option of having a British classic like afternoon tea in the French capital was always going to be a welcome treat. Long live UK/EU relations, whatever stupid decisions 52% of my compatriots made!

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Vegan in Manchester: Alabama’s All American Eatery

Look at this feast! I like to imagine that I can eat dishes like this quite comfortably. Failing to do so feels like I’m letting down Leslie Knope and any other breakfast devotees I admire. But I can tell you right away: I absolutely failed to demolish this dish. I managed about half of it and then didn’t eat again for the rest of the day.

Alabama’s is a newish place in the Northern Quarter in Manchester, and it made a lovely spot for a weekday brunch – not busy at all, perfect for a leisurely battle with this stack. They serve meaty as well as vegan options, and had some savoury brunch dishes, but I only had eyes for the pancake section. All the pancakes can be either vegan or not, and there were a few tempting options, including some with apple and cinnamon, some with berries, and this chocolate peanut butter beast. As I told Dr HH afterwards, it’s not often that I wish I’d ordered something with fruit, but this was one of those occasions – a bit of fruit might have lightened the dish somewhat (though I can’t pretend I would have been able to finish it under any circumstances).

The pancakes themselves were huge, fluffy, and delicious. As well as peanut butter and chocolate sauce, they were topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, elevating it to true decadence. Even just looking at the pictures now makes my stomach hurt, in the best way.

Decadent breakfasts are one of my favourite things, so I think this is a truly great additional to the Manchester vegan scene. Maybe if I give it a year I’ll be ready to tackle it again…

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Vegan in Tromsø: Peppe’s Pizza

If you read my 2019 Hits and Misses post, you’ll already know that I wasn’t blown away by the pizza here. Dr HH and I spent Christmas week in Tromsø, right up in the north of Norway, in a bid to have the most wintry white Christmas possible. As you have seen, that bid was quite successful…

We weren’t really there for the food, for a change, which is just as well! Vegan options were few and far between, and this was made worse by festive opening hours. We came to rely on Peppe’s Pizza to keep us fed – and so did many of the other tourists in town, by the look of it. I don’t think there were any locals in there at all.

The menu was quite kind to vegans – there was a vegan burger, a vegan dessert, and several vegan pizzas. As well as a vegetable pizza, there were a few with Oumph! chunks on top. It seemed like a decent showing. But alas, all the vegan pizzas replaced cheese with vegan aioli, which is not a fair substitution in my book.

We ordered a large Chicago Oumph! Vegan Pizza, which was the perfect size for sharing. It was my first time trying Oumph! and I was very impressed, in terms of both texture and taste. I was less impressed by all the raw tomato slices on top, and by the aioli spiral, which was really unappetising. On our subsequent visits, we ordered it without they aioli and found it much better, although we did then notice that the sauce had a really strong fennel/aniseed flavour which was quite surprising and not wholly welcome. (Is that what we should have expected from a “Chicago” pizza though?!)

Also, the pizza was sliced in a fascinating fashion, not in the standard six or 8 slices, but in small chunks. I’d never seen pizza slashed up like this before and I’m not in favour of it. Some pieces had no crust, some were teeny tiny, it was all very strange.

On our final visit we treated ourselves to the vegan dessert as well: a chocolate brownie with mango sorbet and raspberry sauce. I didn’t have much of an appetite for sorbet given the icy surroundings, but it was actually a really good creamy sorbet and not to be sniffed at. The brownie wasn’t a classic bake, and was disappointingly flat, but it was a bit gooey and very chocolatey, so it definitely ticked some of the boxes. I don’t think I’ve ever seen cashews in a brownie before, so that was also something new! All in all, not a mind blowing dessert, but a pretty good one, and I was grateful for the option.

“Grateful for the option” just about sums up my overall attitude to Peppe’s. It served us well in our time of need, and they were clearly trying. But if you wouldn’t replace cheese with mayo for meat eaters, don’t do it for vegans either. We deserve better! Still, it wasn’t as bad as that time my “tofu cheese” was just a block of unseasoned tofu crumbled onto my pizza…

What’s the worst cheese alternative you’ve been served on a pizza?

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Vegan in Tromsø: Frø

There was not a wealth of vegan options in Tromsø during our Christmas stay – in fact, Frø was the only all-vegan place that popped up on Happy Cow. It’s a cosy little cafe on the high street serving a variety of hot and cold beverages, a few light savoury options, and, most importantly, some baked goods.

My main goals on our trip to Tromsø were: to see the Northern Lights, to catch a glimpse of whales, and to eat a really good cinnamon bun.

We did manage to see the lights…

…and a feeding frenzy of humpback whales and orcas…

…and Frø helped me tick that last box! They had a fresh batch of cinnamon rolls every day (and yes, we were there every day). Also, the people who worked there were the sort who will deliberately fish out the biggest available buns without you having to ask – my kind of people! As such, the buns were massive.

They were very well baked: soft and pillowy inside, with a pleasant hint of crunch on the crust. They were sublimely cinnamony, and even better when they had iced ones on Christmas Eve. We got a few to take away to tide us over for Christmas morning and Boxing Day, and they kept well too – in fact, they were better when we warmed them up the next morning than when served cold in the cafe.

The hot drinks were a hit too – I was desperate for a good hot chocolate to match my wintry surroundings. (Don’t get me wrong, I’d taken some hot chocolate flakes with me and been making my own almost constantly, but it’s nice to get them served up instead.)

Apparently they serve a pancake brunch every Saturday, but we missed out on that, more’s the pity. At least we got plenty of great Norwegian buns though!

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A Vegan Christmas 2019

Christmas 2019 was a non-traditional affair at HH HQ – Dr HH and I decided to skip our families, the Czech Republic, and the UK and spend the holidays by ourselves in Tromsø. I’m a big fan of Christmas traditions and cooking massive feasts, but I really enjoyed this pared down celebration. And of course, we still ate like royalty!

As always, we started the celebrations in Prague. Dr HH always provides a special homemade advent calendar for me combining vegan treats and a fun daily activity. This year it was spot the difference pictures, which certainly kept me busy!

And as always we enjoyed the Prague vegan Christmas market, mostly for the box of biscuits we treat ourselves to every year from vegan baker extraordinaire Nebeské dortíčky. I had a go at making my own Christmas cookies this year to take into the office, but they weren’t quite so ambitious and varied. I’m already planning to up my game next year!

We didn’t want to lug our presents to Norway with us, so we had a little mini-Christmas in Prague the night before our flight. Dr HH is still fairly new to celebrating Christmas, but he has come a long way in a short time. He put together a festive table, and rustled up some homemade seitan, maple-roasted carrots and parsnips, deliciously crispy roast potatoes, roasted sprouts, and a wonderful mushroom gravy. It was quite the treat!

In one of my favourite Christmas traditions, Dr HH always treats me to a nanoblock version of a place we’ve visited during the year – so far I have a nanoblock Brandenburg Gate, Eiffel Tower, Sagrada Familia (which I have completed – have that, Gaudi!), Neuschwanstein Castle, Vatican, and now Inari temple as well. The first non-European addition to the collection!

And with that, Prague Christmas was over and we were off to Norway! I have a few posts up my sleeve for the eateries we visited in Tromsø, so I’ll limit myself to the general festivities here. It was really wonderful spending the holidays somewhere so snowy and cold. When I was little I used to write a million Christmas stories and poems every year, and this is the kind of place I was always imagining. The only difficult thing was that there were only about two hours per day of anything even close to resembling daylight – the rest of the time it was all dark. It was strange, but actually I think it was really good for me: I slept till 9am every day, couldn’t even rouse myself to check my work emails, and spent most of my time hunkering down with hot drinks, wearing my pyjamas, and watching His Dark Materials. It was precisely the cosy, relaxing break I needed!

Despite being away from home, we managed to put together an excellent day of food for Christmas! Usually Dr HH and I work together on some cinnamon rolls for breakfast, but this time we left it to the professionals – we picked up these beasty buns the day before and heated them up in our Airbnb kitchen, and they made for a very tasty start to the day.

Dr HH put together almost exactly the same Christmas dinner as we’d had in Prague: potatoes, sprouts, parsnips, and seitan. This time the seitan was shop-bought (we brought it over from Prague with us, they sell it in our local supermarket), and the parsnips were cooked in a little sugar water as we didn’t want to pay for a whole bottle of maple syrup. We didn’t have a blender for the gravy, so it was more of a thick mushroom sauce, but it still had all that good, earthy flavour, so we were very satisfied indeed.

And we gave the meal a Norwegian twist by trying this Jule Brus, a festive soft drink that we saw advertised everywhere. It didn’t taste especially Christmassy, but it was a good, fruity, fizzy pop.

We struggled a bit with dessert, but picked up a couple of cartons of Oatly Custard and just had those without any cake – it’s not like we were going hungry anyway!

And we rounded off the day, as one always must, with a cheeseboard! This was some well-travelled cheese – I got it while I was back in the UK in early October, flew it back to Prague and froze it, then defrosted it and flew it over to Norway. It was absolutely worth it. I’d tried all of the cheeses before, so I knew they would be delicious. The za’atar one was my absolutely favourite, of course. I need to make sure there’s more za’atar in my life in 2020! We also brought a salami that we’d picked up at the Prague vegan Christmas market – it was really smoky and delicious – and some crackers from Marks and Spencer. It was quite the spread, and lasted us a good few nights on our travels.

And so that was it! Quite an unusual Christmas, but a really magical one as well. We were sufficiently well-prepared that we managed to have some very good food and a tolerably traditional meal even though we were on the road. I’m a big fan of having less focus on presents, more focus on food and adventures. Maybe Christmas on the road will become its own tradition now! I hope you also had a splendid festive season and are ready for 2020!

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