Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Vegan in Cork

Only a week has gone by since myself and the ol’ fiancée packed up shop and moved to the wilds of western Ireland, leaving behind some vegan haunts in Cork City that are already sorely missed.  Not an overly vegan friendly city from the outside (are there any in Ireland!?), after a year of scanning menus and checking specials boards I eventually managed to find quite a few diamonds in the carnivorous rough.

One place that definitely turned into a favourite spot from the onset was a wee cafe on Washington Street called Cafe Gusto.  Sniffed out early on in our stay (my nose is set to find hummus) it’s a funky little place that serves a variety mezzee, tapas and wine -  which to me just equals heaven.  While not extensive in their vegan friendly items, what they do do, they do very well, especially their babaganouj (I could guzzle a whole bucket of it, no trouble!).  

Their menu has a great Lebanese Platter, minus the cheese, which you can swap for tapenade, piquillos, couscous, olives, roast veges, salsa or sun blushed tomatoes.  They also do a chickpea and spinach stew if you want something a bit more filling (minus the yoghurt) and are the only place in town that do a soy chai latte and always actually have soy milk (not like those other places which have it on the menu and never stock it – grrr to those other places!).  And last but not least they do corkage for €4 a bottle, a definite rarity in Ireland.  Can you tell I like this place!?

Unbeknown to me for a long while was their sister restaurant Liberty Grill and, more importantly, the salad they serve within.  Walked past a number of times (‘grill’ doesn’t exactly offer hope of vegan items!) it was only recently that I learnt of their San Fran Salad and got to taste the best tempeh I think I’ve ever had.  Set on a bed of couscous and leaves, the tempeh is marinated in a magical soy sauce and sweet chili mix and is just amazing. They also do a tempeh burger (minus the mayo) and a few tasty appetizers – definitely worth a look in.

Also worth a gander, and surprisingly not short on options, is Cafe Mexicana.  Tucked in the back of Carey’s Lane, it’s a cute little restaurant with happy, colourful décor that makes you want to grab a shaker and have a wee dance.  While nothing on their menu is specifically tagged as vegan nearly all of their vegetarian options can be adapted to become so, mostly by just leaving out the cheese and/or sour cream, and they do a mean chili sauce that shouldn’t be missed.

If spicy is what you’re after Banna Thai on Maylor Street does some of the best Thai I’ve ever eaten, especially their Massaman Curry - delicious, creamy, peanuty goodness with bits of deep-fried tofu to soak in all the juices, yum!  Make sure to ask for no fish or oyster sauce and get them to leave out the egg if you order the Pad Thai, which is also a favourite (plus they deliver on Just Eat.ie - the lazy man's choice!).

If you’re more after just lunch or a quick snack there are some very decent options around the city centre. Dashi Deli, on Cook St do some rather inventive sushi and have a variety of vegan options if you want to grab something on the run or eat in their little window box and people watch (the Vitamin Bomb, Vege Futomaki, Avocado Futomaki, Cucumber Maki, Inari and Vege Miso Soup are all vegan friendly).  The Natural Foods Bakery on Paul Street do a hefty hummus and salad sandwich, complete with vegan mayo, and also have a variety of flapjacks and a few other goodies for a quick energy hit.  Wagamama is also a good call for a wee bite on the go – their Asian style diner offers up a fair few vegan options, including Miso Soup, Yasai Itame, Yasai Chili Men and Saien Soba.  Or if its just cake and coffee that you are after, Gulpd Café in theTriskel Art Centre do some vegan sweet treats, including vegan cupcakes from Sugar Moon

And how could I not mention the Quay Co-op Restaurant, the solid mainstay of so many vegans and vegetarians in Cork.  Like a vegan grandmother, her hearty salads, tarts, pies and burgers never fail to fill you to the brim at every visit, with just enough room for a sweet treat at the end (yes, that’s right, sometimes they even have vegan cheesecake, gasp!).  

If you are looking to cook in as opposed to eat out, the store below the restaurant stocks the best variety of vegan frozen foods in town as well as soy yogurt, hummus, vegan chocolate bars, scones, bread and vegan friendly toiletries, not to mention the most addictive slab of vegan carrot cake ever, complete with equally addictive icing.

Another spot around town that’s also good to stock up on vegan essentials is The Good Food shop in the English Market, which has a variety of meat alternatives, soy yogurt, vegan bars, hummus and tofu, as does Natural Choice, above Tesco in Paul St Shopping Centre.  Here’s Health on Patrick St is also handy if you just want an energy bar or small tub or soy yogurt.

And then we come to the Asian food stores, my favourite kind of store.  Probably the best and most convenient is Jia Jia, a hole in the wall shop jammed to the brim full of all sorts of fun things, just down past TK Max on Cornmarket Street.  It stocks all your essential tofu varieties: squidgy, dry, smoked, skin and regular.  It has kimchi and dumpling wrappers, steamed buns and vacuum packed pickled mustard plant – this place has it all.  

Well no, I tell a small fib, sadly it doesn’t stock the world’s best curry powder, but never fear, I found a place that does!  Just down on the right, past the Heineken Brewery on Leitrim Street, is Sun Chong Hong, a Malaysian Chinese owned Asian food store that sells the all amazing Baba’s curry powder (which I use in my Malaysian Chicken Curry and Curry Fried Noodles recipes) among other essential goodies.  And if you have a car and want to get all your Asian foodstuffs in bulk CX Oriental Cash and Carry on Tramore Road is just the ticket.

All in all things are surprisingly not so dismal for the vegan in Cork and while the city is lacking in a few essential favourites (I was never able to find a falafel kebab anywhere :( ) it certainly makes up for it with many others.

For a look at where all these amazing places are check out my Vegan Cork map.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Fry's Vegetarian Range

Now I know that meat substitutes are not everybody's cup of tea, but for a girl who basically went through her childhood years subsisting on a diet of processed luncheon, sausage rolls, pies and cheerios, and was never really into meat that actually contained any real meat anyway, they are right up my alley.

Having lived in Asia for over six years, where mock meat is perfected to sometimes disturbing levels, I like to think of myself as a bit of a connoisseur.  And so it not without much research (aka stuffing myself silly with mock meat of all varieties) that I recommend Fry's Vegetarian Products as being rather, dare I say it, awesome. 

Don't be fooled by the vegetarian label either, their entire range is vegan too (huzzah!) and ticks the boxes on all sorts of things health conscious people are worried about.  Not me though, I'm all in it for taste, and they taste good.

Unlike other 'fake meat' products, that tend to have a habit of tasting just that, Fry's have amazing texture and flavour, especially their Chunky and Chicken Style Strips, and if I can slip 'em into a curry and not have the fiancee notice, then they're definitely onto a winner!

With such an extensive range it's hard to pick out favourites, but certainly high on the list are their Original Hot Dogs, which go down a treat lathered in mustard and ketchup, as well as their Chicken Style Burgers, which taste rather like a childhood favourite of mine at the house of Maccy Dees (I know, I know, but it was so hard to resist the happy meal toy...).

Now I was going to tell a wee white lie and say that I have sampled all of their products and that they are all amazing, but alas there are still a few I have yet to get my mitts on - namely their Chicken Style Nuggets (even the picture is making me hungry).  Never the less I am confident they will deliver like the others and hopefully, for my little taste buds, very soon I can let you know!

For ideas on how to use their different meat style strips have a wee peek at my Curry Fried Noodles and Malaysian 'Chicken' Curry recipes.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Malaysian 'Chicken' Curry

As part of a year long cultural exchange in Malaysia, I spent a month living with an Indian family in a suburb of Kuala Lumpur, where I gave most of my days to sleeping off the amazing banquet I had scoffed down the night before.

Originally only vegetarian a few days of the week, the whole family stayed away from meat while I was there, and, as they didn't really eat dairy anyway, everything my host mother cooked was vegan, and utterly mouthwatering - lets just say I was one VERY happy camper. 

Thinking I shouldn't let the opportunity slip me by, towards the end of my stay I managed to drag myself and my belly out of bed in the mornings and spent hours in the kitchen watching my host mother whip up this dish and that, and while I can never quite get any of them just as she did, I have managed to nearly master a few of my favourites, including her amazing mock chicken curry.

Malaysian 'Chicken' Curry

Ingredients (enough for a nice sized bowl):

Vegetable oil
3-4 cloves of garlic, grated
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated
1 cinnamon stick
3-4 star anise
5-6 curry leaves (I use dried because I can't find fresh ones)
1 med onion, finely chopped
4 tbs curry powder (I use Babas Meat Curry Powder, it is AMAZING)
3 med tomatoes, chopped
4 med potatoes, cut into small chunks
Mock chicken meat (I use Frys Vegetarian Chicken Style Strips cut into smaller bits, but if your not into mock meat you can always just skip it and add more potatoes)
2-3 tbs tamarind juice (you can pick it up in Tesco's 'Ingredients' section)
¼ cup coconut milk
¼ cup water
salt to taste


Heat a small amount of oil in a wok and fry the chicken style strips until crispy, then repeat with the potatoes and set aside.

Add a good bit of oil to the wok and, when hot, fry the cinnamon stick, broken in two, along with the onion, garlic and ginger for a few minutes.

Add the star anise next, along with the curry leaves and stir to mix.

Next mix the curry powder in a bowl with a little water, enough to form a thick paste, and add to the wok - let it cook for a minute or two, using ample oil.

Add the potato, tomato and mock meat and fry for a while to mix, adding the water to keep it from getting dry.

When the potatoes are nearly cooked through, add the coconut milk, tamarind and salt to taste.

Served sprinkled with fresh coriander - yum yum!

Note:  For a different twist on the same curry, soy yogurt works really well in place of the coconut milk.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Vegan in Lisbon

A few weeks back the fiancee and I jumped on a plane and headed over to Lisbon for a wee city break.  Sick of being so close to Europe and not getting to see her, I was VERY excited to get some sun, check out some sites and sample the local cuisine.  Before heading away however I did do a little research to see just how vegan friendly this trip was going to be and the signs weren’t looking good.
How was it when we actually got there?  Let’s just say, I was wise to pack some snack bars…

Day one saw us try to get right into the local cuisine.  On the recommendation of our peppy hotel receptionist we headed up the road to a hole in the wall local eatery, with mosaic tiled walls and old men sitting watching Portuguese soap operas - we were pretty sure this was the real deal.  The waitress spoke some English and on mention that I was ‘vegetariano’ I was offered a ‘salad with olive’, which my starving self readily agreed to.

When said salad arrived I was a little disappointed to find ‘olive’ meant ‘olive oil’ and that my salad of lettuce and a few slivers of carrot was busy swimming in it.  The norm for Lisbon restaurants, we were given bread on our table (which is rather sneakily added to the bill if you eat it) so I made myself a sandwich and filled the rest of my belly with potatoes I stole off my fiancee's plate, a traditional fish creation that was eventually rated ‘meh’ once it had been fully devoured.  Things had not started well for either of us.

Our next culinary stop was down the main city drag of Rua Augusta.  My better half had caught a glimpse of some pretty tasty looking tarts so we popped into a coffee shop and had a wee sample, and by we, I mean him - my lack of any Portuguese words beyond ’perfavore’ which I was pretty certain wasn’t even Portuguese, I had no hope of asking whether ‘there are eggs in that’ and so settled for an espresso, which was rather delicious if not a little sad without a tart to accompany it.

The crappy weather brought us indoors later in the afternoon where we spent nearly two hours at Lisbon’s Aquarium, the second largest in the world, watching fish hypnotically swim past us in a huge main tank.  Now I know such things are not regarded as very vegan by some but this place was AMAZING. For someone who doesn’t like fish I walked out of there in love and, after such a long time gawking at sharks, in desperate need of some food. 

We headed back into town and decided to try and find a restaurant on the main tourist strip in Restauradores, a gauntlet of fast talking, menu flaunting touts, desperate for anyone’s custom.
We were approached by countless waiters who gave us a run down of the whole menu, page by page, until we asked if they had something vegan to which a disappointed voice always answered no.   Finally however we ran into one waiter who told us that our search on the main drag was pretty hopeless, as we were fast finding out, but directed us down an ally to Ristorante Valentino (Rua Jardim do Regedor, 37-45), an Italian Restaurant where I had a fantastic cheese free pizza -  Portuguese Food 0: International Fare 1. 

Day two saw us head out to explore some of the main sites of the city.  We jumped on the hop on hop off bus and headed out to Belem where, after a bit of site seeing and snap taking, we landed at a restaurant on the waters edge just in time for the sun to come out.

Getting a bit hungry at this stage, the menu was not looking hopeful but they did have great wine and olives, so I ordered a lot, just to be safe.

After getting lost for a few hours we headed back into town and went in search of Megavega (Rua dos Sapateiros 133), a vegetarian/vegan restaurant I had seen online.  Tucked in just off the main drag, it served a variety of simple salads and mains and more importantly had vegan chocolate cake!  Finally things were looking up!

That evening, after having forced my man to eat lunch at the ‘hippy canteena’, we thought we would give Portuguese fare another shot.  We headed up to Barrio Alto, the bar district in Lisbon, full of funky hideouts and packed with restaurants.  I reluctantly walked past Indian and Thai menus before we settled on a Fado restaurant - traditional Portuguese food eaten to the sounds of traditional singers belting out there sad tunes less than a meter from your plate.

While the singing was pretty impressive I was again not to be wowed by the food as, even though our waitress spoke perfect English and assured me they had vegan food, I was once again presented with a pretty unexciting salad, along with a rather lackluster vegetable soup that I'd say wasn't even vegetarian... Portuguese food 0....

Feeling the tourist in every respect now we decided to up the anti on day three and head on a guided tour to Sintra, a delightful little town over looked by a fantastic Disneyesque old royal summer palace, as well as a few spots on the Portuguese coast.  We stopped in Sintra village after roaming the castle and had what I concluded to be one of the best meals of the trip, a fantastically tasty lunch at Bengal Tandoori (Rua Pendôa, 11).  I had a few beers and completely devoured a delicious eggplant curry, the first time I had felt full all week.  Portuguese Food 0: International Fare 2.

That evening we met up with some friends in town and thought we'd give traditional Portuguese food one last shot.  On our hotel receptionist's recommendation we jumped in a cab and landed in a traditional Portuguese seafood restaurant, where I was once again forced to eat some rather boring salads, some pretty manky broccoli (how you make broccoli taste bad I don't know) and a plate full of french fries.  One plus though that I must concede, the Portuguese are not shy on their free pours and so what lacked on my plate was well made up for in my glass. Still, Portuguese food 0:  International Fare 2.

Day Four saw us meander round the centre of the city, adamant to tick off the remaining sites left to us.  After a very hot slog up the hill to the Castelo de S. Jorge I was promised no repetition of the previous night’s meal and so set my sites on eating Thai at a restaurant we had passed in Barrio Alto a few nights before.

After arriving in the bar district once more we were disappointed to find that nothing was open during the day, so wandered into the neighboring district of Chiado.  A hip shopping area full of open air cafes and parks, we were surprised to find a Japanese temaki bar Koni Store and, dying of heat at this stage (it was nearly 22 degrees, the height of an Irish summer!) we gladly plonked ourselves inside.  I ordered the vegetarian spring roll and teriyaki mushroom temaki, which was fantastic and so filling for its size.  Portuguese Food 0:  International Fare 3.

That evening, as if to say sorry for all the french fries and salad I had been subjected to during the week, the choice was again mine to decide dinner and so we set out to find what was apparently the best vegetarian/vegan restaurant in Lisbon, Terra.  Set in an old house with a delightful alfresco dining area shaded by trees and filled with the sound of running water, we knew we had found something special.

The food was a mixture of Portuguese and Mediterranean cuisine, served buffet style, and our waiter spoke perfect English and was extremely helpful in pointing out what was and wasn't vegan, the majority of which was.  He didn't think this was enough however and promptly got the kitchen to especially cook me some seitan kebabs - I was completely smitten! It was only at the end that I realized they even had vegan dessert but was far too full at that stage (I see buffets as a challenge) to even venture another bite.  And so, at long last, Portuguese Food 1! 

The next day we didn't even kid ourselves and headed straight for an Indian restaurant around the corner from our hotel, Restaurante Grill House, where we tucked into some pretty decent fare, pushing the final tally to Portuguese Food 1:  International Fare 4.

So overall it was a pretty mixed bag when it came to being vegan in Lisbon. Vegan or not we were sadly not very impressed with the traditional food we found at all but I imagine if you can speak Portuguese beyond my meager three words I'd say you have a chance at finding a bit more.  It's not all bad news though as Lisbon is full of all sorts of international restaurants (and apparently quite a few more vegetarian restaurants than we were able to find) and if all else fails they make excellent wine and are not shy on the free pouring of spirits - and at the price, compared to ol' 'rip-off Ireland' anyway, you can afford to indulge!

Sunday, May 1, 2011


In my quest to convert the heathens, uh, I mean, non-vegans, I have found one of the best ways is through a subtle invasion of the taste buds.  Not a fan of pushing my beliefs on others, I much prefer the sly approach - a strategically placed plate of cookies at a potluck, a surprise vegan birthday cake, slipping flax seeds into my fiance's coco pops...

One sure fire hit that at least gets the non-vegans to ponder, even for a second, that this whole vegan thing wouldn't be as bad as they thought, is the amazing dip, Muhammara.  Pronounced 'Mu ha ma ra ra ra' (just kidding, I have no idea how to pronounce it) it is an amazing dip made with bread crumbs, roasted peppers, walnuts and spices. 

Originating from Syria, each bite is a mini taste explosion, and for someone who knows her dips (New Zealand as a country has a slight obsession) this one is well up there, competing with the best hummuses and baba ghanoujes around.  


Ingredients (for one hefty portion):

¾ cup roasted peppers (I usually use Tesco brand jarred peppers - so much easier than roasting yourself!)
The bread crumbs from one slice of pan slice bread
1 handful of walnuts, toasted and chopped (just over a third of a cup)
2-4 cloves of garlic
1 tbs lemon juice
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp red pepper flakes (or more if you like things spicy)
Olive oil (or the oil from the jarred peppers)
Salt to taste


Blend the bread slice in a blender until it forms small crumbs.

Add all the other ingredients except the oil and blend together. 

Add enough oil until you reach a paste like consistency and season with salt. 

Serve with crackers or crusty bread pieces.