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.

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