Archive for the ‘Meanderings’ Category

Stockholm in winter (Part 2)

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

From the dining room at Hermans, Stockholm’s best-known veggie restaurant, you can watch the boats plying their way between the city’s islands throughout your meal. Even on a grey, misty day, the view is enchanting. On the right of the photo, a folded sunshade waits for warmer weather before welcoming customers to a table on the terrace.

We went there on a Wednesday because that’s when the lunchtime buffet is 100% vegan. For 100 SEK* you can pile your plate with a wide choice of hot and cold dishes. Coffee and a selection of teas and tisanes are included. I ate all this…




 … leaving a little room for one of the desserts which, like other drinks, cost extra.

Hermans is at Fjällgatan 23B, on the north-east corner of Södermalm island. Remember to book a table by the window to enjoy the view.

Much smaller, but in my opinion offering even better food, is Hermitage, at Stora Nygatan 6, in the heart of the Old Town (Gamla Stan). The lunch menu is similar – buffet plus hot drinks – and we ate very well there for 90 SEK*. The bread rolls were excellent.


Just across the street at Stora Nygatan 11, you’ll find Sattva Naturbageriet, an organic bakery selling vegan bread and cakes. The company’s main outlet is at Krukmakargatan 27A.

At Chutney (Katarina Bangata 17-19), the vegetarian and vegan dishes are particularly attractively presented, so it was a shame my camera decided to go on strike that day. Be warned: the portions are American-sized. Not knowing whether they had also adopted the transatlantic custom of doggy bags and not daring to ask, I was once again forced to clear my plate.


The same thing happened at Abyssinia, Vanadisvägen 20, an Ethiopian restaurant a short walk from our hotel.

Samples of specialities (veggie, vegan or including meat) from this elegant cuisine are served on large pancake-style breads. Everything was delicious, original and superbly spicy. The desserts looked more mundane, which was just as well because we couldn’t have managed another mouthful.

The warm welcome and attentive service made for a particularly pleasant evening.

Another, larger Abyssinia can be found at Ringvägen 105, in the south of the Södermalm district.

It’s as well to remember that people in Sweden eat early (often at around 6pm) so check restaurant opening times if you plan to dine out.

Tasty and affordable lunches are also available at the city’s covered markets. We looked around three of them.

In the Östermalm market, Planet Food sells a variety of vegan sandwiches and freshly made juices. At the food market on the fifth and sixth floors of Söderhallarna, a new shopping centre, it’s easy to find a veggie snack: try Beirut Café Deli, for instance (vegans can ask for a "mezetallrik" without yogurt). The more multicultural basement market at Hötorget will delight fans of chocolate and Middle Eastern sweetmeats.

Finally, here’s a short list of veg-friendly Stockholm restaurants we didn’t get around to visiting. Next time…

Lao Wai
(Chinese, vegetarian), Luntmakargatan 74
Govindas (Indian, vegetarian), Fridhemsgatan 22
Legumes (veggie buffet), Hornsgatan 80
Malaysia (vegetarian and vegan options), Luntmakargatan 98
Kokyo (vegetarian and vegan options), Sveavägen 105

* Swedish kronor. Check the latest exchange rates here.

Stockholm in winter (Part 1)

Friday, January 21st, 2011

It may not be the first season that comes to mind when you consider travelling north but I’ve returned from the Swedish capital thinking there may be no such thing as a bad time of year to visit this enchanting city.

Stockholm in the snow seemed to have slipped straight out of a fairy tale. It was beautiful, elegant and above all practically empty: no traffic jams, no queues, no crowds in the shops even though the January sales were in full swing.

The best way to get around is on foot. The city centre is fairly compact, many streets are reserved for pedestrians and Swedish motorists always seem to stop at zebra crossings. You just need to keep looking down, to avoid falling on the ice, and up, where huge icicles threaten constantly to become dislodged and stab the unwary walker.


Water, in a less menacing guise, is everywhere. This "Venice of the North" (Stockholm shares the title with Amsterdam and Saint Petersburg) is built on 14 islands and you’re never far from a stunning waterside vista, or a bridge where you can watch fascinated as flotillas of ice floes come rushing past.

But you can get cold standing still for too long, so this might be a good time to explore one of the city’s 70 museums (here’s a sample) or go underground to admire the works of art on display at many metro stations.

When you want to give both body and brain a rest, you could take a break at one of the bars and cafés where rows of cushions snuggle invitingly up against those cold windows…


or pop into a bakery for something sweet…


Stockholm is also a city where it’s relatively easy to eat vegan. And although Scandinavia has long had a reputation for being an expensive place for holidays, we found prices quite affordable. Hotels (with generous breakfasts) are certainly cheaper than in London and eating out is comparable.

Even the winter nights weren’t as long as I’d feared: daylight arrived at the same time as it does in France right now, and night fell at around 4pm, much like midwinter London.

In a few days I’ll tell you about some of the great restaurants where we ate during our stay.

Paris Vegan Day 2010

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

As I left the hugely successful Paris Vegan Day on Sunday to catch my train, crowds of people were queueing outside, waiting to get in. Inside it had been packed right from the start as visitors moved between the various levels, trying to see as much as possible.

La Bellevilloise, this year’s venue, was much bigger than last year’s but it was still on the small side for an event that has rapidly reached the proportions of a full-scale exhibition.

Deborah Brown and her team had taken up the challenge of organising a Paris Vegan Day to match the growing interest in veganism.

On the agenda were talks, cookery demonstrations, lots of different foods to try and buy, along with other products not tested on animals, cruelty-free fashion parades, films and music. According to the French Wikipedia, the event attracted about 4,000 people curious to find out more about the vegan lifestyle – twice as many as the organisers had expected.

It was a real pleasure to be surrounded by like-minded folk and I returned home feeling that veganism is finally coming of age in France…

Beating the heat for animal rights

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

The Sedan-Charleville is the oldest town-to-town road race in France. To celebrate the 90th event on Sunday, Christelle – a tireless campaigner for the Association Végétarienne de France (AVF – the French vegetarian organisation) – had assembled a group of runners supporting animal rights.

The idea was for participants to wear a t-shirt from the charity of their choice: veg*an groups or animal welfare or protection organisations. I’d decided to wear my black Vegan Society t-shirt with the slogan "Vegans go all the way" and a French version pinned to my back (the saucy subtext is untranslatable, but it still sounded very fitting for a race).

Knowing that finding vegan food at motorway service stations and hotels here was highly unlikely, I started preparing for the trip on Friday, making sure I’d have enough food to last the weekend. Here’s what I took:

For my evening meal on Saturday, bulgur and vegetables with a kochu chang sauce.
For dessert, the dish we now call "Virginie’s rice pudding". The recipe is on her blog. I halved the amount of sugar, left out the calvados and used grated apple instead of pear (we have loads of apples at the moment).
Salade avocat
I made this cucumber and avocado salad to set me up for the five-hour drive ahead. Rather than have bread on the side, it seemed simpler to chop some into the salad.
Just in case I got peckish: some fruit and a packet of oatcakes.
Most important of all, a sustaining breakfast/brunch for Sunday. I mixed oat flakes, banana and a little plant milk to make a pancake baked in the oven.
As I usually don’t run further than the half-marathon distance of 21.1 kilometres, the 24.3 kilometres from Sedan to Charleville were something of a challenge, as was the undulating route along the valley of the River Meuse (in northern France, near the Belgian border). But the biggest challenge came from the weather: a sunny 25°C makes for a lovely October afternoon, as long as you’re not racing in it… Christelle, Kate and I weren’t alone in realising right at the start that this was going to be a tough one. But we knew it was in a good cause – in fact several good causes.
Christelle, who’s leading our little group in the photo, sported the AVF logo on her shorts and top, and the message "Saying out loud what animals suffer in silence" on her back. Kate, left, was wearing an anti-bullfight t-shirt (and horns on her head to underline the point). And that’s me on the right.

Kate crossed the finish line in 2 hours 40, followed a few minutes later by Christelle and then me. In view of the heat, we were all pleased to have finished in under three hours.
There may have been only three of us, but the interest we got from spectators showed that many people are sensitive to the suffering of animals, even if they still eat them… And as Christelle commented: "It’s good to be in at the start of something." Walkers and cyclists are also allowed to take part in the race, the support along the way is fantastic, and it’s a chance to visit the historic towns of Charleville-Mézières and Sedan.

So who’s volunteering to join us for next year’s race?

Tropical white

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

As the longest nights held sway over Europe, I was walking barefoot in the Atlantic to celebrate the longest days of the year in the southern hemisphere.

We had taken some time out in north-eastern Brazil to top up with sunshine, vitamin C and traditional music.

My last visit was in 2000 and I was pleased to find that the "Ver o peso" chain of restaurants, where you pay according to the weight of your plate, had spawned numerous offspring. The formula, known as "self-service", lets you sample loads of vegetable, fruit and salad dishes while the omnivores get their kicks with delicacies like stewed goat.


I also fell in love all over again with tapioca, a pancake made with a kind of manioc flour called goma and sold on every street corner.

Home again with a packet of goma in tow, I learned that tapioca is not at all hard to make. You simply sift some goma, add a pinch of salt and spread enough on a heated frying pan (I used a 24cm cast-iron pan) to make a fairly thick pancake – no need for oil or liquid. Sprinkle with freshly grated coconut and leave to cook for a few minutes. You know it’s ready when the edges of the pancake start to curl up.

Tapioca dehors

I took a photo outside to highlight the tapioca‘s pristine whiteness before checking that it tasted just as good cold. Now I have to find out where I can buy goma in France because it doesn’t keep well and the little I have left is vanishing as fast as the snow…

Paris Vegan Day

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

˜I’ve never had much time for foods that masquerade as meat – seitan, tempeh and the like – yet I’m always sniffing around for new flavours.

˜So it was with mixed feelings, but tastebuds wide open, that I moseyed along to Paris Vegan Day on Sunday. The event, masterminded by several vegan groups, focused on tastings and cookery demonstrations highlighting precisely those ingredients.

A hungry crowd had gathered around the stand run by Loving Hut, the capital’s first all-vegan restaurant, where fake chicken kebabs featuring tofu just as stringy as the real thing were being handed out. My carnivorous companions found them lip-lickingly good. I preferred the fresh, crunchy spring rolls.

Also on offer were samples of imitation cheese (“now that’s more like it”, muttered the reformed vegetarian lurking beneath my vegan exterior). And I must say this Gruyère lookalike did taste a bit like cheese, including the added tang of guilt – but perhaps that was only because I haven’t had genuine cheese for nearly three months…

I bought a packet – fake rind and all – just to see what was in it. Imported from Switzerland, it bore the name No-Muh-Chäs (think about it…) and a list of ingredients in German. With the help of a dictionary and some school German going back several decades, I can reveal that the contents are: water, plant fat and oil, potato starch, yeast powder, rice flour, ground walnuts, rock salt, spices, vegetabiles Aroma (sic), carraghene and plant-derived lactic acid. Even if the result is reminiscent mainly of cheese and onion crisps, I have to hand it to the creators of No-Muh-Chäs for getting so close on the basis of that little lot.

Nearby, the Plaisir végétal team were serving biscuits and drinks, including some ginger juice that was definitely worth a detour.

Meanwhile Deborah and Caroline Brown-Pivain from The Gentle Gourmet had started showing how to make appetisers and starters from a range of vegan ingredients. We moved closer, the better to see, hear and taste.

Later Kardinal, VG-Zone‘s flamboyant cook, set about preparing his Royal Seitan, a sort of vegan hamburger based on powdered gluten. It finally hit me that developing dishes that taste much like meat is important to win over new recruits to the vegan cause. Although I would rather make burgers starting with beans and lentils, they’d never fool anyone still secretly lusting after steak.

The VG-Zone team also astonished us with some divine desserts that all by themselves made the event worth the trip. I can tell I’m about to become a devotee of their website, where they share many such recipes.

I also leafed through the impressive cookbook collection of fraîch’attitude, which hosted the event, subscribed to Végétariens Magazine, said hi to the good people from Association Végétarienne de France, which I already belong to, and bought some Plamil and Bonvita chocolate.

But we had a train to catch, and there just wasn’t enough time to see everything. For instance, I was sorry not to get to the Lush stand. I’ve often bought their fresh cosmetics in London but had no idea their products are 90% vegan or that they have 11 shops in France (you can also order online).

Let’s hope the success of Paris Vegan Day will make the organisers want to do it all again next year – or even sooner.

˜ So it was with mixed feelings, but tastebuds wide open, that I moseyed along to Paris Vegan Day on Sunday. The event, masterminded by several vegan groups, focused on tastings and cookery demonstrations highlighting precisely those ingredients.