The growth of Oxford’s vegan food scene

Moving to Oxford after a year of working in Shoreditch, I prepared myself for the fact that my lunchtime jaunts and street food offerings were going to become less interesting. No more pop-up Oatley stalls or free vegan doughnuts on my way to the office… sob. However, I was actually amazed at how much vegan food has exploded here since I was a student several years ago.

For a place associated with extreme privilege and a lot of famous dead white men, Oxford is a surprisingly diverse city, with people from around the world attracted to the university, and a lively scene in East Oxford in particular for every kind of food could ever want. As could be expected I’ve been eating my way through all of the new (and better established) places that do vegan nosh and am happy to report my favourite below.

Happy Friday Kitchen

Happy Friday Kitchen is the first all-vegan diner in Oxford. In spite of some backlash online when it was first established, it’s now thriving and is loved amongst omnis as much as us plant-munching folk. Happy Friday Kitchen isn’t what most people would think of as vegan food. Specialising in proper American-style junk, it has a menu of burgers and pizzas to cure any hangover, not to mention a great range of brunch options. Better yet, it’s home to a gorgeous little pooch.

Satisfying those junk food cravings at Happy Friday Kitchen

The Coconut Tree

The Coconut Tree is one of the most raved about restaurants in Oxford for good reason. Situated on the charming St Clements Street, it’s a cosy place that is always packed to the gills. It has a huge range of vegan options that you can order tapas-style to share with friends. My favourites are the pineapple curry, fat sister (a rich pumpkin curry) and the melt-in-the-mouth breads. They also do a great range of cocktails and are gluten-free friendly.

Dishes at The Coconut Tree come tapas-style to share as a group.

Pan Pan

Also on St Clements, Pan Pan was a surprise discovery because they don’t advertise their vegan options well. However, with enquiries it turns out they actually have a huge menu of pan-Asian food to sample. I loved the grilled aubergine and bibimbap, and the sesame salad is a fresh and zingy option if you’re trying to keep things light. For some reason, they don’t advertise their vegan options on Deliveroo either – an oversight they could easily rectify to get more business.

The roasted aubergine is my favourite starter at Pan Pan.

Rachel’s

Rachel’s is a charming little Vietnamese café next to the Oxford Tube bus stop for London. It’s therefore perfect for grabbing a quick steamed bun or pastry snack if you’re off to the city. If you have more time, though, it’s a perfect lunch spot. I’m now completely addicted to their peanut satay tofu Bánh mì. They also serve plant-based coffees and have a range of sweet and savoury traditional snacks.

This sandwich is the stuff of gods.

The Fir Tree

‘The Feast Without the Beast’ is legendary in East Oxford. An all-vegan Sunday roast, it is so good it even attracts hordes of meat-eaters, with tables often booked up ahead of time. There’s a traditional nut roast, but my favourite is the mushroom wellington with a side of cauliflower cheese. They also have a range of rich sweet treats for afters including chocolate mint slice, snix bar and a homely treacle tart. The homely and friendly and atmosphere and very attentive chef make for for a perfect cosy Sunday.

Feast Without the Beast

The Rusty Bicycle

Just up the road from the Fir Tree is The Rusty Bicycle, another much-loved haven among locals and students alike. They have a large garden space, and cute little cabins you can cuddle into with your friends. Their vegan options are a bit junky but delicious, and they’ve expanded this year to include two burgers and two pizzas as well as a healthy salad option. The ‘simply red’ pizza may seem a little plain, but the dough is everything. The Leaf Not Beef burger is a sloppy delight for meat-eaters as much as the vegan crew.

The Simply Red Pizza at The Rusty Bicycle

Chiang Mai Kitchen

An unassuming place tucked down one of Oxford’s many little alleyways, Chiang Mai kitchen does some of the best Thai food I’ve ever had in England. They have a whole separate vegan/vegetarian menu that you can request. My favourite is the red tofu curry with lychees.

Pho

While I don’t generally promote chain restaurants, Pho has become such a favourite it couldn’t go without mentioning. While there are several vegan options and a whole new vegan menu as of January 2020, I always go back to the ‘Spicy Green Pho’.

You just can’t beat a homely bowl of Pho

Shoryu

Ramen fans will know that it’s often hard to find vegan options. While there’s only one on the menu, Shoryu’s miso and shitake broth with tofu really hits the spot and makes it easier to dine with omnis. The wakame seaweed salad also makes a great starter.

Shoryu’s miso ramen

Art Café

This little yellow café on New Street is another great lunch spot which remains packed out all through the year. With a good range of salads, soups, sandwiches, smoothies and cakes and customisable vegan options, it’s one I keep returning to, not least for the chocolate coconut slab.

Sandwiches at the Art Cafe are stuffed.

The Gardener’s Arms

Tucked away down a little street in upmarket Jericho, I’d never have found The Gardener’s Arms if it’s reputation hadn’t preceded it. It’s a cosy little pub with all that old-man feel you want, but unusually, with an all veggie/vegan menu. The food isn’t out-of-this-world, but it’s pretty reasonably priced for Oxford and it’s a luxury to have a huge range of options in a pub setting, especially during the summer when you can take advantage of the large garden.

Rogan Josh at The Gardener’s Arms

Gloucester Green Market

If you’re as big a fan of street food as I am you have to check out the Gloucester Green market, which is open from Wednesday through to Saturday and has a surprising number of options catering to vegans. My favourites are the momos (below) and the arepas from the Venezuelan van.

Love me a vegan momo

As Oxford has increasingly become a centre for climate activism, I’m hopeful that the growing vegan market will continue to boom. More and more people are choosing a more sustainable way of living and thinking about the impact of their dietary choices. While it’s great to see the big chains fighting to be the next big vegan thing, I’ve always been amazed at the range of independent restaurants and cafes in Oxford. Let’s show them some love – and as ever, please let me know about anything that I’ve missed!

Eating Green in Amsterdam: where to find the best vegan food

What comes to mind when you think of Amsterdam? For most of us, probably coffee shops, canals, and the infamous red light district. But as a city that is a centre of culture and progressive values, Amsterdam is also a hub for vegan foodies. It wasn’t just easy to find options, but the food was of a really high standard everywhere we went.

It’s worth noting that it’s not very budget-friendly as a city: I way overshot mine and the main reason was the cost of food. So  if you’re on a tight one it may be worth loading up on bread and snacks before heading out to eek out the cost.

If you are able, though, here were more options for eating out than I could work my way through in one weekend, but here were my favourites:

For breakfast: Rainbowls

For a healthy start to the day in a city where detox is often very necessary, head to Rainbowls for a scrummy smoothie bowl served in a coconut. A bit on the pricey side, but they’re made fresh in front of you and there are so many delicious combinations. I went for a chocolatey one (because even when being healthy who can resist) and my friend went for the zingy mango passion fruit number.

Two smoothie bowls: one filled with chocolate and the other a mango and passionfruit smoothie
Perfect breakfast from Rainbowls

For the munchies: Vegan Junk Food Bar

If you’re ravenous from your flight or need to cure your munchies, Vegan Junk Food Bar will surpass your wildest dreams. There are several locations around the city and even so there were queues spilling out of the doors to get in. Thankfully it moved quite quickly and we were soon sat in an ultra-hipster restaurant overlooking the highstreet.

A giant pink vegan hotdog slathered in onions and sauce.
The Pink Bratwurst XXL

I went for the ‘Pink Bratwurst XXXL’ which really WAS XXXL. I don’t usually go for hotdogs but this was great, loaded up with sauce and fried onions and served in a terrifyingly pink bun. My friend went for the Kapsalon – fries loaded up with vegan doner, chillies, onions, and slathered in sauce.

Loaded fries.
The Capsalon

To recharge: H.eart/h

Probably my favourite place, H.eart/h is a great chilled out place to hang out and recharge after dashing about trying to see as much as possible. It’s bright, clean and subtly bohemian, with a selection of alternative and ethical fashion for sale as well as a menu to die for. Ever had a falafel waffle? If not you NEED to try it.

Vegan sushi
Pretty vegan sushi

I’d been craving vegan sushi and had some of the prettiest I’ve ever seen, as well as raw beetroot ravioli. Everything is very artfully prepared and fresh, but it’s worth noting that the options are all quite light so I needed a couple to get full; the choices aren’t cheap, so you might have to splash the cash a bit. However, the food was tasty and the atmosphere lovely enough to make it worth it if you want somewhere to hang out for a few hours, or it would be the perfect spot for a date night.

Beetroot ravioli
Beetroot ravioli

On a budget: Maoz

You’ll see Maoz all over the city, and while it might seem like just another falafel shop, there’s a twist: it’s ALL vegan. No worrying about your wrap being slathered in sauce – and the sauces are really good. It’s not mind blowing but it’s a great cheap option when you’re on the go or on the way back from a night out.

For a healthy option: Deshima

Deshima is a cosy spot where the food is all natural, organic, and macrobiotic. There’s a Japanese influence to their changing ‘plate of the day’; I opted this and got sweet potato rice, tofu and veg stew, pumpkin tempura, cucumber, wakame and radish salad, pickles, and veg in a peanut sauce. Yum! They also have fresh vegan sushi rolls and raw cakes and a huge selection of teas. Just the place to nourish yourself before your flight home.

Plate loaded with rice, vegetables and tempura.
The plate of the day from Deshima

There are a plethora of other places I didn’t get time to try; the Dutch Weed Burger I’ve heard consistently good reviews for, as well as Alchemist Garden and a branch of the ubiquitous chain Loving Hut. Time to book another trip? I think so.

Bali, baby! What to do with two weeks on Indonesia’s most popular island

A sprawling green landscape of dramatic shelves staircased into the hills as far as the eye can see – Indonesia’s rice terraces are the first picture that comes to mind for many people when thinking about Bali. Or Ketut – the wise old medicine man in the blockbuster sellout Eat Pray Love that drew travellers to flock to Bali in their thousands. So is it as idyllic as the paradise painted in Gilbert’s much loved adventure, or has the attention it’s received since damaged the serenity of the atmosphere and cultural authenticity?

Tegallalang Rice Terraces

Eat, Pray, Love

I’ve wanted to travel to Bali ever since, as clichéd as it is, I read that book all those years ago.  It spoke to me at a time when I’d been through a heavy break up and decided that travel was the answer to heal my broken heart.

 But in the time that passed before I booked my flights, its popularity boomed, and inevitably so did the idea that it was now overrun by tourists. However, that is also said about Thailand, where I did manage a trip a few months earlier and found it more authentic and peaceful than the lurid images of incapacitated teenagers and sordid sex industry you often see on television. There are two sides to every story.

Bali has also increasingly been known for a more gentle form of tourism – the ecotourism and associated yogis, vegan travellers, and peace-loving nomads. So after months of looking at pictures, flicking through Lonely Planet and idly dreaming, I booked my tickets.

On the beach in Bali

Ubud

Ubud is the obvious hub for most travellers and a beating heart of culture. It’s known for its artists, musicians, writers, and cool cafes. The climate is much cooler here than in the rest of the island, making it much more comfortable to stroll around. The culture is also much calmer. It’s not known as a partying destination, and although you can check out live music and chill vibes at spots like the Laughing Buddha or the shisha lounge at night, you’re unlikely to see white teenagers vomiting all over the streets in the early hours of the morning.  I’d also strongly recommend checking out a traditional Balinese dance show, which run most nights of the week.

If you want to do a spot of yoga, there are more shalas than you can wave a stick at. The Yoga Barn is the most popular, but there are also free classes run around the city, or are often included in many hostels or hotels. It’s a haven for vegan food, and you can see what I ate here.

In a traditional Balinese dance show the eyes are a large part of the performance.

Ubud is also the hub for all of the most popular activities in Bali. It’s a short cab ride from the Tegallalang rice terraces, where you can hike up and down through the paddies and breathe in the warm, wet, earthy tropical atmosphere and take note of exactly where you are.

The Monkey Forest is a very popular spot. I was unsure how I felt about the idea of animals being entertainment, but our day there turned out to be one of the most fun. While I disliked the way the keepers would taunt monkeys to get them to jump on tourists for better photos (they do this sometimes anyway), on the whole they ran – and jumped – and scrambled – freely around the forest without a care for anyone watching. If you’re a photographer it’s a great chance to get some shots.

A baby monkey snuggles up to his Dad.

The Bali Swing is also a fun trip and a chance to swing out over the jungle, albeit a bit pricey, but it does make for some good insta photos.

Swing time.

One of my favourite ways to connect to a culture is through its food. I would recommend taking cooking classes wherever you travel if you can. Not only does it help you to learn how the food you’re eating is cooked and try new ideas, it also connects you more to the natural habitat of a place when you are cooking with ingredients that are fresh and local – not like anything you’d find in Sainsburys. I really enjoyed my trip to Pembulan Cooking School where we harvested our food before cooking up a five course vegan feast.

Collecting fresh ingredients at Pembulan Farm Cooking School

Canggu

If you’re exhausted by the city and want to come to Bali for a chill beach hangout, Canggu is a little surf town where you can unwind and read a book all day without disturbance.  It’s also home to even more vegan hangouts than you can shake a stick at. And if you do want to party, this is the place to do it, particularly in the high season.

Craving more of a peaceful vibe, I spent a few days at Serenity Eco Guesthouse. A yoga hangout with an all vegan restaurant on site and a huge pool, this place is an idyll tucked away just a minute’s walk from the beach. The yoga schedule is impressive, but given the comparable heat in this part of the island, I stuck to the early morning classes, spending the rest of the day on the beach.

A shrine at Serenity Eco Guesthouse

Canggu might not appeal to everyone because it’s extremely westernised. For those who fancy some time by the sea but with less of that sea being made up of white faces, I’d recommend heading to one of the smaller islands off Bali.

Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida

You can easily get to Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida from the otherwise unexciting town of Sanur, a short ride from the airport. Boats run a few times a day and tickets can be bought at the dock. It’s notably less developed than the main island, but for that reason retains more charm and authenticity. Here you can catch the little bench bus taxis or just stroll about unencumbered to take in the dramatic cliff views or watch locals going about their work.

The Devil’s Tear, Nusa Lembongan

There are lots of beautiful beaches and if you can hack the heat, I’d recommend hiking about to see them, or if you can ride a scooter you can zip through the hills. It’s a great spot for photographers, with the dramatic landscapes of the Devil’s Tear and the Blue Lagoon.

It’s also known as a spot for divers. Although it can be a little rough, manta ray are very common in the area. For those (like me) that are a bit nervous of the deep-sea stuff, it’s also possible to book a very affordable snorkel tour around the island. Sadly we didn’t see mantas, but the array of brightly coloured fish and healthy coral, as well as a better view of the coastline made this a must-do on my trip and one of my favourite memories.

So is Bali spoiled by tourism?

There were certainly times when I became frustrated by the gaggles of tourists blocking the roads. Ubud in particular is overrun and as charming as it is, the ratio of tourists to local people is uncomfortable. Similarly in Canggu, while it was a  peaceful spot and most of the tourists were the kindly yogi kinds, you did get a sense of an uncomfortable picture of white people being served by Indonesians and few Indonesians themselves on holiday. That said this did change during the Ramadam festival when people from other islands came to rest out on Bali. The smaller islands were certainly much quieter, and if this isn’t your vibe, I’d suggest going there instead.

Hanging out in Bali

Travel mindfully and favour ethical choices

There is a hypocrisy  in describing places as unpleasant because they’re overrun with tourists when you yourself are contributing to the problem and part of that stat. I think the most important thing is to travel with respect, to enjoy a place for it’s scenery, cuisine, and people, and try to leave as minimal a footprint as possible.

On the whole, I’d say it’s still very worth visiting Bali. The landscapes are phenomenal, the food is to die for and less commonly known about, particularly for vegans. More than anything though, the people are amongst the kindest and most gentle you could imagine.

Indonesia is a country that has been through numerous natural disasters and many of its people live in extreme poverty. The tourism in Bali has made it one of the more affluent islands, but people still live a humble existence. Go to Bali, and be mindful of where you put your money. Favour local, family run hotels like Raka House over international complexes. Try to eat at local warungs as well as the cool hippie hangouts. And talk to people. Taxi drivers in particular are always up for a chat.

Would I go back? Sure. But next time I might visit one of the quieter islands or opt for a boat trip between a few of them. Indonesia has a culture and ethos I really enjoyed, and as conflicted I feel about it, I’d love to view more of it without the heavy haze of intense tourism.

A vegan’s guide to East London

London has recently overtaken Berlin to be named the ‘Vegan Capital of the World’. Take a tour round the streets of East London in particular and it’s easy to see why. Moving here after a year of struggling to find animal-free food in Latin America, I was inundated with signs for vegan food and plant-based fare on every street.

From Shoreditch’s hipster central to the resplendent junk fare in Hackney, it’s a haven for every hungry vegan, and also home to Vegan Nights, the UK’s only monthly vegan event that turns into a dance night later on. The list of venues is endless, but here are a few of the top places to visit if you’re in the area:

Boxpark

Boxpark is stereotypical millennial central, but this means a plethora of interesting eats, many of which are vegan. Once home to the (sometimes in-)famous CookDaily, which has now moved to Hackney, it maintains a surprising number of vegan options under one roof.

EatChay, known for it’s bao buns and Bánh mìs (below) sits alongside Biff’s Jack Shack, a ‘filthy vegan junk food’ place where you can get realistic chicken wings in multiple fiery sauce options, as well as some seriously stacked burgers.

Bao buns from Eat Chay Club

If you’re nursing a hangover, there’s none better than What the Pitta to serve you up a feast of mock-donor wrap stuffed with fake donor meat, salad, and tahini. It’s a beast but it’s so worth it.

If you fancy something on the sweeter side, Nosteagia also offers several vegan options of its iconic bubble cones. This is a really intense treat if you’re feeling pudding for lunch, or otherwise a seriously scrummy snack to share with a friend.

Amazing bubble cone from Nosteagia

Brick Lane

Brick Lane is generally known for its curry mile, but the area is waking up to the surrounding vegalution. While many of the curry houses now explicitly advertise vegan options, it’s also home to multiple all-vegan places including VeganYes, a curious Italian/Korean fusion. Mooshie’s burger bar is definitely worth a visit, with a big selection to suit your vurger tastes. Canvas Cafe is a wonderful vegan cafe-cum-social project that offers mental health support groups, creative sessions, and the chance to gift a meal to someone who can’t afford one.

Seriously gooey risotto balls from Arancini Brothers

On the sweeter side of life, Vida Bakery sells VEGAN RAINBOW CAKE, (hallo, snowflake heart attack)! Also worth knowing is the fact that Crosstown doughnuts does multiple vegan options.

 On a non-food note, Fifth Dimension is also a friendly vegan tattoo place. It’s also home to the Boiler House weekend market, which usually has multiple vegan options, and of course, Vegan Nights.

Vegan Nights

Is an event that usually takes place once a month, on the first Thursday of the month, though this can vary. The first time I walked into vegan nights, my mind was blown. It was the biggest vegan market I’d ever seen, with the most incredible spread of stalls offering food from around the world, and I knew I didn’t have to ingredient-check any of it.

Getting my glam on at Vegan Nights

Apart from fresh, hot food and cakes there are also stalls like KindaCo that sell artisan cheese you can take home to enjoy the next day, and ethical products like soy wrap (to substitute for cling film) and vegan fashion.

As the night warms up and the drinks are flowing, it turns into a dance-night with inevitable dance offs, and if you’re very lucky, the chance to meet another tasty vegan.

Mac n Cheez with vibes at vegan nights

Also in the area

…and worth noting are Essential Vegan Cafe, which has a really nice vibe if you just want to sit and work for a while with an oat latte and delicious cake. Vurger is, IMHO, the best vegan burger in London.

Stacked Caribbean-inspired burger from The Vurger Co.

Lollipop in Spitalfields is great, and there are also various options in the Spitalfields Market itself- including Merkamo Ethiopian, a favourite lunchtime treat. If you fancy something healthy, Redemption offer the most beautiful and filling Buddha bowls, non-alcoholic beverages and desserts.

Beautiful Buddha Bowl from Redemption. They change every day!

Newer haunts include the expensive but TOTALLY SICK Genesis, which serves milkshakes that are pure chocolate fudge, deep-fried avocado tacos as well as healthier options like turmeric-roasted cauliflower. Unity Diner was set up as a non-profit by vegan god Earthling Ed. While I’ve only been for a coffee, the menu looks amazing, and given the amount of hate it has got from anti-vegan protesters, we should all totally be supporting this business.

This gorgeous roasted cauliflower is one of the healthier options at Genesis

Hackney

The Black Cat Cafe was the first all vegan cafe I went to in London and I’m so glad I did. Another social project  run by volunteers (damn these vegans are all good humans), it also has affordable prices and a super chill and friendly atmosphere.

Temple of Seitan is where London’s vegan junk scene started. With it’s mock wings, stacked burgers, and seriously fatty mac n cheez, it’s the perfect place for when you’re feeling wicked. Another bit of home comfort can be found at Sutton and Sons, which made headlines as the first all-vegan fish and chip shop.

CookDaily (mentioned earlier) has re-homed to Hackney where you can still get all the old favourites, including noodles, curries, and a good old English breakfast. I have a bit of a weakness for this place and can’t stop going back.

Epic Pad Thai from Cook Daily

The Spread Eagle is an all vegan pub and another headline-grabber. Home to former street-food vendor Club Mexicana, their popularity is not surprising. I love their light but tasty tacos, washed down with a vegan cider, and the staff are as ever for this sort of place, cool, friendly, and alternative.

No doubt, if you have landed in East London you’ve landed on your feet as far as finding vegan grub is concerned. So what do you think? Which are your favourites? Did I miss anywhere? Do get in touch and let me know- I’m always looking to try new things.

‘Who wants to ride an elephant?’ How to see elephants ethically in Thailand

Elephant-riding has been high on traveller’s bucketlists for a long time. Awareness of the abject cruelty involved in forcing animals to perform for and serve humans is growing, and yet I was still horrified to hear travellers talking about this in groups, and signs advertising it around Thailand. Were they completely oblivious? Or did they just not care as long as it makes a good insta photo?

Elephants  are one of my favourite animals. I was overwhelmed to see African elephants living in the wild during my travels in Botswana and Namibia. However, I have felt extremely sad that I had only seen Asian elephants in India that were facepainted and forced to lug overweight tourists up and down steep slopes to visit forts as entertainment. It can be hard to avoid seeing animal cruelty as a vegan traveller.

A wild African elephant I saw grazing happily in Botswana

But a new trend is growing, and one which on the face of it seems to improve conditions for elephants: ethical sanctuaries.  While it didn’t seem I’d be able to see any elephants in the wild on my trip to Thailand, I was keen to visit an ethical elephant sanctuary. There are many that seem to have cropped up, particularly around Chiang Mai, advertised on boards and in hostels around the city.

But how ethical are ‘ethical’ elephant sanctuaries?

Inevitably, where there has been an increase in interest and tourist money, an increase in less than ethical businesses has followed to meet demand. While many sanctuaries market themselves as being a ‘home for happy elephants’, many still keep them in a situation of unnatural captivity. Some are still forced to play football or other activities with tourists that wouldn’t be possible if the elephants hadn’t been cruelly trained to do so.

Looking at reviews online helped me to find the right one: a review showed me an option I had been considering still shuts the elephants in tiny boxes as soon as the tourists leave.

Ethical Elephant Sanctuary, Chiang Mai

Happily, my experience at Ethical Elephant Sanctuary was wonderful and remains my most cherished memory from Thailand. Elephants here have been rescued from the tourism and logging industries.  Here was how the day unfolded:

Selfies with elephants

Breakfast with elephants

I opted for a full day and was picked up at my hostel early in the morning. After a two hour drive out of Chiang Mai, we pulled up in a giant open field where elephants were grazing. I wasn’t hopping any less than the children to get out and say hello.

First we were dressed in the cloth of the hill tribe who cared for them so that they wouldn’t be startled by us. Then we were able to feed them, holding out sugar cane and bananas that they would pluck from your palm with their ever-reaching trunks.

Going for a stroll

After a break, we went for a walk through the jungle. The elephants roamed freely and we walked alongside or behind them. Seeing them interacting with each other, pausing at will to scratch an itchy bum on the nearest tree (the elephant!), we really came to see how each elephant was a personality in their own right.

An elephant stops to scratch an itch

The importance of breaks

We had a two-hour break for lunch during which time the elephants had a break from us. This is really important for their wellbeing, as it’s not natural for them to be around humans all day. During this time they rested in the shade of an open field while we had a basic but tasty meal of veg, rice, and fruit.

Bath time for elephants

As it broke into the hottest time of the day we went down to the river to bathe and help the elephants to cool off. I was nervous as they all clambered in the same space to make sure I wasn’t going to get crushed between them.

Really seeing them up close like that makes you appreciate just how vast they are, and yet how gentle. We scooped water up to cool their bodies and helped them to rub mud against their flanks.  They retaliated by squirting water at us through their trunks!

Again, seeing them play together was really special. When they were tired of us, they got up and left the water of their own volition to return to the field, and it was when the elephant, rather than the keeper said so, that bath time was over.

Afternoon snack

Natural vegetarians, elephants generally graze all day in the wild, so by the afternoon they were ready for more snacks. It was impressive to see them munch through whole bunches of bananas in one go.

Saying goodbye

We left by late afternoon, leaving them to spend the rest of the day and evening alone. The little kid in me welled up and I felt a bit emotional leaving them, even though I know that for them this was the norm. I asked how much it was to rescue an elephant from logging: 2 million Baht (about £50k). So my dreams there were shot, but if anyone rich reads my blog, please save an elephant on my behalf.

If you can’t afford to save an elephant but would like to visit them during your travels in Asia, here are some tips for finding genuinely ethical sanctuaries.

Key things to look for:

  • Elephants should not be bound to posts by rope or chains;
  • They should not be performing for tourists or partaking in any activities they wouldn’t naturally do in the wild. Normal activities such as bathing are not okay if they are forced to do them more than they would naturally e.g. multiple times or constantly throughout the day;
  • They should not be made to interact with humans for too long without breaks;
  • You should not touch an elephant too much or climb onto their bodies;
  • They should always have access to food and water;
  • There should not be large numbers of tourists each day. Look for a sanctuary that takes restricted numbers;
  • Carers should respect the way the elephants express themselves and not force them to continue any activity.

Koh Phangan’s secret hippie side

Think Koh Phangan and most people think of the full moon party. An armageddon of drunk teenagers: buckets of booze, drugs, fire-throwing, vomiting, hook-ups and UV paint.

If you fancy something a little more serene for your Thai island experience you might think to skip Koh Phangan entirely and head to Koh Lanta or one of the lesser known islands.

But Koh Phangan has a side a lot of people don’t know about. The north-west of the island is a haven for hippies and vegan travellers. If your idea of heaven is more Buddha-bowls, cheap smoothies, swimming and yoga every day, then Srithanu is the place for you.

Orion Healing Centre is a peaceful spot for a swing and swim.

How to get there

There are no direct flights to Koh Phangan, so the easiest way to get there is to fly to Koh Samui airport, which is only around an hour from Bangkok. When you arrive in the terminal you can easily book a boat on to Koh Phangan or Koh Lanta from a desk in arrivals, including a transfer taxi to the dock at Bangrak pier. Due to frustrating timing I ended up waiting around at the dock for a while before getting a relatively comfortable little ferry over to the island and Thong Sala pier. At the pier there are tonnes of taxis including motorbike taxis calling for your attention. I found the cheapest option was piling into a songathew (one of those busses made up of a couple of benches on the back of a truck) with other travellers heading towards Srithanu.

Where to stay

Srithanu is essentially a small strip of road along the coast that is lined with beach huts, little shops, bars, and eateries. There are lots of options for accommodation depending on your taste and budget. I stayed at the originally named ‘Nice Sea Resort’, which was in fact nice, affordable, and on the sea. A basic bungalow with a double bed , fan, and hammock is about a tenner a night. If you come during the hot season it might be worth forking out more to stay in one of the more modern air conditioned bungalows for about twenty. I liked this place because it was quiet, the owner was extremely friendly and accommodating, it had a little bar and a restaurant, and you could easily while away the hottest part of the day swinging in a hammock with a book and the sea breeze in relative privacy. Even better, there was a shaded wooden deck where you could get the best massage of your life for less than ten pounds, while listening to the sea lapping against the shore.

Sunset at Nice Sea Resort.

What to do

For the most part I came to Srithanu to do very little at all and I’d highly recommend it. There are, however, lots of relaxing activities on offer around and about this little town.

Yoga

Most days I headed to the Orion Healing Centre to take yoga classes on their blissful deck that overlooks the sea. It’s a centre where visitors can stay and partake in a whole programme of yoga and holistic treatments (some of which are a bit far out for me, but whatever floats your boat). It’s right on the beach, and it also has an incredible vegan café that is open all day selling smoothie bowls, salads, and a range of main meals all from the most natural and detoxifying ingredients (albeit they’re quite pricey for the region). You can just pay to drop in to classes, and the teachers are very accommodating of all levels. I particularly enjoyed the sunset flow classes, the perfect way to end a slow-paced day on the island.

Post-sunrise yoga smoothie bowl breakfast at Orion.

Treat yo’self

There are loads of places to indulge in massages, pedicures, facials, you name it, all for a fraction of western prices. I love massages but never usually treat myself to them; but for 20% of the cost at home, I ended up getting three during my time here! The masseuses at Nice Sea Resort were particularly skilled, friendly, and have a range of different herbal and coconut oils that leave you feeling supple and zen.

Feast yo’self

There are a plethora of vegan options in this tiny strip of land. My favourite were Pure Vegan HeavenOne Yoga Café, Orion, and Eat.Co. Karma Café is also meant to be amazing but was sadly shut for renovation when I was there. Importantly, though, I’d also emphasise that you should try a  lot of the little local food places along the same strip. Veganism is so well understood there that you can easily request a veganised version of anything offered, and I got the best pad thai ever for just 40 baht (about £1) from a woman selling it out of a blue van.

Delicious vegan Pad Thai for just 50 baht.

Head up the coast

If you want to explore more of the island you can easily hire a bike or motorbike, but I just chose to walk. It’s worth walking up to check out the ‘Secret Beach’ which is small enough that it’s easy to keep an eye on your belongings while you swim if you’re a solo traveller. Haad Salad and Haad Yao are also super peaceful beaches that are great for swimming to cool off from your hot hike, and with a spread of bars on the beachside you can easily grab a drink or a bite to eat before heading back.

So if you’re heading for a tour round the islands, or want to pick just one to visit while on a shorter trip (as I was) definitely don’t write of Koh Phangan as a crazy party town. It’s definitely still more touristy than other destinations, but the chill vibes, good food, and friendly people make is a great spot to wind down and replenish your health.

On the beach ad Haad Yao.

Eating vegan in the hippie haven of San Francisco

San Francisco has a reputation for liberal thought and progressive values. It’s therefore no surprise that it is also a leading light in vegan cuisine. From bowl-themed health and wellness inspired cafes to veganised Asian dishes and some serious junk, you could eat in a different place in San Francisco for a month before you ran out of options. Here are a few of my favourites:

For the health freaks:

Nourish Café is your best bet for giant bowls of wholesome goodness. They’re a little on the pricey side but they’re gargantuan enough that you won’t need to eat for the rest of the day. The original nourish bowl is stuffed with quinoa, yams, avocado, sprouts, hummus, cucumber, mixed greens, tomatoes, beet sauerkraut, sunflower seeds, hemp dressing, and I added mock marinated tuna as a topping for extra protein.

Bibmbap bowl from Nourish Cafe

Another great choice was the bibimbap bowl with tofu, carrot, pepper, avo, cabbage, bean sprouts, mixed leases, cucumber, cherry tomatoes and jasmine rice. Tip: If you’re going with a friend and fancy a sweet treat in the form of a smoothie-bowl or one of their raw cakes afterwards, maybe split both to save enough room (unless you’re feeling extra hungry). They also sell health drinks including kombucha on tap.

If you’re venturing along the coast, Café del Soul in Santa Rosa also does an amazing array of vegan salads and this seriously green ‘hummus yummus’ wrap.

Hummus yummus indeed!

For brunch:

If you’re craving a brunch that will fuel you for a day of sight-seeing, Andana Fuara is your best spot for breakfast burritos, vegan huevos rancheros, French toast, and giant stacks of pancakes.

Epic breakfast burrito from Ananda Fuara

For when you’re on the go:

Ike’s sandwich shop can be found in multiple locations both in San Francisco and if you’re venturing out in the rest of California. It’s worth noting it as a stop-in on a road-trip since options on the road can be limited. They have a huge menu of vegan sandwich options with mock meats. My favourite were the ‘turkey’, mozzarella and avocado, and the ‘go sharks’, with  mock chicken, buffalo wing sauce, lettuce and tomato.

Serious vegan sandwich from Ike’s sandwich shop

For Mexican:

Gracias Madre has an authentic vibe, killer cocktails, and sources all of its organic ingredients locally. I got the Flautas de Camote with sweet potatoes, caramelized onion, guacamole, cashew nacho cheese and black beans, with a side of margariiittaaaa!

Flautas de Camote at Gracias Madre

For the best Asian food:

San Francisco has a huge Asian influence in its food and culture as it became home to migrants from China and Japan in the 1900s. The fusion of this and the hippie vibe means that you can get some of the most authentic and incredible eats in vegan versions all over the place!

Indochine’s pot-sticker dumplings were the perfect combination of crisp, doughy, and flavourful. Their signature clay-pot with mock prawn is also a must-try dish.

Pot-sticker dumplings at Indochine

Golden Era is one of the top-rated vegan Chinese places and for good reason. The ‘lemongrass deluxe’ is one of their specialities with mock chicken and broccoli in a spicy lemongrass sauce. I really enjoyed the fried bananas with soy chocolate ice cream for dessert. Better yet, they’re extremely affordable, so if your wallet needs a break from some of this city’s high prices it’s a good spot for a bargain dinner.

Mister Jiu’s is not a vegan spot but it has several vegan options and is simply put the best Chinese I have ever eaten in my life. This sort of place would normally be way out of my price range, but if you’re lucky enough to have a friend to treat you or if your wallet is bigger than mine it is well worth forking out a bit more for this kind of taste experience. There’s no greasy ‘vegetable chow mein’ here. We munched through fluffy mushroom bao buns, Szechuan tofu, carrot and peanut noodles, bok choi, and my surprise favourite dish, crispy scarlet turnip cakes. The cocktails also pack a punch.

Bao Buns at Mister Jieu’s

For sushi, you have to go to Shizen. At risk of sounding repetitive this was the best sushi I have had in my life! I never used to be into sushi since I stopped eating fish as a kid and previously vegan versions were pretty bland. The game has upped, particularly in London, over the last few years as the demand for both Japanese and vegan food has increased, but I’ve never had anything like these sushi rolls. Even my ardent carnivore friend was impressed! The rolls we tried were:, ‘secret smile’  with sweet potato tempura, avocado, spicy tofu, roasted pepper, sesame mustard and seaweed pearls. Then: ‘secret weapon’ with marinated eryngii mushroom, avo, spicy shredded tofu, pickled jalapeño, pickled pineapple, sweet shoyu and habanero sauce. Finally, the ‘colonel’s pipe’, with smoked beets, cashews, creamy tofu, asparagus, avo, sweet mustard, and orange zest. 

The Secret Smile at Shizen

For something a bit different:

Ethiopian food has surged in popularity in the trendy corners of London in the last year. It also makes a splash in San Francisco. I’ve got really obsessed with it recently since it’s delicious, naturally vegan, affordable and so healthy. This veggie banatu combo from Tadu Ethiopian included a delicious stew (top left) I’d never had before. It was a huuuuge meal for a bargain price.

Veggie Banatu Combo at Tadu Ethiopian

For serious junk:

Another non-vegan place, but a good one to check out in non-vegan company, Tony’s is known as the best pizza in San Fran for good reason. Better yet, the chef has started to include vegan cheese as an option on the vegetarian pizzas to veganise them! Unfortunately when I went they had run out, but I still really enjoyed a cheese-less feast with crunchy fried onions and scallions. Tip: better than the pizza was the fried dough ball starter. Giant crispy but fluffy light dough balls you could crack open and stuff with a bruschetta veg mix. I think I died and went to carbed our heaven! 

If you’re in Haight Ashbury and you’ve got the munchies, Vegan Burg does some pretty satisfying burgers. My standards for vurgers are pretty high after spending a year sampling the best Shoreditch has to offer, and IMHO these weren’t quite up to the standard of Vurger or Mooshies. The BBQ burger was a bit bland, but I really enjoyed the fake fish with tartar sauce for something a bit different. It was crunchy, sour, and satisfying.

The BBQ burger (top) and Tartare (bottom) burgers from Vegan Burg

So all in all this is why I left San Francisco a few pounds heavier! Have I missed anything? Feel free to get in contact and let me know your favourite foodie finds there.

Not just ice and moss: vegan eating in Iceland

When I said I was going to Iceland, a lot of people got wide eyed when they remembered my veganism. What are you going to eat?! Ice?

I guess it has a reputation for having a diet heavy with fish and meat, and that may be so. However, was pleasantly extremely surprised how easy it was to be vegan in Iceland. Particularly in the capital of Reykjavik, it is a well-established concept. Beyond that, though, I was still really taken aback that a lot of the service stations and supermarkets as we got further out into the sticks not only had vegan options, but they were clearly labelled to avoid doubt. Winning!

Now, two things to say about eating on an Iceland holiday. First of all, you’re probably going to spend most of the time on the road, which means cooking for yourself on a campstove. This makes things easier in that you can cook your own recipes from scratch with naturally vegan ingredients (beans, rice, pasta, veggies), and apart from this, the main supermarket that you will see everywhere (Bonus) does your whole line of vegan substitutes- milks, yoghurts, burgers, mince etc. One morning feeling particularly extravagant I even made some vegan blueberry pancakes (pictured). However, this leads to point two- everything is VERY expensive. A shop for one week of main meals cost a fearful amount, and we had to keep topping up on fresh veggies as we went.

Because of this, a lot of people in the know had brought their own veggies and pasta etc. with them. As I’d flown on the most budget flight possible, I didn’t really have enough luggage to do this. It wasn’t quite as bad as I was expecting given the rep Iceland has for being expensive in general, but with the cost of also renting your cooking equipment if you don’t have it, don’t go thinking that because it’s a camping trip it’s going to be a budget holiday.

However- I was really pleased to find that if you needed it, the options were generally available. One particularly good campsite (at Skaftafell National Park) had several vegan dinner options in the café as well as two kinds of cake. The exception to this is in some of the further out places, where it’s worth ensuring you are stocked up with hummus, bread, and other picnic items before venturing, because even if there were vegan options available in the one café in some of the far-off stretches of road (and there generally weren’t), it will cost you about £17 for a soup. Also, it’s just too damn pretty to sit inside.

In Reykjavik, however, (probably at the start and end of your trip) you’ll be made up. Eat Co has two locations and is the perfect lunch stop for huge, healthy salad bowls, smoothies, almond lattes, and all other kinds of good-for-you hipster grub. After eating limited fresh veggies during the week due to the cost, it was great to stuff our faces with these once we got back to civilisation.

The best spot for a dinner out is undoubtedly Kaffi Vinyl. Taking hipster chic to the next level, this place is a chilled-vibe, low-key vegan restaurant, jazz café and record shop all in one. The prices are higher than at home but not bad for Iceland, and for it we got a huge bowl of delicious noodles and an Oumph! Teriyaki bowl, with a fairly priced house wine. If that doesn’t already warm your snowflake heart, they also sell a range of feminist and gender queer stickers. Yay!

So go forth to Iceland vegan friends, without fear of only eating moss. Unless you want to try the traditional moss schnapps, but from experience I would say probably DON’T 😉

Surviving Nicaragua on a plant-based diet

Nicaragua is undoubtedly the hardest place on my Latin American adventure to be a vegetarian or vegan- the former is a barely grasped concept, and veganism really barely exists. That said, there have been some fantastic spots I’ve been while roaming the country with delicious, healthy food. Unfortunately because it is mostly gringos that go there, the prices are a lot higher than the average food in a local comedor, and I’ve mostly eaten in.

Being gringoville, Granada is an easy place to find vegan food. Although there aren’t any specialist places, most of the cafes and restaurants offer something. The Garden Café is a haven with a vegan salad comprising of cucumber, tomato, onion, leaves, hummus, chickpeas, grains, flaked almonds and pitta. They also do a chunky hummus and avo sandwich. Pita, pita also does a hummus falafel salad plate, though at great expense.

24251784_10214344485861932_726867223_n

In Managua, the amazing Ola Verde has a huge range of delicious options including this lentil moussaka with an amazing cashew cheese topping. Portions are a bit small for the price, but they also have a deli counter selling the sexiest tomato hummus, natural peanut butter, tofu, and pots of pre-made couscous salads, marinaded tofu, proper dark chocolate etc. For other staples head to whole food shop La Naturaleza, which is basically the only place you will find a good range of soy based burgers, smoked tofu, and other healthy things.  The bookshop Hispamer has a gorgeous café which is a haven in the city which serves the best smoothies ever and an amazing quinoa salad, which you can ask for sin queso. A bit out of town but near to my house was the Restaurante Andana, worth a cheap taxi ride for a low-cost, local style vegetarian buffet meal, which when I went included the usual gallo pinto, plantains, salad, and a veggie burger. They also do a big range of salads and smoothies.

24252144_10214344486101938_261982632_n

If you are thinking of doing Spanish lessons, the beautiful La Mariposa eco hotel and Spanish school is set less than an hour out of the city in the small town of La Concha and includes vegetarian, organic, home-grown food as part of the bundled price.

In Leon head to the beautiful Casa Abierta, the most peaceful eco-hostel with a lovely relaxing vibe. Or if you’re just there for the day, still drop into their restaurant which has an all vegetarian, and largely vegan menu including salads, burritos, pastas, and really unusual smoothies. I had the falafel salad with the best vegan mayo- or if you are a veggie, my friend had the goat’s cheese topped with cashews which was also delicious, especially paired with a colibri smoothie of fresh orange, passionfruit, and basil.

24172510_10214344485901933_833237632_n

24172567_10214344485781930_501166124_nThough I generally prefer independent places to chains, Casa Del Café, which is omnipotent in Managua, does an exceptionally affordable lunch menu where you can get a salad, soup, and drink for just $5 which is great when you’re on the run or need an easy, cheap place to go. Their chia pudding is also creamy and immensely satisfying. It’s also worth knowing the supermarket La Colonia does a breakfast for just 45 cordobas (just over $1) which includes gallo pinto and a tortilla (which is vegan) or if you are a veggie, also a fried egg, and a slab of Nica cheese, with a coffee.

24203570_10214344486021936_1835537003_n

On the whole it’s not easy- I tried to explain in multiple ways not eating meat and still got served ham- but if you can find the right places, there’s lots to choose from in Nicaragua and supporting those business supports a better, healthier, and more sustainable lifestyle- so go for it!

Vegetarian Bolivia

Before going travelling, I spent three months as a vegan- having tried Veganuary, found it surprisingly easy, and decided to carry on. I’d been a veggie for 16 years- having given up meat at 9- but had only just made the connection and the next step- to cut dairy and all other animal products. Lots of people asked me ‘are you going to continue when you’re travelling?’ and I said that I would try to do so most of the time, but suspected I may need to revert to vegetarianism at some point.

I was right. I know some people manage to just about live as a vegan out here- but it requires serious dedication, pre-planning, and basically never being able to eat anywhere with friends, and sitting in the corner of a hostel eating peanut butter out of a jar instead. As much as I love the last activity, after a couple of days here it became obvious that for me, vegan would be too difficult. Vegetarianism is well understood in South America, but veganism is barely a concept- although there are some great little restaurants and cafes trying to change that. As it is I’ve managed to do vegan 70% of the time, but I have reverted to eating cheese and eggs occasionally… On the short tours I’ve taken (2/3 days exploring the islands of Lake Titicaca, and the Uyuni salt flats) the only non-meat or fish option has been omelette… omelette… more omelette. I have no idea how you’d explain veganism in Spanish, to people with very little means doing what they need to survive, but I think you might starve.

However, I want to write about those little awesome beacons of the plant-based life that are dotted all over the continent to give some guidance to other veggies and vegans travelling in the region. Though it’s usually possible to get a veggie option in restaurants, it tends again to be- omelette. Or tomato pasta. Or pizza. Without a doubt the best  (and usually vegan) food I’ve found has been in the little veggie cafes and restaurants.

veg buffet

In La Paz I was lucky on the first day to stumble into Restaurante Vegetariano Armonia, a little vegetarian restaurant over a bookshop, in the bohemian district of Sopocachi- all the best things in one place! Armonia only opens for lunch, but offers an incredible buffet between 12 and 2.30pm for just 34 Bolivianos- around £3.84. I ate two huge plates of mixed salad, fried plantain, potato cakes, spinach fritters, and veggie rice, and had to stagger back to the hostel after for a nap.

The other veggie haven in La Paz has to be Namaste, a funky hippie haven easily within reach of the main market. The extensive menu of delicious and healthy options includes tofu and peanut Thai  veg stir fry, empanadas, soy fritters, lentil burgers, nachos, and burritos. I had these gigantic tacos, stuffed with veggie mince, salad, and guacamole. They set me back just 29 Bolivianos for a huge and satisfying dinner.

veg burritos.jpg

I couldn’t help returning the next day for the set menu lunch, which consisted of a salad with the most delicious dressing I’ve ever had, soup, vegetarian lasagna (which I must admit was a bit cold), and fruit in some kind of rice pudding. Again, only 25 Bolivianos- and they do great coffee too!

veg namaste

In terms of street food, it’s quite disappointing that the local favourite- salteñas- basically Latin American pasties- are mostly full of meat and potato. However, in Sucre there is one place- Salteñeria Flores– that offers a veggie option. Hot, stodgy, and full of beans and veg, it’s a cheap and satisfying-if not mind-blowing option.

veg saltena.jpg

Another favourite street food in Sucre are papas rellanas– which are served everywhere for breakfast. In the week I spent in Sucre learning Spanish, I often went in the morning to the spectacular Parque Bolivar to buy one or two of these treats for breakfast. Con huevos, is basically a veggie scotch egg- a boiled egg wrapped in mashed potato, and deep fried. There is also a queso option which is flat and has chunks of cheese melted into the potato- and again deep fried. You can either eat them there in the park, out of a plastic bowl with a teaspoon, next to all the locals on little stools, or take them away in a plastic bag to eat at home with a good English cuppa. Good for the waist? No. But the soul, yes. And only 3 BOB each- around 32p!

veg street food.jpg

The other fantastic thing for veggies are the markets- with fruit and veg stacked high and sold so cheap. Best of all are the freshly squeezed fruit juices, which would set you back four times the cost at home and have several times the flavour here, with fruits you’ve never seen before easily there to try. Just make sure you ask for it sin leche as there is a local habit to add milk to juice for some reason (yuk!), and also sin azucar if you prefer your sugar natural rather than added.

veg fruit market.jpg

Sucre is a veggie paradise and the one place I think it would be doable to be vegan 24/7. Without a doubt the best place is the Condor Café, which is also home to the Condor Trekkers, an eco-friendly local touring company which is not-for-profit, and puts its proceeds into local projects such as building roofs for schools, and teaching children about health and hygiene in deprived areas. It does dirt cheap and huge cheese empanadas, delicious falafel and avocado sandwiches, and another bargain-a-licious set lunch menu.

Prem is mostly open for lunch times, but serves awesome and huge seitan baguettes, fresh juices, and set menus in a friendly little place just off one of the main streets.

veg sandwich.jpg

El Germen is another great find with a huge menu of vegan options, including a ridiculously cheap 12 BOB veggie burger, quinoa soup, veggie lasagne, and veggie curry. I went with the tofu curry, having been missing protein substitutes, though I have to admit it was quite bland and not really what I’d call a curry. Still- healthy, and cheap, and I still went back the next day for a veggie burger which was much better.

In Copacabana, I was extremely surprised to see a vegan food cart at the bottom of the main high street- and sad as it is, could hardly contain my excitement to have hummus for the first time of weeks. Selling veggie burgers, falafel wraps, hummus sandwiches, vegan brownies and flapjacks and energy balls, this cart belongs to Hostal Joshua nearby, which also has a vegan restaurant- though sadly only open until 8 so I missed it the one night I was there, but on the basis of the sandwiches definitely worth checking out if you are there.