5/9/12

Vegan Soul Power's Summer Travel Guide for Vegans and Vegetarians

Are you coming to Europe this summer? That's funny, because I'm going to United States! (To get married, and then abscond with my beloved down the East Coast, ending up New Orleans!) Well here's a deal - I'll give you guys the vegan low-down for some of the European cities I've lived in or visited, and if you have a great tip for a must-eat place in the South, let me know in the comments!

*****
Budapest, Hungary

Why go: Budapest is romantic and sultry during the summertime. The Danube is draped in sparkling lights on either side and a walk down any winding street is likely to lead you to slightly run-down garden bar (Kert) packed with sweaty young cool-kids sampling beer and fruity palinka. There are thought-provoking museums and fantastic concerts for the culture lover, and plenty of do-able excursions to shady Buda or the country-side for nature lovers (try Lake Balaton!). And above all, its much more affordable visiting this city of lights than Paris.

Downside? Budapest's secret is out- everyone knows what a great place it is to visit in the summer, and tourists come in droves. This can either add to the international atmosphere, or create a situation where 20 drunk rugby players are picking fights at Szimpla Kert. But you'll be a tourist too, so you can handle it. 

What to Eat:
Street Food: Budapest isn't blessed with many street level food carts other than ice cream. However, if you go to any festival or up Castle Hill you will probably encounter langos, a type of fried bread smathered in sour cream (vegetarian.)

Restaurants: While vegetarian food is plentiful, vegan food is hard to come by in restaurants (but not impossible.) Hummus Bar has several locations and great hummus wraps for lunch, and there are a number of cafes in the Jewish Quarter that offer daily specials, often with vegan options. There are also several excellent Asian, Mexican, and Indian restaurants that have veg options.

Specialties: Budapest has outrageously fresh vegetables and many bio-stores with a wide range of vegan options, so cooking for yourself is a great option if its feasible. Be sure to pick up some Hungarian paprika (the spice and the vegetable), spring onions, peaches, cherries and plums which are all in season in the summer. More importantly: many bio shops offer vegan hot dogs and sausages with Hungarian spices, and these are some of the best meat substitutes I've ever had.

Check out my posts from Budapest for more tips and recipes.

Istanbul, Turkey
Why go: Istanbul is the puta madre of all cities. Its bigger, more bewildering, and more beautiful than anything you've ever seen (unless you've already been there.) The history is staggering- you don't get to be the capital of two major empires without some architectural baggage leftover. But this is also a city that knows how to surprise and delight, with a mix of intimate urban cafes and gardens and over-the-top grandiosity (like Hagia Sofia.). Its so simple to have a unique experience here- just try one of the hundreds of ferry boat trips leaving everyday between Europe and Asia.

Downside: Istanbulus are well aware of the city's draw for visitors, and an entire industry lives on them. This makes for some pushy salespeople sometimes. Just say "no" to that touristy restaurant or outrageously expensive rug- but don't feel bad getting talked into cheap souvenirs here and there.

What to Eat:
Street food: Vegans and vegetarians hit the jackpot on street-food here. You've got roasted chestnuts, grilled corn, fresh squeezed pomegranate juice, mixed nuts, and simits, bagel-like bread. (These are vegetarian for sure, but I highly suspect that they are often vegan as the recipe varies. Someone Turkish want to weigh in?)

Restaurants: Turkish food is heavy on meat and fish, but almost all of the accoutrements are vegan or vegetarian. There are apparently over 800 types of eggplant dishes in Turkish cuisine, and there are many types of salads served at most places, often with chickpeas, bulgur, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, ect- just ask! Its rare to find somewhere that has nothing vegan whatsoever. There are also several restaurants devoted entirely to veg cooking, but I must confess I never sought them out with all of the possibilities available.

Specialties: As I said, I've never found it necessary to cook for myself in Istanbul (the hospitality is fantastic) but between the plentiful and delicious fruits and vegetables, tahini and pekmez (a type of grape syrup) and many fragrant herbs and spices that you can find in specialty stores, vegetarian cooking is a breeze. Syrups and spices make great souvenirs, too.

And my posts from Istanbul have more.

Brussels, Belgium

Why go: As the Capitol of the European Union, you might think Brussels would have the stuffy, bureaucratic feeling of a place that is all business. And though you can certainly find that (just try Place Luxembourg) Brussels is distinctive not just for its European feeling, but as an diasporic intellectual center as well. From the winding streets of the African district Matonge to the Balkan bands playing Saturday mornings near Palais de Justice, to the Egyptian hookah bars circling Gare du Midi station, you can get an international feel from Brussels that is much more than just European.

Downside: Its expensive and the weather, more often than not, sucks. Luckily, the cozy indoor bars have as much to offer in people-watching as the outdoors. Try, for example, Le Pantin, right by Place Flagey.
Best fries in Brussels?

What to Eat:
Street food: Belgians are pretty sure that they invented the French fry (which begs the question... oh, never mind.) So this is your ultimate bet in Brussels, some portable pommes (hold the mayo) and a nice Belgian beer. Waffles are vegetarian and come with a variety of toppings, but only tourists go for all of that strawberry and chocolate stuff on top. (Its sugary enough, mon cherie.) Speaking of chocolate, milk-free chocolate can be found in most fancy chocolate shops, so don't fret.

Restaurants: I bet that Belgian food is really good, but even after living there a year I wouldn't know- its all butter and meat stuffed with endives and other stuff that isn't in my wheelhouse. A better bet is to go foreign and try African and Asian cuisine. Indochine, an excellent Vietnamese restaurant in Ixelles, has pho and plenty of other treats. Cruise around Matonge for a soy latte at Blomqvist's Espresso bar (if the same hot Swedish guy owns it you're in for a treat) and some African snacks on Rue de Long Vie. There's also Egyptian and Algerian food to be found... you know what? You can't go wrong on restaurants. Just avoid Belgian food and the overpriced tourist fare in Grand Place and you'll be fine.

Specialties: Vegan specialties in Brussels abound. First and foremost, yogurt, creamer, and dairy replacements in general are supreme here. Bio shops have a truly great array of nut and soy milks, and great different flavors of yogurt. Aside from that, Brussel's multicultural side means it is THE place in Europe to find the kind flavors that are devoid elsewhere- in the market and shops you can find plantains and mangoes, lemongrass stalks, tagine spices and piri-piri... the only limit is your imagination. Oh yeah.... and BEER.

Check out my other posts from Brussels for more.



Belgrade, Serbia

Why go: Because Belgrade is the capitol of easy luxury. (Don't laugh!) Where else in Europe can you eat at fine restaurants, sing along to live music all night on a riverside boat, stroll through a Ottoman fortress during the day, and never break a sweat about your bank account? A taxi across town is $5, a haircut, dye job, blowout and mani-pedi won't crack $30, soccer matches are often free, and you can score tickets to the world class ballet for just $2. Aside from the savings, Belgrade is a town that is just incredibly generous with its gifts. Its clear and sunny almost everyday, fragrant flowery trees line shady streets packed with cute cafes, and its hard to find a city with better looking, more intellectually stimulating people. Maybe I'm just charmed because I've had such a great experience here, but apparently some people agree with me.


Downside: Belgrade is best seen with someone who knows their way around the city. So couch-surf or scour your networks for someone who lives here and see the city with a local.

What to Eat:
Street Food: Most street food is meet oriented (Ćevap Čići or hot dogs) but there is one fun option: popcorn! (I have to admit though, I think popcorn is a dumb idea of street food in a windy city.)

Restaurants: There are some excellent upscale restaurants with vegetarian and vegan options, but I find myself gravitating more towards kafanas, inexpensive, homey places often featuring live music and a livelier atmosphere. The menus are meat-oriented, but if you know what to look for you can always find something. I stick to broiled mushrooms with rice, prebanac a bean casserole flavored with onions or bacon (so ask!), polenta, or broiled peppers with crusty bread. One thing that Belgrade does not do well, in my experience, is Asian food, so resist the temptation to get some tofu draped in ketchup.

Specialties: If you're vegetarian, Belgrade is a cake-walk since people here like to wash down a greasy, cheese-filled pastry (burek) with a yogurt drink for breakfast. (Oy.) Vegans will want to stick to the excellent vegetables and fruit. In the summer, markets are filled with strawberries, cherries and plums, plus juicy peppers, greens onions, and walnuts. When I want to make own version of a local dish I'll make a paste out of roasted walnuts and garlic to coat some red peppers, served over polenta with green onions. Down-home Serbian, vegan style.

For more posts from Serbia, just look below.

Happy traveling, and don't forget to visit Berlin, which I have covered extensively since its my home base in Europe.


Song of the Day: Santigold- Disparate Youth

6 comments:

Get Skinny, Go Vegan. said...

Wow, what a diverse group of places!!!!
Have a great time in the States and don't hate on us too much!!!!

Amey said...

what a totally awesome post!! three cheers for travel! Too bad you aren't coming to the west coast- we coulda had a little meet up! :)

oh, also - I'm going to Ukraine in a few weeks - have you ever been there?

T said...

re: Amey- yeah I've never been far West, one of these days I'll have to venture past the Mississippi river... And I've also never been to the Ukraine! Should be an interesting moment to visit though, with all of the Tymoshenko stuff going on. Looking forward to hearing about it!

Margaret said...

Love the adventure and travel. Thank you!!
http://veganrawfood.net

Vegan Miam said...

Nice few choices! I found Istanbul a bit challenging especially during a really cold weather and knowing no one there....but definitely Sofia I would love to visit.

Safe travels back to the U.S.!

Vegan Miam
vwww.veganmiam.com

Vegan Miam said...

I love Berlin & Belgium (I prefer Antwerpen over Brussels because of the culture and less tourists)! Lived there for a month or so in each city few years ago! It was truly an exciting vegan experience whilst traveling! I've also included posts there as well, but not very much since I didn't have a grand camera until then. Keep it up with vegan posts. I would love to see more Serbian vegan cuisine!

Vegan Miam!
http://www.veganmiam.com