Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Helsinki

May 14-19, 2016


As we've hinted in our last two posts, Michael has some colleagues in Helsinki. They welcomed us to their city for touring, eating and working, and we set aside extra time for our own exploring. I've got a couple of Finnish colleagues of my own, and they were wonderful sources of information for sight-seeing and vegetarian food. We lodged in Kallio, less than a block from its striking Lutheran church (pictured above).
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Our first stop was Kahvila Sävy. Here Michael was glad to buy the kind of coffee he drinks daily in Melbourne and I enjoyed dark, frothy hot chocolates that are harder to come by back home. Most customers are here for the hot drinks (and perhaps the wifi), but there's also a small selection of sandwiches, pastries and cakes for the hungry. We shared a sweetly homely apple slice with vanilla sauce on our second visit.

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Michael did just enough forward planning to secure us a 2pm Saturday booking at Sandro Kallio. While we would surely have eaten well there at any time, this booking coincided with their weekly Vegan & Veggie Garden Brunch. For 28.50€ (AU$44.30) each, we were handed glasses of sparkling wine and provided a two-hour slot to feast on a staggering buffet.


A candle-lit bench groaned with Ottolenghi-style salads, breads, pickles, freshly cut fruit, pastries and jams. It took two plates to cover these bases, and still there was a further section of 'mains'. These took the form of half a dozen tagines featuring braised vegetables, lentils, stewed seitan and tahini-drizzled felafel. At the bar, we were free to help ourselves to sparkling water, berry smoothies and ginger shots. The dessert table was right by the entry, so we knew to save space for a little cheese and a sample of the cakes.


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Elsewhere in the neighbourhood, Just Vege offered more low-key meals. The staff preferred to speak in English and had easy-to-read menus laid out in two languages with clear vegan and gluten-free options. Though they boast about their felafel, we both preferred to try their mock meats.

Michael laid into hot'n'spicy burger meal (11.90€ ~ AU$18.50), a slightly less sugary, disposable version of what he'd order at Lord of the Fries. It came with extra coleslaw, shredded lettuce, and some knock-out seasoned fries.


I chose the schnitzel (11.90€ ~ AU$18.50), a slim and crunchy-crumbed cutlet that came with blander 'carved potatoes' (I may have taken Michael's dipping sauce), ratatouille, coleslaw and shredded lettuce.

Throw in a Club-Mate to drink, and Just Vege had us feeling rather nostalgic for the vegan fast foods we ate around Berlin four years ago.
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On Michael's way in to work we stopped by Good Life Coffee for a small breakfast and a flat white (!). The menu - written decoratively in English on two mounted skateboard decks - includes granola & yoghurt, steamed eggs with avocado, avocado on toast, and (pictured above) peanut butter, sliced banana & maple syrup on toast (4€ ~ AU$6.20).
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I worked quietly from our apartment and took myself out to lunch at a Vietnamese vegetarian restaurant I'd walked past a couple of days earlier. The menu of 3 lunch specials was written in Finnish, but the staff behind the counter didn't mind verbally translating the options. I ended up with rice vermicelli noodles stir-fried with tofu, carrot, mushrooms and either cabbage or iceberg lettuce (8.40€ ~ AU$13 for a 'small' [actually huge] serve), and a complementary bowl of salad with distinctly non-Vietnamese green olives.


The meal lacked the vibrant herbs and seasonings of the food we've enjoyed in Vietnam and, indeed, Melbourne. It was a reminder of just how great we have it at home.
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For dinner after work, we retired to trendy pub Kuja. Vegetarian options rotate haloumi, eggplant and other roasted veges through burgers, crepes and 'white pizza's. We tested two of the burgers. Michael's vegan one (14.90€ ~ AU$23.20) featured a sweet potato-lentil patty that came off too mushy and messy; my haloumi one (14.50€ ~ AU$22.50) fared better with a thick slab of cheese offset by tangy pickles and chilli mayo. With a sturdier bun, mine just about held it together to the end.
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With bags packed on Wednesday morning we fueled up at Silvoplee, a large, casual vegetarian buffet Michael had spotted earlier in the week. It's clearly a popular spot for healthy and varied lunches, where you can pick through dozens of salads and hot dishes, plonk 'em on a plate or in a takeaway container, and pay by weight (the ones above costs 16€ ~ AU$25 on the left and 8€ ~ AU$12.50 on the right). I most enjoyed the stuffed mushroom and the avocado hummus.
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Kallio was definitely Helsinki's cool spot for coffee, veg-friendly eating and hairdressing. It seems that Europeans are fond of a good buffet and we've found that they're a great way to access a variety of vegetables and fruits. Though it's tempting, we can't survive this trip on haloumi alone.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Tallinn

May 16, 2016


Before we cover eating around Helsinki, I want to talk about Tallinn. It turns out that Estonia's capital is no more than a two-hour boat ride from Helsinki and our airbnb hosts and Michael's Finnish colleagues urged us to take a day to visit its Old Town. Indeed we were completely charmed by Tallinn's architecture, from its 13th century walls (pictured bottom of post) to the well-maintained pastel-hued shops and the orthodox churches.


Happy Cow also pointed us towards the instructively named Vegan Restoran V for lunch. Even as we arrived at their noon opening their cozy indoor seating was almost booked out - clearly they have a good reputation.


We started out with bubbly drinks in fancy glasses and distinctly Estonian nutty brown bread; Michael made sure this was all gobbled up before our meals arrived and the staff kindly supplied more.

As we picked through the rest of the menu, I wasn't sure what to order. The dips and cashew cheeses of the starters list appealed to me more than the salads, soups and main courses. That is, besides the seitan dish that Michael had already claimed - I wasn't in the mood for barley or quinoa or even a burger.


In the end I followed my instincts and ordered two starters. The beetroot ravioli with cashew cheese (4.90€ ~ AU$7.60) was a lovely little plate with skins of beetroot and generous lashings of tangy cheese garnished with fresh spinach leaves, sprouts and a little pesto.


Even better was the snack platter (7.90€ ~ AU$12.20), where I picked my way through spicy crumbly wedges of tofu, cheese cubes, olives, sundried tomatoes, more sprouts and spinach, and the two best components - grilled zucchini sandwiched with more cashew cheese, and pumpkin hummus on fresh bread. These dips were beautifully seasoned with garlic and salt, and I'd have gladly made a meal of them (and really, I just about did, didn't I?).


Meanwhile Michael took on the grilled seitan with parsnip carrot puree and red wine beetroot sauce (8.70€ ~ AU$13.50). It was a gorgeous, full-flavoured rainbow of a plate with two tender 'steaks', a comforting mash and fruity sauce, lifted by fresh asparagus, cherry tomatoes, radishes and herbs.


As we spied on the meals served to other tables, it was evident that there were no wrong orders from this menu. What didn't quite excite me on the page was consistently vibrant on the plate. The selection of vegan cakes by the counter were cute, too, but we didn't have the appetite or the time (our table had a reservation attached to it).


With English menus, professional staff and favourable prices, we couldn't fault our short lunch at Vegan Restoran V. The restaurant and Tallinn as a whole were unexpected delights that we'd enthusiastically recommend to anyone visiting northern Europe.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Stockholm, weeks 3 & 4

May 1-14, 2016


Weeks 3 and 4 of my Stockholm trip were split by Cindy's arrival and our long weekend in Basel. Before we met up I ate my way through a big pile of leftover Singapore noodles and squeezed in a couple of quick outings.


I worked at home on Wednesday and wandered the neighbourhood in search of lunch, settling on Bengali street food at Gossip. It's run by the same people who run Shanti (see below) and was buzzing at 12:30 on a sunny Wednesday. I nabbed a seat in the window and ordered the Monsoon rain sabji from the lunch menu - it's a combination of veggies (carrot, zucchini, sweet peas, pumpkin), lentils, papaya and a mildly spicy sauce, served with salad, rice and a fried egg. The standard lunch also includes a mango lassi and at 90 krona ($15), it's pretty decent value.



That evening I met up with some work friends for a speedy bird photography outing to Djurgården and we continued on afterwards for dinner together at Calexico's in Hornstull. It offers the kind of trendy Mexican food that Melbourne's been pumping out for the last five years in a bright, airy space down by the water.


My chimichangas with sweet potatoes, black beans, grilled veggies and a mild salsa verde (178kr, $29.50) were an excellent vegan option, and the atmosphere and company made for a lovely outing. 


My last meal before heading to Basel was a return visit for lunch at Chutney - Cindy followed suit soon after we arrived back in Stockholm, breaking up one of her days working from the apartment.


I'd eyed off the veggie burger (120kr, $20) on my previous visit and really enjoyed it on this visit - the patty is 'meaty' and rich, and the burger is a delicious mess of sauces and salads. The side spuds were fantastic as well - it's a hearty lunch though, so make sure you're hungry. On Cindy's trip she ordered from the set lunch options - for 98kr ($16.30) you get your choice of one of three main dishes, plus salad and bread. She ordered the tikka masala, a creamy dish of beans and veggies on some A-grade fluffy rice. Chutney isn't going to blow too many minds food-wise, but it's a reliable lunch place in a very convenient location.


We came back from Basel on a Sunday night and lacked the energy to shop and cook something for dinner. Luckily, Shanti is just down the street - it came recommended by a colleague at work and my successful lunch at Gossip (above) meant I had high hopes.


The menu is impressively varied - we could easily come back two or three more times to try all the dishes on our wish lists. We started out with a serve of the palak paneer pakoras (80kr, $13.30), an innovative attempt at combining two of my favourite Indian dishes. It worked brilliantly too - these crisp little balls are probably the best way to enjoy palak paneer. Cindy ordered the nawabi kofta, fried veggie balls flavoured with ginger, garlic, chilli and coriander, served in a creamy korma sauce. I managed to sneak a taste, and was impressed by the fresh veggie chunks evident in the kofta balls.


My main was the sak sabji dal - a similar dish to the great lunch I had at Gossip, with papaya, lentils, spinach, potato and coriander in a spicy curry sauce. It was superb, although the pick of all the dishes was probably the standard dal that came with both mains - a simple but perfectly spiced lentil curry. Shanti is a step above most Indian places we've been to - the veggies feel fresher and more central to the dishes - it's easy to see why they've built a little empire in Stockholm.


Tuesday night we took advantage of the late hours at Moderna Museet for a quick wander through their collection, before stopping for a pizza on the way home. Denniso Pizzeria is recommended on Happy Cow for its separate vegan menu, so we decided it was worth a visit.


There are five vegan options, with three relying on mock-meats and a couple of more vegetable-focussed offerings. We split the difference, with a funghi (mushrooms, red onion, vegan cheese, 100kr/$16.50) and a kebab (seitan kebab meat, onion, tomato, iceberg lettuce, pepperoni and garlic sauce, 120kr/$20).


These were decent vegan efforts - nice thin bases, a bio-cheese style cheesiness and a decent array of toppings. The recreation of a classic kebab in vegan pizza form was particularly impressive - the garlic sauce and chilli peppers gave this a very authentic kebab vibe.


The final blog-worth meal of the fortnight was all Cindy's - a solo lunch at SoderManna, another nearby casual vego place.


The menu offers a standard range of burgers, wraps and salads, mixing up mock-meat, haloumi and falafel as the main ingredients. Cindy ordered the veggie burger, with a side of potato wedges and salad (59kr/$10).


The thick potato wedges and garlicky dip were the best parts of the plate, with the burger a decent 'meaty' patty generously slathered in tomato sauce. Sodermanna isn't sophisticated or fancy, but it's super cheap and you won't leave hungry.

We skipped out on Stockholm after this meal for a long weekend in Helsinki - stay tuned for a quick tour through the veggie restaurants of Finland (and Estonia!).

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Sauteed vegetables with mock chorizo

May 9, 2016


In Stockholm Michael's been living in a cute airbnb lined with books. The kitchen is small but handy, and a much cheaper alternative to eating out. There's a supermarket just across the street. On my first full day in town he set off to the university and I stayed in to do my own work, agreeing to organise dinner. 

I noticed that Michael had a packet of mock chorizo sausages in the fridge. They inspired me to do something I don't do often at all - look up recipes that contain meat. A page on BBC Good Food gave me a pretty good idea of what omnivores tend to do with chorizo. The recipe that most appealed to me seemed intended for brunch. It's a simple but substantial saute of baby potatoes, capsicum, onion and chorizo, all topped with a fried egg. It reminded me of the fabulous hashes served up at Smith & Daughters.

Since we didn't need to eat all four serves straight up, I did all of the chopping and potato-boiling but held over half the ingredients for a later meal. My fried eggs were ugly but did the job. I added some mixed greens and cherry tomatoes to the plate for some extra freshness, and the greens wilted nicely on contact with the sauteed vegetables. The chorizo played a pretty minor role in the end, but I like its spiciness and was glad for a colourful, vege-filled plate.


Sauteed vegetables with mock chorizo
(adapted from a recipe from BBC Good Food)

500g baby potatoes
2 onions, sliced into strips
1 red capsicum, sliced into strips
1 green capsicum, sliced into strips
200g mock chorizo, sliced
100g mixed green leaves
200g cherry tomatoes, halved
4 eggs
olive oil
salt & pepper

Chop the potatoes into bite-sized pieces. Place them in a saucepan and cover them with water. Boil the potatoes until tender, about 15-20 minutes. Drain the potatoes.

Cover the base of a large frypan with a thin layer of olive oil. Saute the onions until soft. Add the capsicums and continue to saute until the capcicums are soft and the onion is beginning to brown around the edges. Tranfer the capsicums and onion to a plate and return the frypan to the heat. Add the potatoes and chorizo to the pan, allowing them to brown a little before turning them. When the potatoes and chorizo have developed a crust that you like, add the capsicum and onion back into the pan for a minute or two. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Share the green leaves between four plates and top them with the sauteed vegetables and chorizo. Distribute the cherry tomatoes across the saute. Fry the eggs and put one on top of each plate. Serve.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Basel

May 5-8, 2016


Michael and I have reunited in Basel, sharing a long weekend with some old friends who've been living in Switzerland for a decade. It was especially warm and sunny so we went on walks, visited museums, played games in parks and indoors with cards. We ate barbecued vegetables, breads and cheeses and ice creams.

We also ate out a few times - here are the cafes and restaurants we tried.
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While the kids had swimming lessons, Michael and I roamed the town, taking in the markets, the architecture, and a youth choir festival running events in numerous nooks. We stopped strategically for lunch at Tibits, a chain of vegetarian restaurants with outlets all over Switzerland, plus one in London. Most of the food is buffet style and many labels included English translations on the back. It wasn't too daunting to pick up a plate, serve ourselves what appealed, and pay by weight at the counter.


I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of fresh, colourful vegetables available, having eaten some very yellow meals in years gone by. Grain salads, pomegranate seeds and hummus have made it big, and there's still room for more traditional quiches and mock-meatballs. Our highlight was the crumbed and cream cheese-stuffed jalapeno poppers. Meals don't come cheap in this part of Europe, however - we paid AU$47.40 for these two plates.
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With a babysitter arranged, the four adults booked in a fancy meal at Cantina Don Camillo in the repurposed Warteck Brewery. The 2nd floor courtyard was summery and contemporary, and the menu prides itself on international and vegan cuisine. With English menu translations available, it was easy to pick through the dedicated plant-based menu sections; even so, Michael just went with the set 3-course vegan meal (CHF55 ~ AU$77).


Entrees were light and fresh (pictured top row, left to right): a frothy broccoli mousse with grapefruit segments and candied peel for Michael, and a savoury celery cannelloni for me (CHF16 ~ AU$22). The mains (our pictured bottom row, left to right) tended to use carbohydrates rather than protein for bulk, with minor exception of Michael's nut roast in spicy sauce. My filo pyramid (CHF27 ~ AU$38) had the stand-out presentation, and flavour to back it up - inside was a filling of curried leeks, a cairn of steamed veges and all around was a creamy potato sauce.


I still had an appetite for the dessert sampler (CHF19 ~ AU$27), picking my way through (clockwise from top left) a chocolate brownie square, vanilla icecream garnished with chocolate, baklava, chocolate icecream, passionfruit coconut cream catalan and ginger icecream. While everything was lovely the seasonal specials, passionfruit catalan and ginger icecream, came through as table favourites.
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The kids joined us for our final expedition, a brunch at frühling. It was trendy but relaxed, and a nice spot to bring children. Though the setting would sit as well in Melbourne as it does in Basel, the menu is devoid of our typical poached eggs, avo on toast and pancakes. Instead there's a more low-key list of muesli, pastries and breads served with spreads, cheeses, meats and a boiled egg at a stretch. 


We muddled our way through the drinks menu, finding a good coffee for Michael and a pot of rooibos tea for me. Luckily for us, the menu included a page in English as well as German.


We happily settled on the vegetarian breakfast for two (CHF29.50 ~ AU$41), and with surprise saw it served in tiers like a high tea. It was a pleasure to work slowly through the layers of light and dark bread slices, soft and mature cheese, hummus and chutney, butter and jam, honey, chocolate spread and spiced candied nuts.
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Eating out in Switzerland is such a rare treat. Obviously distance is our greatest barrier to the wonderful baked goods, cheeses and chocolates but restaurants are also very costly. We loved splashing out with dear friends but would have to keep a tighter hold on our wallets if we were to stick around longer.