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Aeroplane food – Victories of the vegetarian traveller

18 Jan

Man and Woman apologise for their blogging absence, we’ve been blog-free in Sydney and Melbourne over the past month. Ah. Tough. Life. Eh.

As a result, our first post back is related to aviationary food. Really, a revelation regarding food in-flight.

It takes four separate, ten-hour long flights to get from London to Sydney and back. Given the frequency with which airlines tend to feed (read ‘stupefy’) their passengers, that equates to about 426 meals. That’s 426 episodes of disappointment and confusion. This is one of the reasons Woman had not been back to Sydney in three years (sorry Sydney).

The one sliver of silver lining in the cloud as a vegetarian passenger, is that you get to be served first, feel all special and then wonder what’s not vegetarian about the chocolate cake the other omnivorous passengers get to consume.

We’d booked our stock standard lacto-ovo meals for the Korean Air trip, resulting in one meal which appeared to be anemic polenta coupled with potatoes and off-white broccoli and another which was pasta, full stop. So, with not a little trepidation, at Sydney airport last Friday we requested Asian vegetarian for our meals on our fourth and final leg. The theory being, of course, that we should help the Koreans play to their strengths, being Asian themselves.

As it turns out, ‘Asian’ for Korean Airlines is used in much the way ‘Asian’ is used by the British – that is to mean, the Sub-Continent. And Man Woman are not going to argue about definitions, particularly when Asians themselves choose to use this definition of Asian. And particularly not when the result was a triumph in airplane cuisine. Yes, dear readers, a triumph.

Why all airplane food is not Indian curries, little sachets of mixed pickle and warmed chappatis we do not know. All we do know is that we must have pissed off every single passenger around us with our vocal surprise and delight and what might only be called tastiness of the food in our plastic and tin foil boxes.

Is this really a review of airline food? I’m afraid yes it is, a little bit. But more it is a word of advice, even for meat eaters: Go Asian. Go Asian all the way. You’ll thank us.

Vegan cassoulet

30 Nov

This dish was inspired by a practical joke. A friend of ManWoman’s loves his hearty meaty cassoulet with the usual suspects: pork sausages, goose, duck, mutton. So, on a trip to Paris last year ManWoman said we could procure some cassoulet. Instead we bought a can of ratatouille and cassoulet, and swtiched the labels. Needless to say said friend, bottle of red decanting and rubbing his hands with meatlust, was served ratatouille.

ManWoman did feel a little guilty in such a blatant fraud, so this dish, a stand-out vegan cassoulet, is a ManWoman take on this traditional French slow cooked dish – showing that a cassoulet can be hearty and filling – not wanting for anything other than a red wine decanting on the counter.

Vegan cassoulet (serves 4 with bread)

  • 4 vegetarian (vegan) sausages chopped
  • 1/2 C giant white butter beans, soaked then cooked
  • 1 can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 150ml water
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 1/2 leek, chopped
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 3 cloves fresh garlic
  • 2 stalks thyme
  • 1 tsp whole back peppercorns
  • 1 dried kashmiri (or other hot) chili whole (removed when bay leaves are taken out)

Heat oil or butter (that’s not vegan then but), then over low to medium heat cook leeks, carrots and garlic for about 4 minutes – just to soften. Add everything else.

Cook over medium heat, covered, for as long as possible. Slow cookers are ideal (if not mock up your own, as Man will be demonstrating in a photo to follow shortly).

Serve with crusty bread.

Estimated cost: £3

Hell no, risotto! The Campaign Against Risotto

14 Sep

Hell no, risotto

Listen here, restauranteurs of the world. Down your pans for a moment, if you please, maestro chef.

Sloppy rice is not the only thing you can feed a person who does not eat meat.

For too long vegetarians have looked down the list of courses on menus to find risotto as the only thing they can consume. For too many meals non-meat-eaters have had to swallow the loathing of carnivorous chefs, cursing their un-introduced names, with each mushy bite of the once exciting Italian rice dish.

Culinary masters of London, there are things in this world that are not meat which are also not risotto.

Courgettes are not risotto. Pulses also, not risotto. Noodles, tofu, eggplant, mushrooms, corn, sweet potato, polenta, artichokes, pies even – all are not risotto. There are so many foods in this world which are not risotto, yet in some bizarre conspiracy against they who abstain from flesh, the good chefs of London seem to have come together, no doubt in some dark meat freezer, surrounded by the glistening caracasses of hanging pigs, and decided over nibbles of trotters and ears that after quiche had a very good run, risotto shall now be the vegetarian option. Everywhere. ‘Let them eat risotto!’, they all laugh, clink their silver goblets and then go about the far more interesting business of what else they can do with steak.

Well, we have had enough. And not just us – not everyone who wants to meat wants to eat it always, at every meal, at every restaurant, pub and cafe.

Clearly, there’s not much we can do except not eat the risotto. There is also unlikely to be many chefs who, at the end of their shift, look at the coagulated trough of rice and think ‘Shit, have they revolted? My god, the vegetarians are fighting back, get me the tempeh!’.

But, Man Woman has had enough. We can no longer sit in sloppy silence. We will be keeping a Risotto Watch of those places which show such disdain, lack of hospitality and imagination to keep risotto as the one and only vegetable option.

We’ve started a little angry Facebook group, The Campaign Against Risotto. Join it if you want to share good places, bad places and your general thoughts on life and the state of the Galapagos.

(And stop being such cheap buggers. Rice is cheaper than sea bass, we know that. Stop charging us the same price)

Paris for vegetarians (really)

6 Sep

Man Woman have the luxury of living in London, which means we’re so near to Paris it’s kinda rude if we don’t drop by every now and again.

What we often do is rent an apartment, raid the cheese section of the marche d’Alligre in Bastille, near the fabulous tiny pokey down-at-heel wine bar Baron Rouge, buy bucketloads of bread from the boulangerie on the corner of Rue des Martyrs and Rude de Cochorot, stock up on red wine and laze in our apartment when we get hungry thinking how it can’t get any better.

But not this time. We found places that cook food we can eat – really eat.

Fuxia

When in doubt,  look for the Italians. At least they will always do a tomato sauce pasta. And lo, Fuxia did much more. We discovered soon enough it was a chain (alack), which served oddly different sized portions at different locales (Rue des Martyrs – generous; Canal St Martin – stingy as all hell).

Man Woman ate pretty fantastic mushroom risotto and veggie cannelloni – all of which sounds pretty standard, but which was a slight step above the bog standard risotto that gets begrudgingly offered to plant-eaters at most otherwise omnivorous eating establishments. The cannelloni was decadently soggy, with a nice picante cheesey topping while the risotto at first had the look of tinned mushrooms, it ended up having that amazingly earthy borderline-truffley flavour of really good mushies. Topped off with a little coffee degustation with mini tiramisu, panacotta (both of which Woman realised she doesn’t really like in the first place but can appreciate) all was good. Particularly when the bill came in at €47. Not bad stuff.

Fuxia (Epicerie), 51 Rue des Martyrs, 9e, Metro: Notre Dame de Lorette, Pigalle or Cadet

Soya

Speaking of not bad stuff, Soya, is very good stuff.

In a street where it appears not much is happening, but where you suspect a lot is, Soya is a great space – all white walls, industrial metal and wood columns – but gloriously unpretentious.

We went for the menu formules, which had the kind of veggie fare that makes vegetarians happy and meat eaters willing to make the sacrifice. We had a mini mezze as a shared starter which brought a new meaning to the value of dips – who knew hommus could do such things? – followed by the torte and plat of the day, both of which were massive. There was an element of blandness to the torte, but I’ll put that down to being worthy and healthy and I’ll happily overlook it.

When you’re otherwise consigned to cheese and white bread, Soya is an amazing little respite – chilled, hearty and totally accepting of your disinclination to eat foie gras, which is truly a special place in gay Paris.

20 Rue Pierre Levée, 11e, Metro: Republique, Oberkampf

Chez Marianne

Now for the falafels. Chez Marianne is in the Jewish quarter on the Right Bank, tossed in among boutique stores and amazing Jewish bakeries. It’s an odd nearly standalone building, covered in some creeping plant and whose interior features many pictures of Marianne at various stages of maturity and with various levels of decolletage on display. Even on the wine (advise against ordering house).

But in any event, don’t eat inside. It’s over-priced and what you get is a large plate of dips. Blah.

But the falafels – for which you must pay inside and line up at the little drive-thru style window outside – are quite something. Made fresh to order, a normally quite surly falafel maker will take your receipt, then proceed to deep fry those green chickpea balls of goodness, mixed with lovely fresh shredded cabbage and wonderfully fried up eggplant. Stuffed into what in Man Woman’s dream world would be a wrap, but is, in reality, a pita pocket the icing on this humble, wondrous falafel cake is that you can top it yourself with endless pickled chilies, gherkins and hot chili sauce.

You then sit down on the stoop of some building nearby, which is thankfully apparently always closed, staring at a closed market with the words Libertie, Egalitie, Fraternitie, above it and think, this Paris lark ain’t so bad for plant-eaters after all.

2,rue des Hospitalieres-Saint-Gervais

Review: Shiso I’m going to miss you most of all

5 Aug

Oh, Shiso. How amazing you were when I ate fish.

How we long for those days, just two months ago, when we could have gorged on your soft-shell crab nori rolls, picked at your seared tuna sashimi in mustard miso sauce, carelessly thrown back the world’s best California roll.

Oh, Shiso, I’m going to miss you most of all.

Shiso is excellent Japanese.  A surprisingly cool set-up in Harringey which home delivers – can life possibly hold any greater wonder? For vegetarians, though,  the appeal of Shiso is rather limited to the table football in the dining area. Eating there on Tuesday night I had a choice of agadashi tofu (very good, soft nearly custard-like tofu), veggie tempura (it’s just deep-fried veg), marinated eggplant (really quite divine in it’s soy-soaked-ness) or veggie gyoza.  All of which were spot on – fresh, accompanied by delicately flavoured sauces and presented very well in a sunny courtyard dining area. However, having all but exhausted the menu in one sitting, I don’t know if I can ever really return.

I sigh. I sigh deep in my soul.

Price per head: £20 (eating with a fish-eater and with a beer each)

Friendliness to veggies: 3/10

Overall rating: 9/10

Review: Tas on The Cut

2 Aug

One of the most heart-breaking things about London is the omnipresence of chain eateries. From the 12 Pret-a-Manger outlets along the Number 19 bus route between Finsbury Park and Kensington, to Gordon Ramsey’s eponymous restaurants which seem to self-multiply in a disturbing Fantasia-broomstick-esque manner – it’s too much of an (often not quite) good thing.

One exception to the rule is Tas. When Man Woman first came across Tas, we did think it was a fantastic little find. Much like when I first got to France and thought I had stumbled across a fantastic little boulangerie run by Paul. Alack, Tas too is a chain (and Paul is shit).

But there are chains, and there are chains.

Tas on The Cut looks far posher than it is – or maybe it’s just that Man Woman is unused to eating on anything but plastic-coated table cloths or the wallpaper we scavanged from someone’s front yard dump. Does tend to skew your perspective somewhat.

Tas – all of the Tases actually – is a place we love almost despite itself. After abandoning fish from the menu, I have to honestly say that the food is basic, sometimes lacking the flavour intensity the dishes visually insinuate. But this is the kind of place where reading the menu is excitement enough (eg. leeks, chickpeas and lentils with couscous and yoghurt with pomegranate), the eating of it is almost a superfluous experience.

It’s the only place in London that does Turkish bread that in anyway resembles the glory that is Turkish bread in Australia (and, I’m assuming, Turkey) and the good armies of waitstaff provide the bread, olives and some rather delicious yoghurt dip free and frequently.

The dishes themselves are massive, ranging from bulgur kofte to some dish involving both grapes and cheddar cheese and which is oddly kinda yum. Dishes to avoid (as a veggie) would be the Mantar (a sizeable pyramid of mushrooms topped with a flavourless white cheese). My main tonight, patlicanli – a smoked aubergine puree, couscous and yoghurt, lacked any actual texture apart from ‘soft’, but something tells me I’ll one day end up eating it again anyway, thus is the draw of Tas.

Tas on the Cut, though, is definitely worth a wander to. You’ll have no idea why you love it.

Oh, and at all times: keep away the house wine.

Price per head: generous veggie mains start at £7.45, set menus start at £9.95.  We regularly spend around £15 a head

Friendliness to veggies: 9/10

Overall rating: 8/10, but I don’t know why

Tapioca pudding with toasted coconut and fruits

1 Aug

Man Woman have had very limited historical exposure to tapioca. Neither of us believe we have eaten it in at least five years, and probably only a few times in our entire lives.  Nevertheless in recent weeks I have had a persistent craving for tapioca. So we bought a big bag of the stuff from an Asian grocer (79p!), which no doubt will lay idle after this first burst of frenzied tapioca enthusiasm.

This is essentially an Asian version of a typical rice pudding, but slightly lighter, fun and summery. And I just ate it. Damn. Good.

Tapioca pudding (serves 4 -unless you’re very hungry)

  • 1/2 C of small tapioca peals
  • 3/4 C (or half can) coconut milk
  • 1/2 C (or more) water
  • Little lime zest
  • 1 tsp sugar

Just soak the pearls for about 20 minutes, rinse then chuck the lot into a heavy-bottomed small saucepan. Bring to the boil, then lower heat and cook – stirring often – until the little tapioca balls are soft and poppy.

Serve warm or refrigerate, topping with…

Grilled fruits and coconut

  • Dry roast a couple tablespoons of dessicated coconut in a pan – ESSENTIAL – the world should be coated in toasted coconut
  • Slice bananas lengthwise, leave in skin and cook under grill for 15 minutes
  • Grill pineapple under grill for about the same

Good with a dash of maple syrup on top – not overly sweet otherwise.

Estimated cost: £1

Musical accompaniment: The Velvet Underground

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