Vegan Mofo: Pizza n’ Pasta

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Hi guys! Happy Mofo-ing! Welcome to ‘Round the World Thursdays, in which I showcase food or drinks I’ve consumed in a plethora of places.

Here’s a little secret: I love pasta. If you told me I would get a perfectly balanced diet by only eating tacos, popcorn and pasta, I would be perfectly content for life. Give me noodles in some kind of sauce, and I will not get bored. Ever.

So in cities or countries where it’s been hard to find vegan food, either in the grocery store or in restaurants, a lot of time I’ll fall back on pasta. Throw in a cheeseless pizza (or vegan cheese when available, because I like my pizzas with cheeeeese) from time to time, and you’ve got an ideal fallback for many meals.

thank goodness for carbs and sauce

thank goodness for sauce and carbs

 

The meals shown above range from raw beet and cashew cheese ravioli (Coach and Horses Pub, London, top right) to a vegan pepperoni Turkish pizza (Brno, Czech Republic, middle center) to an Indian-style spaghetti made for me by an amorous restaurant owner in Novi Sad, Serbia (bottom right).

And Vietnam is no exception, actually. Most restaurants, even with a vegetable section, add fish sauce to dishes and the language barrier is sometimes too hard to overcome. Plus a lot of Vietnamese restaurants seem to have a small pizza and/or pasta section (Heck yeah). So when Happy Cow doesn’t show a vegan or vegetarian establishment close by, I’ll frequently opt for spaghetti (no butter, no parmesan).

As I’ve thought numerous times on this trip: I’m so thankful my stomach is forgiving when I eat copious amounts of wheat and soy. At home in Portland, I usually opt for gluten-free noodles and rarely eat soy (unless it’s tofu), but I would have a harder time traveling if I didn’t have those options available to me.

 

 

Spaghetti in Phu Quoc (mysteriously garnished with a mint leaf) (which I ate, and it was good)

Spaghetti in Phu Quoc (mysteriously garnished with a mint leaf) (which I ate, and it was good)

 

Side Note: I thought I’d lose weight when I started traveling because I wouldn’t have access to ALL THE VEGAN FOOD that I eat in Portland, plus I’d be drinking less and walking more. But it turns out that I still really like to eat pasta, bread, ice cream, corn nuts, and I still love my wine spritzers. Go figure. Food’s the best.

 

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Vegan Mofo: Cookies & Scream

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Vegan Mofo, known as the Vegan Month of Food to vegan bloggers everywhere, is upon us. And I’m participating for the first time. I’m keeping it short and sweet, as I’ll be training and bussing and staying in questionable lodging with questionable access to wifi throughout Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand this September. And I’m also blogging at Vida Vegan HQ’s blog, where Jess, Michele and I are doing a Month of Memories theme.

Here’s how the weeks’ posts will be broken down, roughly:

  • Monday: Sweet Treats
  • Tuesday: Snacky Treats
  • Wednesday: Wacky Wednesday
  • Thursday: Around The World
  • Friday: It’s 5 o’clock Somewhere

I have so many pictures from the last few months of my travels, I’m excited to share them with you all!

For the first installment, because I’ve been CRAVING vegan ice cream and cookies recently (impossible to find in Vietnam), here is an extraordinarily crave-worthy milkshake from Cookies & Scream in Camden Market, London.

 

Cookies and Scream in London

 

Sean, better known as The Fat Gay Vegan, took me here on our London afternoon outing back in June. We met up with the lovely Kip from The Messy Vegetarian Cook and all heavily indulged in some of London’s best vegan gluten-free dessert.

 

This little beauty is made from vegan and gluten-free vegan ice cream, soy milk, and A WHOLE peanut butter chocolate chip cookie. Oh. My. Lanta. So good.

 

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Majestic Montenegro (and Beachy Budva)

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Montenegro. Black Mountain. This tiny country, and Europe’s newest (Montenegro has been around in current form in all its glory since 2006), is filled with mountains and dotted with some of the most spectacular beaches I’ve ever seen. This isn’t your ordinary coastline; instead of fine sand, you’ll most likely find tiny pebbles. And the mountain range extends almost to the waves, leading to what feels like an insular valley of bright blue water and tiny green islands.

The Sea & The Mountains

Budva

Montenegro is the one of the only two countries to use the euro without being a member of the European Union (Kosovo being the other). From the research I’ve done, Montenegro had no currency of its own; it used the Deutsche mark until the EU euro was introduced in 2002.  Apparently, The EU is like, “Come ON, guys, you know that’s not really OK”, but they’re letting it slide since Montenegro is working toward EU admittance and it’d be slightly silly to make them change everything now only to change it back in four years.

I came to Budva, the ‘Miami of Montenegro’, during the first week of August for a little rest from wandering. This happened to coincide with the busiest week of the year in Budva. The first week of August is holiday time in much of Europe, and the coast of Montenegro is a very popular destination for Serbians, Bosnians and Russians. Every morning, the beaches are packed with vacationing and scantily-clad families, friends and couples. (Side Note: if you have body image issues, just come to Budva. Every single person is wearing next to nothing, and flaunting it: from skinny dads and fat grandpas wearing speedos to chubby teens and large grandmas wearing skimpy suits. It’s really quite remarkable and inspiring.)

Budva

Montenegro

If you’re well-prepared, bring a blanket or towel and your own umbrella and claim your space on the beach. If you’re not prepared and have an extra few euros with you, grab a beach chair–it’s yours for the day. Prices vary along the beach, but the most reasonable one I find is €3  for the chair and €3 for an umbrella. If there’s two of you, it’ll set you back €9 for 2 chairs and an umbrella. This set up is now yours ALL DAY.

Budva Beach Sign

Empty beach chairs at night

Empty beach chairs at night

Thirsty? Order a pivo (beer) or Fanta from a wandering bartender. Hungry? No worries, local vendors thread their way through the chairs, selling everything from fresh corn on the cob (with salt) to a pint of fresh blackberries to little colored bottles of liquid (I have no idea what is in them. Juice? Drugs? Suntan oil? Dolphin tears?) to fried doughballs filled with sweet custard.

There’s so much more to do than lie on the beach, though!

Like… um. OK. Nevermind. You don’t go to Budva to do more than lie on the beach and swim in the salty salty sea water.

Budva

If you’re in your early-mid 20’s, or young at heart/liver, the nightlife in Budva is also Miami-esque; Top Hill  is one of the Mediterranean’s largest clubs and many summering bright young things party there nightly til the sun comes up.

If you’re in your early-mid 30’s, you read your book by the sea during the day, maybe indulging in a white wine spritzer or a mineral water, and take the occasional dip in the sea. Swimming in the Adriatic means licking salt crystals off your lips for hours. Nighttime is for making dinner, socializing with travelers on your hostel’s patio, and taking advantage of the air conditioning to get some writing/work done without dripping too much sweat on your Chromebook keyboard.

From what I could tell, Budva is separated into two parts; one part is the beach strand, lined with booth after booth of swimwear, shoes, sunglasses and souvenirs. Tour companies set up shop here, and row after row of ice cream and pizza stands dot the lane. The occasional juice stand happens, too (Vegans: if the Balkans are good for one amazing vegan tradition, it’s fresh juice stands. Hit them UP.).

 Budva

Just past the avenue with everything under the sun for sale (literally) is row after row of restaurant. Just after the restaurant row lies the pebbled sand beaches, filled this time of year with beach chairs and sun-worshippers.

To the right of the main beaches is Budva’s Old Town. And though you feel like you’re stepping back in time when you walk through the Venetian walled streets, it’s more recent than you may think. Old Town was destroyed by earthquakes in 1979. It took 8 years to rebuild, and now looks good as old.

 Budva

From an eating out-perspective, the Balkans are the worst for a traveling vegan. Budva is no exception. Pizza without cheese? Nope. (Not at the first place I tried, anyway.) Bread? Nope. Brushcetta? Nope.

But from a local seasonal produce perspective, it’s not too bad. Fresh figs and peaches are in season, and I’ve seen loads of aubergines (eggplant) and zucchini, and the weirdest-shaped oblong avocados. I bought a juicy ripe mango for breakfast one morning and found the spiciest little chili pepper the next afternoon. I’m most surprised by the milk selection–I see oat, soy, almond, even kamut milk. Way to go, Montenegro!

At the market, I keep it simple and buy pasta and red sauce, corn flakes and soy milk, and one day I branch out and buy a tin of red kidney beans, butter lettuce, tortillas and avocado.

 

BURRITO TIME.

 Budva

I make an art form out of the burrito the next few days: press salted kidney beans mashed with sliced spicy pepper and avocado into a tortilla. Fold in half. Use the toast press to heat. Open, add chopped tomatoes and lettuce. Boom. Montenegrin Burrito. Surprisingly good.

 

For restaurant vegan options, I venture to Old Town the last two days I’m there so I can share my findings with you guys. Most restaurants along the beach and in Old Town offer a variation of this menu: 1 page seafood, 1 page pasta, 2 pages pizza, 15 pages meat. Several of these restaurants, when I inquire with the host, would be willing to offer pizza without cheese, or a basic Spaghetti Napoletana without parmesan.

 

I do find two places with authentic vegan options.

Budva Juice Bar

Vranjak 13, Old Town, Budva, Montenegro

 

This place feels like a miracle when I find it. The menu looks fresh and lively, they offer fresh juice (and fresh juice COCKTAILS, y’all), and I see actual salads listed.

I’m right about to go for the Mexican Chopped Salad with beans and corn when my eyes alight upon the Oriental Salad. Sold. So sold. Planning to order a fresh watermelon juice, my mouth accidentally says, “…and a glass of Prosecco, please.”

The salad is huge. I only finish half and take the rest home for dinner.

Budva

Budva

Budva

Shanghai Kitchen

 Budva Old Town

The following day, I walk into Old Town for one last lunch before my bus departs for Novi Sad. Though I’m on my way to Budva Juice, Shanghai Kitchen draws me in. I think,“If there’s a vegan option in Budva that I walk past, I’m not being a very responsible blogger.” Seriously. So I stop to examine the menu.

The waiter sees me and tries to hustle me to a table. I tell him I’m looking for vegan options.

“So, no meat, no egg, no cheese…”

He cuts me off.

“Yes, Yes, I know! Well, a little meat and milk sometimes, because,” and he gestures to the town around him,”but I am a vegetarian too!”

 

Bless him.

He’s excited to have someone with a similar diet, and so goes over every single that is vegan or can be made vegan. It’s a breath of fresh air, and reminds me of the restaurant owner in Novi Sad.

In the end, I order the basic vegetable fried rice and a side salad.

The fried rice is your typical oily fried rice with vegetables, but it’s a steal at €3 and with a little soy sauce and hot peppers, a satisfying lunch.

 Budva

My waiter comes up to me as I’m eating and gives me this hat:

Budva

I fret while I finish my meal for the next 20 minutes about what to do. Do I thank him, take it, and leave it at the hostel? I don’t want to hurt his feelings. In the end, I thank him profusely and tell him I’m traveling and don’t have room for a hat in my backpack.

“It’s OK. I just want to show you respect. Vegetarian goodwill.” He smiles, and I walk away happy.

The vegan food is probably harder to track down here in Budva and in Novi Sad than in any other Eastern European country I’ve been in, but it’s honestly not too difficult. You may not get the best variety, but chances are you’ll find some special meals and meet some special people while looking.

Budva is a small town–the population for all but two months of the year is 10,000–that has seen a growth in tourism in the last five years. Montenegro as a country is something special. I have a feeling it will keep growing  as it makes the necessary ecological and political changes to join the EU and as backpackers and travelers from around the world keep discovering the natural wonders and unique beaches of Montenegro.

Budva

Simmering in Novi Sad

 

There’s a heat wave in Novi Sad. It gets up in the 100’s during the day (forecast says up to 108 degrees), so everyone just stays home, indoors, or relaxes on the banks of the Danube. The outdoor cafes blast cold water from fans to lure people in. Once the sun starts setting, Novi Sad turns from a ghost town to a hustling city center. Families come out, feeding their children cotton candy as they walk along the cooler streets, friends chat over a Coca Cola or mineral water and vendors start coming out to showcase their wares. It’s too hot to go exploring by day, but the city in the evening, oh it’s beautiful.

 

Streets of Novi Sad

The narrow streets of Novi Sad

 

Novi Sad (“Big Plantation” in Serbian) is the second biggest city in Serbia, after Belgrade, and has been called “Belgrade on Valium”; it’s similar to Belgrade, but the pace is slower and is more similar to molasses than to salt set loose out of a shaker. With a population of 250,000, it actually feels smaller once you’re here and citizens and tourists alike avoid the streets and common attractions in the thick heat.

 

Streets of Novi Sad

A relaxed cafe

 

I stumble upon an Indian restaurant in Novi Sad called Real India Indian Cuisine which is next door to my hostel. The one vegan restaurant I’ve found online in Novi Sad appears to be closed for good. Before I sit down, I thumb through the menu and spy a vegetarian section (Indijski Vegetarijanski Kutak) on the inside first page. The first time I came for lunch, my waiter translated a few of the dishes for me. In the end, I ordered a soy nugget curry dish, just because I could. Soy nuggets? Meh. In Serbia? OK! There were no potatoes in it, which I was told there would be and was looking forward to, but it was chock full of vegetables–green beans and corn and broccoli and cauliflower– and seasoned exquisitely.

The following day, I end up at Real India again.

 

Real India

Like everywhere else, Real India is a ghost town by day, only bustling with people as night falls

Peering at the menu, trying to make sense of the Serbian language and remember what my kind waiter told me the day before, I am approached by a man. He’s the owner and the chef. He shakes my hand, and tells me he sees I’m trying to read a menu in a language I don’t understand. I tell him I’m vegetarian (will work up to vegan in a moment, I think) and that the waiter yesterday was a big help.

“Ahhh you are vegetarian? I am vegetarian too!”

Lovely. Makes sense that there’s veggie options on the front page.

I reply, “Actually, I’m vegan, so no egg or cheese or milk.”

He nods in understanding, then translates all the vegan items on the menu–four kinds of soup, three kinds of salad, several kinds of Naan, and seven entrees. Then, as my mind is wrapping around all my options, he says he can make other things for me, too, that aren’t on the menu. I tell him to surprise me, to leave my lunch experience in his hands. He asks if I like spicy food. I laugh, thinking of my roommate back home and the fridge full of hot sauce.

I am blown away by the kindness here.

On the train in, I ask the woman sitting across from me how far we are from Novi Sad. From that simple question, even though she speaks very little English, she takes me under her wing. She draws me a map to the bus on a piece of scratch paper, presses bus fare into my hand despite my protests, helps me get my backpack down from the upper rack, and, once the train stops, leads me down the stairs, through the entrance and to the #4 bus that I need to get into town. She then runs to catch her own bus and waves with a big smile on her face as the bus is pulling away.

The train and bus station in Novi Sad. It's an easy 10 minute bus ride into the city.

The train and bus station in Novi Sad. It’s an easy 10 minute bus ride into the city.

What a welcome to Novi Sad. Everyone I’ve met here so far has been kind. The hostel, though loud and so so hot, has very kind owners and employees. I’m offered Serbian beer, Turkish coffee or tea every single time I come in.

My best friend back in Portland, the one with with a fridge full of hot sauce, jokes with me.

“You’re going to Novi Sad? I hope it’s Novi Happy!”

“So it’s kind of a sleepy town, huh? More like Novi Meh.”

(I love her.)

And it’s true. It’s a sleepy town, and Serbia as a whole still isn’t used to mass tourist infrastructure; there are so many breathtaking sighs I’d love to see, but there simply isn’t a way to get there without a car. My hostel runs tours to places I desperately want to go (A monastery vineyard: ruins and wine!  My idea of heaven: think of the Instagram posts.), but only with two or more people. So as a solo traveler without a drivers license, I’m for better or worse stuck in Novi Sad’s city center.

Street signs in Novi Sad

Street signs in Novi Sad

 

I think it’s for better.

Because the people here are kind. Food and lodging is very affordable– my hostel costs me $ 10-13 (USD) per night, and a meal out costs $4 – $6. Beer and wine is usually under $3 and mineral water is under $1. And tap water–something surprisingly hard to get in several European cities-is complimentary here and comes without the evil eye.

It’s so hot that I can’t go exploring and wandering during the day, but I can relax with a big glass of ice water and my Chromebook or Kindle on a shady cafe patio. And toward evening, I can venture out and walk to the Danube and watch the sun set. The colors here are different. Budapest is bright blue and vibrant. Novi Sad is sepia-toned.

Petrovaradin Fortress on the Danube

Petrovaradin Fortress on the Danube

 

And on my way back from the waterfront, I can wander through a park, and past a popcorn stand (!), and through the streets increasingly swollen with people. I can take a seat outside as the temperature drops to a more manageable degree, and order a glass of chardonnay and a bottle of mineral water (to combine together into a spritzer, my new favorite drink. And yours too, if you were here).

 

The Spritzer, the drink of my Eastern Europe summer

The Spritzer, the drink of my Eastern Europe summer

 

OK, on to:

Vegan Eats in Novi Sad

The DM   5 minute walk from City Center

This is a German-based drugstore chain throughout Eastern Europe. I’ve come to find throughout the countries I visit that I can purchase raw vegan fruit and seed bars here. Each location has different varieties, but there’s always a few that are labeled vegan. Those are my breakfast on days I’m traveling. If cooking at the hostel, they have a small Organics Food section, which typically seem to have a few clearly-labeled vegan options. I also found vegan sun cream (like sun screen, but much thicker and gloopier) at the DM in Bratislava.

 

The Juice Shop City Center

Rehydrating with fruits and vegetables is almost necessary in summertime heat. A juice here is around 260 Dinar, or $3. The juices aren’t very cold–sometimes they’ll come with an ice cube or two–but they’re refreshing. This is my breakfast most days.

Fresh Juice 2 Go: breakfast of champions

Fresh Juice 2 Go: breakfast of champions

 

Real India City Center

As established, I love it here. After a lengthy chat with the owner, Kapil, I find out that everything that is vegetarian is also vegan, and he cooks and stores his vegan ingredients separate from the meat.

He also treats me to dinner one night–he had his cook prepare an Indian spaghetti dish, because I mention I like pasta. For lunch one day he makes me a special off-menu item: Pakora. This tasted beautiful: deep fried little nuggets battered in chickpea flour and containing spinach, red onion, potatoes (fresh-cut into strips like french fries), served on a bed of butter lettuce with raw carrot rounds flowered throughout and lemon date sauce on the side. Everything I ate off-menu was just as good as what I ordered on the menu; I don’t think you can go wrong here. The potato naan is a revelation. At only 45 dinar (that’s US .50 cents), it has layers of potatoes inside the warm bread and is perfectly filling. I miss it already.

A sampling of what I ate. Upper left: potato naan. upper right: Indian-style spaghetti. Lower left: Pakora. Lower right: Indian-style soy nuggets.

A sampling of what I ate. Upper left: potato naan. upper right: Indian-style spaghetti. Lower left: Pakora. Lower right: Indian-style soy nuggets with cauliflower.

 

Ananda 10 minute walk from city center

The one vegan restaurant in town. It was close the two times I tried dining there, and I heard from a few locals that it was closed permanently, but if you’re headed there, it might be best to double check.

Novi Sad is a sweet little city on the Danube. The friendly inhabitants, quality vegan Indian vegan food, good prices and free WiFi in the city center all make a lovely and relaxing tourist destination. If you’re planning a visit to Serbia, put Novi Sad on your list. (DO IT. It’s an order.)

A statue family on the Danube at Sunset

A statue family on the Danube at Sunset