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: Chili Corn Nuts in Eastern Europe

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Hi! Welcome to Snacky Tuesday.

Oh, my loves. I found this snacky treat in Brno, The Czech Republic, and kept finding them throughout Hungary, Serbia and Montenegro. These spicy chili corn nuts are officially called “Mexicorn” and probably have loads of MSG, but I can’t stay away. I still find myself fantasizing about these wee tasty nuggets.

 

I may or may not have a slight obsession with these.

I may or may not have a slight obsession with these things.

 

These are pictured in Brno, with an off-brand of Kofola (a popular Czech carbonated beverage, similar to Coke, but with a slight anise-y taste), called Koala. The drink wasn’t worth the purchase, but these nuts… oh boy. They’re crunchy and spicy and bite-sized little nuggets of glory. This was the beginning of the obsession that took me through Eastern Europe.

One night in Novi Sad, Serbia, when I was classing it up in a hotel instead of a hostel, I stayed in all day to work on the blog and Vida Vegan stuff. Not even venturing out for dinner, instead I drank two beers from the minbar (at about .80 cents each, it was my first ever mini bar splurge) and ate two of these Mexicorn for dinner. It wasn’t my proudest moment, but it was definitely one of my tastiest.

 

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The White Wine Spritzer, an Ode

 

All the ladies who enjoy white wine spritzers, put your hands up!!!

 

Oh. It’s just you middle-aged moms and me huh? Well ladies, I think we’re on to something.
White Wine Spritzer-jpg

 

As is a well-documented fact (it will be the number one item on my Wikipedia page when I get one), I love anything with bubbles. Any beverage that is slightly effervescent or even offensively carbonated automatically heads to the front of my classroom. The number one fave is sparkling wine. Cava, Champagne, Prosecco;  if it’s bubbly and served in a flute, I’m thrilled.  But give me a mineral  water, tonic water or soda water and I’m so much more content than with boring old flat tap water. Kombucha? OK!  Beer? Sure. My greatest dream is to own a Soda Stream where I can carbonate everything I drink all the time. Bubbly coffee. Bubbly tea. Bubbly green smoothies. You name it, I’ll bubble it.

 

When I arrived in Vienna, Austria, my first stop in Eastern Europe, I noticed spritzers frequently on bar menus. Bubbly Wine. ALRIGHT.

 

Throughout the rest of my travels in Eastern Europe—Brno, Bratislava, Budapest, Novi Sad and Budva–I saw with alternating popularity white wine spritzers offered at cafes and bars. This is a trend I can get used to. If you’re still gently mocking me in your mind (fair; I have the taste bud attention span of a child), I give you my top three reason for drinking white wine spritzers while traveling:
1. Spritzers are cheap. Half soda water (or 7-Up if you’re feeling sweet) and half wine equals half the price of a glass of wine, which is already affordable in Eastern Europe  (I’ve seen glasses priced on average under $2, and generally no more than $4). At one place in Novi Sad, the waiter asked me the percentage of wine to mineral water that I wanted. Of course I said more wine than water–OF COURSE–but it’s even then it’s still wicked cheap. This is a great reason to drink spritzers when you’re backpacking through Europe and every euro counts. (Note: as this is a food, drink and travel blog, I’m clearly not going to travel through Europe and NOT drink, so hush that thought right now.)

 

2. Spritzers are ubiquitous. They  are actually listed on the menus! People drink them! It’s a real-live honest-to-goodness drink, it’s not a made up mom drink, like in the States. It’s legit. And you know what they say: When in Vienna… (or in Brno, or in Budva, etc…..)

 

3. Spritzers are safe. As a solo female traveler, I do want to be careful about how much I drink. And I do like to drink. So a watered down glass of wine? Can’t get much less alcohol than that. I’ll take three, please.

 

So next time you come traveling with me, or on your badass solo trip, think about these three great reasons for the white wine spritzer and don’t feel embarrassed ordering one. A round of spritzers for everyone!

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