Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Vegan in... Austin!

These past two weeks have been a total whirlwind of excitement, travel, stress and just plain old getting shit done.

May 5th saw Nick and I hopping onto a flight from Bangkok to Heathrow and from there we headed straight to Brighton for six nights of BFF shaped food and fun at Tabitha's house. I managed to see almost every single person I like that week; I met up with friends at the new Loving Hut on Gardner Street, had dinner at Pho (which I have to admit was a little disappointing after eating the real thing all over Vietnam) with all of Nick's old friends, hung with Randi at both VBites and Boho Gelato (they made me pistachio!) and caught up with Sal for sleepover fun, much chatting and a whole lotta Pizza Face.

I also managed to cram in a whole lot of Vego bars and blustery seafront walks. It was a strong week! I also managed to get my zine, European Vegan, 99% finished which I was super excited about. Having not only a place to just sit still but also a printer really helped with the zine productivity!

After six days in Brighton Nick and I were on the move again and we had Austin in our sights. After some tasty eats at Cornucopia in Dublin, their potato salad is so amazing, and my first time ever sleeping on the floor at an airport we were winging our way to Austin.

We arrived last tuesday and checked into our super cute Air B&B. A combination of research and local knowledge from our previous trips totally paid off and we're in a brilliant location. We can walk to Barton Springs and we're a 10 minute drive from both Wheatsville and Whole Foods which is perfect. I'm definitely going to be blogging more about the food I've been eating so far but here are some of the highlights...

The Vegan Nom! I have been craving a Del Ray, their "fish" taco, since we left Austin last September and I was super excited to be reunited with it. In fact, as soon as I finish writing this, I'm going to go and grab another one because it's just so damn good. Breaded, black pepper coated faux fish, crispy cabbage and a lime creme all topped off with perfectly ripe avocado and even more black pepper... it's perfect.

Via 313 is another spot I've been dreaming of non-stop and I couldn't wait to get a slice (or four) of their vegan margherita pizza into my mouth. They use Follow Your Heart cheese and it's baked right into the perfectly oily Detroit style crust before being topped off with the most delicious marinara sauce. So damn good! I enjoyed checking out their new sit down location in Oak Hill because the Friday night bar scene really isn't my thing but I'll definitely be revisiting their truck at Violet Crown when it's quieter.

As well as eating I've been hanging out with all of the wonderful Austin (and Portland!) vegans at quiz nights, on patios, at ramen joints, at brunch spots and ice cream parlours and even in their kitchens! It's been a blast and I am beyond excited that I get to be here for four more weeks. I also managed to swing by the brand new Rabbit Food Grocery to grab some fun treats and I've been getting down with the huge range of American vegan products, from s'more fudge to canned vegan tuna and everything in-between I've probably tried it! More on that next time but as it's the first time I've ever had more than a microwave in the US you can bet your ass I've been getting a little crazy in the kitchen.

Lastly, as I mentioned earlier, my zine was 99% finished when I left Brighton and now it's 100% a reality and I am so excited about it! I've been working on it for about 7 or 8 months because translating everything and then getting it all checked over by fluent / native speakers is process to say the least. European Vegan is a pocket sized guide to reading labels Europe-wide. For years I've made lists of all of the ingredients I'd like to avoid at home and translated them into the language of the country I've been heading to, my zine sees that through to it's logical conclusion with translations in 32 languages to help make shopping abroad a breeze.

I've used the lists to find churros in a Spanish hypermarket, fun snacks at a Bratislavan health food store, and to suss out which sausages are egg free in a Belgian supermarket so it's a tried and tested method of finding vegan eats when you can't read the language. As well as including translations for things like eggs, milk and honey the zine also covers you if you're looking for shoes or clothes with translations for leather, silk, wool etc included too. If being able to shop abroad easily isn't enough of a draw I'm also donating 20% of the sale price to the League Against Cruel Sports because after the hideous election results our furry friends in the UK need our help more than ever.

European Vegan is on sale now in my Big Cartel store. It's currently shipping first class airmail from the USA so if you're in Europe please be patient as it won't arrive quite as speedily as if I was sending it from the UK. If you need it urgently I can send you any page you need as a PDF document as soon as you purchase a copy! If you're heading to Austin for Vida Vegan Con firstly, yay! I am excited to hang out with you! And secondly, I'll be selling European Vegan at the Speakers Table at the Vegan Bazaar next Friday so you can grab a copy in person.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Top 5 Sleeper Train Tips for SE Asia

I've always enjoyed travelling by train but my adventures in South East Asia this year have sparked an even deeper love for this mode of transport. Sleeper trains were one of my favourite new discoveries and unlike in the UK they're actually a really affordable way to take a long journey. Each and every journey was an adventure, from sharing a first class cabin together en route from Trang to Bangkok to our fitful nights sleep in a cockroach filled carriage in-between Nha Trang and Ho Chi Minh City.

My very favourite train experience took place between Bangkok and Chiang Mai; Nick and I were in a four berth cabin shared with Alana, a vegetarian from the US who was taking a break from teaching in China, and a Chinese man who was travelling with, from what we could gather, his entire extended family. Things got off to an amusing start after we all turned down his pork snacks and it was down to Alana to use her intermediate Mandarin to explain why... much hilarity ensued after he assumed we were vegetarian "for Jesus" and we had to try to explain, through the use of animal and heart emojis, that no, we just really love animals. As the evening progressed Nick and his new friend got closer and he explained, again through Alana, that he thought Nick was very attractive and that he liked his hair very much... after a short pause Alana translated that it was because Nick's hair reminded him of a horse's mane. Brilliant.

Ridiculous experiences aside the added bonus of taking a night train as opposed to a day train is that you're getting your accommodation for the night included in the price of your travels which is super helpful if you're adventuring on a budget. If you're thinking of exploring SE Asia by train (and I strongly suggest that you do) here are my Top 5 Tips to help you on your way...
  1. Book ahead if possible. Everything I read before leaving for my trip made me think that hopping on a sleeper train that night would be easy as long as it isn't high season and that's not quite the case. On more than one occasion Nick and I rocked up at the station the day before we'd planned to take the train to buy our tickets only to find we'd need to wait a couple more nights or take a day train. Booking ahead is especially important if you have a preference for the type of carriage (be that first or second) and if you want to be seated close to each other.
  2. Use Seat 61 to plan your journey. Seat 61 is an amazingly in depth website which will help you work out not only the train timetables and costs but also which type of train you're likely to be travelling on. Will you be sharing a four berth compartment with a door or will you be in a more open carriage? This site can tell ya and as someone who likes to have at least some idea what they're getting into it's a super helpful resource. The more open carriages have smaller upper bunks which seemed to me like they were rocking around more than the bunks in the four berth compartments. I'd recommend booking two lower bunks if the carriage is more open as otherwise you may be woken regularly as you get thrown around... those straps in the picture above probably aren't going to stop you landing on the ground if you do roll outa bed in the night! It will also help you work out which seat numbers are together, if the trains are four berth cabin style you and your travel companion probably don't want seats four and five!
  3. Dress warm...or for the beach. Thai sleeper trains are air conditioned to the max whilst Vietnamese sleeper train air con is completely ineffective. If you're getting an overnight train in Thailand I am not kidding when I tell you to dress warm. I bundled myself up in my long trousers, a t shirt, a hoodie, a scarf, socks and a sleeping bag liner and I was still cold. In Vietnam I was boiling in my long trousers and a t and wished that there had been a curtain so that I could've slipped into some shorts!
  4. Pack an eye mask and earplugs. You will end up in a carriage with a snorer or a crying baby (or both!) and nope, you can't turn out the lights.
  5. Take snacks. As a vegan I always have snacks on hand and this is especially important when you're on a train where the meals offered are far from suitable. If you're starting your journey in a city like Bangkok, Chiang Mai or Ho Chi Minh City it's ridiculously easy to grab some take out snacks for your journey. Elsewhere that tupperware you packed (you did pack a tupperware right?!) will be your best friend, just grab an extra meal, some rice and curry perhaps, from wherever your having lunch. Don't get Pho or Hot Pot, you don't wanna be eating an overflowing tupperware of soup on a moving train, trust me.