A vegan stalwart, one of the hidden gems of Porthmadog

vegoniaI’m just back from a road trip through Wales with my family, all three of us vegan. Having learnt from experience – a recent similar venture through the East of Scotland – we decided we had three choices when it came to food: spend our days glued to the Happy Cow app, with hunting as a primary focus of each day; take whatever food presented itself (the approach we took in Scotland, which we knew to be a hit-and-miss, often grim, choice); or go Airbnb and self cater.

At this point, let me clarify – I’m not saying it’s impossible to get food in these countries – I know there are many great places if you do your research or stick to cities – but we were going off-grid a little and wanted to make good food part of our journey, and not a central focus.

We plumped for self-catering – a wise move, which meant we spent less money and expended less energy searching for suitable places to eat. That said, I kept a close eye on the web, just in case we missed one of those lucky vegan finds; one such place was Vegonia Wholefoods in Porthmadog.

This independent vegan and vegetarian wholefood store carries over 3,000 lines including chilled, frozen and ambient foods, organic, gluten free, pet and baby foods, hot and cold drinks, vitamins, minerals, remedies, toiletries, household cleaning, and home brew products. I know this because I’ve done my web research, but that’s pretty much all there is about this place on the internet.

Slap bang in the middle of this small town in North Wales, Vegonia started up over 20 years ago, and though it’s listed in all the usual places, it has zero web presence of its own. There is no website, and only an automatically-generated Facebook page based on what users are interested in with no affiliation to the shop itself. And yet it has kept going since its opening in 1997.

In a world so often dominated by Holland & Barrett (and here’s a shout-out for that company’s own plans to become increasingly vegan-friendly soon), a long-standing independent shop, which has survived with virtually no internet presence while keeping so true to its original vision deserves a mention and a visit if you’re ever in the area.

The hype is true: Berlin could very well be the vegan capital of the world

Berlin: Marienkirche and Fernsehturm

A recent trip to Berlin (above) confirmed to me its status as one of the world’s capital cities for vegans. I’d been once before, as a vegetarian, and was decently catered for, but a few years later and eating out is an absolute delight.

During our five days there, we barely scraped the surface of the options available, but suffice it to say, it made such an impression that I’m headed back again in just a few months to revisit the wonderful food sampled last time, and to dig ever deeper into what’s on offer for vegans.

On the way to our hotel, in the fashionable area of Friedrichshain (on which this piece is going to focus), we stopped in the Teutonic equivalent of a kebab and falafel shop (Haroun al Rachid, Neue Bahnhofstr. 28), it being around lunchtime after a long morning, and us having spotted a board advertising ‘vegan halloumi’.

Not realising quite how vegan-friendly this whole area was, I went in and interrogated the guy behind the counter about the exact nature of the ‘cheese’, which was basically tofu slices in a fine batter. It was cheap and it was fresh and it was tasty (see below).

Haroun al Rachid: vegan halloumi

This was just one of a myriad such places, all advertising vegan choices, around the station Ostkreuz.

I always prefer to eat in totally plant-based restaurants, but I love the idea of a city in which vegans are catered for wherever they go and with whomsoever they are travelling. I’m lucky enough to do most of my travelling with someone of the same dietary persuasion as me, but for those with omnivore companions, I know eating out can be an issue. After that first meal, though, I stuck entirely to vegan-only food establishments.

From there we headed to our hotel, the Almodóvar, chosen for its purely vegetarian breakfast menu and ethical stance.

Having googled the breakfast, I knew I was going to be good… but €17.50 worth of good? My travelling buddy likes a bargain, and who could possibly be providing that much food first thing in the morning that we would want to eat? We agreed to try the buffet at the hotel’s Bistro Bardot (see below) on the first day and henceforth play it by ear.

Berlin Almodovar Hotel, Bistro Bardot

And, yeah, upshot was that we breakfasted there on all four mornings: long lazy breakfasts that went on for well over an hour. Vegan croissants, freshly baked pretzels, several varieties of bread were served alongside currywurst, scrambled tofu, several types of cold ‘meats’ and dairy-fresh cheeses, and several varieties of cake and muffin. This is on top of the cereals, fruits, juices, coffees and rustic-looking teas.

Friedrichshain is just a wonderfully cool area. Formerly part of East Germany, Continue reading →

The vegan B&B that can teach you how to cook the delights you eat there

Our Lizzy newTry googling vegetarian hotels in the UK and the choices are still very thin on the ground, and yet for me, certainly, as cool as it is to find places with great vegan choices, I always feel much more at home in cafes, restaurants and accommodation where vegetarian is just the way it is rather than merely an option. This is how I came across, and spent a night at, Our Lizzy, a cookery school and B&B based in Malvern; this vegan establishment is run by Lizzy Hughes, pictured, a former teacher whose appetite for good food led her to open her own business eight years ago.

Lots of people dream about opening a B&B, but you really went into it with your eyes open. Tell me a little about yourself and your background. How long did it take you before you could open your cookery school? What are your qualifications and how was it gaining them alongside a full-time profession?

As I began my teaching career I saved for some sort of veggie venture not knowing if it would take the shape of a restaurant, café or B and B. I taught in schools close to a large university and met children from all around the world. We had many international food evenings and I enjoyed finding out about food from a range of culture. I also had a good grounding in vegetarian cookery though undertaking the four week long Cordon Vert Diploma from the Vegetarian Society Cookery School. After this I had lots of experience giving cookery demonstrations to evening groups, people asking about classes so as a teacher this seemed a natural idea to pursue.

You’re clearly driven and passionate about cookery, nutrition and veganism – can you tell me a little about your own road to these things? When did you become vegetarian? What was your main motivation? And how much of a role does that play in your desire to share and teach what you know to other people?

As a child I didn’t like the idea of meat, it always had a close association with the animal it was from. I became vegetarian when I was at college and soon realised the horror of the dairy industry. I became vegan in 1990 around the time I finished my degree, I knew then I’d like to do something to help animals. Being vegan has been a way of life for so long; it’s a pleasure to share it with other people.

How much research do you think people should do before starting a vegan diet? What are the main things to be aware of?

I meet an awful lot of people here at Our Lizzy who go vegan overnight now, whereas in the past I’d say it was more of a gradual transition. I think coming on a course is a great way to see how you can have vegan versions of all your favourite dishes. For others there are a multitude of cook books, blogs, film clips and recipes online to draw upon. It’s all about balance and not too much junk food! Just stick to a healthy varied diet just supplemented with B12.

How do people end up coming to your classes? Big question, I know, but a few anonymous/general examples might help. Are most people already veggies or vegans? I guess linked in with the previous question, you must see people toying with the idea of switching to a plant-based diet coming to you as part of that journey?

A variety of people come, there is no requirement to be vegetarian or vegan and the majority of customers aren’t. They are interested Continue reading →