Will Fly for Food
Published in VegNews September 2009
spurs the wanderlust quite like a new passport. All those blank
pages beckoning you to cover them with colorful stamps from around the
world. So often for vegan and vegetarian explorers the question
is not ‘where to go’ but ‘where will I eat when I get there.’
At one time international travel seemed synonymous with fruitless
restaurant searches, inevitable culinary mishaps and unexpected weight
loss. Few vegetarian options existed. Vegan alternatives? You had a
greater chance of locating a leprechaun in the Irish countryside than
finding a meal without dairy.
Fortunately, a new era has arrived in the international culinary scene.
Restaurants across the globe now offer more than the customary
mixed-greens salad with balsamic vinegar or pasta with tomato sauce as
their vegetarian offerings. Today you can find not only a wealth of
vegetarian entrées but also a plethora of vegan and vegetarian
establishments dedicated to creative, high quality cuisine. While many
are ideal for grabbing a quick bite between sites, there are a select
number of world-class restaurants worth jetting across the sea just to
With pristine passport in hand and an appetite for adventure as well as
extraordinary food we set off on our quest to sample some of the
planet’s best vegetarian fare. The journey may be long but the
rewards remain numerous. New cities to see, fantastic meals to
consume and a slew of coveted passport stamps to collect. What
more could an ardent traveler ask for?
Luck o’ the Irish
Tucked away in the energetic, southern seaport city of Cork resides a
gem of a restaurant and the Republic of Ireland’s premiere vegetarian
destination, Café Paradiso. Listed in the Bridgestone Guides’ 100 Best
Restaurants since its opening in 1993, Café Paradiso focuses on
delectable, seasonal fare featuring ingredients from local, artisan
producers. Here in his cozy, glass-fronted cafe Denis Cotter crafts
otherworldly meals that showcase the unique qualities of Irish-grown
“Opening Paradiso was an expression of my interest as a vegetarian, not
a marketing technique. With it I wanted to get away from appealing to
vegetarians only,” says Cotter, chef, owner, and author of three
cookbooks, including Paradiso Seasons, which was short listed for the
2005 James Beard Award for vegetarian/healthy focus books.
Cotter, who grew up in County Cork, trained in London at the whole food
vegetarian restaurant Cranks and later lived in New Zealand. By the
early ‘90s he found himself back in Ireland and starting Café Paradiso.
“In the early days I tried to be really creative. Since then the
cooking has evolved to something else; now layered on top of the
creativity is the commitment to working with local growers,” says
Cotter, who was named Food and Wine’s ‘Chef of the Year’ in 2005.
Because Cotter bases his menu on produce from the region, Café
Paradiso’s offerings change with the seasons. Several knock-outs do,
however, remain available throughout the year. Such is the case with
the sweet chilli-glazed, pan-fried tofu. Floating in a
coconut-lemongrass broth on a bed of sweet Chinese greens, the tofu is
accompanied by soba noodles and a gingered aduki bean wonton. Dished
out in an inviting, deep blue and terra cotta-colored dining room, the
food is heaven for the palate and the plate.
Those travelers too satiated to move an inch after dinner have the
luxury of staying overnight in Paradiso Rooms. Situated over the
restaurant, the three, bright contemporary rooms possess double beds
and their own large bathrooms with showers. As an added bonus,
overnight guests can enjoy breakfast—think punched-up oatmeal with
whiskey sultanas and brown sugar—in the restaurant. Fantastic
food and a nifty passport stamp, all courtesy of your trip to Cork and
Sometimes you find amazing vegetarian cuisine in the most unlikely of
spots. Take, for instance, the hip yet elegant, vegetarian mecca
Biosfeera. Located in the carnivore-friendly capital of Poland,
Biosfeera fills a cavernous void in Warsaw’s restaurant scene. The
brainchild of Kasia Jażdżewska and three fellow vegetarians, it opened
its doors on March 18, 2005 and has been wowing delighted diners ever
since. The long wait in customs will seem worth every minute once
you take your first bite of this sleek restaurant’s cutting edge
Speaking through translator and Biosfeera manager Paula Dziemidowicz,
Kasia explains the restaurant’s fresh, wholesome, all-natural world
cuisine. “ . . .we wanted to collect our favorite dishes from all over
the world, to show how rich, original and diverse the vegetarian
cuisine can be. That is why we included Italian, Chinese, Mexican,
Arabic, Greek, Hindu, and also Polish dishes, since many traditional
Polish courses—pancakes, dumplings, potato pancakes—are vegetarian,”
Similar to Café Paradio, Biosfeera’s menu reflects the bounty of the
seasons. In the fall customers line up for pumpkin-curry soup while in
the spring and summer chilled avocado soup with black olives and fennel
leave diners begging for more. During the winter drinks such as steamy
Chai Masala spiced with cinnamon, ginger, and orange flower essence and
Five Elements Coffee laced with cardamom, cloves, ginger, and cinnamon
help to keep out the cold. Warmer weather calls for such refreshing
beverages as freshly squeezed carrot juice, the beetroot and
apple-juice Natur-all, and Vegan Dream, a banana-and-tofu cocktail.
Along with these seasonal treats, Biosfeera boasts of palate-pleasing,
year-round specialties, all served in a funky dining room adorned by
local artwork and awash in shades of red, purple, black, ivory and
gold. Cream Revelation, a lentil-coconut-cream soup, and Tortilla
Bandita, Mexican wheat-corn pancakes overflowing with red beans and
guacamole are sure to satisfy. No matter which entrée you chose, be
sure to top off dinner with a sweet slice of vegan whole-meal apple pie
with nuts, cane sugar, and cinnamon. Delicious! Biosfeera hosts live
music on Friday nights, year-round art exhibits, conferences, parties
and private events.
Factor in the ingenious cuisine, hip atmosphere, museum-quality art,
and festive, live music and an evening of dining at Biosfeera makes
your jaunt to Warsaw all worthwhile.
Continents away, in a land renowned for its vegetarian cuisine,
intrepid travelers will find an unusual addition to the vibrant
culinary scene—Little Italy in India. Opened in 1995 in Mumbai
(formerly Bombay) by Umesh Mehta, Little Italy promotes upscale,
Italian-inspired, veg meals. With a menu devised by Roman chef Andy
Misseri and 40 percent of its ingredients imported from Italy, this
sophisticated bistro transports its guests from the shores of the
Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea to the heart of the Roman Empire.
Awarded the titles “Best Italian Vegetarian Restaurant in India” and
“Best Italian Chef” by the government of Italy, Little Italy strives to
be as authentic as possible while still utilizing fresh, local produce
and appealing to Southern Asian tastes. Thankfully, this lofty goal
benefits both natives and tourists alike. All can enjoy such Little
Italy favorites as Funghi alla Trapanese, a mélange of roasted
mushrooms, minced garlic, and chopped parsley dressed with lemon juice
and served with warm Italian bread, or Crochette Patate e Funghi. The
latter consists of potatoes mashed and blended with mushrooms and
parsley and then rolled in homemade breadcrumbs. Fried until golden
brown, Crochette Patate e Funghi is accompanied by a salad.
For Ramakrishna Shastry, who works and resides in the seaside city of
Chennai, dining at Little Italy represents a special treat, one that
will appeal particularly to American visitors. “The food is excellent,
just like what you find in America taste-wise. Plus, there’s a variety
of dishes and combinations; choose one dish or mix and match pastas,
soups, and so forth. And the waiters are pleasant and serving is fairly
quick. A great experience,” he says.
With two non-alcoholic drinks, an appetizer, a soup, two entrees and an
additional pasta sauce the bill for two people runs about $30 or 1500
rupees. As far as Indian dining prices go, it’s a bit expensive but
well worth every rupee. Since its inception, Little Italy has made a
huge splash in India, so immense that 30 branches of the
contemporary-styled restaurant have sprung up throughout the
country. Dig out your guidebook and apply for that visa.
It’s high time to try Italian in India.
Some cynical, world-weary travelers write off London as being “too
easy” of a destination. Why endure a long, trans-Atlantic flight
just to rub elbows with people who look, talk and live pretty much like
North Americans? Save your passport page for a more colorful,
enchanting place, they snidely advise.
Obviously, these folks have never dined at The Gate. Housed in a
spacious, converted loft in the Hammersmith section of London, this
upscale restaurant has been “the” vegetarian hot spot since brothers
Adrian and Michael Daniel opened it in December 1989. While the
locale may be a residential side street in West London, the feel -- and
food -- of this local, seasonal, vegan-friendly establishment is
decidedly hip and exotic.
“The cooking at the Gate reflects the diverse cultural background in
which we grew up - what one might call Indo-Iraqi Jewish. Our
grandmothers blended Indian and Arabic cuisines with the traditional
Jewish food of Shabbat and festivals. It became perfectly natural that
Adrian and I should apply the same principles at the restaurant. The
food we serve is the food of our childhood, modulated by French and
Italian influence,” says Michael, who runs the restaurant with Adrian.
At The Gate the goal is to combine texture, flavor and color for an eye
popping, mouth watering outcome. As the creative culinary force,
brother Adrian whips up such delights as zucchini flowers stuffed with
potato, goat cheese and pine nut filling, plantain fritters, and
poached pears in spiced red wine with pistachios and vegan ice
cream. In the fall and spring he fashions a wild mushroom feast
with edible fungi that he and Michael have foraged. All of his
masterpieces are presented in a bright, airy room with a vaulted and
windowed ceiling, blond hardwood floor, tables and chairs, fresh floral
arrangements and oversized photographs adorning the butter-hued
Indulge in one dinner at The Gate and you’ll understand why celebrities
such as Madonna and Stella McCartney flock to Hammersmith to check out
the restaurant’s latest offerings. Likewise, you’ll see why,
thanks to Michael and Adrian Daniels, possessing that London passport
stamp doesn’t seem so commonplace.
Istanbul’s Raw Restorative
As soon as your feet hit the crowded streets in Istanbul, you are
caught up in the non-stop hustle and bustle of this ancient land.
From above the ethereal voices of muezzins call faithful Muslims to
prayer five times a day. From the sidewalks smartly dressed
merchants implore you to step inside their shops, share some hot tea
and buy one of their luxurious, hand-knotted carpets. In the
parks men peddle round, sesame seed-dusted rings of bread known as
simits to hungry passers-by. People shout. Traffic
blares. Music throbs in the air. If only you could slip
away from this cacophony and rest for a little while!
At Saf escaping the everyday is what dining is all about.
Stationed in the Akatlar Club Sporium and Well-Being Center in the
heart of modern Istanbul, Saf serves organic, raw, vegan fare in a
modern oasis of healthfulness and tranquility. With an expansive,
arced glass wall overlooking the patio and the perfect pairing of rich,
earthy tones and natural lighting you feel welcomed and relaxed at
once. Settle in at the open bar, which serves organic wine and
cocktails, or nestle into one of the deep, cushioned chairs or curved,
black banquette and prepare to bask in the calm and creativity of Chef
Chad Sarno’s menu.
Heralded by Time Out Istanbul, Today’s Zamam and The Turkish Daily
News, the city’s first raw, vegan restaurant serves raw takes on
classics from around the globe. Here cauliflower rosettes stand
in for arborio rice in risotto while wide zucchini strips trump
traditional pasta in pesto pappardelle. Hummus comes from
cashews, not chickpeas, and bruschetta gets topped with avocado.
In keeping with the raw mandate, most dishes are cooked below 120
degrees Fahrenheit to maintain ideal taste and
Why go raw in Istanbul? Besides Saf’s restful atmosphere and
delicious, innovative foods, Chad Sarno, Saf’s American chef and
founder of Vital Creations LLC and RawChef.com., offers a more
scientific reason. As he explained to Today’s Zaman on February
5, 2007, “Since digestive enzymes are destroyed by heat, cooking foods
above 120 degrees Fahrenheit completely demolishes their enzymatic
content, destroys other nutrients and makes natural oils
indigestible.” In other words, for a truly restorative trip to
Turkey, drop by Saf for a dinner or two.
True Believer in Tokyo
Occasionally travel takes you not only to another place but to another
time. Step inside the restaurant Bon in Tokyo’s quiet,
residential district of Hakusan and you will enter a peaceful world of
17th century dining customs. In this elegant, traditional,
Japanese-style dwelling Bon specializes in the Zen Buddhist cooking
technique fucha ryoki. Introduced to Japan by a traveling Chinese
monk in the 1600s, fucha ryoki focuses on a balance of six tastes –
bitter, sweet, hot, delicate, salty, sour – and five preparation
methods – boiling, grilling, frying, steaming and serving raw. It
also works to create harmony and friendship through the sharing of tea
At Bon, which means “Buddhist believer,” guests dine in one of five
private rooms, which separately seat up to 10 people. Each room
possesses earth toned walls, complimenting tatami mats and a
wood-trimmed sliding glass door opening onto a lush, tranquil
garden. The Kazuaki family, who started Bon in the early 1960s,
built the house as their residence and later transformed it into this
serene dining spot.
Meals at Bon begin and end with rich, foamy tea. In between you
will enjoy two flavorful soups and six, eight or ten seasonally driven,
vegetable-based dishes such as tempura and nimono, boiled
vegetables. You also will receive a rich, silky square of chilled
sesame tofu, white rice, pickles and fresh fruit. These small,
delicate offerings appear in succession and at a measured pace,
affording you the luxury of relishing each texture and taste.
The cost to dine at Bon may be steep – between $70 to $100 – but when
you’re on holiday, in search of fantastic food, you may need to splash
out a bit. Besides, how often do you experience 17th century
dining practices in the 21st century? That alone merits another
page in your passport.
With a bit of internet sleuthing, guidebook research, and chats with
the locals, finding a vegetarian or vegan-friendly restaurant while
traveling is not the exasperating quest that it once was. In fact,
thanks to the emergence of a group of gifted, innovative,
culinary-minded vegetarians, dining out has become a reason to travel.
So grab your passport and backpack. We’re headed out to dinner tonight.
Beyond these exceptional restaurants exists a wealth of top-notch
vegetarian eateries in virtually every time zone. For Melbourne,
Australia it’s the Vegie Bar. Occupying the corner of Brunswick Street
in the funky neighborhood of Fitzroy, the Vegie Bar began as a small
vegetarian take-out roughly 16 years ago. Today it’s a sunny,
high-ceilinged, vegan-friendly, 150-seat cafe with wooden, communal
tables and ample outdoor seating in the summertime. With such large
portioned, cooked-to-order options as spicy Singapore noodles with
chilies and tofu, a sauté of seasonal greens, tempeh, garlic and ginger
over rice and wood-fired Moroccan pizza with a tomato and hummus base,
the Vegie Bar lures in hungry locals and healthful eaters seven days a
week for lunch and dinner. vegiebar.com.au.
In Rome, Italy Arancia Blu dazzles with dishes inspired by the
Mediterranean’s peasant cuisine. Dinner is presented under soft lights
and wood ceilings and surrounded by functional wooden wine racks,
alluring paintings, and the buzz of university intellectuals. Entrees
range from the standard—lasagna with mushrooms, red onions, zucchini
and ginger and vegetable couscous — to the sublime —
artichoke-potato-mint pie, asparagus meatballs in a sweet Bergamot tea
sauce and vegetable dumplings with a spicy coriander dressing. No
wonder that Frommer’s claims that Arancia Blu serves Rome’s best
vegetarian cuisine. In addition to its expansive dinner menu and
willingness to accommodate any dietary need, Arancia Blu offers 250
different wines and assistance with pairing food and drink.
Nestled in the center of Istanbul, Turkey, Parsifal Vegetarian
Restaurant has provided sustenance to weary road warriors for over 15
years. In the upbeat, ochre-walled, blond hardwood-floored cafe a mix
of traditional Turkish and French-inspired fare reigns supreme. Dishes
such as black-eyed bean salad with walnuts, broccoli gratin, mint and
soya burgers, and artichoke dolmas, which are artichokes filled with a
mixture of rice, mint, lemon zest and finely chopped nuts, tantalize
the taste buds. Good, wholesome cooking from reputedly the only
vegan-friendly dining establishment in Istanbul. parsifalde.com
Named for a famous Indian Sikh temple, the Golden Temple in Amsterdam
spotlights all-natural, Indian and Middle Eastern foods that ‘encourage
the unity of body and mind.’ Along with such customary entrees as
vegetable korma, red lentil soup and mezze platters of falafel, hummus,
yam curry, and chickpea stew, the Golden Temple concocts a plethora of
juice drinks. Concerning their beverage list, the restaurant’s motto is
“tell us how you’re feeling and we will blend you a juice to suit your
mood.” Popeye Power, a mixture of spinach, celery, apple, cucumber,
olive oil and black pepper, and Cooling, Calming, apple, cucumber and
mint with a twist of lime and ginger are just two of the rejuvenating
non-alcoholic cocktails on tap. restaurantgoldentemple.com.
Based in the affluent neighborhood of Providencia in Santiago, Chile,
28-year-old El Huerto features innovative, all-natural vegetarian food
in an unassuming, earth-toned setting. Papaya carpaccio, mushroom pate,
gazpacho chilled with avocado and cilantro ice cubes and roasted tofu
with sesame enliven a menu brimming with fresh food and ideas. Along
with delectable, creative cuisine El Huerto grants its customers
inexpensive evening cooking classes dedicated to Thai and Indian
techniques. It also hosts yoga courses with certified instructors and
occasional live music nights. elhuerto.cl.
Dining for a Good Cause
Treat yourself to dinner at Biosfeera in Warsaw, Poland and you’ll not
only curb your hunger but also fight for the welfare of animals. At
Biosfeera diners have the option of donating to Viva! Action for
Animals, an international foundation dedicated to ending cruelty to
animals. The idea of customers tacking on an additional 10 percent to
their bills to help a good cause came from owner Kasia Jażdżewska’s
trip to India. There she encountered restaurants practicing this very
“The well-being of animals and the consciousness around their
situation, as well as well-being of all sentient beings, is important
for me. We (Biosfeera and Viva! Action for Animals) are, in a sense, in
the same team,” says Kasia, who welcomes four-legged guests to her
Viva!, which stands for Vegetarians International Voice for Animals,
campaigns for the environment as well as animals, educates the public
about animal welfare and promotes a vegan lifestyle. Headquartered in
Bristol, England, the non-profit organization was founded in 1994 by
Juliet Gellatley, who, with the help of Linda McCartney, instituted
National Vegetarian Week in England. Additional information about Viva!
Action for Animals can be found online at viva.org/uk.
What a pair!
Determining what wine to serve with a certain dish has troubled both
diners and cooks for decades. As vegetarians, we face a unique
quandary. Unlike omnivores, we don’t abide by the rule of “red for
meat, white for fish.” Red wine for tempeh? White wine for seitan? It’s
Not so for Denis Cotter of Cafe Paradiso in Cork, Ireland. For dishes
such as his turnip galettes with a reduced red-wine sauce he suggests
red. With tofu he goes with Reisling or a Sauvignon. “Because there are
so many different flavor combinations in the food, most people come to
a compromise with wine,” he says.
Generally, wine experts advise pairing pasta dishes with such reds as
Merlot and Shiraz and whites such as Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc.
Zinfandels compliment curries and risotto while Fume and Sauvignon
Blanc go well with Asian dishes. Foods with a little heat are good
partners for a crisp German Reisling.
For vegetables, gravitate toward fruitier reds such as Pinot Noir or a
Tuscan Chianti. Steer clear of robust reds, such as Cabernet Sauvignon
or Shiraz, which will overwhelm the veggies. When in doubt, serve white
wine. You can’t go wrong with a chilled Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc.
© 2009, Kathy Hunt.