The Best Vegan Buys at Your Local Asian Market

It’s always an adventure to visit an international grocery store. To see packages without a trace of English on them, or to find products you’ve never heard of. But sometimes, it can be just as overwhelming as it is fun.

Thankfully, in Birmingham, we have several Asian markets to choose from. My personal favorite is about the size of your average supermarket and dwarfs the competition. While I love how many options they offer, the first few times I visited, I would purchase only one or two items because I was equal parts overwhelmed by the amount of products and a little nervous to buy a grocery cart full of totally new things.

But one of the main reasons to visit an Asian market, besides just expanding your culinary horizons, is that they provide a huge range of familiar vegan-friendly products at a fraction of the prices found at regular grocery stores. This means you can happily fill your fridge, and pantry with wholesome, cheap foods during your next shopping trip.

Below are some of my favorite vegan food finds at Asian markets:

Tofu

A staple for the many Asian cuisines, you can find just about every type of tofu imaginable in the refrigerated section. Soft, silken, firm, extra firm, baked, fried, puffed, you name it, they probably have it. I usually buy the firm tofu, which rings in at around $2.50 per container and has 19 ounces of tofu. That’s about one and a half times the amount of tofu, for two-thirds of the price at a regular grocery store.

Jackfruit

This past year has seen jackfruit grow in popularity, with recipes popping up everywhere using it as a meat-substitute. And while you can purchase it already seasoned and prepared in most health food stores, you can get the canned stuff for significantly cheaper and customize it as you wish. At my local store, the jackfruit is in the canned fruits section near the coconut milk. Be sure to get the canned jackfruit in brine and not in syrup. Each can has about two servings (at least for the amount Peter and I eat) and rings in around $1.49 a piece. Then you can easily shred the jackfruit and dress is up for tacos, a baked potato topper, or whatever your little vegan heart desires.

Soymilk

Be warned, when buying soymilk at an Asian market, don’t be expecting the thin product from brands like Silk. Their non-dairy drink is very thick in comparison, with a much richer mouth-feel. It’s not something I would use for cooking or drinking straight, but a dollop in a mug of coffee does wonders, and it can make very moist baked goods. If you like the thick texture, most markets have adorable individual-size cartons, usually in fun flavors like chocolate or strawberry.

Meat Alternatives

It never ceases to amaze me how vast (and bizarre) the vegan meat alternatives are in my Asian market. In the frozen section is a collection featuring the likes of vegan ham tubes (see above), seitan shaped like an entire chicken, bite-size shrimp, tuna steaks, and more. In the canned section, you can find mock meats like duck or chicken, which are eerily similar, down to the lightly dimpled skin texture impressed upon the wheat gluten. And while I don’t eat meat alternatives all the time, sometimes it’s a nice change of pace, especially when serving omnivores who would prefer something closer to “the real deal.”

Sauces, Oils, and Vinegars

The majority of Asian grocery stores have an entire aisle dedicated to oils, vinegars, and various sauces or condiments. You can get cheaper versions of many commonplace products like oils (olive, canola, sesame) and vinegars (white, rice, apple cider). For sauces, if you’re like me and cook Asian food a lot, you can get huge bottles of soy sauce, sambal oelek, and sweet chili sauce for a serious bargain. And this is my favorite part of the store, not just because of the nice price points, but because there’s a world of new flavors to discover in the condiments aisle. Besides products that contain fish or oyster sauce, most are vegan-friendly. Try out a new chili paste, curry sauce, or new stir-fry base with dinner tonight. You might just find a new favorite.

How to Cook in a Hostel

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Dundee Backpackers in Dundee, Scotland

One of my favorite things about traveling is the food. After picking a destination, and maybe plotting out a few major points of interest, the next thing I do is search for the best restaurants, holes in the wall, and street vendors to visit.

While I love trying local specialties and grabbing meals around a new city, eating out can quickly add up and strain your travel budget. If you’re staying at a hostel, you’ve got the opportunity to cook for yourself and save your hard earned money for other things.

Through my travels, and the various trials and errors they have entailed, I’ve learned a few tricks for making the best of hostel kitchens, no matter how shabby or understocked:

Take Stock of the Kitchen

Before you ever make a grocery list or plan a time to cook, visit the kitchen and see what you’re working with. Check out what appliances, cookware, and tools are at your disposal. I’ve seen everything from well equipped kitchens featuring several ovens and stovetops, to a hostel that only had a single hot plate. While you’re there, see if your hostel provides a “Free Food” cabinet. Many hostel goers buy too much and leave behind their leftovers. This means you can sometimes find a wealth of staples like rice, pasta, oils, vinegars, and spices for free.

Shop With the Locals

Take notice of where the locals shop. Avoid the convenience stores usually found near tourist districts because of their lack of variety and high prices. Instead visit farmers’ markets and local grocery stores to do your shopping. One of the fun things when visiting another country is seeing all the foreign (to you) foods available. Plus if you’re choosing to cook a local specialty, you’ll have no trouble finding all the ingredients.

Avoid Peak Times

Even during off seasons, hostels can be packed with fellow travelers. This means the kitchen area will likely be full during peak eating hours around lunch and dinner. If you can, try and cook a little before or after regular mealtimes. Though cooking side-by-side with other hostel-goers can be a great way to get a conversation going, you might save yourself some time (and stress) by choosing your timing wisely.

Add Some Spice to Your Life

There’s no better way to quickly improve a meal than by adding a hearty dose of spices. Here are a few simple solutions to avoid overloading your backpack with spice bottles while still creating tasty meals:

  • Base your meal choices around the spices available in your hostel’s free pantry. This can lead to some really creative recipe creation.
  • Buy one or two spice blends (cajun, Italian, lemon-pepper, etc.) to just sprinkle on each meal for a serious flavor boost. This works best if you’re traveling for a week or less, so you don’t get tired of the recurring flavors.
  • If you know you’ll always want certain spices on hand, your best bet is to pack your favorites in a stackable pill organizer (like this one.) The screw-on top keeps the spices in place and the containers are usually easy to label.

Keep It Simple

Nobody expects you to make a luxurious five-star meal at your hostel. If that’s your thing, more power to you. But I like to stick with simple “recipes” that require little ingredients. It’s usually a good idea to create a balanced meal with about five ingredients, including a protein source, carbs, and veggies or fruit. Since I’m usually cooking for myself and Peter, and we don’t mind leftovers, most of the meals I cook makes about four servings. If you’re traveling solo, make sure you only buy how much you need for your stay. Some of my favorite simple hostel recipes include:

  • Creamy Lentil Curry: Cook red lentils in coconut milk, vegetable broth, and curry powder. Top with chopped pineapple and cilantro.
  • Shroom Pasta: Cook pasta. Sauté a chopped onion and a few handfuls of mushroom in olive oil. Toss with pasta and sprinkle with red pepper and nutritional yeast.
  • Hearty Soup: In a large pot sauté a chopped onion in olive oil. Add a can of diced tomatoes and a can of white beans. Add a chopped potato or any desired veggies you have on hand. Pour in enough vegetable broth to cover everything and simmer until veggies are tender.
  • Super Spuds: Poke a few holes in a russet potato. Microwave for 5-7 minutes, or until soft. Top with a handful of spinach and chopped green onions. Dollop on salsa and guacamole before serving.

Sugar Free Aquafaba Cappuccino

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The magic of this recipe is that it results in a rich airy drink with no fat or sugar involved. The trick is that aquafaba (cooking liquid for beans) easily turns into a light foam that mimics the texture of finely frothed milk. Combine that with the flavor of vanilla extract and a dash of stevia for natural sweetness, and you’ve got yourself a fine drink to start the morning with.

There’s no need to just stick with vanilla though. I’ve experimented also with lavender and almond extracts, both of which work well in this recipe.

I’ll be the first one to say that I’m by no means a coffee expert, so bear with me using “cappucino” as this recipe title. Does it results in a creamy, sweet, caffeine-filled drink? You betcha. Is it done in a professional manner with a milk frother that will satisfy all the coffee nerds? Not at all. But for those of us without decked-out kitchens you should already have all the required equipment, a stand mixer and microwave, on hand.

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Sugar Free Aquafaba Cappuccino

Serves: 2

Ingredients:

  • 2 double-shots of espresso (or two small cups of strong coffee)
  • 1/4 cup of plain non-dairy milk
  • 1/4 cup aquafaba (if using canned be sure to purchase unsalted)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon powdered stevia (or two packs of stevia)
  • Cinnamon, optional

Directions:

  1. In a stand mixer, beat the aquafaba on high until it becomes white and stiff, about 8-12 minutes.
  2. Add in the vanilla extract and stevia, beating until well combined.
  3. In a small bowl, microwave the non-dairy milk for 30 seconds.
  4. In two small mugs combine the espresso or strong coffee with the warmed milk.
  5. Spoon the aquafaba topping over, sprinkle with cinnamon if desired.

Nutrition per serving:

Calories: 24 Fat: 1g Saturated Fat: 0g Protein: 1g Carbohydrates: 1g Sugars: 0g

A Vegan’s Guide to Reykjavik

Hopefully you’ve already read my recommendations for Five Must-Dos in Iceland from our week-long getaway earlier this month. If not, hop over there for suggestions on attractions to visit and activities to do. Then, it’s time to get onto what every vegan really likes to research before a big trip: Where to eat.

I will warn you guys, the food photography is not great here because wintertime Iceland has sunlight for only about six hours. Combine that with low-light restaurants, and you’ve got some less-than-stellar photo ops. But I promise everything I pictured was delicious and beautiful when I was served.

Iceland was apparently the land of defying expectations. Meaning: every blog, book, or website I read said Iceland was one of the hardest places to eat vegan. I’m happy to say there was no shortage of yummy and satisfying plant-based food, which was not hard to find at all. Honestly, Reykjavik was much more veggie-friendly than almost any place in the Southern U.S.

My only warning is that dining out in Iceland is expensive. A cheap meal for two people is about $20, and that’s if you’re getting something like chips (fries) and a soda. Since a lot of foods (especially fresh produce) have to be imported, the high price tag makes sense. But be aware that the majority of your vacation budget can easily be blown on a night out of fine dining. Because of this, Peter and I stuck to more casual eateries, though according to Happy Cow there are many more choices available in the city for those willing to drop some cash.

Here are some of the amazing places we dined at:

Kaffi Vinyl

Totally vegan and with a wealth of menu options, Kaffi Vinyl was our first stop for food. The restaurant, which also doubles as a record shop and music venue, had a relaxed vibe with servers changing the records as they ran out. We both got coffees, Peter’s was cold and mine was hot, in an attempt to help our adjust to the time change. They offered several non-dairy milk options like soy, oat, and coconut.dscn1799Peter ordered the lasagna, which was an extremely hearty meal filled with rich marinara, veggies, and a sprinkling of vegan parmesan atop. It was served with rustic bread, olive tapenade, and salad.

I took a chance on a bizarre sounding combo, and ordered the black bean burger, which came with blueberry jam, kimchi sauce, some type of cream cheese, pickled veggies, and a slice of pineapple. I just have to say, this burger was so good. I never would have thought to put a sweet jam on a burger (I guess I didn’t learn from that episode of Spongebob) but the whole thing just worked. Sweet, salty, creamy, tangy, every bite had a big burst of flavors.

Cultural note though, Icelanders tend to avoid eating with their hands. For example, I was given a fork and knife to eat this burger and watched two locals at another table cut theirs apart too. So just keep that in mind when you get any “hands on” food.

Reykjavik Chips

A restaurant entirely dedicated to potatoes is my kind of place. Serving only (you guessed it) fries, Reykjavik Chips is a cute little shop that you shouldn’t miss out on. Their large pile of potatoes next to the cash register (see below) should attest to how popular it is.

The chips come in two sizes, small and large, and I highly recommend getting a small. Because when they say large, they mean it. The container is roughly the size to hold two American large fries, so stick with a small (which is about the size of one American large fry) unless you’re sharing.

Crispy on the outside, but soft on the inside, the chips are made fresh-to-order and topped with whatever sauce you desire. Vegans have the options of ketchup or rich peanut-y satay sauce. Best part? Since Icelanders don’t eat with their hands, when they toss the chips in a sauce it’s served with a skewer to eat with.dscn1937

Nudluskalin

Just what you need when the cold wind is whistling into your face, Nudluskalin is the place to go for a meal that will warm up your frozen body.

Very easy to eat vegan at, you can substitute tofu for any meat and several of their menu items are already vegan. I choose the Green Throughout (below, right), a rice noodle soup that is heavy on the veggies and features fresh garlic and chilis for a thorough sinus cleansing.

Peter got the vegetarian option of Bamm Al Pomodoro, a less-brothy hybrid dish that had a bit of Asian and Italian influences. With a tomato broth base, it featured fresh egg noodles, peppers, carrots, Italian herbs, and a hearty handful of beansprouts. dscn1951

Joylato

Joylato is one of those places I’d never expect to have vegan options, and I’m always pleasantly surprised every time I turn out to be incorrect. Using liquid nitrogen, you can mix-and-match ingredients for you own custom bowl of made-to-order ice cream.

You have the options of the base being coconut or dairy milk, then choose the flavor of ice cream you want, add in sweet bits like fresh fruit or chocolate chips, and finally decide if you desire a sauce to drizzle atop. Besides the dairy milk, the only non-vegan add-in was white chocolate chips. I went with a coconut-based salted caramel ice cream with chocolate fudge sauce.

Despite the oxymoron of eating ice cream in cold weather, it was a great sweet treat. But if you’re wanting something a bit warmer, they also make vegan hot chocolate or chai tea that is perfect for sipping while exploring the city.dscn2008

Pylsa/Pulsa

Icelanders seem to love their sausages and hot dogs. I was thrilled to be able to try a vegan version of the local favorite at Pylsa/Pulsa, which was only made better by the fact that it was in the same building as our hostel.

We both got the Bulsur Sausage, which was labeled as “100% vegan” and sat at the bar to eat. If you’re interested in local Icelandic brews too, they had several options on tap. The sausages were crisp on the outside and slightly soft on the inside, with a heavily spiced flavor that was balanced out by the herb gravy. On the side was mashed sweet potatoes and a refreshing green salad. img_1122

Glo

Right off the main street of Reykjavik, Glo is the best place to stop for a healthy afternoon meal. With about half a dozen mostly-vegan salad options, along with wraps and soups, you can mix-and-match until you’ve got the perfect plate.

I ordered some ridiculously creamy cauliflower soup, which came with a dense (in a good way) piece of wheat bread, and three salad of my choice, which were cabbage, potato, and quinoa. Peter got a slightly spicy hummus wrap and the same salads too. Each of left feeling totally full, but not overly weighed down, by the veggie-packed meals.

Habibi

Although they’re usually a safe bet for vegans, the falafels at Habibi weren’t just your run-of-the-mill dinner. I ordered the falafel wrap, asking for no dairy sauces, and the lovely guy behind the counter quickly began frying them up. The soft wrap was just the right balance for holding crunchy falafel, fresh veggies, and silky hummus. It definitely beat out any falafel wraps I’d eaten before. If we’d had more time in the city, I definitely would have returned to try their falafel plate too.img_1182

The Deli

Due to construction, the entrance to The Deli isn’t the easiest to find at the time of writing this. So just keep your eyes peeled for the spray painted pictures of pizza. Peter, a severe pizza fiend, was hankering for some when we found The Deli.

He got several of their vegetarian slices, margherita and white garlic, which were displayed behind the counter. I required a more special order and requested the pasta alla noplentana without cheese or garlic bread. I was pleased that the staff didn’t seemed puzzled at all by my dairy-free request.

The pasta and pizza, which we got to-go, were both great. Peter was a happy camper, and I was pleased by the pasta tossed in a rich marinara sauce and dotted with fresh cherry tomatoes, basil, and black olives. Their drink selection was vast too, so keep an eye out for Icelandic brands. I got an interesting bitterlemon soda that was a delightful balance of bitter, sour, and sweet.dscn1852

1011

It may seem strange for me to include a convenience store at the end of this list, but it’s here for a good reason. 1011, which has branches throughout the city, boasts a large section of pre-made foods. A shocking amount of these dishes are vegan, and clearly labeled so.

Vegan sandwiches, salads, falafel meals, rice bowls, curries, and daals, are available in the refrigerated section for very decent prices. Peter and I shopped their several times for meals to take on long day tours and everything we tried was fantastic. This wasn’t run-of-the-mill gas station grub either, everything was properly prepared and about as good as the food we ate at the nearby eateries.dscn2001dscn1997dscn1999As a bonus, keep an eye out at 1011 for the “Cool American Doritos”. They’re not vegan, just very funny. dscn1944

Five Must-Dos in Iceland

At the beginning of this month, we spent a wonderful week in Reykjavik Iceland. A vacation we’ve always been interested in taking, the off-season prices combined with an easy direct flight from Baltimore made December the perfect time to visit.

We arrived, bleary-eyed and jet lagged, at 5 a.m. local time. After a much-needed nap at our hostel, we hit the town in the afternoon. Reykjavik is an interesting city. Interspersed amongst the adorable brightly painted houses (that you see in all of the travel books and brochures) is a little bit of a run-down, dirty feeling. Abandoned lots, graffiti, and crumbling buildings were not an uncommon sight. Not to say we didn’t like the city—our love for New Orleans should show a little grime doesn’t bother us—but Reykjavik was just a bit rougher around the edges than we expected. It’s a case of remembering everything is not always as it appears on Instagram. dscn1797Throwing aside all expectations, Reykjavik was a beautifully unique city. You could be walking along a regular street, glance up, and realize that there are magnificent mountains just waiting to be gazed at. Read below to find out our five favorite activities in Iceland’s capital. dscn1876

Graffiti Gazing

 

Taking a leisurely stroll through pretty much any neighborhood in Reykjavik will provide views of  (undoubtedly) illegal graffiti and dozens and dozens of professional murals. It seemed like every neighborhood or section of the city had their own art thrown onto shops, houses, and government buildings. Set some time aside to just wander and you definitely won’t regret it.

Thufa Hill

dscn1904A hidden treasure in the city is Thufa Hill, which offers amazing views of Reykjavik and is a small adventure to get to. Tucked behind rows of shops and industrial factories, we had to use Google Maps to find this outdoor art installment. A spiral path of stepping stones leads to the top where a fishing shed and several stones sit. When we went, there wasn’t another soul in sight, giving us time to sit down and relax while soaking in views of Harpa concert hall and the bay. dscn1915

Sculpture & Shore Walkdscn1884

A popular path in Reykjavik, the Sculpture and Shore Walk is a lovely mix of natural and man-made beauties. Looking out over the ocean, the meandering pathway leads you by a collection of sculptures and famous landmarks. Along with taking in the view, it’s a great place to ‘people watch’ since a variety of tourists and locals alike frequent the area. Keep an eye out for natural hot springs areas where birds will hang out to stay warm.

Day Tours

dscn1966Outside of Reykjavik you can truly get a glimpse at the amazing beauty of Iceland’s landscape. Instead of attempting to navigate the public transit ourselves, we used the Gray Line tour company to easily book a day-long Game of Thrones Tour. We saw a multitude of waterfalls, snow-topped mountains, and even an abandoned ‘Wildling’ village. Whether it’s by tour bus or rental car, everyone should take at least a day to get out in the wide open countryside. dscn1954img_1149

Snorkeling

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Who would’ve thought that a snorkeling adventure was an option in such a cold country? Scuba Iceland offers a Silfra Snorkeling package that can’t be beat. During this particular tour, you’ll spend about 40 minutes snorkeling through the crystal clear waters of the Silfra fissure, which is between the tectonic plates of North America and Eurasia. It’s a shockingly warm experience since you’ll be bundled up in thermal clothes and a dry suit. The package is reasonably priced in comparison to competitors and is incredibly easy to do since transportation and a friendly guide are provided. Don’t miss out on this unique opportunity!

For other suggestions of where to visit, and eat, in Iceland, read my Vegan’s Guide to Reykjavik.

Eating Through The Land of Ooo – Macaroni Salad

One of my favorite television shows, Adventure Time is a wacky ride of funny characters, sometimes heart-wrenching storyline, and food. Lots of food. It’s hard to go through an episode without watching a character make a sandwich, share some spaghetti, or feed their loved one a bowl of soup.

I love basing recipes off of shows, books, and movies, so this is the first installment of my series “Eating Through The Land of Ooo” which is where Adventure Time is based. I’m hoping to eat my way through the majority of episodes, drawing inspiration from the characters’ various meals.

Our first meal takes place in “Ocarina”season 6, episode 12. Jake the dog is celebrating his pups’ birthdays, but they’re all disappointed when arrives with no presents and a small amount of macaroni salad.

Although the pups were disappointed with Jake’s beige take on this carb-centric dish, I’m sure they would have been thrilled with this recipe. I pepped it up a bit by adding heavy-hitters when it comes to flavor like salty olives, sweet roasted red peppers, and tangy pickles. The dressing, although vegan-mayo based, isn’t too heavy and allows the whole dish to be cohesive instead of a gloopy mess.

Although it’s tempting to eat it straight out of the mixing bowl, this recipe really shines when you let it fully sit overnight. Everything melds together to create a dish that you’d be proud to bring to your next birthday party.macaroni salad.jpg

Birthday Macaroni Salad

Serves: 10

Ingredients:

  • 1 lbs. macaroni pasta
  • 1 15.5 oz. can black olives, drained and sliced
  • 1/2 cup chopped roasted red bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped dill pickles
  • 1/3 cup sliced green onions (both white and green parts)
  • 1/2 cup vegan mayonnaise (such as Vegenaise)
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tablespoon agave nectar
  • 1 teaspoon dried dill
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste

Directions:

  1. Cook macaroni according to package’s directions.
  2. Once cooked, drain the pasta and rinse with cold water until cool.
  3. Combine in a large bowl with the remaining ingredients. Mix well.
  4. Set in the fridge to chill and for flavors to meld for at least 3 hours, preferably overnight.  

I’m Baaaaaack

And feeling good.

So this blog has been static for almost an entire year. When Gallivanting Vegan went silent, Peter and I had just moved to a new apartment (that we’re still in and enjoy, yay!), and I’d just been hired by MyRecipes, which left the blog as a non-priority in my newly jam-packed life. Since then, we’ve done some traveling, changed up jobs, and added a new (four-legged) member to our family, Momo the cat.

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I’m now working for Cooking Light, which is a sister brand of MyRecipes, so I didn’t even have to move desks (or leave my awesome co-workers) when I switched positions. Through these jobs, which involve my two loves of food and words, I’ve have the opportunity to do/write some awesome things, like:

So, inspired a lot by the work I do, I’m hoping to post more consistently now. With everything from recipes to vegan travel guides to how-tos. This entire absence I’ve still been making and noshing on delicious vegan food, so I’ve got a nice little backlog of content ready for you guys. Keep an eye out in the next few days for new posts. To easily keep up to date, follow the blog on Facebook by clicking the like button on the side bar.

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Visiting I Dream of Weenie in Nashville.