Vegetarian travel

Rather than go on about vegetarian food in my blog posts I thought I’d separate our ‘food adventures’ into a different section for other people’s benefit.

We are travelling from London to Bangkok by rail and road, visiting Russia, Mongolia, China (via the Trans Siberian railway), Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. A lot of people wonder how we can cope as we are vegetarian (and meat is practically all people in Siberia eat, for instance). The key is to do a lot of planning and preparation beforehand.

For the benefit of vegetarians and vegans planning to travel to these places, I’ve listed the restaurants we’ve visited and some other tips on preparing for the trip. Consider this page a work in progress as we continue our journey!

Moscow:
There aren’t many vegetarian places in Moscow, but it’s advisable to seek them out. We only stayed here for two days so we were OK with going to one of them twice. One’s called Jagannath (Juznetsky Most Str.11; telephone 928-35-80). This is an organic cafe with a small vegetarian grocery another table-service restaurant within, although we only visited the cafe part. There’s internet access available and you choose what you want from the counter, so you can see exactly what you’re eating. Order a few bowls as you would with tapas. We had brown rice and a Thai curry (vegan), bowls of warm mushroom and spinach-based salads (also vegan), shepherd’s pie, cheesy lasagne, sweet ginger and lemon drinks, desserts and much more — the menu changes all the time. Don’t order the veggie burger bun as they put it in the microwave, cellophane and all, and it acquired a soggy, plasticky texture.

The other restaurant we visited was Avocado. This was far more upmarket and very expensive. Don’t order the limp carrot steak, but go for the lively, fresh, whole food type selections based on grains like lentils. The place was clean and service was efficient (English is also spoken), but the atmosphere was a little sterile when we visited.

See this page for more restaurants in Moscow.

Trans-Siberian train:
No matter what your diet, you probably won’t be eating particularly well on this train. The Trans-Siberian route, and all the mainline trains in China, have a samovar in each carriage. This is a hot water urn. A thermos will be provided in each cabin, but you may want to bring your own because the thermos can be used for cooking food.

Although you can buy plenty of instant pot noodles while on the go (instant noodles), vegetarians might want to bring their own as a lot of the noodles on sale have animal-based seasonings – or you could just bring your own seasonings like vegetable bouillon/stock cubes. We didn’t bring noodles that already come in a bowl — it takes up too much room. We brought Japanese wheat noodles that come with garlic oil and miso soup sachets which seemed healthier than the MSG ones. You can cook these in the thermos for 8 minutes and put them in your bowl, or cook them in the bowl although the heat won’t be retained as well. When boarding the train bring fruit and when buying from vendors only buy fruit you can peel and eat like bananas (for hygiene reasons), and keep purchasing plenty of bottled water. Bread can be purchased on the train or brought along. Don’t forget to bring jam, Marmite or whatever you like to have on it at breakfast. You can also bring instant soup, flavoured rice meals that require a few minutes’ cooking in hot water (available at supermarkets and health food stores), cous cous, nuts, seeds, raisins and so on. Basically, everyone else will pretty much be in the same situation as you only they’ll be able to eat at the restaurant car which didn’t look at all appetising anyway. You can buy the usual cold drinks at the restaurant car though like Sprite, orange juice and beer. And if you’re desperate for a sugar fix, buy a Snickers bar.

Oh, and don’t forget your teabags and coffee.

Mongolia:
Mongolia is so devoid of vegetables it’s not funny. Thankfully, though, we found a couple of Indian restaurants there which had plenty of food choices to choose from. You just have to like Indian food and not be fussy about the cuisine choice. There are two restaurants to visit – one’s the Taj Mahal at the Bayangol Hotel that we were staying at (Babu’s the owner). The other is the “award-winning” Hazara restaurant serving North Indian food; full of European diplomats and Australians. It has a pleasant atmosphere and filled up quickly.

Our hotel also provided an ample breakfast buffet included in the price of our room. It included eggs cooked your-style while you wait; toast, a huge selection of fruit, hash browns, cereal, yoghurt, and Asian breakfast stuff like noodles.

China:
Thank goodness for the internet. We found so many delicious and unusual places to eat here in China! We ate at Buddhist temples, in the heart of several hutongs, in malls, on major shopping thoroughfares, in the back of a hotel undergoing renovation and many more places. Seeking out these restaurants is also a great way of seeing places you’d never see if you were only travelling on the beaten track. Remember that taxi drivers probably won’t read English so have the Chinese address of where you’re going printed out or ask the hotel to point it out on a map — look up the Chinese names of these places online.

Beijing —
STILL THOUGHTS: One of my favourites. Still Thoughts has two outlets. One’s quite close to the shopping street of Wangfujing Avenue, situated in a hutong in the Dongcheng District (18A Dafosi Dongjie; tel 64008941). The other was a little out of the way but has the same menu. It’s at 30A Gaoliang Qiao Rd, Haidan District next to the Meijuan Hotel which was being renovated.

still thoughts vegetarian

The first Still Thoughts was patronised by a mixture of Chinese and Western eaters. You’ll receive a large photo album with English food names next to the photos if you don’t understand Chinese. As with all the Asian restaurants don’t be put off by the names – only fake gluten or soy-based chunks are used even though it will say ‘chicken’ this or ‘beef’ that (or monkey, or hedgehog). Among other things, we ordered a delicious braised tofu and shiitake mushroom dish, a sizzling eggplant stir-fry, plus a crunchy, peppery chilli ‘hedgehog’ dish with deep fried rice noodles on the side. Meals are thoughtfully presented and reasonably priced. A meal for two with three mains, rice and drinks will cost about US$9.

bigmenu.jpg PURE LOTUS VEGETARIAN RESTAURANT
Holiday Inn Lido Beijing, The Third Floor. Jichang Road, Jiant Tai Road, Beijing. Tel 870 36668.

This place was weird. It’s an upmarket vegetarian restaurant with monks as waiters (not sure if they were real). They were friendly but quite pushy when trying to suggest things from their menus. Ah, yes. The menus. If you’re far sighted, don’t worry if you forgot your glasses because this place has the world’s biggest menus. Here’s Rob holding the menu, and that was just for drinks. Each page is made of cardboard and it’s like reading a coffee table book. For refreshments you can order many different types of tea and juices that are meant to help cure your internal ailments. The main menu has dishes with names like ‘Fragrant Spicy Seasonal Mushroom Claypot’, ‘Ode of Tribute’, ‘What my mother told me on her rocking chair’ and so on. Dinner itself its quite special, with delicious dumplings to start, subtle braised bean curd and a deep fried, spicy gluten dish with chilli, onion and pepper in it. We also had a hotpot type dish with a huge variety of mushrooms, some of which we’d never tasted before. These were packed with rich yet delicate flavour. We also had a special organic rice. The most annoying thing about this place, which was very popular, is the overly attentive staff. They feel like they’re doing you a favour but most of the time they’re in the way. For example they’ll take your half-finished dish away and transfer it to a smaller one and each time you take the smallest sip of your tea they’ll top it up. And if there’s one useful gulp left in your juice, they’ll attempt to take it away. They’ll also take on an obsessive-compulsive role, moving plates and bowls and chopsticks small distances just to re-align them otherwise the universe might collapse in on itself. But apart from that (and the fact it was about four times as expensive as Still Thoughts, the place had great food and it was definitely an experience). Cost of our meal was 300 yuan (usually we’d pay about 80).

LOTUS IN MOONLIGHT (Building 12, Liufang NanLi, Chaoyang District, Beijing). A nice, great value restaurant in a residential area of Beijing. It’s a little hard to find, tucked away behind the apartment buildings the taxi driver dropped us off at, but worth seeking out for the Asian fare; we had a delicious curry here.

BAIHE VEGETARIAN RESTAURANT (www.vbaihe.com). This area is in a hutong like the first Still Thoughts. It’s an organic restaurant with a meditative atmosphere including what appeared to be spiritual/self-help books (all Chinese). The location was a former French Ambassador’s house and a Chinese celebrity’s, or at least the brochure claimed. The menus were humungous like the ones at the Lotus restaurant, but the food slightly cheaper — still quite expensive, though.

It’s worth noting that if you are staying in a decent hotel (4 or 5 star) you will get a decent buffet breakfast. The fried dough sticks you dip in soy milk are a popular breakfast in China (vegan) as are noodles (sometimes with egg) and fried vegetables, and you’ll get the usual Continental breakfast specialties.

Shanghai–
With development happening so fast, many of the vegetarian restaurants on our list were merely holes in the ground, empty shops or completely different enterprises. In fact we only found two restaurants here, a far cry from being spoilt for choice in Beijing.

The first one is a well-established name, GONGDELIN (Godly’s; since 1922m 445 Nanjing Xi Rd, tel 63270218) on one of the main shopping districts of Shanghai. Service was a bit slow and meals were mediocre as they focused too much on meat substitutes and it was all a bit too brown. We had the faux ‘shredded peace bird’ which I thought was ironic. It tasted just like dove (I think…). The ‘beef’ skewers were tangy and chewy, but you might think it’s too much like the real thing. There’s a clean, pleasant shop next door when you can buy red bean filled dumplings, steamed vegetable dumplings, cakes and so on.

NEW AGE VEGGIE was a tasty (but difficult) find (Super brand Mall, no 168 Lujiazui Xi Lu, Pudong). It was previously in a mall which had since been rebranded, so we were traipsing around trying to find it when it was in the first mall we walked past. It’s located on the opposite side of the Bund so you have to cross the river to get there. We liked this place because it was more mainstream and attracted a young crowd. Being in a mall next to lots of other food selections, it was nice to see the place fill up. The menu is huge and colourful, like a magazine fashion cataloug, with bright starbursts and food names. Try the black pepper steak (‘alien style’) or hot-hot Szechuan specialties if you’re game. Water is expensive, though.

Xian and Chengdu —
In Xian, we tried to find a couple of places we’d heard about but, as with all the development happening in Shanghai, these were no longer around. However, we did find a few Indian restaurants close to the big goose pagoda (our back-up plan!) which were delicious!

In Chengdu, we had much more choice thanks to the Buddhist and Taoist temples that served all-vegetarian dishes. The Wenshu temple was open for an excellent lunch (admission to the temple is 5 yuan) although service was on the slow side (what’s with no one giving us rice with our meals?) and Qingyang Gong also had interesting dishes but it didn’t know the meaning of ‘service with a smile’. The Cacaja Indian restaurant (the other branch is in Xian) is also worth seeking out.

wenshu temple vegetarian
Wenshu Temple’s ”offerings”
Yangshuo —
You’ll be spoilt for choice in Yangshuo, where Western cafes and restaurants are everywhere. They all pretty much serve the same fare, so if you’re into vegetarian pizzas, tofu and veggie burgers and fries, you’ll be in heaven (after a month of Chinese food I had a craving for these meals!). However, a restaurant we went to three times was the highly recommended Pure Lotus vegetarian restaurant (Die Cui Rd, Yangshuo) adjoining the Magnolia Hotel which we also recommend. The braised meals were delicious; including the eggplant, tofu and green tea leaves and bean steak in XO sauce. The decor is thoughtful and minimalist with dark wooden tables, chairs and beautiful goldfish housed in huge porcelain pots. Some seats were in special rooms or areas of the restaurant so if you have a small group of people this can give you some privacy. It’s also great value and service was friendly! See their website.

Vietnam:

Again, do your research and you’ll be richly rewarded with a fine selection of vegetarian restaurants with a Buddhist twist — even in the less tourist areas. You’ll discover how Vietnamese food is subtly different to other Asian foods in the region and you’ll even get to sample local specialties. The word to remember for vegetarian is ”an chay” or “com chay” — see a restaurant with these words and you know you’ll be safe. It’s worth noting that the smaller establishments are often family-run so there might be days when the chef’s gone home, or the family’s eating, or the restaurant lights are off and they’ll have to turn them on for you. But it’s all part of the fun.

Hanoi —

TAMARIND CAFE (80 May May St, Hanoi) is situated in the office of the expensive Handspan tour company. It’s a completely vegetarian restaurant with Western prices (a meal for two with drinks and starters cost us around $22 – an absolute fortune in Vietnam; and everything’s quoted in US dollars as with most tourist-oriented places). Because of its excellent location in the Old Quarter, we came here a few times, and had varying experiences each time. I’d say that overall, the place is overpriced and overrated. Some dishes were great; mainly the soups and starters. We really enjoyed some kind of cold tofu with ratatouille on top, the cold spring rolls, the wonton soup and the pho. My banana, chocolate and soy smoothie was excellent. However, the mains were average or below average. My quesidilla was bland and tasteless, for instance, and just as I returned it half-finished, I noticed that the people opposite us left three-quarters of their vegetarian sushi untouched. My pineapple fried rice was passable, but again, very expensive for what I got. The place was packed with twenty-two year old psuedo-hippie types (mostly French and Australian; no locals of course). If you want somewhere convenient, then this is fine, but I’d recommend trying any old restaurant as they all do cheaper veggie versions of their dishes or, better still, seek out one of the more local com chay restaurants.

COM CHAY ADIDA (37 Nguyen Khac Nhu): As I’ve mentioned in my review on Happy Cow, we came here for dinner and were the only ones in the restaurant! (The Vietnamese eat early, so I think we were too late at 7.30pm.) The food was excellent – the eggplant curry and the tofu hotpot were standouts. We were also given complementary starters including fritters. The staff don’t speak much English but you’ll get service with a smile and the place looked sanitary. Sadly, we wanted to come here a second time a few days later but got caught in the monsoonal rains. By the time we got to the restaurant at 8.30 or so the cook had left. Another American family were also turned away – luckily I told them to go to another one on the list…

COM CHAY NANG TAM (79A Tran Hung Dao, Hanoi): Situated close to Hanoi’s railway station, this popular restaurant situated down and behind an alley served a wide range of mock meats and traditional Vietnamese dishes. The meal deals were tasty and good value. The place was heaving with locals including several monks.

Typical meal combo at Com Chay Nang Tam, Hanoi

HUE:

TINH TAM (12 Chu Van An St, Hue, Vietnam): No, this place isn’t named after the Australian chocolate biscuit. After reading some uninspiring reviews of this place we had low expectations, but I thought it was perfectly fine. The walls didn’t look completely spick and span but it looked just like any home-cum-restaurant we’d walked past throughout our travels. There are a lot of mock meats which could turn people off, but we really enjoyed some kind of deep-fried sesame balls, and a delicious and colourful stir fry. It was situated just a few doors down from the recommended Orchid Hotel which was excellent value. I can’t verify reports that this place has a cheaper local menu but I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case. Still, at just a couple of dollars for a dish you don’t really need to complain!

Tinh Tam

Responses

  1. Please ask monks to provide small menus for vertically challenged individuals.

    JB.

  2. this is excellent, we’re planning a trans-siberian trip (few years away yet), as a vegan family it’s good to see we won’t starve!

    • Did you travel? Our travel is still years away (probably 2017). Any suggestions to two vegetarians?

  3. Brilliant stuff, Kim. You should write vegetarian restaurant guides to everywhere. I could have done with info like this when I was traveling through Europe.

  4. Kim, this is a really great veggie guide; you can tell you’re a jounalist! As a veggie myself it’s the one thing I would worry about if I did a jouney like yours. Mark
    PS love that big menu 😉

  5. Thanks for the great info I am embarking on a London to singapore trip in November this year and was slightly worried about being a vegetarian 🙂 in russia and mongolia. I will be searching out the restaurants you suggested and bringing along some pot noodles for the trains.

  6. Mmm… if you’re heading through Mongolia there’s now a new vegetarian restaurant in Ulaanbaatar called Luna Blanca, it’s by the Japanese Gardens just behind the post office. They serve delicious, cheap, vegetarian Mongolian food.

  7. NAVRATTAN RESTAURANT
    100 % PURE VEGETARIAN
    EMAIL –sukhvindersingh@ymail.com
    Phone – +66877068478
    Navrattan restaurant in centre of Bangkok located in pethunam.we are serving 100% pure vegetarian food North,South,Chinese & Thai all food are pure vegetarian. do you have any business opportunity for us please contact on this number or my email .

    THANK YOU

    NAVRATTAN RESTAURANT
    MR. SUKHVINDER SINGH

  8. hey thanks for the info on vegetarian food. we will are planning the same trip in the coming months , just wonderig if you have any time to maybe provide some more info as were not sure if weve left oursleves enough time to organise it but we re thnking of leaving englnd around late august early september, just wondering if youve got any tips on organising visa’s for the trip , we will be travelling on a australian and english passport… also if you have any recomendations on any stop offs you did and did you plan it all ahead and prebook before you left or did you stop and get back on as you went and if so how easy was that… were travelling with our will be eight month old baby at the time so were going luxury of the delux
    2 berth on the train and will be staying more flashpacker style accomodations where necessary. look forward to your reply you can contact us straight on our email if its easier … thanks rapi and billy and baby sunny


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: