‘Jordan? Really!’ went my pals on my holiday plans, they thought the vegetarian in me was being too ambitious to make another gourmet trip out of a vacation, the former is always the agenda to say the truth. A quick web search yielded nothing much but for the now glocal Falafel ,Hummus and Shawarma and a host of non-vegetarian items
including Mansaf their national dish, a rice and meat preparation in lines of our Yakhni Pulao. I started with a clean slate and enjoyed my time in the cosmopolitan Amman, the historic Petra, the rugged sands of Wadi rum, and the pristine waters of Aqaba and the therapeutic aqua of the Dead Sea. With so much globalization and the likes of Uncle McDonald to the rescue vegetarians are at ease in Jordan but here are some local delicacies that would allow adding the gourmet angle to your trip
A pretty looking pot containing mashed fava beans seasoned with cumin, olive oil, onion, garlic, lemon and seasoning finds place in most hotel breakfasts and alongside are kept toppings for people to enhance the dish as per their tastes. Sumac one indigenous crimson coloured spice that adds the tang stands apart in the condiments.
A dip you will find at the salad section, a mix of smoked aubergines pureed with Tahini (sesame paste) lemon juice and olive oil. Moutabal is also used as spread in Falafel wraps; do ensure that as your street side vendor smears some along with hummus for that smoky nuance! I loved it over multiple lunches.
A breakfast time preparation of tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and chilli is often cooked with eggs or meat and had with bread.
Flatbread baked with Zatar a local spice mix accompanies Ful Medames or is had with a healthy spread of cream cheese.
A brined semi hard cheese often made of goat and sheep milk is an inherent part of the Jordanian diet. It can be grilled but is mostly eaten fresh with Khubz or Pita and always finds place in the mezze platter comprising dips, bread and fresh vegetable batons.
All fingers point to Habibah a sweet shop in Amman for this delicacy. A layered dessert with a base or filling of stringy cheese similar to a mozzarella and the top layers a crisp semolina pastry or vermicelli all soaked in rose scented sugar syrup.
It like the popular Baklava, phyllo pastry stuffed with a soft cheese or custard with a healthy soak of sugar syrup.
Semolina based dessert flavoured with rose water and sometimes enhanced with coconut are spreadout on huge and cut in cakes. It is readily available in most sweet shops in Amman and other cities. You will find a more premium nut topped version too.
Perhaps has the same roots as our Halwa, this one is made from Tahini and is shaped into one inch cubes. Halaweh is hard but crumbly and is on similar lines of Gajak in taste albeit much smoother and version in terms of texture. A good winter time dessert!
A blancmange like creamy pudding is popular in Middle Eastern cuisines. It is milk based and thickened with rice flour and flavoured with rose water or vanilla or orange etc and embellished with nuts. It is served cold and is light and refreshing.
Jordanian’s love their tea and coffee, Turkish coffee a muddy black coffee flavoured with cardamom is commonplace and they love their mint or sage tea flavoured with spices and sweetened with sugar. You will love the hot cuppa in the winters especially after all the food.
‘A Vegetarian in Bangkok’ is certainly happening because there are plenty of Indian restaurants and other modern cafes serving you enough vegetarian fare! But when it comes to vegetarian local food it can be a challenge and being a foodie that I am I took up the cudgels to find some vegetarian fare. With the by lanes smelling quite literally fishy with all the street food vendors simmering their stocks and broths starting early, it was quite an overwhelming a hunt.
I started very cautiously and went to a restaurant inside a Siam mall. I ordered a deep fried tofu with a hot and sour sauce with some plain rice, it wasn’t the best choice but it gave me confidence to explore more. I ended my meal with some Taro flavoured iced tea, these tea kiosks are commonplace and the tea based drinks very refreshing. In Bangkok you find a lot of alleys like our own Khau-Gallis but in a food court format with common seating and this is where the real Thai food is and I went to one. After scouring through a lot of kiosks for vegetarian food and the mode of communication being hand gestures I found a stall and I had some Glass noodles tossed with veggies ( Yum Woon Sen) and ended with a dessert Kanom Krok ( Not too sweet coconut pancakes). I realized the sign language wasn’t helping and ‘Mai Me Nam Pla’ meaning ‘no fish sauce’ came to rescue as I was missing out on a lot of a la minute prepared food. For dinner I had some omelet on rice with mushroom and vegetable soup, preceded by steamed vegetarian dumplings and a deep fried chive dumplings, it was a wonderful meal at the food court in Siam Paragon. In the following few days I had a couple of meal in the alleys and this time I could ask for a vegetarian Pad Thai and vegetables.
In the evening the streets of Siam and Sukhumvit where I was; the streets come alive with a lot of food but almost all of it non-veg but for fresh fruit vendors and juice and drink stalls, of course not to forget the famous Sticky rice and Mango dessert. So for mains certainly stick to a bigger restaurant or you can help yourself to Japanese Takoyaki balls off the street, beware they could come with non-veg fillings and a variety of baos (Chinese buns).
For breakfast I couldn’t find anything wholesome. A couple of days I had some toasted bread with butter and toppings like chocolate, strawberry, condensed milk etc with some Thai coffee, strong flavorsome and sweetened with condensed milk.
When it comes to dessert the Thai people much like South Indian use a lot of coconut milk and have a peculiar affinity to ice which can often diminish the silken coconut milk experience. We had variants Mungbean ( moongdal) / Taro and water chestnut in coconut milk. Another popular dessert would be Snow Ice akin to the Indian Gola with myriad syrups and a copious use of condensed milk.Overall being a vegetarian in Bangkok can be difficult to an extent of a five star restaurant having a limited vegetarian menu but if you have the foodie instinct, you would manage to find a local meal every single day.
P.S: Do try the local beers Chang, Leo and Singha and for the more enterprising the Sato a wine/beer like drink made from rice. The latter is not for the weak palates.
‘Vegetarian in Bangkok’ is a no-go said my friends and peers , well they were right only if one wishes to try the local cuisine as vegetables are only adjuncts in the main dish which is seafood or meat. Nonetheless I didn’t give up on the hunt for local Thai food and my friend Chef Indrajit Saha’s advice or rather a 3 word Thai language Class, ‘Mai Me Nam Pla’ meaning No Fish Sauce came in very handy for me communicate and thus try vegetable versions of Thai food. When I travel it is all about street food and local cults. And happy high exceptions come up just like this bar and restaurant L’Appart; located on the 32nd floor of hotel Sofitel in Sukhumvit. It caught my attention because of the open-air seating and the restaurant design, French cuisine and very reasonable beverage pricing including one on one cocktail for sundowners.
Thankfully it did not rain that evening and it was quite breezy up there. I watched the Bangkok traffic and the tail lights bejeweling the city whilst I sipped the Franco Thai (290 Baht) a cocktail with Thai flavours presented the French way. It had a sublime finish to it. The evening started well until I was in for a surprise, the food menu had hardly anything vegetarian but the view and the atmosphere was irresistible to move to another place. , Chef Jerome Deconinck from France seemed taken aback more than me, he did suggest me the all day diner which offered a better spread for vegetarians but was equally happy to rustle something up a la minute. I didn’t mind the latter one bit. Could imagine the chef’s plight when he should have rather got orders of Wagyu beef tartare and Foie Gras coming through, ‘Vegetarian in Bangkok’, I said to myself.
The restaurant goes by its name L’Appart and is designed like a 19th century apartment with a library, a lounge, studio kitchen-dining area and the outdoor; it is replete with debauchery and hedonism making it more chic and modern than a fine diner. My first course had arrived a Burrata with tomato compote, pinenuts and basil, Aragula salad with some crust bready and olive tapenade. The dish though not characteristic French was bursting with flavours and the ingredients did shine through; the pan dehydrated tomatoes were delightful. For the mains an unassuming risotto with a crunch of baby carrots, asparagus, onions, pearl onions and zucchini came in, it looked artsy and it was complimented with a Rhone Grenache-Viognier blend. ‘Why not have a few vegetarian items on the menu?’ I asked Chef Jerome who has been on the French Prime Minister’s Chef brigade. ‘No demand, once in a blue moon that we would have vegetarian guests coming in. However we have done elaborate vegetarian meals if we get prior reservations, a 4-5 hour notice helps. Next time you let me know and I will create a special menu for you.’ he promised.
I finished with a classic mille feuille with raspberry sorbet and a luscious Chocolate fondant. A three course vegetarian meal with a glass of wine will cost you around 1500 Bahts but ensure you book in advance and the Chef will be eager to serve, he owes me one 🙂
P.S: The drinks are very well priced and their gentlemen nights on Thursday are cool, one on one drinks all night… I could have had 4 for the price I paid for one at the Lebua State tower, the only difference I was on the 64th floor at the latter but sadly indoors!
I went on a recent 10 day trip to Austria and Germany as a delegate from India for the Austrian Wine Summit 2015. To be honest I did not know what to expect when it came to vegetarian food, I certainly knew that it shouldn’t be a problem however what exactly; was a question that loomed.
Starting with breakfast in Vienna, Austria or Stuttgart Germany morning bakeries stole the show, cakes, pastries; breads were the staple along with various cheeses, fruits, breakfast cereals and yogurt aplenty. I couldn’t find anything hot being served, for those who eat eggs, scrambled eggs and omelettes were the only options available. I ain’t complaining, as a tourist I loved the different kinds of breads and hogged on Cheese and some creamy honey. Do pack your theplas, pickle or alternatives for those cannot do away with their spice cravings!
Now moving on to lunches and dinners considering the cosmopolitan nature of the cities, one can find anything from Italian to Indian. Coming to the meals we had in local Viennese restaurants, cold salads, risottos, spinach pies and again a variety of cheeses and bread comprised the spread. Also we had a fair share of white asparagus in the European Summer. Well to be honest the vegetarian food showed a strong influence of what we know as Italian food. Coming to Stuttgart two things were a staple and I enjoyed them thoroughly sometimes with a drizzle of Sriracha for the Indian I am, the first Spatzle,thick noodles made of egg and flour and tossed in Cheese, onions and vegetables and second the classic German potato salad or kartoffel salat. Wine flowed all along, starting with breakfast and ending with a night cap. We must have tasted over 500 wines in 10 days.
The highlight of my trip were the products that came out of their bakeries and patisseries, in most of my encounters each of the breads and pastries were of the highest quality. Two legendary items I can boast of experiencing at source were the Original Sacher Torte at Hotel Sacher in Vienna and the Black Forest gateaux in the Black Forest of Baden, a wine region in south Germany. The former was a light chocolate sponge layered with a luscious apricot jam with chocolate icing to finish and the latter was very much like the one we get in India albeit with better quality cherries, cherry liqueur and delicious dairy cream.
Last words, If you plan to be here then plan your culinary trip around coffee houses, cake shops and their bakeries.
Nasik, Maharashtra, India