Travel

by Sala @ Veggie Belly on January 24, 2008

Eating Latin in England

When my sister suggested we go to Las Iguanas, a Latino restaurant, the food snob in me popped up. There was no way I was going to a Brazilian restaurant; British people cant possibly know how to make Latin food. Besides I live in the US, near Washington DC that too, Ive had the best Latin food. No thank you.

I don’t know how it happened, but 2 minutes later I was following my sister into Las Iguanas. And after this wonderful drink, I was swallowing my words.

This Caipirinha, Brazil’s national drink, was very good. Somehow I cant seem to be able to take decent pictures of liquids! sorry! Caipirinha is made with lime, sugar, ice and cachaca – a Brazilian spirit. Las Iguanas make their own cachaca from their sugar cane plantation in Brazil.

I ordered champinones – a bowl of whole button mushrooms in a chipotle sauce. You dip the tortillas in them. How can you go wrong with mushrooms and chipotle! Very yummy!

My sister ordered this new sopa. A white bean and Argentine pesto soup. Argentine pesto, from what i understand, is Chimichurri; made with parsley, oregano, garlic, onion, paprika and lemon. The soup was topped with croutons, cilantro and shavings of parmesan. This was a tasty soup and I’ll have to recreate it when I get home!

We shared a Puerto Rican Paella next. It has asparagus, peas, butternut squash, mushroom and saffron.

My sister ordered the Columbian Cassava fries. And that was a historic moment for me – I had met fries I did not like. My sister enjoyed them though. But I wasnt crazy about the starchy texture.

In case you are wondering, yes, we did eat all that food and for a moment even contemplated the Aztec chocolate fudge cake! We walked out of Las Iguanas swearing never to eat again. That lasted..ummm…8 hours.

How Unusual…

Bath, UK

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My sister’s restaurant pilgrimages involve Greggs and Wagamama. When it comes to bakeries, it doesn’t get any more British than Greggs. We love the flaky savory pastries there. When we visited the historic city of Bath for a day trip, we stopped at greggs for this cheese and onion pastry. It has cheese and onion, of course, and some silky potatoes. When I have a pastry from Greggs, I know I’m in England!

Wagamama is mandatory with my sister. Anyone that visits her will be taken to wagamama. So we trekked up the steep park street to arrive at this modern Japanese restaurant where you get your food in 5 minutes! My sister had this raw salad with radish carrots, and topped with fried onions.

I had these yasai gyoza with water chestnuts, cabbage, carrots and celery. The accompanying sweet ginger sauce was nice and thick (cornflour?).

Next came the yasai yaki soba which we shared. The whole wheat noodles were soft inside and crispy outside, showing they were tossed in a very hot wok. There were lots of green onions, bean sprouts and sesame. The pile of noodles was topped with threads of pickled ginger. I’ll have to try to recreate this at home…

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Dill Filled Latvian eats in Riga

I looked forward to breakfast at R and K’s house in Riga. I’ll always remember their sun filled kitchen and their satisfying bread basket. Breakfast was an assortment of breads, cucumber, tomato, cheese and Karums – a Latvian curd based sweet.

This dark, sour rye bread was my favorite. It had the distinct taste of cumin and fennel.

Karums is a sweet curd snack. R and K had it in chocolate and vanilla flavors. This one is chocolate with chocolate chips inside. It looks like a snickers bar and tastes like cheese cake!

We had this mushroom crepe for lunch after walking around old town Riga seeing the churches, monuments and quaint cobble stoned alleys. The crepe was delicate, filled with mushrooms and lots of dill. There was a creamy mushroom sauce on the aside, again with lots of dill. I’ve come realize Latvians use a lot of dill in their cooking.

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On our second day in Riga, we stumbled upon a quaint little greek restaurant near dome square, and we stopped for lunch. My salad might have been greek but it had the ubiquitous dill! I’m not complaining, it was a very good salad and unlike my Oslo salad experience, it didn’t cost much. I also loved the fresh oregano on top of the salad.

St.Peters Church, Riga.

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The Pinkest Thing I’ve Ever Eaten – Latvian Cold Soup

We stayed with R, K and little K in Riga, the Latvian capital. We tremendously enjoyed our stay and learned a lot about Latvian culture. R is German, so her little boy speaks both Latvian and German. Thanks to him, my German vocabulary is richer by 4 words -nicht (no), weichen (go away), tomate (tomato), and Ei (egg). When I cooked Indian food one night for our hosts, little K sat on the kitchen window sill demanding pieces of the ‘tomate‘ I was chopping, that’s how I learned that word. The next day, when R and K made cold soup for us, little K wanted the Ei in the soup, that’s how I learned Ei is egg in German. Cultural exchange in a Latvian kitchen!

This kefir based soup is healthy, refreshing, crunchy and best of all…pink ! Its easy to make, just mix all the ingredients together and you are done. The beetroot makes things pink and slightly sweet. As in a lot of dishes in Latvia, this one has dill in it. Latvians have this soup during the summer months and serve it with bread.

Kefir – 2 cups
Cucumber – 1 medium
Beetroot – 1/2 cup
Dill – 4 tbsp chopped
Green onion – 5 tbsp chopped
Egg – 1 boiled
Salt and pepper

Chop the cucumber, dill and green onion. If using fresh beetroot, boil till tender and then chop. Chop the boiled egg. Combine all ingredients and serve with a wedge of boiled egg on top.

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Redemption in Oslo

After that $75 salad, I just had to get something cheap and good to prove I could find cheap stuff in one of the world’s most expensive cities. So my sister and I grabbed an early dinner in a small streetside place and ate it the park before we caught our flights back. The whole thing cost $6. Yesssss!!!!

We had an asian roll which was kind of like a spring roll/wrap, filled with carrots and noodles. We also got a spinach borek (not in picture). Then we shared a chocolate dipped waffle.

Oslo is full of fabulous sculptures and pretty seascapes.

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Two Extremes in Norway – Peasant Food and $75 Salad
My sister’s friends B and E were such gracious hosts in Oslo. We stayed in their gorgeous apartment in the heart of the city and they took us to some unique places that we wouldn’t have gotten to if we were on our own.

B took us to the ski jump slope in Oslo and then to this old Norwegian house thats been converted into a cafe. It was a huge but cozy log cabin type building with moose heads, moose horn chandeliers and long, wooden, almost medieval looking tables. The whole thing felt like a giant leap back in time.

My sister, B and I sat here sipping tea and discussing our respective cultures – Indian and Norwegian.

I saw this huge pot of thick creamy Rommegrot and was curious to try it. B told me its typical Norwegian peasant food; a porridge made from flour, butter and sour cream.
We tried a small spoon of it. B sprinkled sugar, cinnamon and raisins on it. It tasted like tangy raisiny cheese cake. I could get used to that!

You are supposed to eat the porridge with this wafer thin bread.

Apologies for the bad pictures, im still figuring out flashless low light photography!

After the rommegrot, the Hard Rock cafe in Oslo the next day seemed like another extreme. All we ordered were 2 salads and they cost $75! Damn! Food is expensive in Norway. The salad was good (lettuce, cheddar and craisins) but not worth the price. So in potest, I didnt take a picture of the salad. This building was where the Hard Rock cafe was.

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Friday afternoon at home cooking. Pasta with Spring Greens & Wine and Thyme Mushrooms

I love London. Perhaps because I was born here, I have a special connection. Coming to London is like coming home. And I always enjoy my grandmother’s house – her amazing south Indian food, her house in central London…even her laundry smells extra good!

For me, London is full of familiar people and familiar places. The best falafels are in a hole in the wall joint near Covent Garden, the best Arab store is round the corner from my grandmother’s house, Eastham has the best south Indian food (after my grandmother’s of course). I even know that Leicester Square tube station has the most number of mice. Believe me, when I was a bored teenager, I’ve done extensive research on the rodents of the London underground!
Because my grandmother tirelessly cooks infinite amounts of food; I always cook a meal for her when I visit.
This time its Pasta with Spring Greens and a side of Wine & Thyme Mushrooms.

While shopping at Tescos we picked up a packet of Spring Greens. I have no idea what they are. The packet says “Succulent dark greens, chopped for your convenience”. Good enough for me. Its green AND its chopped! I can find a use for that. And it was delicious. It had the texture of cabbage and a very mild spinach-collard-this-has-to-be-good-for-you-taste.

Pasta with Spring Greens
This is a completely scalable recipe and today I made massive amounts (because my uncles and cousins are visiting). So I’m giving you approximate measurements in this recipe.

Fusili Pasta – 1 packet
Spring Greens – 1 packet. Substitute with cabbage and collard greens
Sun dried tomatoes – 4 tbsp, cut into strips
Green and Yellow Peppers – 1 each, cut into strips
Garlic minced
Olive oil – 4 tbsp
Butter – 2 tbsp
Olives – as much as you like

Pine nuts – 1/2 cup toasted
Cooking wine – splash
Dried Basil – 1 1/2 tsp
Dried Thyme – 1 tsp
Salt and pepper

Boil the pasta till al dente. While the pasta is boiling heat a pan or wok. Add the olive oil and butter. Add garlic and peppers and sauté till pepper are a little tender. Add the sundried tomatoes, basil, thyme and a splash of wine and let the wine boil away – about 1 minute.

Then add the spring greens and sauté till wilted. Add chopped olives, salt and pepper. Toss together with pasta. Add extra salt, pepper or olive oil if needed.

Wine & Thyme Mushrooms

I absolutely love this recipe. I saw it on Micheal Chiarello’s show and adapted it. The wine makes all the difference to this dish, so don’t leave it out!
I used a South African First Cape Chardonnay-Viognier.

I used a very simple criteria to buy the wine – it was cheapest one available!With the weak dollar, I find London very expensive, so when I saw a $8 wine (the cheapest in the store), I pounced on it.

Button Mushrooms – 2 packets
Garlic minced – 1-2 tbsp
Dried Thyme – 1 tsp
Wine – couple of splashes
Olive oil – 1 tbsp
Butter – 1 tbsp
Salt and Pepper
Heat the olive oil and butter in a large flat non stick pan. Arrange the mushrooms in the pan cap side down. Cook on high till the mushrooms caps are golden. Don’t move the mushrooms around; if you do they wont caramelize.
When the mushroom caps are golden add the garlic and thyme.

Toss and let it cook 30 seconds. Then add the wine and cook on high till the wine evaporates. Turn off heat and add salt and pepper.

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Butternut Squash Curry

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Curry-athon in London


London always means good Indian food. My grandmother’s home cooked Indian food is to die for. And Indian restaurants in London are fabulous. Heck, even the traditional English food places have chicken tikka!

My grandmother’s friends took us to Sakoni, my favorite Indian restaurant in London. We had the lunch buffet which was soooo good. I started with this potato bajji.

Indian Chinese is the best! I love hakka noodles. As a child, Ive been known to spend hours eating this dish one noodle at a time. I swear the noodles tasted better that way, rather than eating fork fulls.


Paneer Manchurian. Deep fried Indian cottage cheese tossed with ginger, garlic, peppers and soy sauce. Yummy!


Mini rotis with chana masala.

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Lava Vodka and Viking Yogurt in Reykjavik

Food prices in Iceland are prohibitively expensive. A box of tiny strawberries was $8, a small lasagna at a restaurant was $35. So we only ate out once. The lasagna didn’t even resemble lasagna. So here’s a picture of a pretty cool drink I had. 7 up with Lava Vodka. That’s, vodka distilled through lava rock. It tasted quite mild, but had the same effects as regular vodka ;)

Skyr was the best past of our trip. Its a very low fat, thick, tart yogurt. The vikings bought the culture and recipe with them to Iceland a thousand years ago. This one is peach flavored. Its less sweet compared to regular flavored yogurt, which I liked. We ate a lot of skyr in Iceland partly because it was super delicious and party because it was cheap!

On the way back I met a wonderful Icelandic man on the plane. He told me you can buy skyr in the US in speciality shops around New York. The brand is called Siggi’s Skyr. http://www.skyr.com/

The Blue Lagoon is a hot spring; the water is blue from its silica content. We had a wonderful afternoon soaking in the warm water before our flight.
Another puffin in the arctic circle.

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So I wasnt really expecting much veggie food in Reykjavik. I landed up eating some street food and grocery store salad for the most part.

Lunch. Falafel in a pita pocket.
A puffin in the arctic circle. Looks like a stuffed toy close up!

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 VeggieLover April 6, 2010 at 5:09 am

I love Wagamama’s Yasai Yaki Soba…have you managed to recreate it at home? I think it’s funny that you come all the way to London to eat at Pizza Hut with your grandma. I had a look for that vegetarian pub in Bath from the picture but couldn’t find it…sad.

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2 Anu Menon August 26, 2010 at 3:54 pm

U’ve been around ;) i must say

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3 Radhika February 3, 2013 at 5:25 am

Just found your blog through Hannah at Bittersweet. I’m really enjoying going through your posts and pictures!
Radhika

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