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Eating vegan in Porto: francesinhas, fine dining and fake news

“There is only one vegan restaurant in Porto.” Yup, I read that a few times and it’s fake news baby, so don’t buy it. Whenever I go on holiday I do heaps of research to make sure I don’t go hungry – and that goes double now I am vegan. I scour Happy Cow, of course, but I like to read blogs and reviews as well. I don’t want to drag my other half to a terrible café just cos it’s meat-free. That means I kept stumbling across this fib about Porto having just one vegan place. It was not a good sign.

In truth, Porto is better for vegans than you might expect, given the bad press online. But it could definitely do better. Ninety-five per cent of the tourist restaurants I passed seemed to be serving plates piled high with veggies … and meat or fish. But they had no vegan options on the menu. Many of the tapas menus leaned so heavily on meat, fish, seafood and egg that it would have been a struggle to put together a decent vegan meal. Although the mushrooms and tomatoes at Wine Quay Bar were a delicious accompaniment to some chilled vinho verde.


Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. The city’s most famous delicacy is the stomach-stretching Francesinha, a sandwich of smoked meat and sausage, draped in cheese and drenched in a tongue-tingling sauce made from beer, tomato and seafood.

Speaking of local delicacies, the big question is: is the port wine vegan? Argh. Information about filtration is as ever elusive and fluctuating – and certainly not highlighted in the port tours or promotional material. I resorted to using Barnivore. And taking my chance on a cool port and tonic the size of my head on a hot day. Sorry.


That said, Porto has a few vegan and vegan-friendly places. And I found one heroic omnivore restaurant that showed the rest how it can be done. So have faith, if you’re venturing on a break to Porto, that you won’t go hungry.


We visited a smattering of vegan places. My favourite was the warm, welcoming, casual, utterly delightful and 100% vegan Lupin, where we ate fancy starters (raw beetroot ravioli and roasted tomato with garlic toast) and tastebud-baffling vegan Francesinhas.


Second favourite for me (but easily top for my other half) was the hipster joint Black Mamba, a record shop and burger restaurant, with sandwiches named after hard rock genres and an enjoyably laid-back vibe. Beers, burgers and potato wedges, with spicy sauce. What’s not to love?


We also visited Em Carne Viva, a smart-looking vegetarian restaurant, but at least on the occasion of our visit, a rather shambolic one. They managed to lose our online booking, and then quite rudely ushered us into the back room, because the front one was “only for people who had reserved”. The food was tasty, and definitely filling, not to say stodgy, and we loved the view over the garden and high ceilings reminiscent of a Hampstead villa. My starter of “little garden fishes” or asparagus tempura to you and me, was especially good.


Side note: not a single veggie or vegan place we visited accepted card payments. If you want to eat plant-based in Porto, make sure your wallet is stuffed with green.

As far as omni restaurants go, I had a rare disappointment with pasta, twice. I ordered the vegetarian pasta at a riverfront restaurant, only to find it was enriched with cream, and the penne arrabbiata in a small Italian place was over-sweet and under-seasoned. That said, my vegan hero of the weekend was an omni restaurant, but one where I could eat delicious vegan treats while my other half tucked into cod pizza and Brazilian steak. O Cacula, just a few metres north of the Igreja do Carmo is an unassuming place on a shopping street, but I really liked the tofu curry, and loved the “soya cookies” on our return visit (they don’t look much, but trust me).


You see, it’s not so hard to keep the vegans happy, Porto.


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April is for asparagus

I spent April in the kitchen. Well not entirely, but I cooked a lot, including a vegan Easter buffet for my family and lots of recipe testing. Here’s a snippet of what I ate. You might spot some homemade black-bean burgers, oil-free sweet potato fries, chocolate brownies, mushroom soup, chickpea curry, mac’n’cheese (successful!), salad, chocolate, cocktails and yes, more avocado toast. And yes, the asparagus came into season, which was very welcome indeed.

#vegan in April. Basically I ate a lot of plants.

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It was a delicious month and I feel very settled in the vegan way now. I’m rapidly becoming a bit of a vegan whizz in the kitchen. Or at least less hapless than I once was. I’ve been making my own pizza cheese, experimenting with curry ideas and scrambling up a tofu brunches.

Do you want to know what I cooked for my family at Easter? It was mega. Slow-cooker ratatouille, tofu quiche (with roasted peppers and sun-dried tomatoes), mac’n’cheese, baked sweet potatoes, fresh salad, houmous, crudites and quinoa and black bean salad. That was followed by choc brownies (a foolproof Jamie Oliver recipe) with delicious salted caramel vice cream. I don’t think they left hungry!

It wasn’t all happy-happy-joy-joy though. No, there were clouds in the sky this April. A truckload of dodgy Canadian chickpeas caused havoc with the supermarket supplies, leading to the great Houmous Crisis of 2017. So I rolled up my sleeves and made my own, which I hadn’t done for years. Why? Hilariously, I used to think that making a whole tin of chickpeas into houmous created such a vast batch of dip that I would struggle to get through it all. That was before I was vegan. This time it barely lasted a day.

Thanks for reading. April was a quiet month, but May promises to be far more eventful!

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It’s good to talk about the dangers of vegan diets

“Dairy-free diets warning over risk to bone health.” It may seem an innocuous enough headline, but it has had vegans online spitting out their virtual soy lattes in rage. The BBC News article concerns a release from the National Osteoporosis Society expressing worries that lots of young people are eliminating dairy from their diets, and this means they are drastically reducing their calcium intake and thereby, risking their bone health.
Vegans who know they can get their daily requirement of calcium from plant-based sources are frustrated by the article, which suggests some people, especially young people, are neglecting their health when they switch to a vegan diet. It made me want to text my mum and reassure her I am doing fine – it made others post angry comments on social media about #fakenews and dairy industry propaganda. Each to their own.
It’s a strange situation because both the article and its attackers are correct. So first, yes, you can meet your daily calcium needs and protect your bone health on a vegan diet. I am loth to join the ranks of unqualified people on the internet offering dietary advice (more on that later) but eating calcium-fortified dairy alternatives, fortified breads, leafy greens, beans, nuts, seeds and certain types of tofu will set you on the right track. Even hard water (thanks, London!) can provide calcium in your diet. And you can also take supplements and remain plant-powered and cruelty-free. However, the article acknowledges this. Check out the quote at the end of the piece from a spokeswoman for the British Nutrition Foundation:

“While it’s not necessarily dangerous to cut out dairy from your diet it’s important to ensure you get enough calcium from other sources. Dairy tends to make the biggest contribution to our calcium intakes and so this needs to be replaced by other sources such as bread, cereal, canned fish, nuts, seeds and leafy green vegetables as well as choosing dairy alternatives that are fortified with calcium.”

There are other things in the article I agree with too. People who transition to a vegan diet without considering their calcium requirements are neglecting their bones – and osteoporosis is a very serious problem. It’s also true that as the article warns, lots of people are getting nutritional advice from unqualified bloggers and vloggers. A lot of these web sources are clearly aimed at, or at least very likely to appeal to, teenage girls. A lot of these people advise extreme versions of the vegan diet, which for example, exclude all oils and fats, or cooked foods, altogether. I have seen vegan bloggers discussing how eating a meat-free diet can change eye colour, lighten the menstrual cycle and somehow give people a closer appreciation of the earth and the natural wisdom of plants. Really. Some of this is silly, but some of this is outright dangerous. Vegan diets can be very healthy, but simply ditching meat and dairy doesn’t make you a bean-powered super being. And if you are prioritising “lightness” and “clean eating” over a balanced diet containing protein, fats, carbs, vitamins and nutrients, yes you are at risk of some serious health problems.

Recently, I really liked this article by Daisy Buchanan, which expresses worries about young people excluding foods, specifically milk, from their diets without proper advice, and in very serious cases, as part of an eating disorder. Sadly, I saw too many people dismiss this piece as an attack on veganism and vegan nutrition, which it really isn’t.
Omnivores, vegans and all types of people, especially in their teenage years, need to take care of their bones, and this begins with calcium. And exercise. Sorry.
Those who consume meat, dairy and eggs may well be eating too much protein, saturated fat, cholesterol and so on. But as vegans we shouldn’t be smug about that. We should be making sure our diets are balanced too – and that we are getting enough B12, Vitamin D, iron and calcium (all things harder to find in vegan diets) and and not eating too much processed junk, just because it’s cruelty-free,
It’s common to hear vegans complaining that omnivores ask them where their protein comes from (ha, your protein’s protein, dude!) or their iron, or calcium. It’s a really valid question though, even if the answer seems obvious to us.
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Blender beware

Today I tried out a super-easy vegan mac and cheese recipe. Then I ate a few mouthfuls and threw the rest in the bin. I don’t blame the recipe. Just the cashews I used. I thought they were a little “soapy” – and that nasty flavour did not disappear in the finished dish. Check your cashews people!

Also, I think perhaps US chilli powder is milder than the stuff on sale in the UK. Half a teaspoon was really overpowering.

Ah well, you live and learn. Vegan meal number 281 is the first out-and-out disaster. That’s not a bad track record.



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Marching on (wherever I may be)

Eating vegan in March was a tale of two cities, or one city and a small town.  I thought a week in Paris would be a challenge but it was mostly fine. However, I was much more nervous about a trip to Scotland at the end of the month. Yes there are great vegan restaurants and cafes in Glasgow and Edinburgh, but my work took me to a smaller, more remote town than that. It is a place with a high street that’s too small for chain cafes or restaurants; and the sole hotel in town, where I was staying, had no in-room fridges for storing food. So I was worried, but yet again, my fears were almost entirely unfounded.

The hotel had no vegan meals on the menu, but whipped me up a hot “vegetarian full Scottish” minus the egg in the morning, which included a very satisfying slice of veggie black pudding. And when we ate there in the evening, the chef came up with a few different ideas for our main course and starter.

In the town, the beloved tea room made no mention of plant milk on the menu, so I chose black coffee and green tea, but there was a spicy bean burger labelled vegan, so I fell on that for lunch. At another local pub I had another bean-burger-no-cheese-or-mayo one evening. Beans are good for you right? The fancy bistro offered an overcooked and underspiced penne arrabbiatta, but I couldn’t get too angry about it, cos they squeezed us in at the last minute.

Continue reading “Marching on (wherever I may be)”

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Vingt-quatre repas végétaliens (or eating vegan in Paris)

“Veganism is happening now in Paris.” So said the waiter in a Parisian vegan restaurant I visited recently. But is it true?

I recently spent eight days in Paris. It’s a beautiful city and I was visiting to enjoy a break with my partner and then to attend a film festival. Such a treat, but of course, I was a little concerned about the, y’know, vegan thing. After all, French cuisine is virtually a temple to red meat, butter, cream, eggs and beaucoup de fromage.

On previous trips to Paris, I had eaten in vegetarian and even vegan restaurants, but I worried that being entirely vegan would be tricky or at least a bit of a headache. Nobody wants to spend hours traipsing around to find the one specialist restaurant on Google Maps, when you could be sightseeing, or eating already. And once I was back in my AirBnb cooking for myself, or grabbing meals between films, how would I get on then?

The answer is that by and large, the news is good! There are many, many places to eat vegan in Paris, and a notable number of omni restaurants offering vegan food. Also, whatever your phrasebook says, the word vegan, rather than végétalien seems to have stuck – so look out for that on menus and food labels. In my experience, based on my week’s stay, there are plentiful vegan supplies in healthfood shops as well, to a lesser extent in the supermarkets and even the corner shops. But there are a few things to watch out for.

Continue reading “Vingt-quatre repas végétaliens (or eating vegan in Paris)”

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Veganuary turned into vegan February and so far I have clocked up 167 vegan meals, not including tonight’s broccoli pasta, which is still to come. 

Vegan munchies this February 🌱

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The game gets interesting tomorrow – I’m spending a week in Paris. Yep.

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Veganuary is over

I have eaten 93 vegan meals (and not one Big Mac) but I am not stopping now. I’ll be trying to live vegan from now on. I say trying, because veganism seems to be a continuous effort, not a badge. As one of the last Veganuary emails put it:

Being vegan is not about being perfect. Which is a good thing, as that’s simply not possible in this imperfect world of ours. Being vegan is about living in in a way that causes the least harm. It is about intention, not perfection. If you’ve slipped up a couple of times, or accidentally eaten something before realising it had milk in it (we’ve all been there right?!), don’t beat yourself up. You’ve still been vegan.  

So the real push starts now. I still have a wardrobe full of wool (and some silk) and a couple of pairs of leather shoes; I am using up some honey handsoap. But from now on, the choices I make will be informed by my veganism. Thank you Veganuary for helping me to make this change!

#Veganuary #converted

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Horn for horn

Eating meat can require a very flexible mind. Many omnivores will tell you how much they love animals. Ditto, a medium rare steak. And it’s a rare meat-eater who doesn’t draw up some apparently arbitrary guidelines for what they will and won’t put on their plate. Pigs, cows, chicken and sheep are all acceptable, but not dogs, horses or goats, for example. Muscles and skin are the height of good taste, but internal organs are not quite the thing. Which is why the humble haggis, national dish of Scotland, is an especially divisive dish – sure to horrify as many palates as it delights.

I used to flex my brain muscles this way, justifying some dodgy decisions, and ignoring some unpleasant realities: happily eschewing meat, but equally cheerfully consuming dairy and eggs. In my feeble defence, I ate fish under sufferance, and I always felt guilty about it … oh go on I was just as bad as anyone in the previous paragraph.

So, in honour of my newfound veganism, my lighter conscience and my less agitated brain, I celebrated Burns night for the first time in my life, with a delicious guilt-free supper of vegetarian haggis, mash, sprouts and mushroom gravy. Meal number 75 was delicious, and so much easier to swallow than the carnivorous alternative – “Sae let the Lord be thankit.”