Bear with me, it’s difficult taking a decent picture of a falafel roll.
Falafels rolls are ubiquitous in Malmö, where the newspaper has a blog dedicated to them and the combination of hipster vegans and middle eastern migrants has married splendidly. When I grew up, a large falafel roll with salad, salty pickle and spicy sauce would set you back 15 kronor (less than 2 euros). But the low price of the rolls isn’t their greatness. What makes me love them is the perfect crisp of the little balls, and how soft and velvety they are inside. In Malmö, falafels are normally served with salad, salty pickle, parsley and spicy sauce, and they are never dry.
My favourite falafel place in Malmö is called Sara. They bake their own bread, and the chef has given me his smoky baba ganoush recipe. These days, a large falafel roll with extra feta cheese, baba ganoush and an Ayran to drink costs about 50 kronor (a little over 5 euros). It’s so worth every penny of that. If you visit Malmö, I would recommend a visit to Sara as much as I would to any fancy Swedish restaurant in the region. It’s a pure delight. My brother laments the loss of falafels when he talks of his move to Stockholm. Something called “falafel” might be served there, but it’s a different thing entirely.
Sara, Bergsgatan 24, 214 22 Malmö, Sweden
New York is amazing for vegetarians. This is my main discovery from a week in the insomnia city. From high to low, all sorts of establishments cater to vegans, vegetarians, pescatarians and other kinds of -ians. Shops store veggie-friendly ingredients rarely seen in Brussels, and cheap, well-run restaurants serve meatfree delicacies seemingly without blinking.
Since I spent most of my holiday in the city strolling around cherry blossomed streets and eating myself into heaven, I didn’t photograph much. But here follows my list of veggie greatness in New York (ordered by fancyness):
- Dovetail. This Michelin-starred establishment has a Monday night special with a four-course “vegetable-focused” menu, and it was absolutely fabulous. The top notch included grilled fennel with avocado cream, black girolles and deep fried squid.
- Neighbouring the Dovetail, also on upper West side, is the vegan Blossom café. I opted for their Southern seitan sandwich (like a southern friend chicken burger), and was completely floored by its juicy, chipotle-y, avocady amazingness. It was so American and heavy that I couldn’t finish my plate, and I ate nothing else for the rest of the day.
- Zizi Limona in Brooklyn. Cute and ambient, offering mouthwatering meze and smoked eggplant.
- Five guys. This cheap and cheerful chain serves up dripping, meaty burgers with any toppings you like (there are 15 of them, so the burgers easily get overstacked). I picked grilled mushrooms, pickles, lettuce, bbq sauce and onions which made the burger almost impossible to hold together. But the best part is that because of their slightly exaggerated toppings, we discovered that their pseudo-option for vegetarians (a hamburger minus the meat) is actually really tasty.
- Supermarkets. If you manage to go outside Manhattan, the posh superfoods markets are great for veggie options. Granted, they’re pricey, but not really compared to European standards if you’re bringing speciality ingredients home. Seitan and tofu is found in abundance. Of course, they are difficult to bring back, but there are other goodies to be found: I came back with full stocks of New York pickled cucumber, kosher salt, Chipotle chillies and supergrains to add to smoothies.
More than anything else, New York impresses by having so many restaurants that caters for all tastes – there isn’t such a clear meat/non-meat division as in many European cities. So while there’s often meat on the menu, there’s no let down if you decide to eat simply veggies, or simply fish. I take it that the trend of making more with vegetables, hailed by the likes of Noma’s Rene Redzepi is established much more firlmy here than in Brussels. Sadly, we never managed to get a reservation at veggie hotspot Dirt Candy, but their motto seems telling for the status of NY greens: “Anyone can cook a hamburger… leave the vegetables to the professionals”.
La Tsampa is the perfect cute meat free weekday restaurant. Tucked-in behind a food shop close to Avenue Louise lies La Tsampa, it’s a hide-away from the meat-heavy menus of Bruxellois restaurants.
Normally functioning as a lunch restaurant, they close their kitchen at 19:30 which is an odd hour for any evening restaurant in Brussels. However, if you arrive on time, you’ll find a romantic terraced backroom with a simple but very tasty menu. And also, it’s very cheap.
Our group settled on different varieties of their main vegetarian plate (they all looked more or less the same), of tofus cooked with artichokes, lingonberry-marinated seitan steaks, veggie goulash and tagine. They were all served with rice or potatoes, salted cabbage and beetroot spouts. It was well salted (to my immense liking) and served with a pleasant smile. We were also treated to some detoxing juices that were special, quite unlike the normal sweet fruitness of such drinks.
We finished off with the house cake – a lush, dense chocolate cake on crumbled bottom with chesnut cream. Simple and unexaggerated. A good meal. If you are into alternative, organic and generally hard-to-find ingredients, this might also be a place to find them: in front of the restaurant, you go through a large food shop full of vegan organic ingredients.
Flygande Jakob (flying Jakob) is a modern Swedish classic, invented in the 70s by an airline freight man called Arne. I love its savoury weirdness, as it mixes whipped cream, ketchup, curry and banana. The original includes chicken and bacon, but I enjoy this one with quorn. In trying to become a half-veggie, recipes such as these are a good way of substituting chicken, telling no substantial difference whatsoever.
I tend to be skeptical of meat imitations, because vegetarian food holds it own very well without copying meat, and also because imitations rarely taste as good as the real thing. But this tastes marvellous, and I over-binge every time we make this at home.
For four portions, you need:
- 2 bags of defrosted quorn (or 500 grams of chicken)
- Bacon (optional, for the meaties)
- 4 dl cream
- 1 tsp mild madras curry powder
- 1 1/2 dl ketchup
- 2 bananas
- 2 handfuls peanuts or cashewnuts
- Basmati rice and sriracha sauce to serve
Start by frying the quorn pieces in a little bit of the curry powder and oil. Once they’ve taken on some colour, let them cool while you whip the cream. Mix the ketchup into the the cream, and add the rest of the curry powder. Cut the banana up in fat, coin-sized pieces, and scatter it with the quorn in an oven-proof pan. Distribute the whipped cream evenly on top, and let it sit in the oven at 200 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until it has browned on top. About five minutes before you think it’s ready, scatter the nuts on top, and put it back into the oven.
Take it out and let cool slightly while you open a cold beer and set the table. Serve it with basmati rice, and some sriracha chili sauce on top for those who want heat with the savoury sweetness. Needless to say, this really does taste better the day after, and makes for a perfect lunchbox. We’ve tried making it healthier by substituting cream with Turkish yoghurt, but I would not recommend it.