As many of you are aware, Conor and I spent the better part of the last two months backpacking through the UK and Europe. I had grand designs of updating the blog as we went along, but without access to a computer (and ending every day exhausted), those fell through pretty quickly. So I apologize for the extended, though not entirely unexpected, hiatus.
If you are anything like me – that is, have an incredibly sensitive digestive system, thanks to IBS and all the rest – travelling is tough. I mean really tough. From the moment we landed in Dublin, my digestive system decided it was on holiday too, and I bloated up like a balloon. It seemed like no matter how much effort I put into getting my daily dose of greens (and in the UK, it does seem to take a lot of effort), I remained uncomfortable, to say the least. I made sure to bring along my digestive enzymes and a good probiotic, but nothing seemed to help. But that is my travel reality, and is hopefully something the rest of you will not have to face.
Putting that aside, one of the more immediate challenges a health-crazed backpacker has to face is the lowering of standards. This sounds terrible, but believe me, it’s true! No more daily smoothies and salad dressings from scratch made with multiple spices and “exotic” oils that need to be refrigerated at all times. No more leisurely, varied breakfasts and perfectly balanced meals. Between lack of time and resources, these things aren’t possible. Add to that the fact that everything you eat has to be light and portable, and suddenly you’re hoarding black pepper packets from the plane so that your morning hard-boiled eggs have some flavour. It’s amazing how quickly you appreciate something so simple as black pepper! That stuff is worth ten times its weight in gold when you’re backpacking, let me tell you. About halfway through our travels we finally bought ourselves a small bottle each of olive oil and balsamic vinegar and felt like we were in luxury town. Once, we even stayed in a hostel where someone had left some mustard and honey, and I made a REAL, honest to goodness vinaigrette. I would have scoffed at such a simple pleasure two months ago, but truly, it was a treat.
I will be writing a post soon on quick and easy but delicious and nutritious meals to help you survive your travels, so stay tuned for that! More gritty details on hostel kitchens will be coming your way too, don’t you worry.
P.S. I have a confession to make… most of the time Conor and I were too excited and way too hungry from walking all day to even consider stopping to take photos of food before shoving it into our faces, so I have and will continue to include whatever photos I do have, and the rest I’ve borrowed from other sources.
For now, let’s have a look at the best (and worst) things about the UK, foodwise.
Unless you’re living in the suburbs, finding a proper grocery store of the size and variety we are used to (and completely take for granted in North America), is basically impossible. I live in Woodbridge and literally every corner has 1-3 super sized markets with nearly everything a foodie could ask for. Not so here. What you can find is Spar, a weird mix of convenience store and supermarket. These things are everywhere, and vary widely in terms of selection, but invariably the produce aisle is only about a metre long. You’ll have no problem finding apples, bananas, or onions, but everything else is hit or miss. Raw beets, which I love in salads, are apparently a luxury, but pre-boiled beets *gag* are common. So too with kale, which I did not see ONCE during our travels. You can usually find salad greens but the selection will dictate whether they’re truly greens or just iceberg lettuce.
These are your best friends. Here you will find all the bounty of whatever season you happen to be travelling in, locally produced and fresher than you can even imagine. Cheeses, olives, hummus, and freshly baked breads and sweets for you gluten eaters are also available for your noshing pleasure. We did not truly start taking advantage of markets until we hit France, so I will write more about the ones we did visit when I post on France and Italy. In England Camden Market is quite good though.
While not exclusively vegetarian or gluten free, The Farm is a great place for a light and healthy lunch or dinner. As the name suggests, this restaurant is devoted to serving locally sourced, organic food fresh from Irish farms. Everything is made fresh in-house, including (gasp!) gluten free bread, which was delicious. The menu is really well labelled, so you never have to guess whether there is meat, dairy, or gluten in a dish.
The atmosphere is also really nice. It feels like an upscale restaurant with an earthy twist – for an unexpected treat, check out the animal paintings lining the walls on your way to the bathroom.
For lunch I had an organic egg white omelette with vine cherry tomatoes, asparagus, and Irish feta cheese which was delicious and satisfying. It came with quinoa and a salad, so the meal felt very well-rounded.
The tagline of this place is “Let them eat (gluten free) cake”. I was sold before I even walked through the door! When you get inside, you are overcome by how adorable everything is. The whole place is just so pretty, and the cakes and cookies and other baked delights are just as pleasing on the eyes (and palate).
Everything here is gluten free, and some things are free from eggs, dairy, sugar, and soy as well. I highly recommend getting yourself a slice of cake (or three) here if you happen to be in Dublin, even for the day.
Be still, my heart! Coming here was such a pleasure, I really cannot recommend this place enough. Seriously, if you eat one meal out in Belfast, make sure it’s at Avoca – a combination of clothing and housewares store with a takeout counter and restaurant upstairs. and a flair for all things adorable. It’s like the UK version of Anthropology, but even prettier, and with amazing food. What’s not to love?! The clothes are fab, and if I had not been pressed for time, I definitely would have spent a few hours trying things on. The decor of the store and restaurant is insanely cute, and totally up my alley. And the food! Perfection. So nutritious, flavourful, and attractive. I felt like a queen here.
We came here for lunch and Conor ordered us a pitcher of freshly pressed lemonade with fresh fruit which was delightful, along with some mint water. I then proceeded to order one of the best salads of my life! It was gorgeous. Salad greens topped with quinoa, rapine, goat cheese, and butternut squash. I will be making my own version of this salad to share with you folks asap, don’t you worry!
Conor ordered a white (yes, white) onion soup with parmesan and truffle oil that was just insane. My mouth was doing backflips, I swear. I will be testing recipes soon for that as well!
For dessert I had a raspberry posset, which I strongly considered having two of. Now, I had no idea what a posset was going into this thing, only knowing that it was gluten free. I was pretty sure Miss Moppet sat on a posset, or possibly ate one, but that was the extent of my experience. I am glad to say that, after venturing into lands unknown, I came through safely with the knowledge that a posset is delightful.
If you aren’t convinced yet, well, all I will say is that Conor and I had a flight to catch from Belfast to Edinburgh after our lunch, and we MISSED IT because we lingered overlong here. No joke.
Also, we later learned that Avoca is an Irish chain, so you can find them in Dublin too!
I won’t go on about this place too much, but it does deserve a spot here. Similar to The Farm in Dublin, The Larder is dedicated to bringing you dishes comprised of local and seasonal ingredients from around Scotland. They even have a map on the wall showing the distance each item had to travel. They offer pretty much everything gluten free, including the sandwiches and to-die-for brownies, and their breads are all freshly baked. Better still, we saw on their notice board that they offer urban foraging excursions! We weren’t in Edinburgh long enough to sign up, but I love the mindset and approach to food here. Definitely worth a stop, and it’s right across from High Street Hostel, where we stayed.
Now, you’re probably not planning a trip to Leeds. There is literally no reason for you to stop in Leeds, unless it’s as a means to get somewhere else. You might be asking yourselves, why did Samantha go to Leeds? Well, Samantha has a dear old friend in Leeds, so she couldn’t not stop there. But now you have a legitimate, worthwhile, amazing reason to stop there as you meander your way out of Scotland towards London (stopping in Stratford, of course!) – 2 Oxford Place. This hidden gem of a restaurant is 100% gluten free. That’s right, completely gluten free. No guess work. They also happen to serve a little something called afternoon tea. You may have heard of it? It’s a sweets and pretty things-lover’s dream, and they do it all sans gluten here. I felt like I had died and gone to heaven. The little sandwiches, the scones (scones!), and the three tiers of artful desserts full of whimsy and decadence… my goodness.
You. Must. Eat. Here.
It was so good that I didn’t even think of stopping to take a photo until we had polished off nearly everything on the trays. Thankfully, my lovely friend in Leeds had the foresight (and self control) to stop and quickly capture the last couple of wonders to escape our hungry maws.
Standing in line outside Shakespeare’s Globe around 6pm, hoping to score some last minute standing (groundling, for you early modernists) tickets, after having walked all day, I became very hungry. We had less than an hour to find food, eat, and be back in time for the show. That doesn’t leave to many options. But right across the street from The Globe is a Turkish restaurant called Tas Pide.
Now, my mother is Greek, and accordingly I was raised on lamb. A steak I can ignore no problem, but the scent of lamb is an intoxicatingly fragrant mixture of nostalgia and temptation. 99% of the time I can say no, but the minute I walked through the door to this restaurant and breathed in the heady scents of home – some people might kill me for saying so, but Greek and Turkish food are pretty darn similar – I knew it would be an evening for a little indulgence. This restaurant is very vegetarian friendly, but not gluten free vegetarian friendly, so I would only recommend coming here if you can eat bread (their signature dish is a kind of stuffed flatbread that looks and smells amazing) or occasionally eat meat.
This was probably the best meal of our entire trip. No joke. I have never had food that tasted so close to home in a restaurant, and even (forgive me!) surpassed my yia yia’s cooking. Conor had a kind of vegetable stew with couscous and yogurt which he devoured. Because of the couscous I couldn’t try it, but it smelled phenomenal and he still raves about it. I had the most tender stewed lamb of my life, served atop a bed of pureed eggplant and cheese which just melted in my mouth. The two elements paired really well together, but separately they were still insane. I would die a happy girl indeed if I could eat that eggplant again. I have no idea how they made it so creamy and delicious.
Inspiral Lounge: Raw vegan place in London by Camden markets. I had a raw chocolate cake that was divine. They sell a lot of their products as well, so it’s definitely worth the trip.
Maharani: Also by Camden market, this family-run restaurant offers some of the most authentic, flavourful Indian food I have ever had. The saag paneer was beyond incredible, and the prices for their vegetarian dishes are remarkably low.
Next Up: France and Italy