Friday, 16 November 2012

things to do with avocado

Say you have spent almost a year in China, with intermittent access to good avocado, and now you are home in Melbourne and eating every avocado dish in the inner north (post on this to come), but maybe this is becoming a bit expensive what with the two soy flat whites and the at least $10 for avo on toast and the inevitable distraction on the ride home where you accidentally end up at Radical Grocery or Savers or something, and you are thinking you should eat more avocado at home.

Here are two things Fi and I did with avocado this week (I was more of a consultant but definitely at least an executive consultant):

Avocado things
Avocado and tomato on toast with dukkah and a little olive oil; avocado and grapefruit with coriander and mint (also on toast) (and I don't even like coriander, which makes me the worst SEAzn ever, but it was delicious in this combination).

Proportions are up to you, though I would not over do it on the grapefruit, the grapefruit is there to add a delicious tartness but not overwhelm the essential avocadoness of this. I recommend only a small amount of olive oil, drizzled via a spoon in order to control the flow and amount. Cut the avocado and grapefruit up into similar sized cubes, and slice the tomato (then slice again, so they are thinner than the avocado pieces but maybe a little longer). No need to put anything on the toast, though you can add a little olive oil if you like.


Thursday, 8 November 2012

merry cupcakes, fitzroy

Regular readers of my social media will probably already know that my cupcake heart belongs to Cupcake Central, run by the super awesome Sheryl, who helped my friends bring me cupcakes when I was living in China, who when I hint around vegan things (like Oreos) invents new flavours to accomodate it, and is generally really awesome and inspiring.

But I was in Fitzroy on Saturday, as I so often am, and thought I should give the newly opened all-vegan Merry Cupcakes a go.

cupcakes from merry
Clockwise top left: the beet it (red velvet with beetroot); the wakey wakey (i think - coffee); strawberry fields forever; 'bruce banner' (zucchini and and banana).

I love vegan shops. Love love love them, so I'm automatically always excited. My favourites were the pop culture cupcakes (strawberry fields forever and bruce banner) - the strawberry one had a really fresh strawberry flavour, and dr banner was delicious (things I never thought I'd say). Apparently people often don't get those references, even though they're the best!

The beet it was a bit weirdly nutty, and the wakey wakey was fine but just a generic coffee cupcake. Would return though, 50% is still a pass and there's so many other flavours to sample; plus, service was lovely and friendly and helpful, and I'd like to try their coffee!

You can find their spring menu here. They're currently only just now moving in to gluten free cupcakes with one or two flavours.

Merry Cupcakes
261 Brunswick Street
Closed Tuesdays

Get there on the 112 tram. I think there was a step up into the shop, service is at the counter.

Monday, 5 November 2012

brunch at little creatures

Being both originally from WA, when Mez and I discovered that Little Creatures in Fitzroy had a breakfast menu we thought it'd be awesome to drop in.

brekkie at little creatures
The only item that could be veganised was the avocado + feta with dukka and spinach on toast, without the feta; I couldn't order the beans because they are cooked with butter.

This was plain and nothing special, and there was actually no dukka on my avocado, but the coffee was nice and the atmosphere in the mostly empty pub was pleasant and the company was, as always, delightful. If I'm in Fitzroy I'd rather dart across to Las Vegan, but it was a very nice morning nearby where I had to be for my next engagement.

Little Creatures Dining Hall
222 Brunswick Street

Entry has a ramp, lots of lighting, tiny menus, ordering happens at the table. $14 for my meal. Get there on the 112 tram (not accessible).

Thursday, 18 October 2012

disanxian & tofu + cabbage soup

Two of my favourite discoveries while I was living in Beijing were 地三鲜 (disanxian) and 豆腐白菜汤 (doufubaicaitang). 地三鲜 is the greatest eggplant dish ever, featuring the 'three earth treasures', a complicated and oil heavy (but delicious!) combination of eggplant, potato and green capsicum in a soy saucey roux. 豆腐白菜汤 in contrast is a simple soup made up of tofu, chinese cabbage, and not a lot else, which is deceptive in its tastey-ness. It looks really boring and sounds really plain, but it's actually one of my favourite soups ever. Be warned if you order either of these in restaurants, though - sometimes they're made with chicken stock!

As I have mentioned before I learnt how to cook a lot of dishes during my year in China, and I hope to share a lot of them with you now that I'm back in my own kitchen and trying them out here at home, but these are by far my favourites and hence why they were almost the first thing I cooked upon my return. The delay in blogging them is mostly because I was too lazy to translate out of Chinese and into English for you. Sorry! I promise I do love you!

I'm posting these two recipes together because I only have the one picture - tofu and cabbage in a white bowl on a white background makes for the brightest photo ever! So it didn't really work out.
地三鲜 / Disanxian 
Three Earth Treasures
2 garlic cloves, minced ish
two chinese soup spoon of dark soy, and the same of light soy
half a cup of stock
a little cornstarch

1 big eggplant (or 2 small eggplants), cut into chunks that are about twice as big as the potato.
2-3 medium potatoes, cut into funny, irregular but similarly sized chunks
1 green capsicum, cut into chunks

a whole lot of oil

Bring up the heat on your wok and load it up with some oil. Fry the potatoes until golden! Remove them, and (in the same oil, add more if necessary) fry the eggplant until golden! Fry the capsicum for a minute or two! Remove most of the oil (if you need to, I usually use just enough oil from the beginning that by the time I get to this stage there's not much left whoops), leaving just enough to do some stirfrying.

Fry the garlic, then add the stock and the soy sauce. Bring the soup to a boil, and thicken it, then add the vegetables and give it all a chance to reduce. You want this dish to be a little saucy but not too much!

Fried and delicious, it's so tasty. Serve with other dishes and something carby.

Tofu + Cabbage Soup

I would just like to reiterate that there are no words to describe how much I love this soup. It can also be served with some rice noodles, but I like to have it as a final dish in a banquet.

an appropriate amount of chinese cabbage, enough to fit into two hands when it's shredded thickly
five or six cups of veggie stock
a shake or two of salt
a shake of rice wine
thinly sliced ginger, about 2cm
400g firm tofu, diced into cubes of about 2cm
a teaspoon of sesame oil
optional: a star anise, a shake or three of light soy sauce, some rice noodles, dried shiitake mushrooms

Bring stock to a boil and add the ginger, salt, cabbage and rice wine, as well as the soy sauce and star anise if you're adding it. Allow to simmer, covered, for 15 minutes, then add tofu, and allow to cook through (about five minutes). Add (rehydrated) mushrooms, noodles, or sesame oil at this point if you're adding them.

Serve with your meal. It's delicious.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

dan dan mian / 担担面

As soon as I got back to Melbourne, as per discussion with Wendy, I started search Melbourne's Chinese grocers for Very Important Ingredients, in case she would have to sneak them in on her return. Then, just over a week ago, my cookbooks arrived in one of my boxes posted from China, and I was able to start the joys of replicating the things I learnt.
Dandanmian / 担担面
One of the things I was looking for was sichuan peppercorns, which Cindy kindly provided to me, on the condition that I write up the things that I cooked with it. And I am happy to oblige!

I was tweeting with my friend Stefefanie (defined so because I am the Steph who came first) at the same time as deciding on this recipe, and she mentioned that dan dan mian is a go-to dish for her because it's so easy. I'd suggest, it's an easy recipe if you don't decide to a) grind your own sichuan peppercorns, and b) also decide to make your own infused chilli oil before starting.* It's still pretty easy, though! And super delicious.

dan dan mian / 担担面

these proportions will make two servings


for the sauce:

1 teaspoon ground sichuan peppers
a whole lot of chilli oil, enough to make it super spicy but not so spicy you couldn't eat it, this will vary on your chilli oil and your tolerance. i recommend five or six tablespoons.

1.5 cup stock (I used the massel vego chicken stock, but vege is fine)
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 clove minced garlic
a heaped half tablespoon of tahini (or sesame paste, if you can find it)
1 tablespoon chinese rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sesame oil

200g plain tempeh (crumbed)
handful dried shitake mushrooms
little peanut oil
1 clove minced garlic
minced ginger (about a cm worth)
a shake of rice wine
a shake or three of dark soy sauce
2 spring onions (chopped) (including both green and white bits, but keep separate)
one small carrot, grated

some noodles! enough for two people. preferably yellow wheat noodles, but whatever you prefer is fine.


soak the mushrooms in some hot water for 20-25 minutes, until they're soft. squeeze out all the water, and dice them as finely as you can. reserve the mushroom water.

cook the noodles as per your requirements! in the meantime, make the sauce: combine all the sauce ingredients together, add in the mushroom water, and mix them until they're looking well combined. Put this aside, and when the noodles are ready, drain the noodles.

in your wok (or a frypan), fry the garlic, ginger and the white bits of the spring onions in the peanut oil until they're fragrant, then add the tempeh, carrot and mushrooms. fry this until it's starting to colour/cook, then add the soy sauce and fry through. add the rice wine at the end to deglaze and remove from heat.

to serve: noodles in the bottom of the bowl; pour in half of the sauce mixture, and layer the meat mixture on the top. garnish with the green bits from the spring onion.

changes: this dish is often served with bok choi, which is first steamed and then layered in before the meat; sometimes this dish is served dry ish, as here, and sometimes it is served as a spicy oily chilli broth with a few pieces of noodles and meat, in which case double the sauce proportions and leave the rest as is.

*Chilli oil how-to to follow soon

Thursday, 11 October 2012

storm in a teacup [collingwood]

Paused for a cup of tea and a slice of cake at Storm in a Teacup this afternoon. Another place that has opened since I left Melbourne, I was delighted to find they had some vegan cake and a variety of Chinese green tea I've never had before, listed as maojian but which I'm assuming is actually 信阳毛尖, which was lovely.
flowers and dinosaurs

Storm in a Teacup is a tea cafe, with a wall of teas available (though you'll have to take my word for it as the photo failed to work out). It has a lovely atmosphere, light and airy and chilled, which is a stark difference to its previous life as Trippy Taco before it moved around the corner. The walls are decorated with clouds, which suggest some cocktails (I mean that literally - there is a tea cocktail menu inside the clouds).

It also has some cakes! Today's vegan cake was carrot and walnut with blood orange icing, and it was lovely! Moist and a little fruity, combined with my tea and the delightful company of my friend A, and the lovely service, it was a wonderful hour late in the afternoon.
carrot cake at storm in a teacup

Other reviews: Hot or Not; Milkbar Mag

Storm in a Teacup
48A Smith Street

Step to enter, not much seating, bright in the day (unsure at night).

Sunday, 7 October 2012

wide open road [brunswick]

I am completely out of the habit of blogging in Melbourne, and I still have half a dozen posts I want to make about my time in China,* but I have started eating again in Melbourne and adventuring to exciting new places, and I don't want to too far behind in that. So: Wide Open Road!

While I was living in China,** the new place I heard the most about was Wide Open Road, situated near Sydney Road and Barkly Square at the bottom end of Brunswick. As I'm currently between jobs, I'm endevouring to take advantage of this by having as many weekday brunch outings as possible (because good vegan brunch is basically impossible to get in Beijing, and I need to make up for lost time), and used one of my early brunch opportunities to visit Wide Open Road.
Delicious beans at Wide Open Road

It was a beautiful warm day, so Emilly and I sat outside in the glaring sunlight, unfortunately situated on Barkly Street, outside Barkly Square, so it's not the most pleasant of sidewalk seating areas. But the inside is lovely and the coffee is pleasant, and I loved these tomato and smoked paprika beans so much. The paprika is lovely (though could have been a bit stronger), and they soaked into the bread delightfully, and I loved that it comes with a salad. The only thing that could possibly have made it any better was avocado; but then, avocado makes most breakfasts better.

Emilly had the tofu (not pictured), which she said was good but not very moist, so it didn't soak into the toast at all and as a result could have done with some olive oil or something.

I have been talking the beans up to all my friends, and there are heaps of vegan options on the menu, and I hope to return there soon.

Wide Open Road
274 Barkly St

Two (?) steps to enter, dim visibility inside but that could have been due to the brightness outside. Ordering and paying can happen at the table. Get there via the 19 tram (5 mins walk from a stop) or the Upfield train (ten minutes meander from Jewell Station).

recent vegmellians at wide open road: Carla (who tried a previous iteration of the beans, judging from the picture); Johanna.

*I love talking about my time in China
**See what I did there?

Monday, 24 September 2012

Black Forest Cheezecake + a Birthday Picnic

Recently Planet Vegmel turned three! To celebrate there was a picnic at the Edinburgh Gardens, as well as our favourite new tradition of making a zine. This year's zine features secrets of not the inner North, and you should all download it!

I made the super awesome vausage rolls because I really wanted Wendy to try them (having spent the last six months in Beijing talking them up to her), but this meant bringing a gluteny savoury that K couldn't eat! To compensate, I went to extra special effort with my sweets contribution: vegan, gluten-free black forest cheezecake.

black forest cheezecake

This recipe was inspired by a piece of cake I had at the Heavenly Plate on a recent trip to Perth which was amazing and I was so excited to try making some sort of black forest cheezecake myself. This version isn't quite right, there are several changes I have in mind for the next iteration, but for a first attempt (and my first cheezecake in over a year) it was not bad at all.

I used the triple threat chocolate cheesecake in My Sweet Vegan as inspiration/guidance for proportions.

black forest cheezecake


1 packet of chocolate biscuits (I used the leda tim tam substitutes)
third of a cup of sugar (I used a mix of white and coconut sugars)
two tablespoons margarine

3 tubs of vegan cream cheese (approx 700g)
300g silken tofu
300g dark chocolate
three quarters of a cup of white sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
shake of salt

a can of berries, preferably cherries but mixed will do
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon cornstarch
quarter cup sugar
extra chocolate for drizzling


Crush the biscuits, mix with the third of a cup of sugar and the margarine. Add some extra chocolate in the form of cocoa if you like. Press into a lined 22 cm cheesecake or springform pan for a thin crust, or a smaller pan for a slightly thicker crust.

Mix together the cream cheese, tofu, vanilla extract, salt and the three quarter cup of sugar until smooth. Melt the chocolate and combine through until looking delightfully brown. Pour carefully into pan on top of crust, and drop the pan a time or two to smooth it out if necessary. Bake at 175C for about 50 minutes.

After it has cooled (I usually do this overnight), over heat bring together the can of berries (mostly drained, but with a little of the syrup), the cornstarch and the lemon juice with the remaining sugar. Stir over heat until it's come together like a jam, and let cool a bit. Then pour it over the cake. When this has cooled a little more, melt the remaining chocolate and drizzle it over. Serve and eat it, it's so good.

Changes I would like to make in the future: an extra berry layer on top of the base; a thicker base (maybe half again); something "white creamish" like a real black forest cake (maybe a white chocolate tofu layer); fresh cherries on top.

Monday, 27 August 2012

and now we are three

Planet Vegmel is turning three! To celebrate, there will be a birthday picnic potluck at Edinburgh Gardens on September 15th (a Saturday) from around 1pm. Come along, readers, bloggers and friends all! It'll be my first potluck in a year (since the 2nd Birthday Potluck, in fact!), and it'll be great fun. There will be another zine! Maybe more badges! Maybe something new!

You can find more details at the fb event page, which will include up to the minute updates if required in the event of rain.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Haidilao / 海底捞 [beijing]

beginning to set the table
As I've previously blogged, living in Beijing has unexpectedly led to an amazing increase in my obsession with hotpot/steamboat. Frequently I go to Little Sheep, which is a franchise that has a location delightfully close to my house on Ghost Street; however Wendy had mentioned that if there was anywhere a Beijinger would go to hotpot, it would be Haidilao, so when GY suggested we go to hotpot before I left, I was eager to suggest Haidilao. I have in the last week been to Haidilao twice (once with GY and LN, and once with Wendy), and I recommended it very much. 
waiting in heidilao

Haidilao is well-known for excellent service. At the Sanlitun location I experienced a sort of valet-bike parking, where someone helped me find a bay for my bike, and asked if I needed help carrying my bags inside, and when Wendy and I specified that we were strict vegetarians they went out of their way to double check what that meant stockwise, and what would be okay and not okay. It is more expensive than some of the other hotpot restaurants I've been to here in Beijing, though. And it's much, much harder to get a table. At the Wangfujing branch we booked ahead, and the waiting area was full when we went to depart; at Sanlitun we ended up waiting for about 40 minutes to get a table. They provide you with snacks, games to play, and a free manicure while you're waiting for a table, and LN says she often doesn't book if she needs a manicure, so she can wait and get one.

The mushroom broth was amazing, filled with mushrooms and some garlic it had such an excellent flavour. The spicy broth was also quite excellent.  

an array of sauces and things
The thing I love about Haidilao is its excessive complementary condiment wall. Mixing sauces is an excellent part of the hotpot experience - you can choose from (among others) soy sauce ("home made"), sesame sauce, sesame oil, fried peanuts, a soybean paste, a mushroom sauce, a variety of chillis dried, fresh and oiled, green things, vinegar, other types of nuts, and even msg, and that's all without touching the condiments I can't eat. LN introduced me to the concept of creating a dry rub for myself, she used a mixture of salt, dried chillis, and peanuts, which I thought was pretty excellent (though very spicy). The condiments bar also includes a variety of fruits, a pumpkin soup, and some cold Beijing salads (such as tudousi and the smoked tofu strings thing). 
ordering on the heidilao ipad

At Wangfujing ordering takes place via ipad, all in Chinese but with pictures. Ordering at Sanlitun is via a sheet of paper all in characters, but some places (such as Little Sheep) have menus with pictures if you ask for it, so that might still be available. 

some sauces mixed
Haidilao also has noodle dancers, lovely clean toilets, and an awesome array of tofu to put in the boat. 

Various locations around Beijing
Some locations (such as Wangfujing) have lifts, but others are old and not at all accessible. 
Website allegedly has an English version but I've never been able to access it. 

Sunday, 12 August 2012

the hunt for the perfect soy coffee [beijing edition]

When I first moved to Beijing I gave up coffee, on the grounds that it's difficult to find a good coffee in China, and impossible to find a soy coffee. I thought, I can do this for a year! I was wrong, and shortly after my second month began, I found myself trying to track down some sort of delicious coffee.

Part of the reason why I'm vegan is because I'm lactose intolerant, a(n at the time) distressing genetic quirk I picked up from my Chinese mother. Asian people have an increased propensity towards lactose intolerance! Chinese culinary tradition is well known for its soymilkyness! I can buy warm soy milk on my way to work for breakfast on cold winter mornings from little street stores! So you would think, given this, that finding a soy coffee in Beijing would not be that difficult.

Sadly you would be wrong.

four flat whites
My new go-to for a soy, and delightfully a soy flat white, is Serk cafe on 北新桥三条 (beixinqiaosantiao), a Melbourne-style cafe run by a Melbunnie, with bikes hanging from the ceiling and an awesome fitout. They even charge extra for soy milk, can you get more Melbourne than that?
It is, however, the only place in Beijing that you can buy a soy flat white (not even the New Zealand inspired Flat White Cafe does a soy flat), and I'm willing to put up with a lot for such a delight.

And you can bring your keep cup! However alas Serk is not open Mondays, and not open before 11am, so it is useless for an on my way to work coffee purchase.
bike cafe

Other than Serk, it's sadly lattes all the way. I go quite frequently to the Vegie Table on Wudaoying Hutong, where I can get the world's largest soy latte (or a latte with coconut milk, which is fun). They don't do takeaway but if you bring your own cup they'll whip something up for you. This coffee is nice enough but it always leaves me with a funny after taste.
latte with coconut milk
More frequently, though, I go to Starbucks for a soy latte in my reusable Starbucks cup (because oh, don't try to convince them you should be able to use your keep cup). This is fine and functional but not what one would call a coffee, more a coffee flavoured beverage. In Australia I don't drink coffee after lunch, but I can drink a Starbucks coffee as late as 5pm and still be fine to go to bed.

Starbucks is funny here, it's mostly considered a bit of a dessert place, the most popular drinks seem to be the ones with lashings of cream on the top, and I know of business people who take their clients to Starbucks for a bit of after business lunch dessert.

Don't go to Costa Coffee for a soy coffee. They use Asian soymilk, which is definitely not the right thing to use in a coffee.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

pure lotus [beijing]

Pure Lotus is probably one of the most well-known vegetarian restaurants in Beijing, as well as probably the most expensive. So Wendy and I decided it was a must try before my imminent departure.

I got lost and ended up late, thanks to the annoyance of the Beijinger website giving me the wrong address. Eventually I found the right complex, and then was directed on my way by ushers in pink and grey clothes, those pyjama pantsuits. At the front door I was greeted by wait staff in shapeless glittery dresses, and directed up a million flights of stairs to where Wendy was very patiently waiting for me.

The lighting was very poor, so I didn't end up taking too much in the way of photos with little orange toy camera (an aside: looking at some photos my brother took of the night skyline in Singapore recently, and they've turned out beautifully. I really miss having a real camera), especially as I was sitting in my light source.

Not pictured here: the juices we chose not to order, on the grounds that they were 150元 a glass. Depending on the day's exchange rate, 150元 is at least AUD20! No, no thank you. We had boiled water.
the plate at pure lotus

Our place settings were these interesting but obviously not-vegan shells. A very interesting aesthetic!

We ended up ordering six dishes: some bao, "japanese tofu wrapped rice" (this turned out to be plain inari), smoked tofu with chilli and beans, a hor-fun thing, a kind of sushi cones thing, and (not on the menu, we had to ask for it), their famous vegetarian peking duck.
inari at pure lotus

Don't get me wrong, I love inari as much as the next person, but the best thing about these inaris was the presentation, here in a boat with some pickled ginger and a whole lot of leaves.

The smoked tofu was not as delicious as I had hoped it would be, there was a funny aftertaste and absolutely none of the promised 辣 (chilli).

Duck was good, but nothing more special than the duck I've had again and again at Baihe (and for half the price, and five minutes walk from my apartment).
mushroom and seaweed bao

These baos were filled with a mushroom-nori combination, and were incredibly heavy going. They came last, and in the end I think we had to leave one behind. But look at them shaped like fruits!

Finally, we ended the meal with a complementary fruit bowl - this thing was massive and contained about half a dozen slices of rockmelon, which Wendy doesn't like so I ate it all (even though I'm not a huge fan of Beijing's rockmelon).
the fruit platter

Afterwards, we were escorted out of the complex by the pink and grey pyjama-clad people, this time holding giant lanterns on sticks that were held close to the ground to light our way.

Pure Lotus was an experience I had to have - a large number of people had stated it as a place to visit, and I'd heard so much. The notable thing abut it is definitely the presentation. But for me, one visit was enough.

Tongguang Building
12 Nongzhanguan Nan Lu
Chaoyang district


Get there on Line 10 (Tuanjiehuzhan), or on the 406 (which is what I did)

Not accessible at all (little step into the first floor, awkward seating, dim lighting). Chinese menus with hilarious and occasionally useful English subtitles. Open every day, 11am-11pm.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

cooking from books

Wendy and I went on an adventure to Wangfujing yesterday, because we want to stock up on Chinese cookbooks before we leave Beijing.
vegetarian books
It was pretty exciting - this is not even half of the vegetarian section. Of course you may recall the problems I have at times had with being vegetarian in Beijing - enduring meat as garnish, 'it doesn't have egg, it's sweet' - so some of these vegetarian cookbooks have the occasional shrimp garnish, but the ones I have are super awesome and I'm so excited.
books purchased
I have eaten so many amazing dishes while I've been in Beijing, that I cannot wait to start making these at home, and for my friends and family at home.

It was funny, my excitment over these cookbooks. I've mostly moved on from cookbooks in my life, because it's so easy to find recipes online. But a lot of this stuff I've never been able to find while searching in English, and when I google in Chinese often my eyes start to glaze over, and it's hard for me to skim read. So these beautiful cookbooks, with pictures, sometimes step by step.

Anyway, prepare yourselves, vegetarian Melbourne, for some delicious new experiments.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

sunao ii [beijing]

Six of us made a visit to Sunao, which I had previously visited on my own at a lunch time, navigating my way through a characters-only menu. We were delighted to find that the dinner menu has English subtitles as well as pictures, so Wendy and I didn’t have to tax ourselves translating for everyone. 

in the restaurant

There were worries, and Wendy and I decided on more and more dishes, that maybe we were ordering too many: fortunately, it appears we ordered just enough.

We started with a plate of fruit (tomato here being considered a fruit), provided with no charge and served with dry ice. The waitress explained that eating fruit after a meal inhibits digestion, which is why they serve it to start the meal – when pressed, she suggested that other restaurants that serve fruit at the end of the meal are very wrong.


And then the meal itself, oh wow, it was one of the best meals I’ve had here in Beijing, I think.

My favourite was probably the mock fish, with a ‘skin’ and also battered, it was eerily reminiscent of the fish at the EBC. As you can see, it was massive, but we finished it off, and a lot of the sauce, too. Competing for favourite was the peanut tofu, thin slices of tofu served with mushrooms and a sauce that tasted positively gado gado-like.

mock fish peanut tofu

The lemon eggplant was a random choice, ordered because of the batter. If I didn’t know this was eggplant, I wouldn’t have known. The lemon was sweet and tart, and the batter was crisp whilst the eggplant remained soft and flavoursome. This was a good dish, but I felt something was lacking. In a completely surprising occurrence, there was tempeh on this menu! It’s the first time I’ve seen tempeh on a menu in Beijing, so of course I ordered it! Sadly, I wasn’t a fan of this one, served here with a wasabi sauce, though others at the table thought it was tasty.

lemon eggplant the only tempeh i've eaten in beijing

I order kungpao chicken when I can, because V (my previous housemate) loves a (non-vegan) kungpao chicken. The ‘chicken’ in this one was lovely, it soaked up the sauces and complimented the flavours very well. I rarely have had a curry I liked in Beijing, so I also ordered the mock beef curry with a thai sauce. The vegetables in this especially were tasty, but the ‘beef’ was pretty good too, and I wasn’t disappointed at all. I enjoyed this curry.

kungpao vegan chicken mock beef curry with thai sauce

Two dishes I didn’t enjoy so much: something with pumpkin, and the ‘meat cake’ – meat cake looked a bit jian bing like, but there was something about the flavour that I didn’t enjoy. I also wasn’t a fan of these pumpkin cups, I don’t know what I was expecting but I didn’t enjoy the flavour nor the texture, and in the end it was the only dish remaining that we didn’t finish.

meatcake pumpkin

This meal was amazing. I’m going to make a concerted effort to get back to Sunao before I leave Beijing, and I am looking forward to it.

Previous visit: one

Ground Floor, East Side
Nanxingcang Business Building

English + Chinese menu with pictures in the evening, get there on Line 2 (Exit C). Well-lit, little step to enter.

Monday, 9 July 2012

baihe iii [百合素食] [beijing]

Visited Baihe today for lunch! Haven't been for several months, since Charlie's going away in April, but we were at a loose end today and I thought the little walk down would be most excellent. And it was! It was pretty quiet, so service was fast and attentive.


We went with two of my favourites, the peking duck (with pancakes) (half size) and the dry roasted potatoes, as well as the gailan for some greens (listed on the menu as Cantonese vegetables/ 广东菜).


Danni really wanted to try the pipa chicken drumsticks, despite my insistance that they were not very nice. Guess which penguin was right?! They're always weirdly sweet. Seen here served with strawberry jam.


As always, the duck was super delicious, I could totally eat more of that. We also ordered a pot of dragon well tea (龙井茶) which was lovely. 

baihe-duck baihe-tea

Previous visits: for CNY and the first visit (which has Englishness, accessibility details and directions)

Baihe Vegetarian / Lily's Vegetarian / 百合素食
23 Caoyuan Hutong
off dongzhimen nei bei xiaojie
Dongcheng District

Saturday, 30 June 2012

accidentally vegan: belgian chocolate thins

One of the things I love about China is the whole new range of accidentally vegan things to explore, such as this brand of chocolate crisps that Lainie and I discovered in a supermarket in Qingdao. This supermarket, by the way, located in the basement of the Hi-Sense shopping centre (海信广场) if you ever get a chance to go, was amazing. Cappuccino flavoured soy-milk (in both 2 litre and 500ml tetras), my favourite brand of instant noodles, and conveniently located next to a Starbucks and a hilariously painted toilet.

Anyway, chocolate:

belgian thins

They're like chips, but they are chocolate and mint, there were also a couple of other flavours but I was short on space for the trip back to Beijing. They're the perfect size!

Saturday, 23 June 2012

fancy eats at capital m

I spent most of yesterday in the vicinity of Xuanwumen, suspiciously close to my work despite it being a public holiday (端午节, the dragon boat festival). As a break between meandering around Niu Jie and heading down Liulichang Jie (which is the calligraphers' area), C (my companion for the day) suggested we drop into Capital M for lunch.

Cups at Capital M

I've been to Capital M only once before, to meet Senator the Hon Bob Carr, and acknowledged it was a bit swanky without really taking in quite how swanky it was.

After having a two hour, three course meal, and spending way more money on one meal than I have previously in Beijing, I, uh, now get the idea just how swanky it is.

salad at capital m

Unsurprisingly I couldn't eat any of the set menus, but with a bit of negotiation I was still able to get a meal with some amazing moments. Such as this salad, above, with grape fruit, flower petals, and an assortment of leaves, in a light dressing. I hate dressing, and yet I still found this absolutely delicious.

pasta at capital m

I followed this up with a modified pasta, ordered without the anchovies (ps, things that taste terrible: anchovies), but with everything else: capers, olives, tomato. This was very oily, and C, who is Italian, made fun of me for ordering pasta outside Italy.

fruit at capital m

Finally, to round out my meal, I ordered the fruits with sorbet, which turned out to be made with a coconut milk base, and was rich and creamy and delicious.

Not pictured here: the Turkish Delight with which we ended, nor my delight over soft, fresh, crispy, and most importantly not-sugary bread.

3/F, No 2. Qianmen Pedestrian Street
(just south of Qianmen)


Wednesday, 13 June 2012

beijing and my hotpot/steamboat obsession

It seems weird to blog about hotpot in the middle of a Beijing summer (currently 27C though, so not too bad), but I just had one on Sunday so it’s fresh in my mind. And I love them so. 
individual hotpot
I’ve spent years of my life obsessed with hotpot (or steamboat) as the weather cools, and trying to convince my mother that the weather is cool enough, no really, to have a steamboat or two running in the house. After going vego, steamboat at home is still possible, but no longer do I find myself able to steamboat out and about due to the preponderance for good chicken stock in the soup. Beijing, though, is filled with hotpot restaurants of different varieties, and the cheapest, the most tackiest of chains, are so cheap they don’t put animal products in their soups – the cheapest of all are just water and salt and a piece of ginger and an inch of leek.  There’s Little Sheep, and Xiabu Xiabu, both just down the road from my house, where you can choose your soups spicy or not spicy; and at Little Sheep they give you popcorn when you enter (not vegan, maybe not vego) and make you pay extra for the sesame dipping sauce. 
delicious delicious luck
Most places I frequent you share the pot, which is fine when I tell my friends in advance that the pot will be filled only with tofu, vegetables, noodles and mushrooms. Inevitably, we’ll get to the end of the order, and the waitperson will look at me. 不要肉, I’ll say, don’t want meat, before they have a chance to ask.  I love a good hotpot, and it can be pretty easy, even if you’re in China and don’t speak Mandarin, because the menus are almost always big and glossy with pictures for every plate you can order, and there’s usually only one type of item on a plate – meat OR bok choy OR tofu, which makes it easy to get nothing but vego things. 

However there are things to be aware of, as a veg*n. There’ll be sauces floating around, for dipping – I’m not a big user of the sauces, but they’ll sometimes not necessarily be vego, they’ll be cut with something fish-based. A lot of places, especially fancy places, fill their soup with animal products, so you have to specifically ask if it’s water or stock in the pot.  When I return to Melbourne I have plans to start investigating as many steamboat restaurants as I can, to see if I have any options. I know that Enlightened Cuisine and Vegie Mum are both doing a steamboat for winter, which I look forward to trying  And if I don’t, I’m just going to have to buy one and start having 火锅 parties at my house. 

Friday, 1 June 2012

accidentally vegan #2331 [+ E120]

[transcription: Um no I am a vegetarian myself and I know for a FACT that vegans can't eat Jelly Beans OR Arnott's barbeque shapes because they contain Worcestershire sauce in them and that is made from anchovies which ARE FISH which is meat and Jelly beans well they contain jelly which is um hello GELATIN which is bones and felsh of animals so I don't know where you got that information but...]

Yes, anonymous commenter who is not the first person to have made this comment and been deleted, you are way a better vegetarian than me because after five years of being a vegan I definitely have never ever done any research and had no idea that gelatine is made from dead animals or that worcestershire sauce generally contains anchovies and I've definitely never read the back of any snack foods or called or emailed any manufacturers in order to verify the things I then post on my blog or put in my body. How kind of you to educate me on these things, because otherwise I would have gone my life assuming fishies were vegetables. And I definitely didn't just go read the back of an Allens Jelly Bean pack in order to not find the word gelatine on it (spoilers: I didn't find the word gelatine).

I did, however, find colour 120, which is cochineal. Does anyone know any more about this?

And look, just for the record, I want to know if something I'm eating isn't vegan, and I accept that sometimes I'm wrong and that sometimes I might accidentally tell you a thing is vegan when it's not, but I am not open to being told like I don't know what I'm doing, like I can't read or am incompetent.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

an attempt at risotto

I haven't been able to find arborio rice here in China. I don't have my beautiful heavy-bottomed, perfect-for-risotto pot. Although I am perfectly happy to spend a long time cooking just for myself, I wasn't sure I could bring myself to spend an hour on my own stirring risotto in the hot, poorly lit kitchen. But my old uni friend S was passing through Beijing, and brought me a Chinese red wine that she promised was really good, and I thought maybe I could give it a go.

It turns out, despite all bottles of wine being sealed with corks in China (cork-corks, not plastic corks), cork screws are difficult to find. So I poked this one out with a chopsticks, into the wine, and decanted the remainder into a glass bottle I had lying around.

At the local supermarket I managed to find a short-grain rice, and though I'm not sure what it is it's definitely not arborio. I forked out quite a lot for some olive oil, and decided to make a mushroom and tomato risotto.

oooh risotto

The risotto turned out softer than it should have, almost congee-like. I love mixing mushrooms, so I went for a couple of button mushrooms (delicious and familiar but fairly expensive here), and enoki mushrooms. I also caramelised half a red onion, and added a tomato in my usual risotto-y way, before heaping in the red wine and the stock.

It was a nice moment of familiarity, and I'm glad I had the wine to do it, and it was expensive compared to the other stuff I cook but not too pricy. But the congee-like consistency made it a little bit weird.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

home style restaurant food / 家常菜

The area near where I work has many Beijing homestyle restaurants, and I've developed a bit of a repertoire for dishes I'll hint that should be ordered when we go so that I can eat. Homestyle cooking (jiachangcai / 家常菜) is unsurprisingly easy to cook at home, but also a style quite favoured by little hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and even some of the bigger ones.

Our usual restaurant doesn't have any English, and I'm actually not sure of its name, though I know it fairly well as we go there all the time. As a result this isn't so much a restaurant recommendation, but more of a things I eat because they're often vegan recommendation.

shredded potato

Shredded sour and spicy potatoes (算拉土豆丝) can be very sour and a little spicy, or very spicy and a little sour. I prefer a little sour and very spicy. This is a very dry dish, sometimes served with onion, and it's easy to go too far sour and too far spicy, but it's one of my favourites.

sour baicai

Okay I know you're going to notice a pattern, but sour and spicy cabbage (算拉白菜) is also pretty tasty. There is a whole lot of variation with this dish in the way it's prepared, unlike the potatoes, which are always shredded / 丝, but the result is always a slightly saucy, slightly sour or tart cabbage dish that goes really well with any of the spicier dishes you might have ordered.


Down the back of most menus, hidden away underneath and behind many other things, you might find something that reads suspiciously like cantonese vegetables / 广东菜. What they mean is gailan, and you can get them lightly wok-fried in soy sauce or with garlic or, if you're not careful, oyster sauce. I usually ask for them fried with garlic.

sadly not disanxian

Eggplant has been a really awesome experience for me in Beijing. Almost every restaurant will have some sort of eggplant speciality. My favourite is 地三鲜, literally 'three earth treasures', which is potato, eggplant and capsicum and it's so good. Pictured above is an eggplant, capsicum and tomato dish, because when I asked for 地三鲜 on Thursday they said they didn't have any, which given they then gave me this and a potato dish makes me wonder but whatever. The sauce is amazing, the eggplant just soaks it up and so does the potato and it's so delicious. Sometimes you need to check the eggplant dishes to make sure no animals were harmed in the making of them, but this one is usually okay.

You might notice the lack of tofu dishes! That's because there's no tofu dish I can guarantee you is vego, so it's best to make enquiries as you go. But I have a tofu dish recommendation post lined up for soon!