Category Archives: Vegan Food

Posts specifically about vegan food in the places we’ve been.

Africa 2018 – VegFest and Safari

IVU  World VegFest

The purpose of, or excuse for, this trip was the International Vegetarian Union’s 46th World Vegfest in Nairobi – for the first time being hosted in Africa. You can see how it was impossible not to come? When we first came to Nairobi in 2014 we totally failed to meet up with the Kenyan Vegans group we had found on facebook…so this was also a great opportunity to make amends for that.

It was a bit hard to know what a World Vegfest in Nairobi would be like. I wondered whether it would actually be a success or how may people would attend – especially when I got a message when I was on my way from Ady (who we met in Ghana) to say she wasn’t able to make the trip to Kenya, even though she was involved in organising the event. So when the day arrived I headed a little nervously down to the Oshwal Centre to see what was happening…but I shouldn’t have worried. I joined in the pre-meeting with some international delegates as the preparations for the evening entertainment were going on around us. It was a good group – some names from the internet got attached to real people, and we headed into the weekend with new friends.

The first evening had a strong Indian theme – unsurprisingly as a lot of the vegetarian tradition in Kenya has come from Indian origins (we had an enlightening talk on the history of Kenya and the original Indian settlers as a part of the evening’s entertainment). Also, the guest of honour was the new Indian High Commissioner to Kenya in his first week on the job! There were inspirational talks, African and Indian dance performances and  a really good vegan dinner.

The main event on Saturday was not overly crowded, but what it may have lacked in absolute numbers was made up for in enthusiasm and variety. There was no lack of ingenious ideas and vegan products on show by local producers on the vegfest stalls, and many excellent demonstrations in the conference. The issue of whether vegetarian is good enough was diplomatically but strongly raised in compelling terms, and I finally got to meet Rachel – the founder of the Kenyan Vegans and Nairobi Vegans facebook groups. Some good networking was done to link up the different local groups and international organisations.

As Marly writes in her summary here, learning about what people are doing around the world and getting to know each other is an important part of these meetings. From the perspective of Vegan Without Frontiers, as we move towards operating our expeditions next year, it was good to meet some people and organisations we may be supporting and talk about what we’re trying to do. It was also great to be able to put a few people we’ve met on our travels in touch with organisations that are looking for activists to work with. I look forward to seeing these seeds grow in the coming years and adding to them on our travels!

After the VegFest, the Safari

Since we had travelled to Africa for this, and for some this was a first visit, it would have been a shame not to experience the wildlife it is famous for as well. So on Sunday a group of us got together to visit Nairobi National Park. Quite rightly Kenya is proud to have a National Park right on the edge of the city – though it does bring to the fore the conflict that humans bring to wildlife by the occupation of land. It is both beautiful and slightly jarring to see giraffes silhouetted against the city skyline, and zebra grazing by the pylons of a new overhead railway line across the park.

It was really cool to spend the day with Jessika (ProVeg), Victor (Vegan OutReach), Marly (IVU) and Bena (Detox Retreat, Jamaica), most expertly guided by Daniel from Africa Safariland Tours. While the park is too small to sustain elephants (and I imagine a little dangerous to have wild elephants that close to the city), we got to see pretty much all the other animals you’d hope to see – the highlight being a very recently well-fed male lion. Credit to Daniel for this – he spotted it from the distance and drove us to park with the engine off right where it moments later appeared from the long grass and crossed the track right by us. In a first even for me, this lion then proceeded to roar – announcing his presence to anyone within earshot – before continuing on a long walk down to the water to wash down his meal.

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OK, at this point the whole commercial imperative of wildlife watching got too much for my taste, as a whole fleet of minibuses and landcruisers zoned in on the lion, guided by radio, and it turned into a photographic feeding frenzy, with a slightly spooked lion jogging for cover after being surrounded. We headed off to a quieter part of the park. We saw rhino, tracked at a distance on foot by armed rangers to protect them from poachers, and more giraffe peacefully eating in some woodland next to pools full of (invisibly submerged) hippos.

On the edge of the park, the David Sheldrick Trust elephant orphanage cares for rescued baby elephants, with the aim of returning them to the wild – a process which takes up to 8 years. Many of these elephants are orphaned after their parents are killed by poachers,  while many adults die of starvation in the National Parks after long droughts. Artificial waterholes may keep them alive for a while, but without rain to replenish the vegetation the food eventually runs out, and with human encroachment the ability to migrate to other areas is curtailed. Rescuing the orphans is the least we can do – and they are exceedingly cute!

After the Safari, the other Safari…

At this point, the road was calling again and I had a week before flying back to London. I looked at the map and booked a shuttle bus South to Tanzania. The idea was to travel through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Serengeti in a loop by lake Victoria, or maybe all the way round Lake Victoria and back to Nairobi. Leg 1 was South, an 8 hour bus trip to Arusha. It was great to be on the road again, even if someone else was driving, and to get out of the city and see some wide open spaces. On the other hand, by the time the bus pulled up in Arusha I had been talked out of the long bus trip by my fellow passengers and was looking at a few days in Ngorongoro and the Serengeti before heading back.

A couple of hours later I had booked 2 nights at a rather expensive 5 star lodge by the gates to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and was trying to work out how to get there. The lodge would organise an shuttle for $300 each way…which is frankly ridiculous. The shuttle bus from Nairobi was $25. In the end I found a ‘taxi’ to drive me there, wait 2 days, and drive me back for $100 each way. I know there are cheaper ways to do it…but nobody would tell me at short notice where to find them.

So after an evening of watching a local park football match followed by a pizza and beer and a night in a homestay in town I had an enjoyable 3 hour drive with my friendly driver Goodluck. Some of you will find our combination of names faintly as amusing as I did.

Enter Luxury Service Safari Lodge World. Both Goodluck and I felt a little out of place bumping up to the gates of the lodge in an ordinary car…sightly wide-eyed and awkward. There were staff waiting by the entrance (tipped off by the security gate down at the public road), with shots of iced tea and hot towels to welcome us; staff to carry bags; staff to show us to a table for an introductory welcome pack, drinks and lunch. Goodluck took his leave and left me to be inducted, and was last seen wandering around the property making a video record on his phone, shortly afterwards followed by a staff member scampering after him.

Well, what can I say about the lodge? Beautiful – right on the edge of the forest which covers the outer slopes of the Ngorongoro crater; coffee growing on the slopes under the cottages; staff to light the fires in your cottage and put hot water bottles in your beds (they seem to think this is necessary when the temperature drops to 20C); included G&Ts on the terrace overlooking the pool, overlooking the forest, against a backdrop of sunset over the mountains. For dinner? A complete vegan menu drawn up specially for me, with choices for each of 4 courses. I could get used to it.

Due to my lack of forward planning, I had to have my own personal guide for a full day safari into the crater. For this part I will just say that it was an unforgettable experience and point you to the photographs below. I’m glad it was low season as there were about 30 vehicles in the crater rather than 300 in high season, but probably a better idea to go with a few friends to share the costs. After another luxury night it was back to reality the way I came. Next time, with good luck and a fair wind, we’ll be back in the new truck – though maybe then I’ll be staying in town while our guests experience the bubble of luxury?

 

Taking Leo Home

And so we come to the end of this little adventure, but here’s a small innovation for the last travel blog – a combination of photo gallery and blog post with a couple of video clips thrown in. I hope Yury is happy with the balance between text and images at last? 😉

(Click on the photo to open the slideshow view)

Once I'd decided it was time to head for Tanzania, the Great North Road was calling.
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And that is about that. Troopy will be in a box until November and I seem to have brought the rainy season to the South of France. Its been entertaining for me – so until next time,  thank you for following!

Ghana – Here Be Vegans

I was not expecting this – there are a lot of vegans in West Africa. I started looking in Burkina Faso, and discovered a busy restaurant serving all-vegan versions of West African dishes. This is no specialist upmarket outlet catering to foreigners or tourists – just good healthy food for local people in Ouagadougou.

Yasmine and her NASA Crew
Yasmine and her NASA Crew

I missed out on visiting a vegan place that is listed in Kumasi on HappyCow.net due to the horrendous traffic and poor road conditions approaching the city. Then in Accra, staying at a vegetarian hotel/restaurant we found 2 vegetarian restaurants and a vegan restaurant, and Amanda found 20 vegans to interview in just 1 day. And then a fellow traveller happened to mention a Vegan Lodge,  and I was able to visit Roots Yard Lodge on my way towards Togo.

Fufu and Groundnut Soup - Assase Pa, Accra
Fufu and Groundnut Soup – Assase Pa, Accra

I hope that answers some of those silly questions back home about it being difficult or a luxury to be vegan in Africa? There’s lots of vegans here, and they aren’t just the relatively well-off, but a mixture of all sorts of people. The food is good value, nutritious and tasty, not to mention in large portions…a little too large for some of us! Sometimes even us vegans fall for the stereotypes and propaganda we are faced with at home – but the truth is that even here there’s no excuse  for not making choices that are better for animals, health and for the environment. Actually there are lots of excuses and we’ve heard them all – from evolution to religion, from flavour to nutrition – but excuses and habits are what they are, not real reasons.

Anyway I suppose a catchup is in order since I’ve let Ady and Amanda provide the input lately. So, where was I?  Oh yes – back on the Ghana visa trail on my way to Ouagadougou, which turned out to be an interesting experience – mostly due to finding NASA and chatting to Yasmine, the owner about how healthy, tasty, vegan food is very popular. The ginger juice was a great find as well – just what was needed to combat the raging thirst brought on by wandering around the baking streets.

I also gave Troopy an oil change – by a professional at a garage this time, a guy with a great sense of humour who was recommended by Guillaume, the owner of Pavillon Vert where I was staying. This did however entail riding on the back of a moped through the streets of Ouagadougou holding on to a couple of 5 litre bottles of oil…wearing flip-flops and shorts. I think I have officially gone local.

Snow Chain Demos at a garage in Burkina Faso...?
Snow Chain Demos at a garage in Burkina Faso…?

After picking up my Ghana visa it was time to head South for the border, though not before having 10,000CFA extracted from me by a police checkpoint for the avoidance of serious consequences and delays should I not cooperate with their alternative unreceipted cash option. This sort of thing got worse through Ghana, and much worse in Togo and Benin. Corruption is one thing that is really putting me off coming back to West Africa. Appalling road conditions, clouds of diesel smoke that make overtaking impossible through lack of visibility, suicidal driving, and the general mess that people seem to make to live in once anywhere gets bigger than a hamlet…those are some others.

Mole National Park
Mole National Park

The day I drove from the beautiful wilderness of Mole National Park, through gradually thinning forest, then no forest and sprawling settlements along the road, and into the stinking, dirty, insane world of the Kumasi rush hour – that day was nearly enough to make me pack up and go home. But then I found Lake Bosumtwe, and Cocoa Village, and spirits were restored. I camped in the lane outside the guesthouse and enjoyed the food they made, and in the morning woke to the sounds of the Slovenian guy who is managing the place busy coaching some local kids at volleyball.

Early Morning Volleyball Training, Cocoa Village, Lake Bosumtwe
Early Morning Volleyball Training, Cocoa Village, Lake Bosumtwe

There are definitely 2 sides to humanity – the majority of negative impact through greed or laziness, and then the few dedicated people trying to undo the damage and change things for the better…but the ‘glass half-full’ outlook is under a lot of pressure here!

In Accra I made the rendezvous with Amanda, and met Ady, and we had a cool time seeing Vegan Africa and taking a couple of trips – but you’ve seen the video and read the post already? The main reason for there being quite so many vegans in this part of Africa is the high number of Rastafarians – though that is by no means the only sort of vegan here! I’m looking forward to seeing Amanda’s 365 Vegans interviews to hear the stories of a few of them.

So after that it was time to move on – and by chance I’d been told about Roots Yard Lodge which was towards the border with Togo. What can I say about this place to do it justice? Run by Bob and Jaqueline in Bob’s home village near Lake Volta, it is a Vegetarian/Vegan Restaurant and Lodge – using local produce to make fantastic meals, including making their own tofu.

Local produce, Tasty Food - Roots Yard Lodge
Local produce, Tasty Food – Roots Yard Lodge

But thats just the start. They are working on local projects – organising Re-Forestation, building and managing a skate park for the kids (Roots Rebel Sk8 Park), and this summer they are going to be biking across the UK from coast to coast to raise money to have proper toilets built for the local school. It strikes me that this is the level of Western/African cooperation that actually works – what you find here is absolutely the best of both worlds, because its personal and they care.

So in the end I went out of Ghana on a high, though I wish I had stayed longer, but after a lovely couple of days, many excellent meals and a little paramotor flight, I headed for the Togo border.

Not a lot of wildlife, no dragons, but indeed…here be vegans.

 

 

 

A Day Out at the Beach – Ghana

Being Vegan in Ghana is a nice experience. You get to hear new and strange stuff about veganism, what people think it means, you meet people who think you’re weird, or worst, a fanatic. 

So let me introduce myself. My name is Ady Namaran Coulibaly. I am vegan, editor for Health Africa Magazine (the only Bilingual Vegetarian Magazine in Africa) and also the campaign manager for Meatless Monday Ghana. I had the opportunity to get in touch with Amanda who told me about her project (356 Vegans) and learnt that she was coming to Ghana for the first time, to interview vegans as part of her project, which I find really inspiring. She’s put so much passion and zeal into this; it’s hard not to want to support her. This project is special and I am excited to be a part of it. We agreed that I pick her at the airport.

After a heavy downfall on Saturday night, Sunday morning was really cool. I left home at 7:30am to fetch my friend Amanda from the Kotoka International Airport in Accra. I got there a little late, spotted her and we hugged and exchanged pleasantries. Then we got a cab to the hotel and met with Jonathan. Jonathan lives an exciting life (I actually wish I was in his shoes), travelling around in his Jeep (called Troopy), and experiencing being vegan in different countries.

We wanted to have a day out somewhere, and we thought it would be nice to spend time at the Kokrobite beach in Accra, which is about an hour’s drive from central Accra. We boarded Troopy (I couldn’t wait to have a ride since I saw it on www.veganwithoutfrontiers.com) and off we went. The drive was peaceful, except for some drivers ignoring the street lights. It was a Sunday, and as most Ghanaians are religious and always go to church on Sunday mornings, there was little traffic on the road at that time of the morning.

We got to the beach and stood by some fishing boats, just admiring the scenery.

Kokrobite Beach

...outside Big Millys
Kokrobite Beach – Outside Big Milly’s Backyard

There were lots of white people; something Jonathan said was unusual in other countries like Mali, Burkina Faso etc, probably due to terrorism reported in the media. We stayed around for a while, taking pictures with Amanda, who was busy taking pictures of a dog. I think she’s got a soft spot for cats and dogs.

The sea was really cool and chilled; we could not resist the temptation to swim in it. After sometime we had some drinks and talked about how nice the place was and other stuff.

By the time we had made up our minds up to leave the place, the clouds had turned dark and it seemed like there was going to be some heavy showers. And oh! Barely five minutes after we had driven off, the rain started falling very heavily. Within twenty minutes the roads were flooded.

It got a lot deeper and fast flowing...
It got a lot deeper and fast flowing…

Several vehicles were parked by the street, obviously because the owners preferred not to take the risk of driving through the rain. Such heavy rain in Accra usually causes a lot of damage. The gutters are small and open; as such people just use them as refuse dumps and throw in all sorts of items, especially plastics. When it rains, the water can’t pass through so it just comes on the road, and carries away cars and other items. This is a recurring phenomenon, but all the same, the Mayor of Accra won the award for ‘Best Mayor in Africa’ just last year.

We got to a point of the road where we would have gotten stuck, but for Troopy the Jeep. We were able to drive through volumes of rain and made our way back to the hotel, and to Asaase Pa around 4pm to have lunch. Asaase Pa is a Twi word that means ‘Good Earth’, and this restaurant is the first Vegan restaurant in Ghana, and was set up 18yrs ago. According to the owner, Brother Kwasi Adu, it was difficult getting clients because the concept of veganism was a new one but gradually he was able to create awareness about its benefits. Lots of people patronise vegan food now, thanks to his efforts. He was very friendly.

Amanda ordered ‘Zinger’, Jonathan got some ‘Royal Ginger’ and I got some pineapple juice. Zinger is made from a mixture of Hibiscus and ginger. Burkinabes and Ivorians call it bissap while Ghanaians call it sobolo. 

Ordering Fufu and Zinger
Ordering Fufu and Zinger

Amanda wanted to try a local Ghanaian food, fufu. I suggested she tried it with groundnut soup which is my favorite. Finally, Jonathan and Amanda had fufu with groundnut soup and I had brown rice with groundnut soup. The food was good.

Fufu and Groundnut Soup -Very Filling!
Fufu and Groundnut Soup -Very Filling!

After we had eaten, Brother Kwesi Adu introduced some vegans to Amanda, and although initially she had planned to start the interviews for 365 vegans the next day, she started right away. I was third to be interviewed, and really had fun during the interview. Can’t wait to see it on 365 Vegans Youtube Channel!!

My day was just perfect. Thank you Amanda and Jonathan for the great time, for what you are doing out of your passion for veganism and your vegan journeys which are inspiring. Looking forward to spending more time with you guys!

Vegan Meals Part IV

Last time I talked about vegan meals on the road, we were crossing from Malawi into Zambia. The more south we have gone in the last couple of months, the less we have gone out to eat and started cooking more and more in the car. There are a few reasons for this: firstly, there are better stocked supermarkets; secondly, there isn’t as much traditional foods to try, but rather a mix of different cuisines, mostly meat-based; and thirdly, the places we have been staying in lately have “game” on the menu, basically the animals we see running around wild end up on people’s plates. No thank you.

Home-made Bloody Mary in Lusaka
Home-made Bloody Mary in Lusaka

When we got to Lusaka, I thought I got rid of yet-another-illness of the stomach and we got some tomato juice and pickles and celebrated with a Bloody Mary. A day later I ended up going to the hospital (unrelated to the drink) and found out I have multiple infections in my digestive system and got put on yet another platter of pills, so Jonathan had to drink all the consecutive gin&tonics and Bloody Marys for a few weeks.

Lusaka lunch
Lusaka lunch

While in Lusaka, we had gone out to eat twice (not counting chips). The first meal was at the mall, and we ate in an Indian fast-food place, which was alright and even good by mall standards. The second time we ate at a backpacker place where we had gone to check out the wifi and the bar. Jonathan ordered a veggie burger, while I opted for the beans and rice; the food was quite yummy despite taking about an hour to make and driving us into hunger-induced bad tempers. I found the “veggie burger” option in a few places actually, which is a nice addition to the usually predictable chips.

Indian snacks bought in Lusaka
Indian snacks bought in Lusaka, nicest one on the far left

Before leaving Lusaka, we found a little Indian shop that sells Indian snacks, so of course we had to buy some. The most bizarre looking one ended up being the insanely oily but addictive one, whereas the others left us mostly indifferent. They are good to munch on before lunch, but they are so oily that everything in the front of the car gets oily as well.

Holiday Inn buffet dinner, first course
Holiday Inn buffet dinner, first course

After Zambia we headed to Zimbabwe, and in Harare went out to eat the first night – to the Holiday Inn restaurant. They had a buffet which surprisingly had quite a few (accidentally) vegan options. On top of that, they apologized tremendously that they didn’t have more for us, and only charged us the price of one meal. Incredible? We had some salads and then some sadza (maize meal) for the first time on the trip, and I wasn’t impressed. I know it is a staple in many countries but it was just a bit bland and reminded me of baby food – or kindergarden food.

Holiday Inn buffet dinner, second course
Holiday Inn buffet dinner, second course

The other amazing thing about Harare of course was that we visited V Delights – the Vegan Friendly Products (read interview here) restaurant, which is completely vegan. There are many items on the menu, all catered for different kinds of people, some are vegan African dishes, some more Western ones, then there are a whole lot more “healthy” options, and then again more options suited for new vegans or transitioning vegans. The pies and the cookies we had in V Delights were just out of the world. If you are ever in Harare, you have to stop by there!

Tea and pies at Vegan Friendly Products / V Delights
Tea and pies at Vegan Friendly Products / V Delights

While staying in Victoria Falls, we went to one restaurant twice – and had some tapas. There were a few vegan options (I had maize again, this time with some spinach things inside) but the second time we came the food quality had dropped significantly. Their gazpacho was too salty, their toasted bread was soggy, but overall it wasn’t so bad I guess.

The last place I want to talk about (before mentioning that we are going to check out the Ethiopian restaurant here in Windhoek!) was called La Marmite in Windhoek. We accidentally stumbled upon the place in the “Zoo” park in the center, thinking we would only have drinks but then saw the menu and decided to try out the vegan options. The food was pretty good, and the dishes are supposedly variations on Western African cuisine. I had a stew with okra, Jonathan had another stew with groundnut sauce, and we also shared spring rolls and salad. Windhoek has a lot of places to eat and drink, and I am sure traveling vegans would have no problem finding food here.

La Marmite in Windhoek
La Marmite in Windhoek

The rest of Namibia – not so much. In Botswana and Namibia a lot of expensive lodges (where sometimes we end up staying because they do cheap-ish camping) the menus pride themselves on having extravagant game steaks – gemsbok, springbok, kudu, oryx, and so on. The first place we stayed in Namibia, in Gobabis, was one of those places. I think I already mentioned how awful the service was in a previous post, but let me add that the menu was incredibly un-vegan, and when we tried to get something altered, it came as is, so I ordered potato wedges, asked for “no mayo” and they still brought mayo. Trying to ask for some olive oil instead of creamy dressing turned into another ordeal. This is sadly the way it is in most places where expensive guests are catered for. We had another buffet experience, this time in the Etosha Park, and I ended up eating sad salad and boiled rice with mustard. Only after we paid we were told “oh yes there is a separate thing for vegetarians” like the waiter couldn’t have told us earlier or figured something was wrong as he saw a pile of sad rice with nothing on it on my plate. Oh well – I was just getting my cold then and I was already in no mood for food anyway.

Potato leek soup and salt&vinegar Simba crisps
Potato leek soup and salt&vinegar Simba crisps

As for us cooking our own meals, we have come up with some real highlights lately. We have been buying leeks because I personally love them and Jonathan makes a really nice potato leek soup. Sadly one day I decided to make it, with a special twist (pickles) but I didn’t manage to achieve the taste I wanted, which was a shame. Otherwise we’ve had a lot of curries and chillies, there was a particular evening meal I remember well. We bought a box of white wine, which was quite fancy (by our standards) and I wanted to make a few dishes. I made a stew / chilli with cabbage, cauliflower, potato, beans and so on. I also made guacamole (the avocados are good again) and Jonathan toasted some brown German bread as we had no tortilla chips to go with the guac. It was truly magical, the whole combination!

Nice dinner in Troopy with guacamole and home-made "toasties"
Nice dinner in Troopy with guacamole and home-made “toasties”

And then just the other night Jonathan made one of his coconut curries which was supposed to be very good for my sinuses, as I was really ill at this point. There was chilli sauce and ginger, and many other ingredients, and they blended so well together that we had to restrain ourselves to leave some for the next day’s lunch.

Coconut curry
Excited for some coconut curry

A word about chakalaka: what is it? where does it come from? It is a tasty canned mixture of tomato gooeyness with some veggies and curry flavoring – and quite spicy too! It has an unforgettable taste and smell, I mean I recognized somebody else having it in our campsite yesterday. It can be put on bread, it can be used in stews and sauces and curries. We mostly put it on bread, but sometimes we also use it in sauces. They even make chakalaka packet soup! Which we had once as well, it didn’t look like much but it was spicy and it was better than tomato packet soup.

Chakalaka
Chakalaka

We’ve had a lot of snacks, most of them quite unhealthy, so instead I am adding a picture of me snacking on tomato paste, something I do quite often. We are done with our adventure for now, excited to try out the Ethiopian restaurant in Windhoek(we really miss Ethiopian food) and overall it hasn’t been hard being vegan on the trip at all! I do realize we have the option of cooking for ourselves, which a lot of times saved us, but in reality everywhere will have at least rice or maize and some vegetables. However, Ethiopian food has been the most memorable by far on the whole trip, both in terms of availability and quality of taste!

Tomato paste snack being devoured by Katana
Tomato paste snack being devoured by Katana