My Quick Trip to London Turned Into a Vegan Food Frenzy
Let me tell you: London is a vegan’s paradise. This past weekend was my first time traveling to the city in a group of people, and I didn't want to be that one person who has to drag everyone 30 minutes out of the way to find a vegan restaurant. Luckily, there was no need for that in London: I found that it was easier than ever to eat vegan while still enjoying all the classic British activities like high tea, pub crawling, shopping at iconic department stores and simply meeting a friend for dinner at a non-vegan restaurant. And for a coffee addict like me, I was stunned to discover the amount of grab-and-go food and drink options in the cafés.
The first day, I woke up and grabbed a coffee at Starbucks located just a few streets away from my hotel. I was shocked to see that they had pre-packaged vegan sandwiches with butternut squash and vegan mayo. For dessert, a vegan chocolate pistachio bar that tasted delightful dipped into my coffee with almond milk. If you're not a Starbucks lover, the other coffee shop I spotted vegan options at was Café Nero, which boasts a similar butternut squash sandwich on a ciabatta bun. There was also a vegan club sandwich with avocado, red peppers, and a spicy vegan mayo. For dessert, they had a spiced ginger vegan loaf cake that looked scrumptious but I couldn't eat it after filling up on the chocolate pistachio bar at Starbucks.
I spent most of my day window shopping and eating my way through Harrod's. When I walked into their dining room, my eyes were drawn to the rows of gorgeous cupcakes, which upon closer inspection had a 'VE' marker next to the flavor which the server confirmed meant it is 100% vegan. So, I bought my non-vegan friend the raspberry ripple and he loved it and had no idea it didn't have milk, butter and eggs in it (that was a very sneaky vegan success).
Side Note: If you like to shop for unique second-hand clothing from high-end thrift shops, head to Pandora Dress Agency, where you'll find good quality clothing for half the price. I bought myself a pair of dress shoes and a winter jacket.
On Sunday, I went to the Columbia Road Flower Market and spent more time eating than looking at the beautiful flowers. Vida Bakery, located on the outside of the market, is a small bakery filled to the brim with vegan and gluten-free options. Vida is not your average bakery—the cakes are so extravagant they look like they could be on The Great British Bake Off. The window display showcased an enormous layer cake, with thick, fluffy vanilla frosting and a gorgeous rainbow cross-section. Although I didn't opt for a slice, it was certainly one of Vida's best-sellers because everyone in the store had a piece. Cupcake flavors like Earl Grey, passion fruit, and Nutella set the bakery apart from competitors, and delight vegans and non-vegans alike.
The Borough Market is one of the largest and oldest markets in London. It was easy to steer away from vendors selling classic fare like meat, cheese and fish and chips and find lots of vegan options.
I was surprised to see how many plant-based cheeses there were, and upon sampling, even more surprised at how delicious they tasted. It's worth it to sample every cheese spread because they all tasted so unique: Some were sweet, savory, and some spicy. Remember to save your appetite because the most important thing to try is the vegan pumpkin curry. Filled with fresh vegetables, rice, and a spicy curry sauce, I couldn't help but order another one to take away for my next meal.
If you make your way through the market and take a closer look at the labels, you'll find vendors selling vegan options alongside non-vegan offerings. For example, the bakery that sold the vegan tahini flapjacks in the picture below also sold other baked goods that were not vegan. So, if you're there with your non-vegan friend, as I was, try to convince them to get the vegan item, I'm sure it won't be hard.
At the end of the trip, I couldn't help but wonder why London had so many vegan options and why New York was lacking in comparison. Well, there actually is a pretty simple explanation. It all stems back to mad cow disease that afflicted many people in Europe. It's a brain disorder in adult cattle that can spread to humans who consume the meat.
Reported in CNN health, "In 1986 Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease is first discovered in the United Kingdom. From 1986 through 2001, a British outbreak affects about 180,000 cattle and devastates farming communities. In January 1993 the BSE epidemic in Britain reaches its peak with almost 1,000 new cases being reported per week." During that time, the British avoided meat altogether. As devastating as it is, London has significantly increased the options for vegan consumers because of this terrible disease. Unlike the US, I noticed most people in London are plant-forward to begin with. It was empowering and exciting to know that I could eat vegan anywhere I went without having to ask, "is this made with milk or eggs?"