Category Archives: Travel

Vegan Dining on the Greek Islands

With a quick stop over in Istanbul, Jacques and I hopped on board Celestyal Crystal for a six day cruise through the Greek Islands. It was my first time on a cruise and while I didn’t love everything about the experience, I am glad we chose to spend our honeymoon like this. It was a great opportunity to sample the islands, so to speak, to discover which we would like to visit again sometime for a longer stretch of time.

It had always been a dream of mine to visit Greece. I grew up reading a lot of Greek mythology so it was a place that has always been near and dear to my heart. I always joke with Jacques that the reason I started dating him was because his Greek ancestry meant we’d get to go there to visit extended family. Of course, while we enjoyed the gorgeous views and were impressed by ancient ruins, my favorite part was all of the incredible food!

We ate mostly traditional taverna style food, which is more of the home cooking style, so it meant a lot of the same dishes, prepared in slightly different ways. On the islands, this was the easiest way to eat vegan. Most menus are traditionally heavy on the vegetables, and in many cases where the dishes do contain yogurt or cheese, you can often request for it to not be added.

Santorini

Our first island stop was Santorini, known for its picturesque views, its coastline is the most photographed place in all of Greece and often considered the most beautiful place in the world. I don’t disagree.

View from Archipelagos restaurant where we enjoyed our lunch
View from Archipelagos restaurant where we enjoyed lunch

After a tour of the island, with a visit to the adorable village of Oia, we arrived in the capital city of Fira, perched upon the cliffside. We perused the menus of a few restaurants, with our attentions caught most by the tomato fritters and the fava puree with caramelized onions offered by Archipelagos.

Tomato fritters, fava puree and salad with grilled oyster mushrooms
Tomato fritters, fava puree and salad with grilled oyster mushrooms at Archipelagos

We were not disappointed. We started with bread and olives; a pillowy soft bread served with delicate olives, large salty capers, and flavorful sundried tomatoes. The tomato fritters were one of the best things we ate our entire trip. Flavored with dill, parsley and capers, fried to light, fluffy perfection, with just the slightest hint of creaminess in the middle created by undercooked flour. My goal is to figure out how to recreate these at home, though I know it will be difficult as the famed Santorini baby tomatoes are what really make them unique. The fava bean puree was delightful and the salad was the perfect companion, crisp lettuce and spinach, smoky mushrooms, sweet bell peppers and a tangy lemon caper dressing.

Olives, sundried tomatoes, Santorini capers
Olives, sundried tomatoes, Santorini capers

Archipelagos
Fira Santorini – 84700 Cyclades Greece
+30 22860 24509, 23673

Crete

Our next island stop was Crete, where we enjoyed the most amazing culinary experience, and possibly one of the best meals of our life. We started out on an adventure from the Port of Agios Nikolaos to the town of Neapoli in pursuit of olive oil tasting at Vassilakis Estate.

Old school olive oil press at Vassilakis Estate
Old school olive oil press at Vassilakis Estate

At Vassilakis Estate, we sampled and bought some of their award winning olive oil and left with a great tip on a place to grab lunch back in Agios Nikolaos, called Portes. We arrived at Portes, a tiny, vibrantly painted taverna, slightly off the beaten path of the super touristy port area and were greeted by the smiling, friendly owner and chef extraordinaire, Manolis.

Our wonderful host and chef at Portes, Manolis
Our wonderful host and chef at Portes, Manolis

Manolis escorted us to a table (we were the only ones in the restaurant at the time), and per our request, promptly served us an ouzo and a glass of white wine straight from the barrel. We told him we heard he makes wonderful food and informed him of our dietary restrictions. “No problem at all!” he said, then headed to the kitchen without ever showing us a menu or taking our order. Shortly after, he emerged with a few plates of food – boiled greens (Horta), stuffed eggplant (Imam Bayilidi) and rice with lentils (Moujendra). We dug in, wide eyed and thrilled as each bite tasted even better than the last.

Our feast at Portes began with Imam Biyaldi, Horta, Moujendra
Our feast at Portes began with Imam Biyaldi, Horta, Moujendra

Manolis emerged again with several more dishes, potatoes and zucchini (Briami), artichoke with peas in lemon dill sauce (Agkinares me Araka), black eyed peas with fennel (Mavromatika me Maratho). Again, each dish was better than the last and we were in awe of how amazing everything tasted.

Mavromatika me Maratho - black-eyed peas
Mavromatika me Maratho – black-eyed peas

We don’t know how we managed it, but we definitely joined the clean plate club.

Clean Plate Club
Clean Plate Club

I told Manolis that if I had more time in Crete, I would spend at least a day in his kitchen to learn from him the wonders of making delicious Greek cuisine.

Portes
3 Anapafseos Street, 721 00 Agios Nikolaos Lassithi Greece

Vassilakis Estate
Neapolis, Gerania Lasithi, Νεάπολη 724 00, Greece
+30 2841 033653

 Symi

Port of Symi reminded me a little of San Francisco with the colorful houses
Port of Symi reminded me of San Francisco with its cute, colorful houses

After Crete, we cruised over to Symi (there may have been a stop or two in between, but truthfully, I’ve lost track of our days!). We didn’t have a whole lot of time to spend in Symi, just enough to enjoy an evening stroll around the port and take in a meal around sunset. We settled on a cute, family owned spot called To Spitiko because of its sweet hostess who walked us through the appealing menu. We ordered a variety of dishes, and welcomed the beginning of our obsession with Giant Beans (Gigantes).

Gigante Beans became our food obsession the remainder of the trip
Gigante Beans became our food obsession the remainder of the trip
Stuffed Eggplant
Stuffed Eggplant
Pureed fava beans were nice but not as lovely as the ones in Santorini
Pureed fava beans were nice but not as lovely as the ones in Santorini
A light and lovely vegetable risotto
A light and lovely vegetable risotto

To Spitiko

Akti Pavlou, Simi

Mykonos

Our last island stop before heading to the mainland was Mykonos. We got to Mykonos just before sunset so after walking around for a little bit, we scoped out a prime spot along the famed Little Venice for a drink and a beautiful view.

Sunset along Little Venice
Sunset along Little Venice

Once the sun was down, we ventured into the small winding streets of Mykonos Town, getting lost at every turn as one is apt to do when wandering there. Tired of getting turned around at every corner and hungry to the point of tummies rumbling and early onset crankiness, we decided to settle for dinner at the next veg friendly place we came upon. Opa Tavern was the winner because it was packed and lively, and had food we could eat. The food was acceptable, but certainly not in the top list of favorite meals.

Mushroom risotto and stuffed eggplant
Mushroom risotto and stuffed eggplant
Giant Beans
Giant Beans
Stuffed Grape Leaves
Stuffed Grape Leaves

Opa Tavern
Goumenio square
Mýkonos, Kikladhes, Greece
+30 2289 026969

Our bellies full, we returned to the ship and settled into our beds for the last night of the cruise, beaming with anticipation for our week ahead in Athens.

Vegan Delights in Istanbul

A few weeks ago, Jacques and I traveled to Greece for two and a half weeks to finally celebrate our honeymoon. Before venturing through a majority of the more popular Greek islands, and eventually spending a week on the mainland in Athens, we spent one jam packed day in Istanbul.

Let me start by saying that a day in Istanbul was not nearly enough. We had an amazing time, but even with as much as we crammed into 24 hours, there was so much more we wanted to see and much, much more we wanted to eat. Seriously, I feel like we did not eat nearly enough!

Before we left for our trip, I put together a list of places and things we wanted to eat, but time and location got the better of us and we didn’t even hit up half our list.  However, we ended up eating a lot of really good, quick, grab and go street food. We were a little afraid that it would be difficult to eat vegan in Istanbul, but it was actually much easier than we’d expected.

First, let’s start with breakfast at our hotel. We stayed at the lovely Sokullu Pasa Hotel which offers a wonderful spread every morning. Unlike an American continental breakfast, which is laden with sugary cereals and donuts, the Turkish breakfast offered lots of fresh fruits and freshly prepared salads. Fruit jams and olives are also abundant.

Delicious couscous pilaf and eggplant salad
Delicious couscous pilaf and eggplant salad
More eggplant salad, seasoned potatoes, selection of olives, Simit (Turkish bagel), cherry and strawberry jam
More eggplant salad, seasoned potatoes, olives, Simit (Turkish bagel), cherry and strawberry jam, and Turkish tea

After touring some of the sites, including Topkapi Palace and Hagia Sofia, we were ready for a snack. The smell of roasting chestnuts was so enticing, that we had to stop and purchase a small bag to share.

Roasting chestnuts
Roasting chestnuts

We also grabbed a simit from one of the many vendors selling them; simit is the Turkish version of a pretzel or bagel (look for the seeded variety without the egg wash on top).

A not so flattering picture of me stuffing my face full of Simit
A not so flattering picture of me stuffing my face full of Simit

I couldn’t resist the lure of fresh pomegranates I saw getting squeezed into juice everywhere I turned, so we decided to stop for a cup to wash down our snacks.

There's nothing better than a fresh squeezed cup of pomegranate juice
There’s nothing better than a fresh squeezed cup of pomegranate juice

We finished up our snacks, visited a few more sites, including the Blue Mosque (didn’t get to go inside due to Friday prayers) and the Basilica Cistern, nearly got abducted by a friendly gentleman trying to sell us his carpets, then made our way over to the Grand Bazaar and the Egyptian Spice Bazaar.

Beautiful spices and teas are hard for this chef to resist
Beautiful spices and teas are hard for this chef to resist

At the spice bazaar, we were greeted by the tantalizing aroma of all different kinds of spices, herbs and teas. Each shop had someone trying to aggressively sell us their Turkish Delight, but we were just browsing and taking it all in before shopping. We stopped in front of a shop called Cikita so that I could admire the saffron, skeptically telling Jacques that something is up for it to be so yellow and so cheap. The salesman overheard and said, “That’s not real saffron, I’ll show you the real saffron.” He took us inside and told us, in a very informative and non-pushy way (a very different experience and vibe than with every other shop), about the different types of saffron they carry. We really liked him, and liked that we didn’t feel like we were being sold to, so we asked him questions about some of the teas, and about their Turkish Delight, also known as lokum.

Really amazing, lightly sweetened Turkish Delight
Really amazing, lightly sweetened Turkish Delight

Up to this point, my experience with Turkish Delight had been way to sweet, gummy candy that tasted like eating roses. He assured us that his were higher quality and offered us samples. Their lokum is made with mastic gum from the Greek island of Chios, lightly sweetened with honey, filled with pistachios, and some of it infused with pure pomegranate juice.We were blown away! This was unlike, and so much better than, any other lokum we’d had. We bought a box to bring to our family in Greece, along with a couple of teas and some pure, top quality Iranian saffron to bring home – red gold at a great price!

Cikita
Egypt Bazaar, No 18
+90 212 527 32 39

All stocked up on spices and Turkish Delight, we decided to take a walk across the Galata Bridge to the new city, into Taksim Square. Along the way, we stumbled upon a cafe selling Cig Kofte (pronounced chee koftah), which I had read about before our trip and was eager to try.

Cheers to finding this delicious Turkish street food, Cig Kofte
Cheers to finding delicious Turkish street food – Cig Kofte

In a word Cig Kofte is amazing! That is, if you like spicy, which we both love. And thankfully, my stomach has been in good shape and I was able to handle it. We asked over and over to make sure this was vegan because it is listed on the menu as “raw meatball”. This is because it used to be made with raw meat, but the government put a stop to that because of health code regulations. Instead, it’s now a flavorful paste made with bulgur and a blend of tomato and spices. We opted to order it durum style (in a wrap), filled with lettuce and a deliciously sweet and tart pomegranate sauce.

View of the old city (Sultanahmet) from the bridge to the new city.
View of the old city (Sultanahmet) from the bridge to the new city.

Late in the evening, we finally made it back our hotel in the Sultanahmet district via funicular and metro after about a 3 mile walk through the new city. Thoroughly exhausted from a full day of walking, sight seeing and eating, we decided on a light dinner at a cafe down the street from our hotel.  I don’t remember the name of the restaurant, but there was truthfully nothing all that special about it anyway. We just enjoyed a nice, simple mezze platter to tide us over for the night and get us ready for the next leg of our journey the following day.

Simple mezze platter with eggplant, grape leaves, olive paste, hummus, tomato and a big puff of laffa bread.
Simple mezze platter with eggplant, grape leaves, olive paste, hummus, tomato salad and a big puff of laffa bread