Saturday, May 23, 2009

A vegetarian in Sardinia, plus tips for all travellers

The island of Sardinia is a wonderful place to visit. Set in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea, south of the French island of Corsica, Sardinia can offer the bluest of seas and some of the most unspoiled sceneries in Europe. It also offers a great traditional cuisine which, contrary to popular belief, has much to offer to vegetarians.

It is also relatively off the beaten truck, as most tourists tend to come here only in August, and stay in the luxurious northern resorts of the Emerald Coast. And yet the interiors and southern coasts have much to offer. One of the best ways to visit, with a natural rhythm and with thought to the environment, is by bicycle, and for vegetarians nothing is better than the attentions that Ichnusa bike can offer to its travellers.

I met three of the Ichnusabike guides in the Campidano plains, just north of Cagliari, the mayor city. The plains suits me to start with because, I must confess, I haven’t been on a bike for nine years, and even before then I have never trained or ridden for long periods.

But the idea of cycling and stopping often in different villages (especially visiting wineries and olive oil presses) sounds great. And anyway, Ichnusabike designs tour for all abilities and my three guides, Marcello, Mauro and Franco, soon discovered that I am more suited to tasting wine than going uphill!

First I am taught how to handle a mountain bike, and then one of the guides rides next to me and tells me when to change gear, until I feel confident. When we reach villages or asphalt roads (many of the routes chosen in the Ichnusa itineraries are old Shepard’s’ tracks immersed in nature) I get a ‘guardian angel’ who covers the track for me from possible oncoming cars.

Expert riders go for the Transardinia tour, a very technical and exciting journey crossing the entire island. Others opt for different tours, covering the areas that most interest them, like the stunning coast, or the historical sites (like the amazing stone constructions of the Nuraghi, built between XVI-XIII centuries B.C.), or the nature (in the Sardinian plateau of the Giara there are still miniature wild horse roaming free). Itineraries are also designed for those who prefer to travel without guides, but appreciate a good map.

But the best thing to find out for me is that Marcello is a vegan, and he is not going to offer me roast piglet (Sardinia’s most popular dish!). Usually only breakfast and dinner are in the various rural or village hotels where the riders stay. Lunches are often picnics, and we are having the first one in front of a very pretty old country church.

There is food for the vegetarian and the non-vegetarian (which today is pecorino cheese and salami). The rest is very much based on the local rural diet – in fact it comes from the guides’ organic veggie gardens and is cooked by their mums! The spread includes potato salad, bean salad, Sardinian tomatoes and cucumbers, sautéed courgettes, olives, and different types of bread, including my favourite: pane guttiau, which is pane carasau, thin twice baked bread dressed with olive oil and salt. Fresh fruit (the figs are amazing!) and almond sweets complete the meal, which is delicious as well as nutritious.

The second day I had with Ichnusabike, Marcello’s mum even made fried courgette flowers for the picnic, especially for me. They were fantastic, but I felt a bit sorry for Marcello because these had egg in the batter and he couldn’t eat them. Still, he didn’t mind: he is used to catering for all types (and mum does make vegan fried courgette flowers, if requested).

Then one day we had the mountain rangers cooking for us. When they heard that I was vegetarian they presented me with three family-size savoury pies: wild mushroom and potato, eggplant, and tomato and herbs. Needless to say that I tasted all three, and they were fantastic – but they could have fed another 12 people! Then we had salads, cardoons, artisan bread and sweets, all washed down with home-made wine and liqueurs.

Restaurant and café meals can be a bit hard in Sardinia for vegetarians, and even more so for vegans. Don’t get me wrong: there are plenty of things to eat: wonderful pasta, often homemade, which is found only in Sardinia, outstanding fruit and vegetables, and the bread and traditional sweet varieties change from village to village. But as we all know sometimes it is ‘difficult’ to remind the chef not to sprinkle cheese on an otherwise vegan pasta, or add ham to our antipasto platter.

Marcello was invaluable as, being a local, he knows everything, even down to which biscuits contain honey, and where to find soy milk. So, for once, I could relax into my holiday without the need to explain my dietary needs at every meal!

Sardinia is:

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini©

Sardinia is sea...

...and sky.

Sardina is mountains...

...and history.

Sardinia is art,

Sardinia is colours,

Sardinia is nature.

Sardinia is good food and wine.

Food notes for vegetarians:

Vegetarians must try the Amaretti biscuits, made with sweet and bitter almonds: they are amazing! Also fantastic are the Suspiros, made with Myrtle berries, and for vegans the Gattò, made with almond, sugar and orange peel. Visit the beautiful Durke patisserie in Cagliari or check the website where all ingredients are listed (to learn in advance which biscuits and sweets contain animal products)

Also in Cagliari try the ice-cream at Gocce, Piazza del Carmine 21, Cagliari (tel 328 0721589). All the ice cream is traditionally made using natural ingredients, like the best pistachio and hazelnuts in Italy. Also, all the fruit flavours and the granite (flavoured crushed ice) are dairy free and suitable for vVegans.

Nouro and the surrounding villages are the best places to buy pane carasau. (although today it is ‘exported’ to all other corners of the island). A packet will last for months and it is light and easy to transport.

Highly recommended is fregola, a type of ‘pasta’ which looks like big pellets of cous cous (scroll down for photos). I made this at L’Accademia, an Italian language school for foreigners that also provides cooking classes (including vegetarian) on request.

Other traditional products to try are cardi (cardoons), artichokes, wild mushrooms, saffron, olives and olive oil.

Fact file for all travelers

Sweetest dreams:
Hotel Su Gologone
Sardinian style luxury, for a truly special experience.

B&B Karel
Charming and convenient, set in the medieval centre of Cagliari.

La Miniera Fiorita
Rural hotel, with memorable and convivial dinners.

Perfect meals:

La Terra di Mezzo
Vegetarian Restaurant
Open lunch Time
Via Portoscalas, 1, Cagliari
Tel 070 662 889
This is Vegetarian and we all loved it!!!

La Marinella
Pizza, fresh fish and sea views
Viale Poetto
Quartu Sant’Elena, Cagliari
Tel: 070 819 126

Ristorante Jannas
Traditional Sardinian cuisine
Via Sardegna 85, Cagliari
Tel: 070 657 902

Ristorante Paolo Perella
Slow Food appraised eatery
Corso Repubblica 8, Villasalto
Tel: 070 956298

Ittiturismo Sa Peschiera
Traditional fish farm and adjoining restaurant
Strada provinciale 6 - direction San Giovanni
09070 Cabras (OR)
Tel: 0783 391774

Traditional Sardinian sweets

Very Special Tours:
Custom designed mountain bike tours

For diving, boating, and costal tours

To see the wild horses

Eating with the shepherds

Sardinia Club in New Zealand

Making Fregola

Start with a blend of fine and coarse semolina and a little salted water.

Mix mix mix

collect the pellets

pass them through a sieve and let them dry for 24 hours.

We cooked the fregola like a risotto. First chop and saute some fresh vegetables,

slowly add vegetable stock and, finally, saffron.


Friday, May 22, 2009

Slow Food Waitakere AGM 17 May 2009

Photos by Chris Hoult

Slow Foods Waitakere AGM minutes

Minutes taker: Tony O'Brien.


Meeting held at Dan and Sue Greig’s place, Waima. Dan stoked the pizza oven.


Meeting commenced 1245. Alessandra Zecchini thanked Dan and Sue for their hospitality.


Sue Greig presented the treasurer’s report which was tabled. Last year’s spending included travel expenses for Terra Madre delegates, gardens in schools and Ranui gardens project and cooking classes. Members welcomed to visit the Ranui gardens. There are currently 53 financial members.


Alessandra spoke of the need to attract new members and to re-enrol former members as they return to Waitakere. Good prospects for growth in the coming year.


Claire Inwood spoke about the Waitakere group’s visit to Terra Madre. 6000 delegates attended, discussion of various projects related to food production, distribution etc. Delegates have brought back literature and photographs and will make these avalaible.


Alessandra presented the President’s report, which was tabled. Encouraged members to send Slow Foods Waitakere links to friends to encourage interest and membership.



Elections: Alessandra invited candidates to come forward, and introduced Sue Greig, Claire Inwood, Joan O’Brien, Karen Perri and Tanya Wilkinson. Terry Shaw-Toomey and Deb Cairns elected in absentia. Sean Shadbolt elected when he strayed too close to the Committee.


Claire Inwood and Karen Perri elected co-leaders by acclamation.


Meeting concluded at 1305

 President Report

Since our last AGM in May 2008 we have been busy with a variety of events to cater for the different types of members. Slow Food means different things to different people, and I hope that you can appreciate and enjoy this diversity that makes us a Convivium  in fact the largest in New Zealand, with 53 financial members. We will strive to organise events, and with our long-term projects developing a socially active convivium.


Particular focus this year was on school gardens and five local schools are now the beneficiaries of the Slow Food Waitakere annual grant to start, and keep, a school vegetable garden: they are Te Atatu Peninsula Primary, Green Bay Primary, Oratia District School, Western Heitghts Primary and Glen Eden Intermediate. I personally followed the gardens at Oratia District School with other parents and teachers, and the children enjoyed growing vegetables, which we then cooked together.


We sponsored the Ranui Community House subsidised cooking classes for children and adults, taken respectively by members Claire Inwood and Karen Perri. Claire also organised two low-cost cooking classes, one on Thai cuisine and one on Indian cuisine, in Piha.


With a focus on producers, many of us actively support the local Farmers Market and the local orchards, so in general there is a good sense of community and environmental awareness among our members.


Since February this year Slow Food Waitakere also has a lot at the Ranui Community Gardens for members to use. Please come around and grow something here, it is a beautiful sunny spot where we can all share seeds, ideas and produce.


In March 2009 we obtained our official registration as a charitable entity, backdated to 30 June 2008.  I would like to thank the committee for assisting with the paperwork, and especially Karen Perri who helped writing the draft for our rules and regulations.



Public Relations


Some of you may have noticed that today more people are aware of Slow Food, and of Slow Food Waitakere. Word of mouth has probably been the best tool, but we also made use of press releases, and have appeared in the local press and in web news.


Since June 2008 we also have a Slow Food Waitakere blog site, which has increased our web presence and profile, and it is proving a good way to keep up with news about the SF movement internationally and locally, to circulate it to increase our readers’ numbers (which are quite high, by the way) and to participate actively by answering posts or publishing.


And now to our events from the second half of 2008.


In August we had a well attended Slow Fish event at Cosi Café in Matakana with chef Dean Betts.


On September 21 we had a great Slow Grappa event, hosted by Sue and Dan, to raise money for our delegates Claire Inwood and Aldo and Mary-Ann Di Cesare, who attended Terra Madre in Italy in October. Once again a great effort from all the volunteers who put a lot of work into it, cooking, making cocktails, and running the event, and by Michael Brajkovich with his talk on distillation.


On October 22, following a well publicised photographic competition themed around the International Year of the Potato, we held the SF Waitakere photographic awards and exhibition at the Lopdell House Gallery. The exhibition ran from October 23 to November 16. Thank you to the sponsors who provided the prizes, Ecopac (through SF members Aldo and Mary-Ann di Cesare), Wilcox, and Fuji Film. Also thank you to gallery director and SF member Lesley Smith, to all at the Lopdell House, and to those who helped on the opening night.


On November 23 we had a memorable Slow Food Waitakere lunch at White Restaurant at the Hilton hotel, with chef Cristiano De Martin and Michael Brajkovich of Kumeu River wines.


On December 10 we had the Meet the Exotics, a wine tasting with Martin Cahnbley of Planet Wines, hosted by Lorraine Cunningham at Sierra Café in Newmarket, and with Deb Cairns as MC.


On February 14 SF Waitakere was present at the Grow’s Show event at Kelmarna Organic Gardens, attended by several of our members despite the rain, and where I did a SF presentation and food demo, as well as judging preserves and homemade drinks.


In March we had a day at the Oratia Farmers Market with a honey event by Karlene and Terry of Earthbound Honey.


This takes us to today, our Annual Event, this year accompanied with wood-fired pizza . Our appreciation to Sue and Dan for hosting us, and to you all for attending and bringing wonderful food and drinks, as always.


And thank you all, dear members, present and absent, for being part of Slow Food Waitakere. Without you and your support none of this would have happened. Slow Food is gaining a name and popularity in our community  a community that is benefiting from it  and hopes to continue doing so for many years to come.


After three years as Convivium leader of Slow Food Waitakere it is time for me to leave the position to the capable hands of other members, so I would like to invite you all to consider our candidates for the committee and for the leadership and to proceed with the votes.


Thank you and take it slowly,

 Alessandra Zecchini


Committee for 2009/2010

Convivium leaders:
Claire Inwood and Karen Perri

Sue Greig

Committe members:
Tanya Wilkinson
Joan O'Brien
Sean Shadbolt
Alessandra Zecchini
Deb Cairns
Terry Shaw-Toomey

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Vegetarian in Kyoto

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini ©

It can be hard being a vegetarian in Japan.
I lived in Tokyo for over three years, and survived on many plain rice balls as even the most innocent vegetable dishes are often cooked in fish stock. But I believe that most countries can
surprise outsiders (and often insiders) with a truly vegetarian cuisine and for Japan, a treasure chest of traditions; I just had to head for Kyoto.

Kyoto is famous for its elaborate high cuisine,
which does include vegetarian cuisine, or
Shojinryori, originally developed in Buddhist
temples. Beware: Shojinryori is not cheap because
of the amount of time and care it takes to prepare.
Still, I always seem to end up in inexpensive
eateries, or resort to cheap snacks because of my
vegetarianism. So it was about time that I treated
myself to a restaurant where I could look at the
menu and choose anything, absolutely anything!
The restaurant I was recommended is Izusen,
 in Daitoku-Ji Temple,  First of
all I was greeted with a bowl of freshly whisked
complementary green tea, accompanied by a
Japanese cake. Don’t think of it as odd to get tea
and cake before lunch. The tea is very bitter and
works like an aperitif, and the cake is very small
and not actually as sweet as a Western cake. It is
more like an appetizer to enjoy while looking at
the menu.

There is so much to choose from: little indi-
vidual dishes, special food cooked in clay pots,
set lunches served in beautiful lacquer boxes
and china bowls. I decided on a middle of the
range, 2500-yen set lunch, as the photo on the
menu seemed promising.
You can order tea or beer, which goes well
with Japanese food.
My lunch arrived in a big rectangular
box that opened into two trays lined with
fresh bamboo leaves, plus an assortment
of little bowls and plates. It all looked
beautiful, obviously prepared and pre-
sented with so much thought; it was the
perfect balance between a visual feast and
a selection of flavours.
Little morsels that may look like fish
in any other restaurant were skewered
onto faux pine-needles made out of super-
thin strips of bamboo. A light green sen-
sho (Japanese pepper) sauce and leaves
infused the whole tray with a fragrance
similar to citrus and pine, common in
Kyoto spring cuisine. Leaves and flowers,
plus roots and shoots of many plants
were included, as well as the full array of
seasonal vegetables, all in tiny portions,
maintaining their individual flavours and
providing a colourful display.

Then there was Yuba,
my favourite, the delicate curd which forms when making tofu.
It is very difficult to obtain and expensive, but exquisite, especially here, offered simmered in a tasty vegetable broth with a dengaku (deep fried tofu and vegetable dumpling) and celery sticks. The tempura is ever present in these set meals, and the mushroom pieces tasted particularly good. Next was goma dofu, a tofu block made with sesame seeds, to eat raw with wasabi and soy sauce.
It came accompanied by a single ume-plum tempura, its sweet taste quite a surprise.

I went through all the pieces, sometime no quite sure what I was eating, but for once not having to worry about it. There was even an individual morsel of faux meat, smeared with French-style mustard sauce, but it was delicate and did not taste at all like a chewy piece of gluten. Rice, pickles, vegetables and soup are always served in a Japanese meal and are usually eaten at the end (though you can dig in any time you like). The broth of wakame seaweed and bamboo shoots at Isuzen rated as the best I had ever had.

Around me tables were full, a few low, over tatami mats, but most were with chairs. I was the only foreigner, although the restaurant does host quite a few, mostly American vegetarians. A group of elderly ladies laughed from their tatami mat seats. They were not vegetarians, but they met here for a “girl’s” day out. “The place is nice and clean, and the food is good for your health,” they commented. Another group of six told me they were visitors to Kyoto, and while there they enjoyed the local cuisine, Shojinryori being one of their favourites. Kyoto itself is a very special city, and its people particularly kind.

I tried to explain at the ryokan (traditional Japanese hotel) where I was staying that I am a vegetarian, as Japanese breakfast was included in the price. Rice and pickles were de rigueur, and they told me they were going to prepare, especially for me, a miso soup without fish stock, and “perhaps would I like some tofu?” Would I? The ryokan waitress brought it in an iron pot and lit the paraffin fire beneath it, so that I could cook my own yudofu (tofu simmered in a kombu seaweed and vegetable broth —yet another Kyoto specialty). It was fantastic!

On the second morning, I was presented with a different soup and age-dofu (tofu lightly fried, then simmered in a vegetable stock), which I can still taste now!

I left Kyoto with a bag full of seaweed,
dried tofu and other special ingredients,
but most of all, with a full belly and plenty
of inspiration.

Isuzen Daiji-in sub-temple of Daitoku-Ji, Northwest
Kyoto. Tel: 075 491 6665. 

Ikkyu The official Daitoku-Ji restaurant, and possibly
the most famous Shojinryori restaurant in Japan. Not far
from Izusen, but more expensive. Reservations a must.
Tel: 075 493 0019/1919

Seigen-in Probably while in Kyoto you will visit
Ryoan-ji temple, with its famous rock garden. Seigen-is is
a sub-temple of Ryoan-ji, and offers both Shojinryori and
Yudofu dishes. Inexpensive and always crowded.
Tel: 075 462 4742

An interesting vegetable Restaurant in the city centre is 
Kanematsu - number 108 on the Nishiki map
Mostly vegetarian and Vegan, and if one of courses has fish stock
(they have a fixed menu) they will substitute it with another.
Tel. 075 221 0088

Note Not all ryokan are veggie-friendly,
especially the very expensive ones, as they would not compromise on
their culinary traditions. I stayed in a quiet, mid-priced
one (15,000 yen with breakfast) situated in central Kyoto,
and they provided me with a truly vegetarian Japanese
breakfast on request. A little English spoken.
Masuya Ryokan
145 Ogikucho Shinfuyacho, Sakyo-ku,
Kyoto 606-8376
Tel: 075 771 3066

I also stayed in the Village Kyoto
and this is very good for families and traveling on a budget.
We didn't have breakfast, but the rooms have large fridges, 
a kettle, and a microwave, and two supermarkets nearby.
Recommended mostly for the very good and large Japanese 
communal baths, a great way to relax after visiting the city.


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