Wednesday, October 9, 2013


I spent much of last month hiking in the Dolomites--in the part of Italy so far north, it feels more like Bavaria than like Venice. The fusion of languages (German, Italian, also Ladin!), cultures, foods... this is, I think one of the most interesting--not to mention breathtakingly gorgeous--places in Europe.

Of course, what does one eat in Bavaria, Tyrol, and Sudtirol, besides meat and cheese? I ate surprisingly well! When we were hiking 6-12 miles a day, to be sure, I ate more 'empty' carbs... I had more spaghetti in three weeks than I eat in a year. But we found that if you keep food really simple, restaurants don't have too much trouble. I ate countless plates of "Gemuese vom Grill" (grilled vegetables), and it made me realize that we calibrate our tastes to what we're eating. I remember my friend Celeste talking about how when you eat really healthy/macrobiotically, a steamed carrot tastes like candy, it's so sweet. I certainly didn't get to that point, but when you don't have CHILIS! and KAFFIR LIME! and WASABI! in your life, you notice more subtle differences.

That said, when we were in cities, like Munich and Innsbruck, we mostly went for Indian food.  :)

In Munich, we had many great meals: Indian Mango was a solidly good (and very vegan-friendly) Indian restaurant--which felt weirdly like an American-style Indian restaurant. Cafe Gratitude has expanded its reach to the Venice-beach-analogous part of Munich (dodgy, hip, and posh all at the same time). And our favorite place in Munich was another all-vegan restaurant called Max Pett, named after a 19th-century health reformer who sounds a lot like Sylvester Graham. Why should veganism go with teetotaling--and in Bavaria, of all places?! Still, this restaurant had the most impressive selection of N/A beer that I've ever seen in my life. We had several amazing soups, a phenomenal beet carpaccio salad, and all sorts of South Asian small plates. When we came back for breakfast, we were treated to things like museli with soy yogurt, cappucinos with coconut milk, and a full traditional Bavarian breakfast with house-made sausages and suesser Senf (sweet mustard)--is it mustard? is it jam? I don't know, but it is heavenly.

The culinary highlight of Innsbruck was Madhuban, one of the best Indian restaurants I've ever eaten at. The dishes were fresh and complex, which are probably my two most important criteria when it comes to food.

And on our way back out of Munich, we stayed in Freising, a beautiful little town that's actually closer to the Munich airport than Munich itself. We had a great dinner at Das Schmeckhaus, which was organized somewhat like a pub, though the food and design were completely un-pub-like. The menu clearly identified which dishes were vegan and vegetarian, and everything we ordered (2 dals, plus a Mediterranean platter and an Indian platter) was excellent.

What was lacking? The beer, believe it or not. Granted, your average German/Austrian/Italian beer certainly tastes better (and cleaner) than Miller Lite, but even in places offering a wider selection of beers, the options typically ranged from wheat beer, to malty beer, to pilsner. None of the crazier, bolder flavors of American-style IPAs, and not even the funky, sour-malt flavors of English ales. This article on beer culture in Switzerland (by a fellow Lawrentian!) seemed to echo my experiences. Since being back, I've been availing myself of the broader range. Zippy's friend Cassidy sent over a 4-pack of this amazing hoppy porter from Florida, and I am in love.


While hiking in the Dolomites we often stopped at rifugios, mountain outposts that served a limited menu and sometimes also offered hostel-like accommodation. The menu at rifugios was so standard, several places we stopped didn't even have menus; you just had to ask for espresso or beer or spaghetti or minestrone.

So I realized how diverse minestrones can be, even in the same region. The bilingual menus often translated 'minestrone' into 'bean soup' or 'vegetable soup' in German. We saw tomatoey minestrones, chickeny minestrones, beany minestrones, stewy minestrones, and brothy minestrones.

Here's my take. Potatoes and beans add great richness of taste and texture. I also made mine plenty spicy.

Spicy Hearty Minestrone

olive oil
1 onion, diced
1-2 stalks celery, diced
1-2 carrots, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 small red potatoes, peeled and large diced
3 c veg stock (I used a combo of vegetable and "no beef")
1 can fire roasted tomatoes with chilies, juice
1 fresh tomato, diced
water as needed
cayenne pepper
black pepper
1 c (uncooked) alphabet noodles, cooked according to directions
1 c frozen peas, thawed
1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

1. Cook your noodles, thaw and drain your peas, and drain and rinse your beans. Set those aside.
2. In a large saucepan, saute onion, celery, and carrot in olive oil with a pinch of salt. After about 5 minutes, add garlic as well. Cook everything over medium-low heat until soft and fragrant.
3. Add diced potatoes. Cook for about a minute, stirring, then add stock, canned and fresh tomatoes, and water to a degree of brothiness (you'll be adding a lot more bulk at the end). Bring to a boil.
4. Add spices and herbs to taste, then reduce temperature to a simmer. Important: cook until potatoes are just barely tender.
5. Then add remaining components (noodles, peas, and beans). Simmer another minute or two, add water/broth as needed, taste broth and adjust seasonings as needed, and serve.
Serves about 5.

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