For a vegan, traveling abroad almost always spells certain doom. Out of the comfort zone of yelp-able vegan joints a mere two blocks away, it almost becomes a matter of being non-veg or starvation.
That was certainly my mindset before traveling to La Coruña, a sleepy, scenic European town on the edge of Spain.
I was warned multiple times on various occasions that I might just “have to be un-vegan” if I wanted to enjoy my stay. Obviously, the people who said those words to me don’t know me very well. Suffice it to say, after being vegan for nine years and counting, I wasn’t about to let a trip to Europe screw up my vegan record.
Thankfully (for my stomach and my sanity) I was able to find a few places with vegan food, starting with the airports themselves. Now, you might think it weird to be documenting airplane/airport food, but hey, when you’re stuck at the airport doing a layover or a delay, you need food. And finding appetizing vegan food at the airport ain’t exactly easy!
New York — Newark:
Newark is not an airport I frequently travel out of, just for the sake of convenience. It takes an hour to get from Queens to Newark, and the $100 taxi ride (that’s including around 20% tip) isn’t very fun, either.
The Unusual Times –
First stop on my trip was a small, gate-neighboring mini restaurant called “The Unusual Times.” The place looks welcoming enough and has moderately cute/Lewis Carroll – like decor and menu, plus an open bar. I figured it wasn’t going to be half bad.
I now know that when it comes to the airport, don’t expect anything to taste that great.
For a joint located in an airport, The Unusual Times was actually kind of cute. They had a few interesting faux-antiquated drawings of plants and an encyclopedia-esque description underneath which I thought had at least warranted a three-carrot. Clearly, someone had put a bit of thought into the graphical/aesthetic presentation of the place.
Our waiter seemed nice enough, though he had a wicked guttural cough going on which kind of put me off. He forgot that we ordered beer and looked pretty bored in general. Obviously someone forgot their coffee for the day!
I hate when a menu item isn’t as described. Such was the case with their veggie panini, which said it would have portobello mushrooms in it, but actually only had regular white ‘shrooms! The horror!
Besides that, the sandwich was very blah. I ended up sprinkling vast amounts of salt and pepper all over it, never a good sign. Still, “eh” food is better than no food when you’ve got a long flight!
Paris – Orly:
One thing I found insane about France was that very few people in the airport spoke English. I mean, I asked someone where the bathroom was and she straight up looked at me, said something to the effect of “I don’t know” and kept walking! Not only did she not understand me, but she was rude to boot. Uncool!
I have to say though, I loved the bathrooms in the Orly airport. They were colorful, high-tech looking, and modern. It was definitely cleaner and seemed more sanitary than the ones we have in the US, and the stalls have plenty of clearance between the toilet and the door, unlike crappy US toilets. There’s no warm water though, my hands were completely frozen after washing!
Paris is big on cheese and milk products, so it was pretty tough finding a veggie item that didn’t have Parmesan or ricotta in it. I was finally able to find some packaged food at a 7-Eleven style café on the first floor, called Monop.
Stuff that comes in a cellophane container is never my first choice, but like I said, it’s slim pickins at the airport. These lentils were able to stave off my hunger for a bit. But they certainly weren’t crazy filling.
The lentils were bathed in this reconstituted lemon – vinegar dressing that was too acidic for my taste. It was edible, but not great.
Somehow, almost everything I bought from Monop tasted the same, it just came in another form. Although the couscous didn’t have the dressing like the lentils did, it was pretty much a plainer version of it. That means I liked it a lot better. Still, if I had a choice between this and a sandwich, I would definitely have chosen the sandwich.
Spain — Madrid-Barajas Airport
So I didn’t actually get to try any food here since nothing was vegan. But I did love the architecture of the airport itself. Enjoy my pics!
Spain — La Coruña Airport
Somehow, I feel like airports in Europe are a lot more relaxed. Everyone seems less stressed, and if they are, they’re good at hiding it. The bathroom stalls are also more roomy, just like the ones in the Orly airport.
La Pausa –
By far, the best in-airport cafe/quick eats place I’ve had. I loved the bright, airy space, polished-wood furniture and modern fixtures.
One thing I thought was both a bit offensive + funny was that the dude at the counter merely shot my bf a “get the fuck outta here” look when he asked if they had tofu. Ah, Spaniards.
One thing I love (and will miss) about Europe is the diligent procurement of fresh juice, at nearly every cafe. La Pausa’s OJ tasted amazingly fresh + sweet. It was the perfect before-flight libation.
Raw Veggie Sandwich:
Even though my sandwich was only veggies, it tasted pretty darn good. Carrots, avocado, tomato, lettuce, corn, onion and carrots: all of it tasted light and fresh, including the bread. It was filling and left me feeling satiated but not overly full. I will say that the sandwich didn’t really have a “protein” base, which usually is the element that gives the whole ‘wich flavor, so some might find it a bit plain. I personally didn’t mind. Pair the ‘wich with some chips, and you’re good to go!
Ok, it’s a stretch to be reviewing airplane food, especially because shitty plane food isn’t going to sway you from buying a certain ticket. Still, I think it’s worth talking about, since eating on the plane is something that shouldn’t be a painful thing (though it normally is, I know!).
Surprisingly, I thought the veggie/veg selection they had wasn’t too shabby. Of course, prior to the flight, I had told them I wanted the “vegetarian” meal. I usually don’t bother asking if it is vegan, I just say “vegetarian OR vegan” to kind of test what they have. Slim pickins on the norm.
I had two meals: one during my flight from NY – Paris and one back Paris – NY. Of course, goes without saying, meals are only going to be served on an international flight these days. It had been a looong time since I last ate on a plane (8 years ago!).
*Tip: even if you aren’t vegan/veggie, it’s great to request it simply because you get your food before everyone else. My reasoning is they do that so they don’t back up their process. In addition to getting to eat first (trust me, your seatmate WILL be jealous), veggie food is light and doesn’t give you too much digestive issues, so it’s always a great choice!
NY –> Paris – Finnair
Rice with steamed veggies meal set:
This dish was pretty plain, but I enjoyed eating it since I knew the other option was some mystery meat or dry-ass salmon filet. The veggies weren’t too mushy: I actually really liked chomping down on the carrots, broccoli and zucchini, even though I don’t like zucchini. People will do crazy things when they’re contained in a plane.
I did add pepper to it via the pepper packet in my plastic napkin pouch. Eating on a plane kind of makes me feel like a scavenger for some reason: everything is neatly portioned out so you use just the right amount. #scrounger life!
My meal also came with a berry mix dish (blackberries, raspberries, blueberries) and a salad with vegan fat-free lemon vinaigrette dressing for my mini salad and a little baguette encased in plastic. The bread tasted a bit elastic, but hey, I wasn’t expecting oven-fresh.
One funny side note: after stowing away the bread in my bag and forgetting about it for 4 days, it did get moldy, so it isn’t chock-full of preservatives like I originally thought it to be. Live and learn!
NY –> Paris – Finnair
Veggie Flat-Noodle Pad Thai Set:
Believe it or not, I loved my meal on the flight back. The noodles reminded me of ramen, a bit, except in flat form. The veggies (carrot, long green beans and shittake mushroom) tasted like they were fried and seasoned prior to being stir-fried with the noodles, so they were already flavorful. The noodles seemed like they were fried with soy, so it was the perfect amount of salty. Of course, if I had my way, I would’ve eaten three of those sets.
This time, my set came with some freshly peeled yellow grapefruit, which was pretty bitter (but I liked it!). I also got another mini-baguette, this time with vegan butter. Europe has tons of vegan butter companies, which I’ll get to later in my Part II. It also came with a yummy house salad and lemon vinaigrette dressing.
Next post: my vegan adventures in La Coruña. Stay tuned!