Monday, July 30, 2012

Cafe Aura

June 26, 2012

Like Iceland before it, Norway came with a fairly mediocre reputation for vegetarian food. Still, there's more to travel than food, right? Our first proper stop was in Bergen, via a stunning trip across the country on the 'Norway in a Nutshell' tour. Sure it sounds like a bit of a touristy cliche, but it's hard to imagine a single day trip anywhere else in the world packing in as much stunning scenery (see photos below this post for just a tiny sample).

Bergen is entirely free of vegetarian-only restaurants, so we knew we weren't going to come back with loads of blog material. We scarfed a quick Indian meal on the night of our arrival and set out on Tuesday having done a bit more planning. Stop one was Cafe Aura, the first place listed on Happy Cow's Bergen page and a nice central starting point for some exploring.

Cafe Aura is a fairly plain looking cafe - it's pleasant enough, but probably isn't going to win too many points for style. Similarly, the menu is pretty straightforward: vegans can have soup and maybe chilli, while vegetarians also get to choose from a veggie lasagne and a 'pie' (which turns out to be more like a quiche). Cindy took care of the ordering - the staff were completely comfortable in English (as was everyone we spoke to in Norway) and were super friendly and helpful.

I went for the lasagne (129kr, which if you foolishly convert back to Australian dollars is a breathtaking $20.30!). It comes with delicious bread and a simple salad, and is a reasonably good rendition - cheesy and stuffed with a good range of roasted veggies. It's hearty and tasty enough but nothing to write home about - indeed, at home we've come up with some far more impressive versions.

Cindy had the veggie pie (89kr ~ AU$14), which was basically a slice of quiche. It had a decent amount of spinach mixed into the eggy filling and a nicely cooked pastry crust. Again though, this is vegetarian dining from the 1970s - basic and unadventurous.

We headed off into the city sated but not particularly excited - vegetarians in Bergen will probably find themselves at Cafe Aura at some stage, just because there are so few places that offer even this much variety.

There aren't any real reviews of Cafe Aura out there, just a couple of positive mentions on some Norwegian foodblogs.

Cafe Aura
Marken 9, Bergen
+47 55365970
veggie lunches 65-129 NOK ~ AU$10.30 - 20.30
Accessibility: You have to go up four steps to enter the cafe (see photo). The interior is relatively well spaced out. Ordering and payment takes place at a medium-low counter.

Out the window of the Oslo-Myrdal train

The platform at Myrdal, about to hop onto the Flåm train

Trying to get a picture of Kjosfossen

Out the window of the Flåm train, on the way down the mountain

The Flåm train

On the ferry down Aurlandsfjord

Seagulls shadowing the ferry

Spectacular fjord views


Norwegian toy town!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Laundromat Cafe

June 24, 2012

We didn't have a lot of time on our last day in Reykjavik - just enough for a quick trip up Hallgrímskirkja (see photos below) and a late breakfast before we had to jump on the airport bus and fly off this weird little chunk of volcanic rock. We breakfasted at The Laundromat Cafe (another of Marieke's many helpful suggestions), alongside a mix of hungover locals and bright-eyed tourists.

The weekend menu has a good number of vegetarian dishes (and apparently will do a good vegan spread if you ask them). I was hungry enough to go for the big one, the clean brunch - scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, grilled tomato, Stori Dimon cheese, chocolate butter, Greek yoghurt with muesli, American pancakes and fruit, served with rye bread and a small glass of mango/ginger health drink (2290kr ~ AU$17.80).

I must admit that reading that description had me imagining a platter of food almost as big as the table, so the artfully arranged plate of goodies seemed a bit on the small side. Also, there was no chocolate butter! Outrageous. Still, this is a pretty great spread - a good mix of sweet and savoury that leaves you full and feeling vaguely virtuous (especially without the chocolate butter!).

My 'health drink' was basically a small juice - it didn't do as much as the coffee I ordered to make me feel healthy though. Cindy went for a bigger drink, a raspberry smoothie (800kr ~ AU$6), which was as good as all the Nordic dairy products we sampled.

She had a more modest breakfast though, settling for a serve of the pancakes (790kr ~ AU$6.15).

This was a pretty simple breakfast - five thickish pancakes with a smear of butter and a pot of maple syrup. They were nothing like pancakes really, but still served as a decent vessel for syrup. A few berries or something would have kicked this up a notch.

The Laundromat is a big and bustling cafe right in the middle of Reykjavik. The prices aren't too ridiculous and the menu offers veg-friendly breakfasts, lunches and burgers. Service is friendly and pretty efficient - it's definitely worth checking out. They also provide an actual laundromat downstairs somewhere, which might come in handy if you're not staying in an apartment like we were.


The Laundromat
Austurstræti 9, Reykjavik
+354 587 75 55
breakfasts 790 - 2290kr ~ AU$6.15 - 17.80

Accessibility: There's a couple of very small steps as you come in. The interior is large but pretty crowded when they're busy (which seemed to be all the time). Ordering happens at the table, while payment takes place alongside (not across) a high counter.

Looking at Hallgrímskirkja from outside...

 ... and looking at the outside from Hallgrímskirkja

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Volcanic vegetarian

June 23, 2012

As well as venturing out to sea, we explored a little of Iceland's landscape outside of Reykjavik via a bus tour. We were lucky to land a mini-bus session with just four fellow travellers and a lovely local guide who knows this volcanic country and its inhabitants well. As well as an earnest, baffling pony show and some stunning scenery (scroll down for photos) we sampled a few memorable local foods too.

Well, Michael didn't sample anything at Friðheimar, where tomatoes are grown in huge greenhouses powered by geothermal electricity. Their methods were pioneered by Knútur Ármann, pictured above.

After checking out piping-hot streams, geysers and kicking back in a steam bath we were led to the lakeside by the baths. Here water boils where it emerges at the surface!

The locals make use of it to bake bread. Dough is packed into a plastic-covered watertight tin and buried no more than 30cm deep in the gravel.

Twenty-four hours later you have a freshly baked loaf of rye bread! This was utterly delectable, soft and sweet and spread with butter. It reminded me of the cake that my grandmother sometimes boiled in a can at the farm.

At the Galleri I also noticed kleinur! These doughnuts were the only Icelandic food mentioned in the in-flight magazine that looked vegetarian (and I've since found out that they're traditionally fried in tallow) so I'd stored away their image in my mind. Unlike the bread, these weren't really fresh and I couldn't taste the cardamom that I'd been looking forward to.

While the surrounds outshone the food, it was an unexpected treat to discover that Iceland's cuisine has a veg-friendly facet or two.


These two ponies were too cool to demonstrate 
the five gaits of the Icelandic horse (though others obliged) 


(check out the pedestrian path for scale)

Streams of near-boiling water in the Haukadalur geothermal area

Strokkur the fountain geyser!

Waiting 4-8 minutes for the next Strokkur display

These valleys are fissures caused by diverging tectonic plates. Pretty cool.

The spectacular Þingvellir National Park, site of the world's oldest parliament