Vegan Food from Around the World

When it comes to vegan travel, no two countries are alike. In some destinations, vegan/vegetarian is part of the traditional cuisine, while in other places, the idea is so foreign that most locals kept asking what I could eat, and puzzled by the reason behind it (In Cuba and Ecuador people just went speechless after I said “soy vegana”). Since I became a vegan last August, I’ve traveled a bit here and there, and I’ve found authentic vegan dishes that were native to the region and not just vegan reinventions (tempeh and kimchi tacos? Ugh, no thank you). It has since became my quest to find and share vegan food in different cultures, so here’s the first in the series.

(You can also read this as “how to eat out as a vegan,” since I don’t know how to cook and eat out every single meal. This is my vegan version of eat-your-way-around-the-world.)

Ethiopian

Last December I missed my flight from Addis Ababa to Nairobi, so I stayed one night in Addis Ababa and had dinner and breakfast there. Having no prior knowledge of Ethiopian food, I was utterly surprised by the amazing vegan breakfast buffet at my hotel and learned that the Ethiopian Orthodox Church prescribes a number of fasting days (refrain from eating animal products), including Wednesdays, Fridays, so Ethiopian cuisine contains many dishes that are traditionally vegan. And even on Ethiopian Airline, besides the standard airline meal, you can ask for “fasting” food, and it’s fully vegan!

Vegan dishes such as chickpeas, split peas, fava beans (tastes like Mexican refried beans), Atkilt Wot (cabbage and carrots), and mchicha (the Swahili name for a local green, native to East Africa, but I think in the US they use collard greens instead), on top of Injera.

Indian

I call Indian food just “food,” because it is my go-to cuisine even when I was an omnivore.

A large percentage of the population of India is vegetarian for religious reasons so Indian food also has lots of dishes that are traditionally vegetarian or vegan. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of dishes in which vegetables and legumes are the main ingredients.

The thing to watch out for as vegans is dairy. Though the dishes normally don’t contain eggs, dairy is pretty common, so when ordering vegan Indian food in restaurants it’s a good idea to ask if it contains common dairy products such as curd (yogurt), paneer (cheese), and ghee (clarified butter).

There are many Indian veggie dishes that typically do not contain any dairy at all. A few examples are dishes based on chickpeas (Chana Masala), eggplant (Baingan Bhartha, my favorite), as well as lentils (Daal), cabbage, cauliflower (Aloo Gobi), peas, and potatoes.

Chinese

Many Chinese dishes are traditionally vegan, with ingredients such as eggplant, tomatoes, string beans, mushroom, wood ear, bitter melon, cauliflower, peppers and other vegetables. Chinese vegan dishes vary from province to province so I only know some of the most popular ones from the northeast, such as Di San Xian (地三鲜, potatoes, eggplant and peppers), spicy wood ear or cucumbers, roasted sweet potatoes and veggie stir fry (炒菜, shredded potatoes and other veggies), etc.

There’s also Buddhist cuisine (斋饭) with heavy Chinese influence. I didn’t know much about Buddhism since I was born and raised by atheist parents and we rarely go to temples. It’s only after becoming a vegan, I started to try out Buddhist cuisines in New York City and learn about them. I think a very distinctive feature of Buddhist cuisine is its creative use of soy products. There are mock meats of every kind made with textured soy protein and tofu, like this menu (http://www.buddha-bodai.com/menu.html) from Buddha Bodai in NYC.

Typical food made with soy proteins (they really look like and taste like meat) and veggies at a Buddhist restaurant in Montreal.

However keep in mind that even though Chinese food rarely contains dairy or butter, eggs are commonly used in vegetarian dishes, and a lot of people do not know the difference between vegan and vegetarian. It’s always good to ask before ordering.

Mexican

Yes there are barbacoa, carne asada, machacado con huevo, and enchiladas verdes (all of them used to my favorites), but Mexican staples such as corn tortillas, rice and beans (without lard), guacamole, and nopales are vegan. There are also popular dishes that can be made vegan, such as chilaquiles (without egg), elote (without cheese), chiles rellenos (instead of cheese, it’s stuffed with potatoes), tamales with beans or veggies. It’s also easy to have vegan tacos with nopales, mushrooms, avocados and beans.

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Tamales de frijol (bean tamales) with mole around Zócalo in Mexico City.

Swahili

Discovering Swahili cuisine was one of the highlights of my trip to Tanzania.

The vegan food in East Africa is based on fresh and local ingredients that grow bountifully in the equatorial climate, so there are lots of local greens and tropical fruits. For breakfast or snack, there are mandazi and kitumbua (sometimes it’s mentioned in English in its plural form vitumbua), as well as pineapple, banana and passion fruit.

Fruit stand in Stone Town, Zanzibar
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Ugali with mchicha

The staples, ugali (made with corn flour boiled in water), chapati (flatbread), mchicha (local green, tastes like spinach) and maharage (beans) are fully vegan. There are also many other veggie stews made with sweet potato leaves (matembele, I love it) or pumpkin leaves with tomato sauce. Other common veggies are cassava, avocado, tomatoes and bananas. And in Zanzibar, you can also have pilau (flavored rice) with veggies.

Chapati with avocados, it almost like guacamole, but the Tanzanian recipe also has banana in it.
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My First Encounter with Sexual Assault on the Subway

My first encounter with sexual assault happened this Tuesday during my morning commute on the F train. I will spare you the details other than it was deliberate, since I tried to move away but he followed. It has been a while since the #MeToo campaign on social media and I have read many accounts of women who experienced sexual assault and harassment. I learned that many women in NYC had experienced sexual harassment on the subway, but few would actually come forward. So when I saw the man getting off the train, I decided to follow him and took pictures.

The man quickly realized I was following him, so he circled the block in an attempt to lose me, but I followed closely since he already found out. Eventually he stopped so I had the chance to confront him. And he said nonchalantly, “come on, I fell asleep.” Those were his exact words, and he actually said “I fell asleep” many times, and sounded like I was the one who was causing trouble.

At the time I had some decent pictures to identify him, so I left for work since I didn’t think I would make any progress continue following him or questioning him.

Right after I got to work, I tweeted the pictures to NYC Subway twitter account, and also from their old tweets, found a link to report sexual misconduct on the subway to NYPD, so I did. By noon I received a follow up direct message on twitter and an email reply from NYPD, that a detective will be in touch with me soon.

In the evening, I received a call from a detective, described to him what had happened and we scheduled to meet the next day.

The following day, in the morning I met with two detectives. They accompanied me on the train, and I walked them through what happened, how I followed the perpetrator and also pointed out the food truck where he had stopped to get breakfast.

On Friday, three days after the assault, the detective from NYPD notified me that they had the man under arrest and asked me for a written statement. Just this Monday, a bomb attack happened at Port Authority, and there have been police officers everywhere. I could image this must made it harder for any criminals to hide.

I chatted with several friends about what happened to me and they have been nothing but supportive. I could picture the man doing the same thing to other women, at any other time, or all the time in the past. I have always been an outspoken feminist, and I would feel personally responsible if I hadn’t done anything in this situation. During the entire time since it happened, more than feeling violated, I have felt anxiety, guilt and humiliation, but I never felt powerless.

When We Were Young

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I am sometimes asked if I am married or have children. When I say no, mostly to friends of my parents, they would feel sorry and occasionally would try to set me up with sons of their distant relatives through my parents. They seem to believe I would make a great wife and mother, “she’s so smart, their son will go to the best university!”

In fact I was with a man for almost 6 years, before we broke up earlier this year.

We met in college, in a class about database systems. I was 20 and he was 31, we were poor but we were in love. We moved in together when we had been together for six months. After we graduated from college, we moved to New York City. Brooklyn first, then Queens.

We were happy together most of the time. It was the type of happiness that we could sit next to each other on the couch and code, for hours without uttering a word. And felt happy.

Then he got his dream job. It was the job he had been preparing for the past decade. He was happy. I was happy for him. The job was in another city far from New York. So we broke up and he moved away.

It can be awkward to describe this ending to people I don’t know. They tend to ask follow-up questions: “Why didn’t you just get married and move with him?”

“Why didn’t I?” I ask myself.

The answer is: many reasons. Because I was 26 and unsure how long the relationship would last. Because I wanted a career for myself. Because neither of us believed in marriage and we wanted to be adventurous more than we wanted to be married. Because I needed a work visa sponsorship and it was unlikely to find a company that sponsors in a small town, and I was too independent and embarrassed to get married for a green card.

But I don’t say any of these things. What difference will it make? We were in love and we wanted to set each other free. So we did.

Marriage and children. I got asked more often in Latin American and in China than anywhere else. My grandmother once asked me, if I don’t get married and don’t have children, what happens when I get old? And what happens if I get old and then get really sick? Who is going to be there to take care of me?

My grandfather passed away and my uncle had been a criminal and a disgrace to the family. I wanted to ask her where was her husband and her son when she got sick.

“But don’t you like children?” someone will then ask.

No, I don’t like children. In fact, I often reply with, “Tengo la discapacidad de sentirse amor ni compasión a los niños. (I cannot feel love or compassion towards children),” as honest and matter-of-factually as admitting “I’m vegan” or “I drank 3 cups of coffee this morning.”

I understand the financial and legal benefits of being married, like there’s higher deduction for couples filing a joint tax return, and there’s no surcharge for an additional driver for a rental car. But should we get married simply because of these? I’m certain there are successfully and happily married people, but I think marriage is slavery. We are in this world to love, not to enslave each other.

I recently found out an old friend of mine had been depressed and suicidal for the past year. He was in a long term relationship and had a good job, and I had thought they were happy. But you can never know what goes on between two people by looking at their Facebook updates.

Later in the year I met another man. We could not be more different and there was a bigger age gap, as much as I was 4 when he graduated high school. In front of such a man it is hard not pretend to be who I am not, or the most perfect version of myself.

I am still unsure.

I think love is like feeling your way through a dark tunnel; you have to get your hands dirty. If you hold back, nothing interesting happens. At the same time, you have to find the right distance between people. Too close, and they overwhelm you; too far and they abandon you. How to stay in the right distance? I think I still need to figure this out.

After 27 years, I still want to have my life for the unexpected.

Arabic Class Updates

I guess I cannot sustain a 4 hour sleep per night too long. I was exhausted after my Arabic class, so I decided to Uber home. My uber driver happened to be Pakistani, so we exchanged some simple greetings in Arabic before I dozed off. Arabic remains one of the hardest things I ever attempted to learn so far, and I still struggle.

What It Takes To Train For An Ironman 70.3

It takes everything you’ve got.

Well it actually depends on several factors, the person’s fitness level, experience level, race goals, etc. For me, my goal is to finish and my background in cycling and swimming is none. I’ve ran several marathons and they didn’t kill me so I thought about doing something crazier. Why not an Ironman 70.3? So I picked a relatively flat course and signed up. It was then, after I signed up, I realized what I was doing, and thought WTF do I do now? So I got a swimming coach, bought a road bike and joined a cycling group.

My advantage over other absolute beginners is that I have lots of time available for training. My entire family is in a time zone 13 hours ahead and I barely know anyone outside the running/cycling community, so I have no need to attend people’s wedding/birthday/baby shower etc, my entire social life is done either on the run or on the bike.

But a lot of things still changed in my life. I have many other hobbies, but except taking Spanish classes, I stopped doing everything else completely. It’s not just training time, most of the time I’m simply too tired to do anything else other than my training.

Mondays and Tuesdays became my longest days. I wake up at 7:30am on Monday, and because of freestyle training from 7:45pm to 9pm, I won’t be back home until 10:30pm; Tuesday I wake up at 5am for a morning interval run, then I have Spanish class from 6pm to 9pm after work, and get home around 10:30pm again.

I stopped eating at home completely. Though I don’t know how to cook, I used to drink instant coffee and heat up oatmeal in microwave for breakfast. Now I have no time. My breakfast and lunch is at my work desk, and dinner is ate quickly at the buffet bar of Whole Foods Market before swim/bike/run.

I stopped doing my laundry. I use an online pickup and delivery service now.

I stopped reading books. The only time I have is during my commute on the train, so I listen to books from audible now.

I stopped watching all the shows I liked: Narcos, The Strain, The Americans, Bordertown, American Dad, Family Guy, Taboo, Criminal Minds. All of them.

On weekends I wake up earlier than weekdays, and besides long runs, swim and long bikes rides, I sleep. Sometimes on weekends I go to sleep at 7 or 8 when I can.

I stopped taking weekend road trips. I used to spend a lot of weekend in Lancaster, PA. And I haven’t gone at least once this year.

I enjoy my training so far and made a lot of new friends. But sometimes I do wish I have more time to hang out with people outside my running/cycling groups.

Una Pequeña Lección

El otro día escuché un podcast sobre la vida de los inmigrantes indocumentados en Estados Unidos. En este podcast Recién Llegados de Radio Ambulante, la periodista visitó a una escuela en California para los estudiantes extranjeros que han llegado hace poco tiempo.  Y me acordó un encuentro con un chico joven guatemalteco.

Cuando estaba en Guatemala, después de saber que estoy viviendo en Nueva York, el chico Eric me dijo que uno de sus amigos también hizo el viaje cruzando México para venir a Estados Unidos, y ahora vive en Long Island. Le dije que sabía el viaje atravesó del México es muy peligroso, y me dijo que sí, por eso finalmente él no fue, y consiguió un trabajo en Guatemala. Me contó los esfuerzos de su amigo, que tiene más hermanos para apoyar, y con su nivel de educación, hay muy pocos trabajos en su región, y por eso no había otra salida.

De pronto la conversación con Eric me dio cuenta de que estoy privilegia. Y la verdad fue una pequeña lección de humildad, porque con la mejor intención yo quería relacionarme con ellos, solo pasé mi infancia en pobreidad y la mayoría de mi vida es cómoda y próspera. El privilegio de ser la hija única, de haber estudiado inglés desde pequeña y recibir una beca para estudiar en Estados Unidos. Parece que obtengo todo lo que quiero fácilmente. Aunque no soy estadounidense, mi país China también es cada vez más fuerte en su economía y reconocimiento del mundo.  También el privilegio que yo ser la raza asiática por parecer más pacífica o más inofensiva, que hace que no me detengan como lo detuvieron a Eric y los otros de América Latina.

2017 Race Calendar

Last Update: March 09, 2017, added two marathons

2017 will be a year full of challenges. Besides marathons and half marathons, I will also do an Ironman 70.3 (half the distance of an Ironman), start learning Arabic and maybe do a metric century bike ride.

I also plan to do the 9+1 with NYRR* to earn an entry into the 2018 NYC Marathon (which will be on my 28th birthday as well). I get bored easily, thus the biggest challenge for me in the NYRR races is to do loops in Central Park. I can’t loop anything more than once; in the second loop I slow down, lose motivation, and want to drop out. So I will mainly do the 4mile and 5K races that don’t require me to loop.

January

Walt Disney World Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge (1/7/2017 – 1/8/2017)

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Due to weather condition, the half was canceled, so I only ran the full marathon. I was of course disappointed, because I took days off and traveled all the way to Orlando for 39.3 miles. But I was happy at the same time because at least I still ran the full marathon.

It was miserable to be standing in the freezing wind in shorts and tank top (under a trash bag) for 2 hours before the race. My fingers were numb even after crossing the finish line. After I finish, I didn’t wait to engrave the medal; I was so traumatized by the cold that I went straight back to the hotel and hid under the blanket sipping turmeric tea for a full hour before coming out to get food. I also had a fever for a few days after the race from the freezing wind.

Does it worth it? Yeah, of course, everyone needs to do a Disney Marathon in their lifetime.

February

Prospect Park Cherry Tree 10 Mile (2/19/2017)

Running three loops of anything is more of a mental than a physical challenge. It was unusually warm that day. I enjoyed running in Prospect Park, though this is probably my only time running this race. I simply can’t loop things.

March

Rock’n’Roll Mexico City Half Marathon (3/19/2017)

Caesar Rodney Half Marathon (3/26/2017)

It’s a half marathon in Wilmington, DE. This race benefits the American Lung Association, and Wilmington is less than three hours away, so I’m in! I drove through Wilmington a dozen times and finally stopped here to check out the town.

May

Five Borough Bike Tour (5/7/2017)

There were too many cyclists at the bike tour. I think it definitely worth it to do it for the first time, but afterwards, this should be a escape NYC road trip kind of weekend.

Airbnb Brooklyn Half (5/20/2017)

Coeur d’Alene Marathon (5/28/2017)

June

IRONMAN 70.3 Eagleman (6/11/2017)

Changchun Jingyuetan Forest Half Marathon (6/18/2017)

This will be the most challenging race I ever run. Back in 2015 this guy did a mountain biking race on the same course, and here’s the map. The course has a total 750 meter elevation gain, which is roughly 2460 ft., similar to that of North Face Endurance Challenge at Bear Mountain. I almost never run trail, and it’s absolutely crazy to run this after an Ironman 70.3 and more than 13 hours on a plane. But it’s in my hometown, and I simply cannot pass it.

August

Maratón Ciudad de México (8/27/2017)

This past August I visited CDMX for the first time and cheered the “I” edition of this Marathon, and became friends with some Mexican marathoners. In 2017 we’ll run the “C” edition together.

September

Amish Country Classic Bike Ride (9/9/2017, Tentative)

October

Mohawk Hudson River Marathon (10/8/2017)

I went to college in Upstate New York. This marathon is my homecoming.

November

Rock’n’Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon (11/12/2017)

Marabana (11/19/2017)

I want to do a marathon in November because it’s my birthday month.

I was robbed in Guatemala City

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I was robbed today a little while after taking this picture. It was about 2pm in the afternoon, a bright sunny day. I was in Zona 10, right under the Torre de Reformador, at exactly this location. I was waiting for Uber with my phone in my hands and two guys on motorcycle stopped by me, grabbed my phone quickly and went away.

I’m glad at least I’ve synced my photos with Dropbox whenever I can, so I can post this one from my computer. I only lost a couple photos from Museo Popol Vuh. Now I need to either buy a cheap digital camera or a single use film camera, as I’m leaving for Tikal tomorrow. While it is not my intention to speak about the relative safety of other third world countries, except to say that I did not experience similar events in my recent trips to China, Mexico and Honduras. I feel that most Guatemalans are nice, friendly, and honest people who would probably be more enraged what had happened to me in their country than I was. I’m simply sharing this information and hoping other travelers who also plan to visit or already in Guatemala to be careful.