Vegans like to talk about food. We have a weakness for food porn, and if you corral a group of us in a room together, I can guarantee the conversation will turn to our favourite things to eat. The strawberry daiquiri cupcake we had from Missy’s at Saturday’s Grassmarket. Which faux cheese is the best faux cheese. Who makes the best falafel. Vegans love to eat, and when you throw bloggers into the mix it’s basically a recipe for a food coma.
Glasgow has more dedicated ethical eateries than Edinburgh does. They have Mono, Bloc, Stereo, The 13th Note, The Flying Duck… The grass is always greener, and the non-dairy cheese always melts better on the other side. So when I was given the opportunity to try out some dishes from Tuk Tuk’s vegan menu last week with a couple of blogger friends, I made sure to clear my schedule.
Years ago I visited Tuk Tuk when it was not long open, having been beckoned in by the those petrol blue walls. The last time I ate there was coincidentally the first fateful week I decided to try out veganism; I was bored with hummus and falafels, still unfamiliar with vegan cooking, and I just fancied a meal in a restaurant. I was not disappointed. My meal was delicious.
First of all, the menu is pretty epic. Everything marked with a “V” is vegan, unless also marked with a “D” to indicate it contains dairy. I remember the last time I visited and quite a few dishes contained hidden ghee, but now these are clearly labelled so there is no chance of a mixup.
Tuk Tuk’s ethos is food inspired by Indian street food, which usually strikes the dairy fear into my heart. I was under the impression that ghee is used in all Indian cooking, and was pleasantly surprised to find out that quite a few of the vegetarian dishes at Tuk Tuk are ghee-free.
Edinburgh is no stranger to Indian cuisine. I can count at least ten restaurants and curry houses near where I live, and most of them are pretty damned good. Now this is probably just the interior designer in me, but the one thing most of them lack is a strong design aesthetic. White walls, white tablecloths and laminated menus bound in leather folders. I am that annoying person who loves to discuss the decor of a restaurant whilst my friends are just trying to eat. I’ll talk at you about colour schemes that work, colour palettes that really don’t work, metallic accents, layouts, floorplans, lighting design, and I will most definitely tell you all about what I think of the furniture! Industrial lighting, vibrant jewel toned colours, and a photo booth in the corner; even before I had a good look at the menu, this place ticks all my design boxes.
Tuk Tuk encourages communal dining, tapas-style. As someone who always gets a bit of food envy, the concept of having a selection of small dishes that everyone picks from is way more appealing than one huge main meal. We went a bit overboard and ordered one of each vegan-friendly dish, as they all sounded so tempting! To avoid the food coma later, I would recommend starting with 3 dishes each. Everything came quite quickly, so if you do decide you still have room for another wee plate or two you can always order more.
Emma ordered a bottle of Limca, which is something I’ve never tried before. She looked super happy to find this on the menu, and told us that it’s near impossible to find bottles of this spiced lemonade for sale outside India. There were some serious bonus points for authenticity there! I decided to try the Mint Mambo, as I am a sucker for fresh mint. Picture this: fresh mint muddled with sugar and lime, like a refreshing, non-alcoholic mojito.
We were indecisive, so when our waiter came to take our order, we all just decided to wing it. I don’t think any of us could remember what we’d ordered, but as it turned out we ended up with a selection of all of Tuk Tuk’s vegan offerings. Our waiter made sure to explain what the different symbols on the menu meant (“V” for vegan/vegetarian and “D” meant the dish contains dairy).
When our food arrived the gravity of the situation dawned on us. Our waiter kept coming with more and more dishes, and our table began to look like we had ordered for six people and not three!
We tried almost everything on offer, from the Chana puri, the Golgappa (which I loved, but more about this later), baby aubergines with potatoes, Dhal Mahkni, Bhel Puri, and Aloo Bindi. We were also asked if we would like some chutneys and poppadoms to go with our meal.
First up the Pakora platter. “Vegetable pakora” in the UK seems to be mostly chickpea batter with a hint of mashed up vegetable thrown in for taste, rather than the deep fried vegetable fritters they’re meant to be. Like falafel, these are done often and seem to be the only vegan option offered at buffets and picnics, so not usually done well. These were nothing like standard issue pakora, but slices of vegetable deep fried in a lovely chickpea batter. I could have eaten these all night, but of course there was more…
Next was the Channa puri, or chickpeas served with deep fried flatbread.The Dhal Makhni of black lentils and kidney beans was rich and hearty, and I could imagine eating this on a cold winter’s day. Looking around at all the vegan treats on our table, I think this was the point early on during our meal that I made the executive decision I shouldn’t have any more bread. I had to save room for curry. This was self preservation at work.
I loved the baby aubergine and potato curry. I mean, aubergines are one of my favourite vegetables, but the Aloo bindi (fresh okra with baby potatoes) was delicious as well.
My favourite dish of the night was the total wild card, the one we had no idea about before it arrived at the table, the Golgappa. Our waiter described it just as “street food from Benares”, which could have meant anything! What arrived was delicious bite sized puffs of puri, or unleavened bread, that had been deep fried with a spiced chickpeas and potato filling. It was served with a tangy, spicy tamarind sauce. The syrup was spicier than I expected, which I loved. I think 6 months of living with my last flatmate attuned my tastebuds to spicy food. I loved the tart, tangy flavours in the tamarind syrup. Very different. Apparently this is a very typical indian dish which has many names dependant on the area. Absolutely delicious.
It’s easy to fall into the trap that vegan food is just tofu and fake meats, or boring old beans and sprouts. I think our delicious meal at Tuk Tuk has put that tired old stereotype to rest!
This type of more social dining encourages interaction. When you are sharing your food with friends, really sharing it, then you talk, and laugh, and you enjoy your meal in a different way. As Tuk Tuk has vegan, vegetarian and omni options, there really is something for everyone. Everybody is happy, everybody goes away full.
Very, very full ;-).