Books, markets, and vegan chocolate: GVE in Hay-on-Wye

I don’t normally do this, as I try to stay away from being a food blog or a travel blog, and I don’t take good food photos (or any photos at all, most of the time), and I don’t eat a whole heap of stuff to review, and I have pretty weird taste.

But Hay-on-Wye, a quirky little town on the Welsh/English border known for its independent bookshops, art galleries, and charity shops isn’t the sort of place you would expect to be well fed as a vegan. I certainly didn’t, and as I was going to see my mum and her friends and not to chase my own gustatory adventure, I braced myself for the worst or at least the distinctly average – but let me say it right off: there are far worse places to be vegan than Hay.

When I arrived, we stopped at the Co-op supermarket just outside the town, where I was able to pick up some Alpro soy yoghurt (though only had a choice of one variety of the fruity 4-packs), plenty of fruit, veg, nuts and seeds. There was soy milk too but I didn’t bother with it.

After a little evening wind-down, we wandered a few leisurely metres into the town centre to Tomatitos, a homely little tapas bar where the olive oil was served in recycled Coca-Cola bottles with drizzle tops and  the staff acted like you’d grown up together. One of our friends had checked with them earlier to make sure they could accommodate, and we were assured that they could. Sure enough, I had a choice of patatas bravas – the classic spicy sautéed potato cubes – tomato and garlic salad, a chickpea tagine, and then there were plenty of breads and olives to munch on. Not the most exciting of choices, but food – and tasty food at that – all the same. Unfortunately, the chickpea tagine was a little underseasoned, and the potatoes were a little dry and mealy, but the bread and the tomatoes actually made up for it. Yes, I know, I know. Bread and tomato salad is hardly something to get excited about. But I could happily sit all day mopping olive oil and balsamic vinegar up with those big chunks of bread!

It may not set your world alight, but you will be fed at Tomatitos.

Now I’m no expert on Hay-on-Wye, but if I were to give you any single recommendation from my trip, it would be to make sure you are there on a Thursday, when the market spreads out over the town with an array of fresh and local fruit and veg, beautiful baked goods, and various other little bits and bobs.

Sadly, I did actually take photos of the market and of the goodies we got there, but for some strange reason my camera didn’t save any of them – I have no idea what happened! The one time I remembered to take photos for you all…!

Anyway, we picked up a gorgeous sourdough rye bread – it was a weighty little brick, but delicious. It was especially good with the hummus we picked up at the Hay Deli. The little deli was a lovely place, with some fresh local produce, breads, condiments, patés, local chocolate (details to follow…) and an array of the usual health foods and vegan substitutes. If nothing else, you could happily get all the foodie bits and pieces you needed from there, and make your own delicious vegan meals.

Which is exactly what mum and I did for lunch – again, I had taken a photo of our beautiful spread of fresh (still slightly warm) rye sourdough, big juicy olives, hummus, and crudités, but it has disappeared into the vortex.

I rarely buy condiments but occasionally I see and taste something that I know I have to have, and could never recreate. When I tasted some of the hot sauce combinations from Fat Man Chilli, there was no way I was leaving without them. After a lot of dipping, tasting, thinking, and chatting, I went with the green chilli (not your average green chilli, with its minty fresh accents), the lemon chilli (surprisingly sweet and rich, yet tangy and fiery), and a bottle of chilli & cranberry (an interesting blend of flavours and sensations to really lift any meal – I’m thinking good quality veggie sausages here!). I frankly could have gone home with any or all of the range, but would have had some bag-carrying issues there.

For our evening meal, we visited the Three Tuns pub. We had dropped in the night before to check that they could make something for me, and I have rarely received such an enthusiastic welcome – “We bend over backwards for anyone!” they exclaimed. When the waiter took our orders, he informed me the chef had it all under control, so I happily waited to be presented with my food. Again, there was meant to be a photo here, but let’s use this as a cognitive development exercise in imagination and visualisation. I was presented with a colourful dish of fresh and seasonal preparations: a samphire risotto, a medley of mushrooms, yellow zucchini, and pistachios (great combination – I must cook with pistachios more often!), and some sort of pumpkin purée. The risotto, although well-cooked, wasn’t salty enough and too lemony for my liking, but the rest was lovely. More than anything, I appreciated the effort that had gone into putting together a seasonal and varied dish. For dessert, I spied a mint sorbet on the menu (with elderflower jelly and raspberries – I asked for just the sorbet and raspberries but the raspberries got left out). When it came out, a pile of pale icy chunks in a bowl, I was confused as to why they hadn’t scooped it into more visually appealing shapes, but it immediately became clear why: this wasn’t sorbet, but ice. I resorted to breaking it apart by spearing it with my fork! However, it was very tasty and refreshing, so I will assume they just had a bad sorbet batch. Again, the main thing was that the staff were so friendly and willing to accommodate. The meal was reasonably priced, too!

Unfortunately I didn’t get to explore many more Hay eateries, but one thing is certain, you won’t go hungry and you won’t even have to live off bread and salad. People know what a vegan is, and they are willing to help, which was totally surprising to me.

Moreover, Hay-on-Wye is a lovely little town where people seem to enjoy the little things in life. I highly recommend it as the perfect antidote to the modern metropolitan way of life.

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