Last time I visited Glasgow was during the 1980s. I was working as a photographer for Cosmopolitan, covering the city. Somehow, after a night snapping pictures in a bar, I ended up with a Glaswegian stranger in a tenement flat in the Gorbals. The bedroom I found myself in, for I was very drunk, had an artex interior, walls and ceiling. Big swirly white polyfilla dips and crests. It was the thickest plastering I’d ever seen. Woozy with booze, I felt like a fly trapped in the interior of an artic roll, or a climber toiling up the North face wall of Everest.
I saw this lad again, returning for a weekend visit to see if I still liked him when sober. I didn’t. I couldn’t understand anything he said, spending much of the weekend saying ‘Pardon?’ He called people ‘folk’. He read Balzac not Brett Easton Ellis. His fridge was empty save a paper bag of mince meat bleeding onto a white plate.
‘Aw me ma left that fe us,’ he exclaimed fondly.
This sassenach was a vegetarian even back then. The horror. Outlander it was not. It didn’t help that I was a bit of an ’80s fashion snob.
Glasgow is infamous for the lowest life expectancy in Europe. But one of the reasons vegan food works so well in Glasgow is precisely because they combine the local urge to deep-fry everything in batter with the vegan regime. In Scotland, vegan food is not a joyless, brown, full-fibre sober health cure but delicious comfort food.
I visited two of Glasgow’s vegan restaurants: Stereo and Mono, both, along with The 78 and a couple of others run by vegan restaurant supremo Craig Tannock. True to Tannock’s musical background, music plays a big part in the restaurant names and ethos. Mono has an in-house vinyl store and hosts live bands.
Stereo Cafe/Bar is hidden down a rainy alleyway; dim Northern light leaking onto the front tables. Outside there was snow, not too much, but enough to add drama to the monochrome of Glasgow architecture. Service is courtesy of a fragile waiter with a gentle manner and Harry Potter glasses. He recommends the pine needle soda, which reminds me of Canadian Spruce beer. I eat a broccoli burger with chips and a warming golden syrup pudding with vegan ice cream.
The next day I went to Mono for lunch. The building itself is beautiful, with a domed skylight over a large sunlit room. Imposing steel brewing tanks line the side of the room where artisanal sodas such as ginger beer are brewed.
I apologise for being late, explaining, ‘I’ve just flooded my hotel room’.
I get a tolerant grin and a ‘nae problem’ from front of house.
I order ‘tof-ish and chips’, golden billowy crunchy battered firm tofu with seaweed, a side order of pulled jackfruit, the vegan cheesecake and the home brewed ginger beer. It’s all fantastic.
‘Is that a fur coat I’m seeing over there?’ I ask the waitress.
‘Maybe it’s fake?’ replied the waitress.
‘It looks real to me.’
‘I don’t know, I’ve never seen one.’
It’s unlikely that you have seen or touched a real fur coat if you are under 40. I asked the young woman if it was real fur.
‘Aye, but it’s vintage,’ she murmurs a bit defensively.
Scots vegans are much more tolerant than London ones is all I can say.
Inspired by my visit to Vegan Glasgow, I’ve made a ‘Scottish’ BBQ jackfruit taco. Jackfruit, an enormous khaki green carbuncle, the size of a watermelon, which looks similar and is related to the breadfruit, is grown in the tropics. Like the durian which it also resembles, it can, when ripe, emit a strong but infinitely more pleasant aroma.
In Kilburn, North West London, where I live, you can buy it fresh. Failing that, look for tinned green jackfruit in water not syrup. The fruit itself has three elements to it, a central core that you discard, a ‘pleated’ outer ring, known as ‘arils’, that you can rip in the manner of pulled pork and seed-like structures which can also be eaten.
Jackfruit is popular on vegan menus, providing a meaty texture and fibre. It’s sometimes known as ‘tree-mutton’.
Whisky ‘BBQ’ Jackfruit Taco Recipe with pink pickled onions
1 red onion, skinned, sliced thinly
300ml White wine vinegar
Whisky-roasted Brown Sugar
150g Soft brown sugar
1 dram of whisky
For the Jackfruit
1 tin of young green jackfruit in water, core discarded.
1 tsp dried smoked garlic or 2 cloves, crushed, of black garlic
1/2tsp cumin, ground
1tsp sweet paprika, ground
1/2tsp white pepper, ground
3tbsp whisky roasted brown sugar (recipe below) or plain brown sugar
1tbsp smoked salt
A few drops of liquid smoke
2 chipotle en adobo and some of the sauce, either buy or do recipe in link, it’s another good store cupboard essential.
2tbsp olive oil
4 to 6 Corn tacos
For the pink pickled onions, put the sliced onions in a jar.
In a pan on a low heat, add the sugar and salt to the vinegar, stir until dissolved. Leave to cool.
Then add to the onions.
Leave for at least an hour or overnight until the onions turn pink.
This can be left in the fridge for 3 weeks.
For the whisky roasted sugar, preheat the oven to 170ºC.
Spread the sugar on some parchment paper (or a Silpat) on a roasting tray.
Sprinkle with the whisky.
Roast for 15 minutes or so.
The sugar will go hard if left (it lasts forever) but I break it up in a pestle and mortar.
For the jackfruit:
Prepare the jackfruit, then add all the list of ingredients including the chipotle en adobo and mix together.
In a pan on a medium heat, add the olive oil, then the jackfruit mixture. Fry gently for five minutes.
Take a corn taco, add some of the jackfruit, a scoop of pink pickled onions, a squeeze of fresh lime. Season with salt to taste and eat!
I travelled to Glasgow via the Caledonian Sleeper, courtesy of ScotRail. Next year this train will be upgraded to include double beds and wifi. I adore sleepers, so romantic.
I stayed at the Abode hotel which features a 1930s ‘cage’ lift. The staff were very helpful, especially when I flooded my bedroom. Sorry.