Veg Jaunts And Journeys: Hassle-free Compassionate Tourism For Vegans

Since the age of seventeen, Kim Giovacco knew she wanted to be a travel agent. Fascinated by cultural diversity spanning the globe, Kim pursued a degree in geography which helped her to land a job with a map company in New Jersey. From there she moved on to oher positions within the industry; the Korean tourist office in New York and eighteen years as an office manager in Boston for a government agency tasked to create jobs in Singapore. This final position allowed her to travel throughout Asia, make international contacts, and expand her hands-on experience in travel and tourism.  During this period, Giovacco also served in a volunteer position on the board of a co-op and discovered new ways of doing things that were contrary to the perspective of the corporations and conglomerates of which she had long been a part. She adopted a vegan lifestyle and gradually came to the realization her values were no longer aligned with the work she was doing. From this understanding came the idea of starting her own company. Thus, Veg Jaunts and Journeys was born.

 

 

Kim began small by arranging vegan honeymoons and anniversary celebrations. She charged an hourly rate, researched the itineraries, and the clients would book the trips themselves. She naturally progressed to booking the entire travel arrangments for her clients. She got some training and learned how to do it. Since May of 2016, Kim Giovacco is living the dream she has harbored since her teens.

 

Kim Giovacco

The idea of creating tours evolved out of twenty-five years of traveling alone or with close friends. Giovacco always arranged her own trips rather than booking tours. She did this for two reasons: First, she didn’t want to pay the single supplement, which is essentially a fine for traveling alone. Organized tours are usually based on double occupancy, and singles are penalized. The extra fee can be anywhere between $500 to $1,000, depending on the length of the tour and the quality of the lodging. For cruise ships, the single rate can be double the price.  Secondly, on a standard cruise, vegan options are limited. While non-vegans have choices across the entire menu, if you are plant-based, there may only be one or two options from which to choose. Why pay all that money for food and be limited to one or two items? Kim saw a vacuum that needed to be filled.

 

 

When Kim created Veg Jaunts and Journeys, she had the single, vegan client in mind. Of course, couples are also encouraged to participate, but there are no penalties for traveling alone, and the dining venue is always vegan or vegetarian. The rare vegetarian restaurant on the tour itinerary will always offer a wide range of vegan options. Kim scopes out plant-based restaurants around the globe, and as the world rapidly becomes more vegan-friendly, opportunities abound for the plant-based traveler. “In the tour I took to Berlin in August, we were there for eight days, and only ate at vegan restaurants. I think we didn’t even get to 25% of them, that’s how many there are there. And pretty much every mainstream restaurant we passed had a sign outside that read vegan options available.”

 

 

Vegan restaurants are evolving from the fast-food type of comfort food to healthier options, and Kim consults with her clients as to the types of food they prefer before booking restaurant venues. Her tours tend to be small and intimate, from six to twelve people. Another interesting aspect of her service is that she doesn’t necessarily travel to the typical touristy spots. Giavocco takes her clients to visit rooftop gardens, tea manufacturers, on walking tours, to visit markets and vegan festivals and on green tours related to eco-tourism, to name a few.

 

Brewery in Berlin

Lodging is usually arranged in residential areas where vegan restaurants are more likely to be located. The group takes subways and local transit for a ten to fifteen-minute ride into the cities. This gives the traveler a more authentic experience of the country they are visiting rather than exposing them to one tourist site after another. If one has an interest in these sites, there is an entire unscheduled day where the client can choose to split from the group and explore on his/her own. Kim helps them with maps and directions and they will usually meet up later at a designated restaurant or hotel. The small groups tend to stick together, however, and form bonds of friendship by the tour’s end.

 

 

Veg Jaunts and Journeys is not limited to overseas travel. Kim Giovacco is also busy putting together itineraries within the United States. Some of these tours are close to her and her partner’s new home in Asheville, North Carolina where she is becoming familiar a presence in the thriving Asheville vegan scene. She has recently been asked to join the board of the Asheville Vegan Society. Kim is collaborating with another company to offer vegan tours to animal sanctuaries, vegan restaurants, local breweries, and nature trails in and around Asheville.

 

 

Asheville is a hub for vegan markets, restaurants, festivals, and animal groups that draws people from neighboring states that have not yet awakened to the needs of their burgeoning plant-based population. These plans are still in the organizational phase, so be sure to subscribe to  Veg Jaunts and Journeys to be apprised of new tours as they are created.

 

 

Europe is way ahead of the United States in fully embracing the social imperatives of the vegan movement and where veganism has become more mainstream. In the United States, this movement is still in its infancy. Giovacco arranges many of her tours to catch some of the most interesting vegfests in the country with speakers that draw a large audience. She handles the schedule, the travel arrangements, restaurants, and lodging, so all you have to concentrate on is having a great time!

Whether you are thinking of traveling overseas to exotic locations like East Berlin, Bucharest, Vienna, or Prague or stateside to Nashville, New York, Boston or New Orleans, vegan travel has never been easier nor more accommodating. Never again will you have to pick at a salad while everyone else is enjoying the bounty of a full menu.

 

 

Traveling alone or with a group, Veg Jaunts and Journeys will help you create a hassle-free vacation that is designed with your needs in mind. Contact Kim Giovacco at Veg Jaunts and Journeys for more information.

Co-founder and editor of Veggin’ Out and About!, Danielle writes restaurant reviews, profiles, and interviews of people making a difference in the plant-based community. She is the author of, “Time For Change: Whole Foods For Whole Health,” and is a co-founder of the plant-based cooking blog, Time For Change Kitchen. Contact Danielle directly to share your restaurant finds, to make comments or just to say hello.

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Red Meze – A Hidden Gem In Johnson City, Tennessee

by Jennifer Muller

 

I like to think of myself as somewhat of a foodie nerd. I travel to eat. Prior to traveling, I scour the internet attempting to create a foodie itinerary for the ideal dining experience. I raise my research standards to an even higher scale when I relocate to a new area. When I moved to Johnson City, TN two years ago, I followed my normal method to find every potential outstanding eatery available in Johnson City. Even with my extensive search, Red Meze somehow eluded me. I happened upon it a few months after moving here while scrolling down my Facebook feed. Shocked that I could have overlooked authentic Turkish cuisine, I immediately drove down there and happily discovered Johnson City’s best kept secret gem.

 

 

Red Meze (formerly The Mediterranean Garden) is located at 2203 McKinley Road in Johnson City, TN. It is housed in Burlington Park, a refurbished old textile mill that is now a housing and commercial mixed-use building. I find the GPS coordinates usually take people to the opposite side of the building, making it difficult to find the restaurant. The easiest way to get there is to turn onto W. Walnut Street from N State of Franklin Rd. and drive past McKinley Rd. You will then see Red Meze on your right. Please do not do what I did my first time trying to find it and get so turned around that you end up driving through the empty field next door.

 

 

This is one of the restaurants I have been raving about to Danielle and Rich, so I was honored to meet them for lunch one Sunday. We told the server that we were vegan and soon the owner, Sengel, came out of the kitchen to discuss the vegan options and answer all our questions. According to Sengel, the first page of the main menu is or can be, vegan except for her Tzatziki sauce – a sour cream based sauce, and the Sigara Boregi – pan-fried dough stuffed with feta cheese. The back of the menu had a few sandwiches which were either vegan or could be with some minor modifications.

 

 

There is a separate Classic Turkish Home Cooking menu that has two options which can be vegan. The Eggplant Yogurt Kebab can be made without the yogurt sauce on top. The Turkish Veggie Stew is vegan, but Sengel informed us the rice that comes with it contains butter.

We asked Sengel if she keeps the meat separated from the vegan items and she informed us that the meat is grilled and kept in the back of the kitchen, while the vegetables are kept in the front of the kitchen to prevent cross-contamination. She also uses organic ingredients when possible.

 

Hummus, Falafel and Baba Ghanoush with Pita Wedges

 

Now to the food. I have dined here several times and have tried many items on the menu, and I have to say, that they do amazing things with eggplant. The eggplant here is so flavorful, and unlike any eggplant I have eaten elsewhere. My favorite menu item here is the Baba Ganoush – a Turkish eggplant dip served with pita. On this occasion, I ordered the lentil soup & pita, which is just a combination of lentil, onions, and spices. I also ordered the garden-three platter that had the falafel, garlic hummus, and baba ganoush. Everything I ate was light and flavorful. As usual, I could have eaten multiple orders of baba ganoush.

 

Lentil Soup

 

Danielle ordered the eggplant pita without feta. The lack of feta was replaced with additional eggplant to compensate. I enjoy introducing people to new restaurants they grow to love, so I was a bit nervous introducing Danielle to my recommendation. Fortunately, she raved on about how delicious the sandwich was with the combination of flavors and that she wished she had ordered two.

 

Grilled Eggplant Pita with Hummus

 

Rich ordered the Turkish veggie stew on the Classic Turkish Home Cooking menu. They replaced the vegetarian rice with pita. The stew was stocked full of vegetables with a tomato-based sauce. I had a bite and decided that if I could ever do without their eggplant, I would order that.

 

 

Turkish Veggie Stew

 

We finished off the meal with the excellent Turkish coffee served in demitasse cups. Turkish coffee is unfiltered coffee served sweet with a variety of spices. The trick is to drink the coffee until you reach the coffee grounds at the bottom of the cup, and then stop before drinking the grounds. The rich, sweetened, spiced coffee was a perfect end to the meal.

 

 

Red Meze is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 11:00 am – 9:00 pm and on Sunday from 11:00 am – 2:30 pm. The phone number is (423) 328-7685. Red Meze can also be found on Facebook.

 

Originally from Louisville, KY, Jennifer now resides is East Tennessee. Jennifer and her daughter are avid travelers searching for new healthy vegan dishes along the way. When she is not globe-trotting, Jennifer enjoys cooking spicy vegan meals at home with her two fur-babies; her dog, Amy, and her cat, Anna. Contact Jennifer directly to share your restaurant finds, make a comment, or just say hello.

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Green Olive Market and Café

By Jennifer Muller

 

Earlier this year, I noticed a new market called The Green Olive Market had opened in Johnson City, TN. My interest was piqued and I made a mental note to stop by, but I had not yet gotten around to doing so. Word-of-mouth started to travel that a few weeks ago, The Green Olive was serving Ethiopian food!

 


The owner, Meseret Melesse (Marci), is a delightful bundle of energy. She is currently in the “soft-opening” phase of operation until the final preparations can be made. For now, she cooking the dishes fresh each morning and serving them buffet style. Once she has her kitchen fully operational, she is planning a grand opening, at which point she will be offering a sit-down menu while possibly keeping the buffet as a special twice a month event.

 


Of the roughly fifteen items on the buffet, all but five or so were vegan. Some of the vegan options on her buffet were Miser W’at – a semi-spicy red lentil stew,  Kik Alitcha W’at – mild stew of yellow split-peas, Gomen – collard greens, Alitcha Vegetables – a delicious stew of cabbage and carrots, and an excellently made Shiro W’at – a stew made from chickpeas that are sundried, roasted, and ground. The buffet also provided plenty of freshly-made injera – a spongy Ethiopian flatbread – with which to eat all the delicious items. Ethiopian food is not served with utensils, you eat it with the bread. However, utensils are provided if you prefer not to eat with your hands.

 

 


The food was authentic and flavorful, though I tend to enjoy food that is spicier than most people like. After the grand opening, I hope there are spice level options. Other than that, the taste is delicious. There is also a traditional coffee service from 3 pm – 7 pm on Saturday and Sunday. I experienced this service and was treated to the strong, flavored-packed goodness of freshly roasted coffee.

 


During the soft opening phase, the hours are 12:30 pm – 8 pm. After the grand opening, the hours will be 11 am – 9 pm. Veggin’ Out and About! will be following the progress of the grand opening and will report more in detail as that occurs.

Located at 800 West Market St in Johnson City, The Green Olive is roughly 3 miles off Exit 20 on -26. Drive towards ETSU until Roan becomes Market Street. You’ll see it on the right-hand side of the road.

Originally from Louisville, KY, Jennifer now resides is East Tennessee. Jennifer and her daughter are avid travelers searching for new healthy vegan dishes along the way. When she is not globe-trotting, Jennifer enjoys cooking spicy vegan meals at home with her two fur-babies; her dog, Amy, and her cat, Anna. Contact Jennifer directly to share your restaurant finds, make a comment, or just say hello.

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Real Thai Fusion Delivers Big Flavor At Affordable Prices

by Danielle Bussone

 

One of the best-kept secrets on the Emerald Coast Parkway is Real Thai Fusion. Tucked into a boutique shopping center in Miramar Plaza, it is not difficult to overlook this sparkling gem of a restaurant. Decked out in Asian decor, Real Thai Fusion is small enough to enjoy an intimate meal for two but will accommodate larger groups as well. I enjoyed the layout which is clean and not over-crowded.

 

 

I have not hesitated to make the thirty-minute trek to Destin on three separate occasions during my visit to Fort Walton Beach. This is how much I like the food at Real Thai Fusion. It is some of the best Thai food I’ve had anywhere.

While there is usually a steady stream of customers dining in and numerous take-out orders being picked up, for a restaurant with meals of consistently high quality,  I have been astonished at the number of empty tables available. I mentioned this to my waitress, who told me that this is a slow season for Thai food. When the weather begins to cool, the place will fill up with customers desiring to warm their bellies with spicy Thai cuisine. That makes sense. With ninety-plus temperatures outside during my stay in Florida in September, one would have to be a serious foodie to pile on more heat. Guilty as charged!

 

 

What sets Real Thai Fusion apart from the typical Thai restaurant is the freshness of the ingredients, the lovely presentation of the food, and the depth of flavor achieved by the chef. One can choose the level of spiciness of each dish. I adore spicy foods, but I also want to be able to taste the individual ingredients which are often masked by the overwhelming heat of chili peppers. I find at Real Thai Fusion that the perfect level of spice for me is medium, or number three. It is enough to leave a little bite at the back of one’s throat while allowing you to enjoy the full flavor of the dish. If you are very sensitive to heat, you may want to sneak up on it and order mild spice or no spice at all.

 

 

 

A lemon wedge is carved to look like a bug of some sort (perhaps a snail?) clinging to the edge of a water glass.  No detail is overlooked in the charming presentation of each course.

 

 

At lunchtime, Mondays through Fridays, you may be served a pre-appetizer at no additional cost. This is a delicious thin soup with garlic and green onions served with a small spring roll with sweet and sour sauce on the side. The chef at Real Thai Fusion understands the needs of vegans and will steer you to plant-based choices or will remove offending ingredients to make a dish that adheres to your requirements.

 

 

 

On my first visit, I enjoyed the incredibly fresh Summer Rolls filled with crisp, fresh vegetables and vermicelli, served with a homemade Thai peanut and hoisin sauce.

 

 

On my second visit, I returned with my sister who ordered the fried spring rolls with sweet and sour sauce. I generally abstain from eating fried foods, but I have to admit I shared a couple of these crispy delights with her. OMG!

 

 

 

 

 

Pad Eggplant is eggplant sautéed with mild Thai spices, onion, bell pepper and a generous portion of Thai basil that yields an unbeatable flavor. This dish, prepared in a dark, savory-sweet hoisin sauce, is melt-in-your-mouth delicious! I chose tofu as my protein option, and it comes with a side of white rice. I didn’t realize at the time that one can order brown rice if one so chooses, which I will certainly do next time

 

 

 

Royal Pad Thai is a well-known Thai noodle dish. The rice noodles are stir-fried with bean sprouts, carrots, scallions, ground peanuts, and egg with homemade Pad Thai sauce. The chef removed the eggs for me and replaced them with tofu so I could enjoy this famous dish without guilt.

 

 

 

 

 

Real Thai Fusion is worth the 30-minute drive from Fort Walton Beach, and if you happen to be in Destin, you should not overlook this delightful oasis in the midst of an overwhelming array of fast food restaurants and shopping centers. With only two days left in Florida, I’m seriously considering making the trek back to Miramar Beach for another fix of excellent Thai food. Keep in mind that your dish is freshly made to order and preparing food from scratch takes a little extra time. Be patient; you’ll find it is time well spent.

 

 

Co-founder and editor of Veggin’ Out and About!, Danielle writes restaurant reviews, profiles, and interviews of people making a difference in the plant-based community. She is the author of, “Time For Change: Whole Foods For Whole Health,” and is a co-founder of the plant-based cooking blog, Time For Change Kitchen. Contact Danielle directly to share your restaurant finds, to make comments or just to say hello.
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Spice Up Your Travels With A Taste Of India in Winchester, VA

by Danielle Bussone

 

As you must know by now, Rich and I are huge fans of Indian cuisine. Indian food is a perfect fit for plant-based diners with a penchant for robust spice blends and mouth-watering preparations. Indian fare varies from restaurant to restaurant just as it does from region to region within India. This provides us with endless opportunities for exploration of this exotic cuisine as this visit exemplifies. Rich and I are delighted to report on dishes we have not previously encountered.

 

 

 

Yesterday, upon returning from a family affair in Syracuse, NY, we stopped at Winchester, Virginia for a sleepover and a meal. Luckily for us, Taste of India Winchester must have been signaling to us telepathically because our fine-tuned culinary antennae honed in on their transmission and directed us right to their location, just as we finished checking into our room.

 

 

 

 

 

Taste of India is a gorgeous restaurant decked out with large comfortable booths, glass-covered tablecloths, a bar with seating, and a splendid buffet area with free-standing tables and chairs. The buffet is served at lunchtime from 11am to 2:30pm, Tuesdays through Sundays. The restaurant is closed Mondays. The buffet boasts at least three vegan items on the menu at all times. There is also a fourth item that may be either vegan or vegetarian, depending on the day. The bar serves a variety of beers and wines but no hard liquor.

 

 

Buffet Area (Tues-Sun 11am-2:30pm)

 

Bar serves beer and wine

 

The first thing I noticed upon opening the menu, is that there is a separate vegetarian section in which vegan options are clearly listed as VEGAN! As much sense at this makes, it rarely ever happens. I usually have to go through the menu ingredient by ingredient, hassling the waiter with dozens of questions, and still I’m not really sure if I’m getting a truly vegan product. Taste of India Winchester has taken the guesswork out of the equation, with the exception of the appetizer section, where one does still have to ask. That list is not long though, and the staff know what they are doing, so even that is not a problem.

A welcome plate arrived with three types of sauces and a crispy flatbread, almost like a cracker, imbedded with cumin seeds. One of the sauces was a sweet tamarind chutney, the second was a chunky savory mint and cilantro green sauce, and the third a crisp onion condiment with tomato puree and spices. All worthy of recognition!

 

Welcome Plate

 

For starters we shared a combination of two fried dishes which were very similar; a Samosa, a traditional triangular-shaped fritter stuffed with Potatoes Masala and peas, and Aloo Tikki, a similar tasting potato patty dipped in chickpea batter and fried. These were served with another amazing sauce, which is apparently a combination of the three mentioned earlier and with an added layer of something extra.

 

Samosa (left) and Aloo Tikki (right)

 

The store owner and manager, Kamal Khatri, has agreed to share his recipes for these fantastic sauces, which are staples of Indian cuisine. Rich and I will be returning in the coming weeks to do a video of of just how these exquisite flavors are achieved so that you will be able to make them for yourself!

Now on to the main course!

For my entree, I ordered Vegetable Patia, a slightly sweet dish of mixed vegetables stewed in a blend mangos and Indian spices and served with jasmine rice.

 

Vegetable Patia

 

Mattar Mushrooms, a house specialty

 

Rich ordered Mattar Mushrooms, a house specialty of mushrooms and peas in a rich and savory stew, also served with rice. They were perfectly spiced with a melt-in-your-mouth yumminess that is hard to describe. Of course, we shared so we each enjoyed both dishes, which were perfect complements of one another.

 

 

We also enjoyed Poori, a balloon-shaped airy unleavened flatbread that must have been quick fried. It left us licking oil from our fingers from its exterior, while still savoring layers of the soft interior. This was a first for me. While I’m not generally a fan of fried food, once in a while I figure I can indulge.

 

Poori

 

This is a definite two thumbs up for some of the most superb Indian food we have found in recent memory. Taste of India Winchester is located conveniently off I-81 and is a perfect place to stop for lunch or dinner to break your travels whether heading north or south across this great country.

 

Fortunately for us, the impending chutney/sauce/condiment video makes our return a fete accompli. I can’t wait to sink my teeth into some more of the many vegan options on the menu! 

 

Check with us in a month or so when Kamal shows us how to make his marvelous condiments!

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