This week on her food column, Zsófi is sharing her top places to eat vegetarian food in Birmingham, with a rundown of why each and every one is worth a visit.
I moved to Birmingham exactly a year ago. I arrived carrying a suitcase in each hand, a giant backpack on my back, and a yoga mat fastened onto my backpack that jabbed into my sides with every step I took through Digbeth Coach Station. While my physical discomfort evaporated as soon as I threw my luggage on the floor of the then empty room I have now filled with books, posters, and memories, the feeling of unease persisted for the first few months of my life in this new city.
I had arrived in Birmingham having just completed a five-month internship in Lisbon and as a result of a split-second decision to uproot my life and restart somewhere new. And let me tell you, moving to a city you have never even visited before as an adult and a “young professional” (I am using the word professional to describe me here in very loose terms) is not as easy as it was back when I was 18 and at university and making friends was as easy as saying ‘Hi, how are you?’. What followed that late spring day when I first set foot in the second largest city in England was unending loneliness and an incessant search for some sense of familiarity in the mercilessly industrialised streets of Birmingham. Perhaps, if I got lucky, also a couple of people I could share it with.
I know it sounds silly, but it was only at the big-girl age of 23 that I first understood how to exist with myself in solitude. I started going to parks for a walk and a read, took a blanket out in the garden to paint to the bird songs, went to yoga classes, and took myself out to lunch whenever my work schedule and budget magically aligned to fund my indulgences. Navigating through the streets lined with high risers, it was food that allowed me to connect with this new city and start calling it a home with affection rather than due to circumstance.
A year and some incredibly close friends later, my move away from Birmingham is in sight. Yes, I am going to move somewhere new again, yes, I know it’s maybe stupid and definitely risky, yes, I’m still doing it. I have decided to reflect on this past year the only way a foodie knows how: a collection of the best vegetarian-friendly restaurants for all of you out there who would like to take your friends, your partners, or yourselves out for a good meal and connect to perhaps previously unknown sides of your city and its people through food.
More on Vegetarian Food:
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Birmingham Food Scene
Birmingham may not have much to offer in some respects (oh, the amount of times I googled ‘fun things to do in Birmingham’ for some inspiration and came up empty-handed), but its food scene is unmatched in the country. This is a city of the most Michelin-starred eateries outside of London, which are in the good company of countless independent establishments for fine or casual dining. Whether you’re looking for luxury or affordable, there will be plenty to choose from.
Birmingham is also one of the most diverse cities in the UK and its multi-ethnic makeup is reflected in its culinary life. Its restaurants represent 27 different nationalities and it has dedicated whole districts to particular cuisines. The Chinese Quarter is a celebration of Chinese, Korean, and Malaysian food, and the Balti Triangle offers a selection of Middle Eastern, Indian, or Pakistani restaurants, amongst many others.
There are also many options for all dietary needs and preferences. Below, I focus primarily on restaurants with a wide range of vegan and vegetarian food for (not just) herbivores to enjoy.
A local chain with six different locations around the city, Damascena is an expert in Middle Eastern food. They offer a fantastic breakfast menu including all the classic avocado and egg dishes, but if you fancy trying out something new, a very tasty Damascena breakfast item is the Juz-Muz, a scrambled egg dish with chillies and tomatoes, served with flatbread.
If you happen to stumble upon a Damascena around lunch or dinner time, you will be handed a wonderful day menu with a variety of meze dishes, warming fuuls, and crunchy falafel served with some hummus or baba ganoush, or wrapped in Lebanese flatbread. I highly recommend ordering one of their mezze platters as they give you a chance to try a little bit of everything, the dips, the fuuls, the salads, the falafel. A platter can be enjoyed alone or it can also be shared between two people.
The first time I went to Damascena was in June, merely weeks after I first stepped foot in Birmingham. My weekends back then consisted of frantically searching for classes I could join or Meetups I could go to for some company. That weekend, however, a friend from Southampton decided to come up to see how I was doing in my new home (not well).
I felt nervous introducing a city to her that I barely knew so my genius plan was the following: let’s take her to a nice restaurant, feed her delicious food, and hopefully then she’ll be more forgiving about my clumsiness when we get lost in my supposed home, or get on the wrong bus home. We happened to pick Damascena, and ordered a meze platter, just like the one I recommended above. And as we both had some space left, we also ordered a dessert, Kunefe.
This phyllo pastry dessert is filled with warm and sweet cream cheese and vermicelli noodles, and is served with pistachio and ice cream. But I didn’t know that when we first took a bite out of the steaming hot dessert in front of us. It surprised me with its mildly sweet and crunchy outside that quickly turned into a soft, melted cheese texture and a gaiety similar to that of baklava. Kunefe is now one of my absolute favourite desserts and I have had it many times, but none of them will top that first one in Damascena. Oh, and my friend? She had a fantastically delicious time in Birmingham.
However, if you do choose to go to Damascena, make sure you have plenty of time on your hands. While the food speaks for itself, the service always seems to be quite slow. As such, I would recommend this place for lazier mornings or afternoons when you have a chance to just relax and enjoy the Moroccan-inspired decor, the noise of cutlery on the hand-made ceramic plates, and the content sighs of people filling up the spacious rooms while sipping on your coffee and popping a dolma into your mouth.
Read Zsófi’s first ever article!
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Tucked away in the Chinese Quarter, this restaurant offers a two-page vegan menu from their best Chinese dishes. I have only visited this restaurant once but it was a memorable afternoon for many reasons. These reasons were the flawless Wontons, the amazing Vegetable Satay Noodles, and the perfect melt-in-your-mouth texture of the deep-fried tofu.
Chung Ying offers many Dim Sum options, which are small plates designed to share around the table, or a wide selection of mains that you can order for yourself, but a little tip here: these are quite large portions, enough to share between two or takeaway for lunch the next day. I opted for the first option and my friend and I ordered two mains that we shared with each other.
Well, started out sharing with each other. My Satay Noodles looked just so mouthwateringly appetising that my friend couldn’t resist trying a plateful. She thoroughly enjoyed it until the point she realised that it had some pineapples scattered in it. Now, I thought the pineapples were a perfect addition as they added some sweetness to the noodles which counterbalanced the salty undertones of the dehydrated mushrooms, and I’m sure she would have agreed with me had she not been speechless from the fact that she had just eaten the one and only fruit that she is allergic to.
Luckily, we managed to avoid a reaction and an awkward trip to the A&E that night, but despite the happy ending, I am still a victim of accusations of deliberately conducting this plan to steal my best friend (her cat) from her (not a completely baseless accusation).
If you do end up in Chung Ying, first of all, congratulations, you are in for a treat, but secondly, please learn from our mistakes and check for all your allergies before ordering or stealing from a friend’s plate!
Despite its various accolades as the three times TripAdvisor award winner for “Vegan Restaurant of the year”, “Best in Vegan Cuisine”, and “Best of best 2021”, BA-HA is a hard-to-find hidden away eatery in a pub at the bottom of Digbeth High Street called The Rainbow. However, do not let that deter you. I know English pubs don’t have the best reputation, but this one is not one of the rowdy ones.
Its big windows provide a light and friendly atmosphere, but there is also a certain quirkiness to the place, perhaps as a result of the juxtaposition that beautiful ancient books give presented in front of a worn down exposed brick wall. There are many hidden corners in this pub, giving plenty of opportunities for privacy. The Rainbow might especially appeal to football fans, as there are multiple TV screens around the place that broadcast the important matches of the day.
The main event, however, is the food. On Saturdays, they offer bottomless brunch between 12 to 4PM and in the evenings, their menu is full of delicious burgers, loaded fries, and some English classics, made vegan. I have been here on many occasions, and I have found that their vegan burgers are magic after a long, hard work day that only serious carbohydrates can fix. Awards definitely well-deserved.
Perhaps the most budget-friendly option of all, Veggie Hut is the ultimate vegan takeaway in Birmingham. Located in Sutton Coldfield, Veggie Hut’s menu covers all bases when it comes to fast food cravings, made healthier and meat free. On my visit, I had a vegan kebab and some pieces of my friend’s vegan wings and popcorn “chicken”. In addition to our (fantastic) choices, the menu also offers a variety of pizzas, poutines, burgers, wraps, and classic English chippy food.
Veggie Hut is strictly takeaway, however. They offer delivery so you can order directly to your home, or, if you’d like a nice day out now that summer is finally here, you can follow in our footsteps: order for pickup, take a short bus ride to Sutton Park where, away from people, noisily stuff your faces and declare at every tenth bite how much you are enjoying our food.
If you have ever met me, chances are you have realised one thing about me: I absolutely love falafel. Everywhere I move, it is essential for me to find the best falafel in the city to satisfy my cravings. Well, in Birmingham, I happened to find not just the best falafel in the city, but I think it’s safe to say, the best falafel I have ever had.
Top Falafel at first seemed like an unlikely place for such a miraculous finding with its bright green food vans parked outside the Open Market or by Pigeon Park. But one bite in, I knew I had found the one. Their wraps are a delicious medley of falafel, tahini sauce, chilli sauce, parsley, salad, and pickled vegetables.
They also offer halloumi wraps, fries, and stuffed vine leaves on their menu, as well as a selection of juices and drinks. The menu is cheap and affordable and you can take your food with you to a park for a picnic or perhaps, enjoy it at home in front of Netflix.