The Organic Traveller
Sunday, 26 December 2021

Kerala: Eco homestays

The following reviews origin from my last visit to Kerala in 2016 and all updates since have their source in remote contacts.

Near Kochi (Cochin)

South of Kochi, directly situated at the backwaters in the village of Kumbalangi you'll find Gramam Homestay, a quiet, eco-friendly homestay which allows you to escape busy Indian city life. Its sustainably kept coconut garden by the water makes the surroundings for an old, nicely restored spacious farmhouse equipped with two twin beds and fans. The openness of the house allows you to experience all the noises of a tropical night. An outdoor bathroom attached to the cottage provides you with a roofed Western toilet and handwash as well as two showers under open sky. You'll stand on natural stones within some small bushes, and the used water from the shower percolates through the sand beneath the stones. Warm water is heated by the sun on the rooftop.

Breakfast (homemade Kerala food and/or prefab toast/"cereals") is complimentary, and lunch or dinner in the eating room next to the kitchen of the main house where your hosts, Jos and Lyma, live can be arranged on request. Some of the veges used in cooking may be "nadan" (i.e. from home gardens kept the traditional way without use of industrial chemicals), but there is no emphasis on organic food or drinks. Staying in the cottage you however have a kitchen at your disposal. An off season cottage night for two is Rs. 4000 (the two extra beds Rs. 800 each), but if you are on budget there are also two cheaper rooms in the main house.

Jos will happily arrange a tour on a punted boat, a visit to a shrimps farm, or a car with driver for you. For our trip to Abhayaranyam wildlife shelter with its elephant camp and well-kept botanical gardens he arranged an organic breakfast (Rs. 600) at a friendly brahmin family's of teachers who showed us around their traditional house, well and organic garden where we learnt about nutmeg, macis, Indian basil, curry leaves and other spices (as well as some useful Malayalam phrases).

Dewalokam, Thodupuzha

Near Thodupuzha

Far bigger than the aforementioned ones – almost a simple hotel with 11 single and double rooms – is the farmstay of Dewalokam Organic Farm, run by a friendly family of teachers and their staff from neighbouring villages. The farm has been a family estate for about hunded years, and after serving as a rubber plantation for the last generation, todays owners Jose and Sinta have been reconverting it into an almost self-sustaining organic farm following circular principles. While the entrance to the modern, though traditionally built main house is opposed by a spacious park, the land around the houses are now being used as spice, coffee, cocoa, vegetable and fruit gardens interspaced by some fish ponds. Chickens, ducks and turkeys range freely in the Souther-Eastern part of the gardens next to the cow, buffalo and sheep sheds. The cows' mock is collected and fermented in an underground tank producing fertilizer and the gas burnt in the kitchen stoves.

As we were lucky to observe during our stay newborn lambs are kept together with and fed by their mothers. All the cows were born on the farm itself, and none of the animals was deprived of their horns.

The double rooms in the first floor of the main house are simple, but spacious, clean and light, with an adjacent dressing room next to (Western) toilet and shower. There are more rooms in the adjacent older house. A night for two comes at Rs. 10,000 (8,000 off season) including four meals a day and activities like yoga in the morning, walks in the garden and in the vicinity, or cooking demonstrations. The house and the rooms are always adorned with fresh flowers.

The swimming pool is filled by fresh (rain) water, and you can also have a swim in the river. Jose and Sinta will also provide you with well-maintained bicycles for a village tour.

Most ingredients in the home-cooked meals (North and South Indian, with a continental style soup without spices to start lunch and dinner with) come from the farm itself (if you travel with children: The french fries are prefab and not organic). Guests usually are served seafish instead of fish from the ponds as the bones of the latter may be an obstacle, but if you insist you will be served a truly locally sourced fish curry. You may also purchase spices grown on the farm.

A side note: Before you start criticising any of the aforementioned places for burning paper and plastic waste on their land hesitate a minute and think about what you were going to do without communal waste collecting and separating facilities which generally are not available in rural areas.

Confirmed closed as of 2022

(Temporarily?) closed

Their website was gone, their phone number no longer operating, and they did neither answer e-mails nor Skype messages. Finally I got an automated answer that they were closed due to monsoon repair and would reopen in August. We tried to call again from India mid of August 2016, and still the phone was gone. So some doubts may be raised whether the following eco retreat in Varkala is still operating:

Mind you, there's a place with a similar name, the "Eco Bohemian Masala" which tries to fool tourists into believing it was the aforementioned eco stay. Don't fall for it – according to Tripadvisor posts it seems to be a place to be avoided. If you happen to actually stay at the real Bohemian Masala, let me know.

2021-12-26 18:00:00 [Kerala, Alleppey, Alappuzha, Kochi, Cochin, Thodupuzha, Varkala, organic, accommodation, farms, cycling, covid, corona] Link

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Thursday, 23 December 2021

Munich: Chains good enough not to be boycotted

Organic and fair is going mainstream, and you will have to go a long way to find a big food retailer not stocking at least some appropriately labelled items. As long as you avoid the cheapest textile retailers you will also be able to needle-pick organic cotton fig leaves covering up for otherwise not exactly fair, social and environmentally conscious behaviour in many fashion outlets.

So even if you happen to be stranded in darkest suburbia, you will be able to survive somehow. In the Munich metropolitan area however, you have the choice of leaving your money at retailers more conscious than average. Some of them are local chains, others have outlets or franchise takers everywhere in Germany and sometimes even abroad.

Food and necessities

There's a wide range of organic full retailers as well as smaller organic supermarkets, so chances are good that you will find one in your vicinity. Most malls however, with their exchangeable shops and brands, stick to conventional supermarkets, and -- here's your choice -- a smaller health-food store (Reformhaus), often of the Vitalia chain. Larger and newer branches even offer a coffee or snack bar. Although some stores are up to 80 percent organic, check for organic labels, as up to half of their goods on sale may be conventional.

The DM Drogeriemarkt drugstore chain is being managed according to anthroposophical principles in such a successful manner that new branches have been popping up in almost every newly or re-opened shopping complex during the past years. It has always had a focus on organic and eco-friendly products (alongside the conventional stuff) and is most certainly the reason for that its competitors Müller and Rossmann now also stock a wide range of organic dry food products, sweets and drinks, as well as natural cosmetics. While the big Müller branches stock an impressive selection of natural cosmetics brands and recently stepped in for DM as a reseller of the Alnatura food brand, DM has a broader focus, with a series of eco-friendly household items such as nappies, detergents, dishwasher tabs, or organic cotton pads of the "nature" own-brand alongside the own-brands "DM Bio" (food), and "Alverde" (cosmetics and toiletries). In addition DM branches sell a growing selection of reputable organic and eco cosmetics brands, such as "Weleda", "Lavera", "Sante", "I+M Berlin", "Dr. Bronner" (all products fully natural) or "Eos organic", "Dresdner Essence" and "Kneipp" (watch out for eco labels). Products of the "Alnavit" brand for nutrition and allergene avoiding food and sweets are usually organic, as are the own brand of the vegan supermarket chain Veganz. Since they kicked out Alnatura as their exclusive organic food brand a variety of products by various organic producers has been showing up in the shelves. For detergents stick to products of the "Ecover" and "You" brands. Also a word of warning towards the nature washing detergent: It's labelled with the Blue Angel environmental label, but nonetheless contains synthetic perfumes which accumulate in your clothes.

Thus said: Fresh food aside you will find everything you need for a daily eco-conscious lifestyle. It should however not go unnoticed that DM own brands comply with minimum standards for organic food and natural bodycare only. Food products complying with higher organic standards such as the biodynamic corn products by Alnatura were replaced when the chain rearranged their product selection. DM is said to treat its employees fairly, though this may of course vary with the branch management. And if you are not satisfied with a product (like I was with the washing liquid) or simply bought the wrong one they guarantee that you may return it in any chain store, opened or sealed, even without receipt. I did it, and it always worked like a charm.

If you for various reasons do not like dedicated organic supermarkets but find the search for sustainable and eco-friendly products in conventional supermarkets tedious pay a visit to the first branch of the Fulda-based supermarket chain Tegut at Hauptbahnhof main station-

Former San Francisco Coffee Company Ostbahnhof

Lunch, snacks and coffee

All branches of the Basic supermarket chain have a self-service coffee and lunch bar, but the entrance area of a supermarket might not be the place for a read or chat while having a coffee. In the latter case you might opt for a franchise of the San Francisco Coffee Company (SFCC) coffee house chain, offering organic coffee, tea and soft drinks. Their cakes usually are not organic but sometimes there is an organic option on offer, and recently organic croissants and pains au chocolate were added to the menu. Always on sale are organic and vegan nut and fruit bars of the Foodloose brand which make a good (uhm, and healthier) replacement. However, by August, 2020 the company however was insolvent, and it was unclear whether the remaining franchises would survive. By the end of 2020 not many were left, and the website isn't up to date -- so before you head to a place listed on their website you may check whether I have it on my list of closed places.

The second franchise-based coffee house chain serving exclusively organic coffee is Black Bean. Unfortunately only the coffee itself (and some soft drinks) are organic -- no organic milk or pastries. However, since the Maxvorstand branch closed spring 2020 I am not aware of the status of the second branch in Schwabing. Both, Black Bean and San Francisco, offer free wifi.

Fortunately a third Munich-based coffee chain franchise is filling the gaps with new openings even during the covid pandemic: Coffee Fellows offer their coffee drinks both, in creamware, returnable Recup coffee cups and, from June, 2020, in home-compostable one-way cups (at present they still use plastic-coated paper cups). The chai latte is fully organic as is all the milk and if you watch out for the "bio" label you will also be able to have an organic softdrink, unfortunately from one-way plastic bottles. This chain has been expanding a lot recently and you will find them preferably in the vicinity of transportation hot spots like train stations, airports, fuel stations and shopping malls.

Interestingly one of the major bakery chains in Munich is an organic one: Hofpfisterei branches will usually sell you organic sandwiches (made of typically German sourdough bread) or pretzl with butter ("Butterbrezn" is not just a children's favourite), but on less frequented locations they may be outsold by early afternoon. In this case you can still buy organic spread (cheese or vegetarian) or sausages along with your breadrolls or opt for a sweet pastry. Most shops offer organic coffee-to-go, mineral water and softdrinks, and the bigger ones usually have a bar table or two. Both, the Hauptbahnhof and the Ostbahnhof train stations have a Hofpfisterei branch, although the latter one is closed on Sundays. An hour before closing Hofpfisterei offers a discount on breads, breadrolls and pastries, and many branches cater for the early bird, often opening at 7am.

For hearty Mexican fast food head for one of the Pureburrito branches.

Clothes

Both, the C&A and H&M fast fashion chains have been extending their range of products made from organic cotton, recycled and eco-friendlier materials in the past years. C&A shops label their sustainable collection clearly visible on the price tag (look out for small hearts and the "Bio Cotton" string), but the product range is restricted to basic items such as t-shirts and underwear, and apart from this unreliable. Kids and teens are better catered for than adults. Since they are only randomly presented together you may find yourself fine-reading labels.

H&M covers a broader range of sustainable products -- you will even find the occasional dress for women. Products of the "H&M conscious" brand can be distinguished by their green tag. They are presented together in separate areas, both, within the women, kids, and men stores, and hence easy to find. According to Greenpeace both companies are taking serious measures to reduce hazardous chemicals in the production process and to introduce fairer production.

2021-12-23 22:00:00 [Munich, Schwabing, supermarkets, coffee, snacks, lunch, bakeries, grocery, fashion, bodycare, household, covid, corona] Link

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Thursday, 04 November 2021

Nuremberg: Organic and partially organic restaurants and eateries

Each year Nuremberg plays host to what probably is the world's most important organic trade fair, Biofach, and the city has been wisely using the publicity that comes with the event. If you happen to be in Nuremberg around fair time you will see several communal events around organic food and agriculture. In 2016 the city organized an organic gourmet week during which participating restaurants and eateries offered fully organic gourmet meals at fixed prices even when they otherwise do so only partially. Visitors and citizens could download communally sponsored discount vouchers for these meals. Thanks to efforts like this Nuremberg has become a city where the extra effort to find organic lunch or dinner is comparatively small.

Engelhardts

Asian

Love Asian food? Although there's an abundance of Asian kitchens in Bavaria, it's hard to find the few that are using organic ingredients. So take your chance and dine at Engelhardts located in a beautiful lane of St. Sebald. The hotel restaurant of the family-run boutique Hotel Elch it serves 100 percent organic Thai and Laotic-style food, naturally also as a room service. Note that the place is closed on Sun- and holidays.

French

The first address in town is a cosy, almost 40 years old organic creperie, Ye'chet mad in the Südstadt neighbourhood. The audience is dominated by students, artists, theatre and cinema goers, professionals in art and culture and those interested in the resulting atmosphere. Many combine a visit with a movie in the adjacent arthouse cinema. You will be served a huge variety of fully organic whole-meal crepes, pleasantly thin, both sweet and savoury, as a main course and/or dessert. French salads, soups and appetizers round up the menu.

Franconian

A five minutes brisk walk from tube station Friedrich-Ebert-Platz you will find an organic pub of old, the Frankenstube. As you might expect they serve rustic local dishes, but there's a long list of vegan and vegetarian versions. Indeed, the vegan cabbage roll served with a hearty tomato sauce and pasta was very tasty, and not bland at all. All organic dishes are clearly marked as such on the menu but you should be aware (especially when it comes to meat dishes) that the ones without the bio keyword are conventional fare. The beer isn't organic (nor are the cakes), but the wine is. The place seems to be a favourite among locals, crowded even on a weekday evening.

Engelhardts 2.0

Ever wanted to try the Franconian speciality of Schäufele? When I discovered the newly established fully organic restaurant Engelhardts 2.0 at the Hauptmarkt the day after its opening I did not notice at first that they also offered this and other meat-based dishes. Italian-inspired vegetarian sandwiches and yummy vegan Austrian "Mehlspeisen" (sweet and filling flour-based desserts which also can be eaten as a course of its own) like the Kaiserschmarrn and the Dampfnudel yeast dumpling were visible and welcome after the guided walk around the monstrosities of the Nazi party rally grounds at that cold October afternoon in 2021.

The new sister of the Engelhardts hotel restaurant with its open kitchen and clean bistrot appearance (to know that this location had been a McDonald's before explains a lot of the interior design) felt very new that day, indeed: The service was friendly but still a little slow and unconfident, and we were forced to have our vegan latte in one-way paper cups as the glasses got broken in transport. Since the latte was made with oat drink without asking I got the impression of a vegan restaurant which the place is not. A closer look at the menu showed a happy mix of regional and international soulfood, preferably made with local ingredients, and I'll most certainly give it a second try during my next stay in the city.

Burgers

Shabby chic with cartoon and neon elements make the environment for Auguste (formerly "Klein-August") in Sankt Peter south of the railway tracks. Unusually for a burger grill it's not self-service but a family-friendly pub popular with women. The kitchen closes at 10 pm (on Sundays at 9 pm). Some beer and soft drinks are organic as are the burger buns which are made from spelt, the meat and the currywurst sausage. They have a good selection of vegan and vegetarian burgers, too. The name of the place changed from Klein-August to Auguste when the bigger Auguste restaurant in the Künstlerhaus K4 next to the main train station had to close due to ongoing reconstruction work.

Vegan

If you prefer pizza or a totally vegan place (also serving burgers) head for the Veganel pizzeria and eatery in the Gostenhof neighbourhood. Aside the pizze (with plant-based cheese substitute) and burgers you can also have stews, pasta, bowls, cake and more in pleasant no-frills surroundings. The ingredients are all organic and to a great extend grown in the greater region and seasonal. There'a also choice of wheat and soy-free dishes. Unlike other eateries this one is open for dinner.

Ceased to exist

The following places shut down and where replaced by other, not organic ones. So don't be confused when you find references to them on the web:

2021-11-04 19:00:00 [Nuremberg, organic, vegan, vegetarian, lunch, dinner, French, Franconian, German, fastfood, burgers, pizza, restaurant, trainstation, hotel, accommodation, covid, corona] Link

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Tuesday, 12 October 2021

Nuremberg: Sustainable, organic and eco fashion

Apart from the omnipresent fast fashion stores of H&M and C&A where it is, according to Greenpeace's Detox Catwalk, morally acceptable to buy cheap organic clothes, Nuremberg offers a selection of concept stores of smaller independent fashion labels with sustainable approaches. Although very different they have something in common: awareness for the environmental and social impact of fashion right from the start, durable products eco-consciously made in Europe, and slower fashion cycles. Of course, all of them sell online as well.

For streetware and young designer labels opt for Glore north of Weißer Turm, on your way downhill to the river Pegnitz. This is the place to look for fresh, exciting styles and vegan fashion, both, for men and women. All items on sale are certified, bearing trustworthy organic and fair-trade labels. They also have a small range of organic bodycare on sale.

Colourful ethno-inspired clothes for women, predominantly made from organic materials can be found at Gudrun Sjödén at the eastern end of Josephsplatz. The Swedish designer is an eco fashion pioneer, and presents her collections on models of all ages. Apart from clothes you will also find home textiles.

A few steps away in north-eastern direction, south of Karlsbrücke you'll find Deerberg, a concept store of a family-run business which started as a mail order firm for sustainably produced shoe-wear. Since they have been extending into clothes for women sustainably made in Europe which is the focus of the store. Unfortunately there are still few organically produced textiles, and the styles are comparatively boring, but the shoes are worth a look as long as you do not shun leather.

Lysu

For children step by Lysu, a cosy specialised shop offering fairly traded clothes, toys and accessories made from organic and natural materials for babies, toddlers, pre-school and elementary school kids. The shop is tucked away in Obere Wörthstraße, on the southern shore of the river Pegnitz, opposite the Trödelmarkt island. Like many other small shops also this one is closed on Mondays.

2021-10-12 13:00:00 [Nuremberg, organic, fashion, shoes, fair, vegan, bodycare, shopping, covid, corona] Link

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Wednesday, 08 September 2021

Hamburg: (Partially) organic restaurants

While organic lunch options aren't difficult to find (namely in the neighbourhoods around Altona station) the organic evening out requires more research, especially for Monday evenings. The list I am presenting here surely isn't exhaustive since it is the result of a two-days stay, so I'm glad for additional contributions.

Mediterranean

Italian antipasti, oriental mezze, Spanish tapas or a simple pasta dish -- the organically certified wine restaurant Piccolo Paradiso serves vegetarian food from the Mediterraneans. The intimate, organically certified place breathes the atmosphere of an Italian trattoria, the home-made food owes its taste to the quality of the organic ingredients rather than the skills of an ambitious chef. So do not expect a fine dining experience, instead come to enjoy mother's versions of vegetarian starters. Advanced booking is advisable, and you shouldn't arrive too late as the kitchen closes around 10 pm. Note that the restaurant keeps closed on Sundays and Mondays.

Burgers

A small chain consisting of two restaurants Edelsatt is not an ordinary burger place: What you get here are tasty game burgers served without bread or in organic buns from the Springer organic bakery. No smoke-ladden air as in many, also high-end burger grills, tasteful decoration and reusable cotton towels in the bathrooms -- the restaurant in the Karolinenviertel neighbourhood is most certainly a place for the extended evening out with friends or the romantic dinner. A small assortment of organic softdrinks and beer (of the Stralsund-based Störtebeker brand) are being offered to accompany your meal, and if you don't feel for a game burger you may opt for a salmon, vegan quinoa or vegetarian aubergine-mozzarella one, or for a change, a game sausage. The second (older) restaurant is located in Winterhude.

If burger means fast-food to you, head for Dulf's Burger a few minutes walk in Western direction. The burgers served here are made from organic beef, and the queue in front of the place was most impressive when I decided against waiting in the rain during the "Hamburger Dom" fun fair next door. If you come here I'd be glad to hear about your experience.

Landhaus Scherrer

Fine dining

If your budget allows for the price tags of high-end cuisine you may opt for a dinner at organically certified Landhaus Scherrer located directly at busy Elbchausee in Othmarschen, a short walk from the river promenade. While covid-19 measures are in place the affordable bistrot is closed but its menu is available in the gourmet restaurant. It mainly consists of fish, meat and offal dishes typical for the region, everyting of course refined and made with the best organic ingredients and accompanied with high-class French and German wines (if you decide for it). If you want to familiarise yourself with the bourgeois Sunday kitchen of the German north, this place decorated in country-house style is definitely worth it. The typical audience however is probably not the crowd you may be used to mingle with: elderly and arrived in predominantly tasteless, yet expensive cars, though not necessarily dressed with Hanseatic style.

More to try

Here's a list of evening-open (partially) organic restaurants and eateries I found during my research but did not have time to visit. Your impressions are appreciated!

Ceased to exist

The following places shut down or were replaced by other, not organic ones, although you still find them on the web:

2021-09-08 15:00:00 [Hamburg, Altona, Othmarschen, Winterhude, organic, vegetarian, restaurant, burgers, lunch, dinner, takeaway, covid, corona] Link

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This work by trish is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. For commercial use contact the author: E-mail · Mastodon · Vero · Ello.