Monday, February 3, 2014

Vegan in the Land of Beef

Vegans are practically mainstream in California, but what happens when a California vegan travels to Argentina, which has the world's second largest beef consumption rate? The advice to vegan travelers in the Lonely Planet guidebook was not encouraging: “Good luck.”

So it was with some trepidation that I traveled to Argentina during the Christmas holiday with my non-vegan husband Phil and son Zack. Fearing I'd find nothing to eat but boring salads, I packed my suitcase with survival foods: peanut butter, granola bars, nuts, dried fruit, and a package of vegan coconut milk caramels called Cocomels, a gift from my friend Katie.

Before we arrived in Argentina, though, we spent a little time in Panama City, Panama, and Cartagena, Colombia. I didn't have high hopes about the vegan options in those places, either.

In Panama, we stayed at a resort where there were limited dining options, so they had a different international buffet every night. The one constant for me was -- you guessed it -- the salad bar. I did have a couple of tasty side dishes at a restaurant where we stopped after our Panama Canal tour: a bowl of coconut rice and pigeon peas and a plate of fried yucca.

Our next stop was the old walled city of Cartagena, which turned out to be pretty vegan-friendly. Armed with a Happy Cow print-out, I had some wonderful meals. At the Sol de la India, a hostel that also serves food, I had a delicious lunch, although I can't tell you what most of the items on the plate were. You go in, you sit down, and the server brings you food.

One Cartagena restaurant that deserves special mention is Torre Luna, which has a separate vegetarian menu. I had a great vegan paella there.

For dessert, there was an ice cream parlor nearby, Gelateria Paradiso, which offered several flavors of water-based ice creams. I had a scoop of coconut and a scoop of corozo, a palm fruit I've never seen here.

In Argentina, I ate mostly salads, pasta with tomato sauce, and the occasional milanesa de soha, a breaded soy patty served on a sandwich roll. But I also had a few memorable meals. With the help of Happy Cow, I found a vegetarian restaurant, Bio::Solo Organico, a few blocks from our hotel in Buenos Aires. The pictures below show my tofu al la mostaza (tofu in mustard sauce) and Zack's curry verde de seitan y vegetales (green curry with seitan and vegetables).

One of my favorite meals in Buenos Aires, not only for the food but for the entertainment, was at the Tiempo de Gitanos, where I had the Paella Huertana (paella with vegetables and mushrooms) while watching a spirited flamenco performance.

In Córdoba, Argentina, where Zack is attending college, we had dinner at a Middle Eastern restaurant, Al-Malek, where I had a wonderful fattoush salad and falafel with tahini.

Finding vegan options while traveling in Latin America proved to be much easier than I'd expected. I'm grateful to Happy Cow for providing a comprehensive listing of vegan-friendly restaurants all over the world. Another website, Vegan Food is Everywhere, is attempting to do something similar. It would be wonderful if vegans everywhere would add content to these websites in order to help your fellow vegans when they travel.

Already dreaming about my next trip...

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