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Can You Be Vegetarian in Mexico?

Can You Be Vegetarian in Mexico?

We love vegetarian food, and certainly understand and respect your decision if you eat a vegetarian diet.  There are many good vegetarian restaurants in Mexico, but we think that, in general, it is a little tougher to find varied vegetarian food in restaurants here.  Of course, cooking for yourself is another matter–our fruits and vegetables are gorgeous!

July 3, 2008

Pablo with fresh corn.

Pablo with fresh corn.

Can you be vegetarian in Mexico?

The answer is a resounding “YES!”—if you cook for yourself.

If you are traveling and eating in restaurants, the answer is a resounding “SORT OF.”

We recently had a wonderful family come to visit us.  Educated, interested, with two bright boys ready to experience Mexico.  The only thing is, they are rather strict vegetarians.

Now, our faithful readers know that our world revolves around breakfast, lunch, dinner, and drinks, and that we eat a varied diet—a little of everything.  We have certainly eaten vegetarian in Guadalajara, and enjoyed it, but this is the first time we were required to search out a true, 24 hour a day Vegetarian Diet—and it’s hard.

I asked how strict they were, and the family said they would eat eggs and dairy in emergencies.  That opened up some more possibilities.

There are several vegetarian restaurants in Guadalajara, but they tend to be far from the interesting attractions, and must be sought out special.  If you have to race to one for each meal, you will spend all your time running across town.  Plus the grand majority are only open for lunch, so you’d need to improvise for breakfast and dinner.

There are also fruit stands, places that specialize in salads, and ethnic restaurants like Indian or Thai that by their nature offer some meatless dishes.  There is a Hari Krishna restaurant that offers a very good lunch.  And many places offer cheese and tomato lonches (hard rolls) or omelets or veggie pizza.

But I will tell you the truth.  While it is possible to eat many meatless meals in Guadalajara, to come here for a week or ten days and eat every meal vegetarian will be difficult and frustrating to many people.  Mexico just isn’t set up for vegetarian dining.  If you are resolved, fine—but you won’t find the variety you can choose from back home.  Tofu, tahini, brown rice and other staples can be hard to kocate here—not because Mexico is the end of the world, but because the native cuisine is so ample and delicious, there isn’t that great a demand for the more “exotic” vegetarian dishes.

Knowing that we would find no vegetarian restaurants open in the evening, last night we took our visiting family to La Chata, where there is a good variety of Mexican specialties  at reasonable prices.  It took a while to find the meatless dishes in the menu, but with persistence we came up with several, some involving eggs or cheese.  There was red rice and sopa de pasta (noodles in a tomato broth) that was pronounced delicious, and of course quesadillas and guacamole.  The quesadillas came with refried beans–which are made with lard.

There were also ample salads and one of the boys ordered caldo Tlapeño which is chock full of rice and avocado and chipotles and garbanzos in a chicken stock (I ordered it too—with the chicken intact, thank you).   Chile relleno—a poblano pepper stuffed with cheese—is also on the menu.

We had horchata—a rice drink—and beer to wash it down.

It was a nice and satisfying meal, but it about exhausted the possibilities and for us it would be difficult to eat the same things day in and day out.  That’s our opinion.  We love variety and trying different foods.  Not that we don’t understand all the good things about vegetarianism.  I was a vegetarian for 10 years in Ithaca when Mollie Katzen was at Moosewood, back in the ‘70s, so the idea isn’t shocking to me.  Omar has done his research as well.

It’s just that if life is a smorgasbord, why limit yourself—especially when you are on vacation and have the chance to try fabulous food in its country of origin?

It is your choice, of course.  If you chose to come to Mexico and follow a strict vegetarian diet, that’s great.  We just want you to know the difficulties—it sure helps if you can be flexible.

Whatever happens, just remember–you didn’t come so far from home to eat exactly the same way as you do in your city.  Enjoy the difference, resign yourself to the limitations, or stay home.  There, you’re warned!

Or rent an apartment.  With your own kitchen you can take advantage of all those beautiful fruits and vegetables and legumes you find in the market.

A note on salads and fresh fruit:  The guidebooks have conniptions about eating salads and unpeeled fruit in Mexico.  It is true that we have to disinfect many things here, with bottled water and drops (we use Clorox).  But rest assured that a business won’t stay open very long if it gives its patrons the trots.  We eat tons of fresh fruits and vegetables in restaurants, markets, and on the streets, and maybe have stomach trouble once every year or two—the same as I would in New York.

Of course, we are accustomed.  Some upset is to be expected while traveling, just from the change of schedule and diet.  Hot peppers, especially, will effect you the morning after.  This isn’t an infection, of course, it is just a natural reaction to spicy food.

The rule of thumb is—and you know this—if lots of folks are eating at a place, the food is good and will cause no tummy upsets.  The ice will be made with bottled water, the salad will be sterilized.

I mention all this because I was absolutely paranoid my first few months in Latin America.  I shied away from fresh vegetables, and only drank Coca Cola, without ice.  Boy did I miss out on fruit drinks, and pineapple halves loaded with guavas and mangos and yogurt, and salads of shaved beets and carrots.

Be fearless (the mantra of 365Mexico).  Try new things.  Be flexible.

It makes life much more enjoyable.

Dan and Omar

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2 comments to Can You Be Vegetarian in Mexico?

  • When we’d visit my Abuelita in Los Mochis she would bring out the iodine and use that to wash all the produce. We never got ill in Mexico until 1979 when our younger cousin gave my brother and I water from the tap in Mazatclan. We should have known better than to accept water served by a six year old. That was the year we were first introduced to amoebas.

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A sample text widget

Etiam pulvinar consectetur dolor sed malesuada. Ut convallis euismod dolor nec pretium. Nunc ut tristique massa.

Nam sodales mi vitae dolor ullamcorper et vulputate enim accumsan. Morbi orci magna, tincidunt vitae molestie nec, molestie at mi. Nulla nulla lorem, suscipit in posuere in, interdum non magna.