To be completely honest, being a vegetarian in a Latin American country is not ideal. While in North America we have a huge vegan and vegetarian movement, the movement has not quite picked up the same momentum in South America. While it is a struggle, it is definitely not impossible. Before traveling I knew I would be going on new adventures and trying new things, but I knew being vegetarian was one part of my identity I would not give up. Food is a large part of culture, but meat is not the only type of food in the world. Unfortunately, in Peru a lot of the amazing food that everyone talks about is the meat. There are large dead birds hanging in the market, along with fish and other various pieces of meat out on display. But if you walk a little bit further down the marketplace there are rows and rows of fruits and vegetables not available in the United States. I am not completely health conscious enough to go on the street and buy fresh fruit for a snack (for those of you who know me, french fries are my go to food no matter what), but I am completely and utterly obsessed with drinking fresh juice. While the United States may have wonderful meat alternatives, the US does not have fresh juice at almost every restaurant. Every time I drink juice in Peru I feel as though a little piece of heaven has liquefied itself and is coursing through my veins. Juice is amazing, but it is not the only thing that I consume. I found a lot of tricks and tips in Peru to have amazing food.
One of the biggest tricks for food in general I have found in Latin America is that at most local restaurants here in Lima there are two different menus. The first menu is the one posted on the sign outside of the door and the second one given to you inside. More often than not around lunchtime the owner of the restaurant or an employee will stand outside of the restaurant to try and recruit people to come inside and eat offering the menu posted outside. If there is not, simply ask the waiter about the special or the plate of the day. This food is significantly cheaper and consist of a starter, entree, dessert and juice all for 12 soles, which comes out to be around $6. Personally, I use the fact that the owners are trying to recruit people into their restaurant to my advantage. I usually say something along the lines of “Oh I am vegetarian I am sorry”. When I say this the person usually things of something quick on the fly to offer me. I find that people think too hard about being vegetarian, in both the United States and in Peru. It can be as simple as replacing meat with an egg or not making meat with the dish. Sometimes when I want a sandwich at a coffee shop, I simply tell them I do not want meat on the sandwich or look for something simple such as a muffin. While I previously stated the meatless movement hasn’t hit Latin America, there is a definitely an awareness. If you are willing to spend more money than at local restaurants there are options to enter into those hippy vegan spaces.
In the lovely district of Miraflores in Lima, there are a lot of restaurants similar to the health food restaurants in the United States offering tons of vegan and vegetarian food. In these restaurants you may be paying the price of a meal in America, but if you really miss a Quinoa salad, that is your go to place. Miraflores is also extremely close to the Pacific Ocean, so enjoy your fresh quinoa salad while looking at the beautiful ocean waves on the beach. If you do not want to continue to spend $15 dollars for food everyday and cook for yourself, it may be a little harder. My lovely host mom was able to find a grocery store with tofu and soy, but it was not super common here. Rice and beans are a cheap go to with some fresh fruit and eggs, along with pasta.
While I know a blog about food is a little stereotypical, I think it is important to let those who are traveling to know you do not have to give up a part of yourself in order to be a part of the culture. One of the biggest reasons I became a vegetarian was to be able to try new food, and trying new fruits and vegetables in different countries has been one of my favorite activities. Of course, this does not come without some backlash. Almost every single dinner when a friend of the family comes over they ask me why I do not eat meat or tell me I am missing out, but it is not something I personally want to partake in. I believe you can admire a culture and not necessarily have to take part in it. I definitely do not condone anyone who eats meat, it just personal is not for me. Everyone has their hard and soft limits about their lifestyle choices and if food is yours, just know it is completely doable. Take it from someone who is basically in the meat capital of the Latin American world.