All across Latin America, meat reigns supreme. As a vegetarian travelling in the region, you will find your options pretty limited, depending on where you’re travelling. However, there are ways to avoid meat slipping onto your plate.
The first trick is to be mindful of the fact that Latin America culture does not embrace vegetarianism – far from it. In many cases people struggle to comprehend the concept at all. This means that you need to be specific about what you do not eat.
Carne (car-neh) – red meat
Pollo (po-yo) – chicken
Pescado (pes-cuh-doh) – fish
If you tell a waitron that you don’t eat meat (carne), it’ll most likely be interpreted as red meat. Don’t be surprised if a “vegetarian” salad then arrives loaded with chicken.
Another place where the communication could go awry is where soups and stock is involved. If you ask for a meat-free option, it is not unfathomable that you will be served a delicious quinoa soup that tastes quite meaty. It’ll be the stock, because that is not red meat either.
So what are the safe options for vegetarians visiting Latin America?
In Chile and Argentina, the options will be wider. Both countries are culturally more western than some other parts of the continent, so vegetarianism is slightly better understood. In Argentina in particular there is a strong Italian influence so vegetarian pasta and pizza dishes are abundant.
In general, cities will be easier to navigate with specific dietary requirements, and Santiago, Buenos Aires, and Lima all have a number of decent vegetarian restaurants. In the rest of the region, as long as you’re specific about your needs, many restaurants will be happy to accommodate you.
For pescatarians, Peru is a breeze as the iconic dish, ceviche, is found just about everywhere.
For totally meat-free options, here are some things to try:
- Humitas – corn, onion & cheese wrapped in a corn leaf and boiled. This snack is found in many parts of Latin America, from Argentina to Ecuador
- Empanadas (salteñas in Bolivia) – a little like a pasty, if you opt for a plain cheese one, you’ll be safe. You’ll find ‘em in Bolivia, Argentina, Peru, and Chile.
- Papa a la huancaina – potatoes served with boiled egg and cheese sauce. Order this dish in Peru or Bolivia.
- Porotos granados – pumpkin and bean stew. This one’s a delicious staple of Chilean cuisine.
- Rice & beans – you’ll find variations of this dish in Central American countries, as well as Brazil, where it is served in just about every restaurant.
- Rocoto relleno – peppers stuffed with boiled egg and cheese. These can be quite spicy and are served all over Peru. Be warned though that they are sometimes served with meat, so make sure you specify you’re after the veggie version.
- Arepas – this is a Colombian street food, made from corn flour. Not officially a vegetarian snack, but as you choose your arepa toppings, it’s easy to go for an option that suits you.
Don’t let your vegetarianism put you off travelling in Latin America. Browse our holidays to Latin America here.