Wandering as a Vegetarian in Peru

Wandering the streets of Latin America cities not only offers a bit of chaos and new sites to explore, but also a mind-blowing experience for the senses. There is such an incredible and rich diversity of foods wrapped around different shapes, emanating varied aromas and mouth-watering flavors. Lima is no exception to this and, actually, it might be the city on this side of the planet gathering some of the most exceptional food fusions. Its cuisine has influences brought by the Spanish, Chinese, and African immigrants, and most recently –in the 20thcentury- from the Japanese and Italian. Add to this the dishes from the different country regions, and voilà, the choices are endless.  With such richness, the question of how to survive as a vegetarian in a culture where eating any type of animal meat is deeply engraved in the mindset is unavoidable. 

Fortunately, if you are a vegetarian or vegan, the promotion of a green diet is arising here too, whether for health reasons or for ethical believes. I am not a vegetarian myself, although I have been one a couple of times, and currently I have no meat days two or three times a week. From this experience, plus the ones from some of my dearest friends who have visited from all over, we have learnt it can be tricky to stay within the veggie loop and much more if you are vegan.  

So, what can you actually do? Well, if you are staying at a hostel or house where you can access the kitchen to keep food and cook on your own, the local markets, supermarkets and health food stores  will be your best friends (Click here for a small selection). If not, do not panic yet, there are still options. What to eat? To start off, have no doubts over going to visit a market for breakfast or lunch. Options such as fresh juices or fruit salads are quite famous and always available for the morning. However, be aware there is a real tendency for extra sweetness in our drinks. Thus, if you are like me on this one and prefer them just with a touch of sugariness, just remember to say “sin azucar” (no sugar) or “solo una cucharita de azucar” (only one teaspoon of sugar). This is very important, because here the vendors just assume you want sugar.   

Other option are street vendors. The offer ranges from quail eggs to “emoliente” and sandwiches (avocado, fried egg or cheese might be your choices; everything else got some meat on it). Even though it may sound controversial or not too safe, they are indeed a good option and can save you some good money (check the article on Peruvian Street Food for more details). The down side is that you cannot find them in the touristy area, but in downtown and the center area of the traditional neighborhoods such as Jesús María, Lince, Breña, and Pueblo Libre, and in Surquillo in and around the famous Mercado No.1 and Mercado No.2. Bear in mind, these kind of vendors work at specific times, from 6 to 9 am approximately. Then, other option are the small restaurants and some bakeries where you can find options for breakfast, too.  

For lunch, a whole Menu (soup or entrée + main dish + refreshment) or only the main dish might be a good choice when there is a combination of any beans, lentils or peas. In those cases, ask the waiter for ‘sin carne’ (no meat, please). Sometimes you can ask for a fried egg instead or for sweet potatoes if they are in the menu in another dish. It would depend on the Menu Restaurant, but usually it should not be a problem.     

And what happens if you are not feeling too adventurous to risk it in non-vegetarian places? Or if you just feel like being pampered after a long day of wandering in town? Where to eat then? Well, the number of options depend on the district where you are, but certainly, a good resource to check for Vegan & Vegetarian restaurants in Lima and other cities is HappyCow. Here you can find not only the address, but also the opening schedule and the type of food offered, including reviews. Most of the places are updated, with a few exceptions. Particularly, even I find it a bit over-priced, I like a lot the smoothies, desserts and salads in Raw Café. Other options for me are Veda restaurant, La Bodega Verde and San Antonio Cafe (these two last ones offer healthy food with vegetarian choices).   

Author Mabel