The idea of losing part of the experience because of your food choices can scare even the bravest veggie traveller. Most of the blogs and Instagram feeds around us seems to suggest you cannot visit New York without trying one of the best burger around the city nor you can say you have been to Brighton if you haven’t had fish and chips for lunch.
What I discovered during my first trip as a vegetarian is that a whole new world of opportunity will open to you when you dare to be unconventional. Think of it as skipping all the busy tourist places to get lost in secret streets and lovely artisan shops like a local. Not only you will have a lot of options but most cooks will be inspired by the challenge and offer you freshly prepared food using whatever seasonal ingredients are available to them, rather than microwaving what is exposed in the shop window.
Colombia is famous for its meat, and I didn’t really know what to expect until I landed in beautiful Bogota.
I won’t lie to you, when asking for a “comida vegetariana/vegana” some people will offer you chicken thinking that you are only avoiding red meat, but it will be sufficient to explain what you don’t eat and there will be no judgment or comments whatsoever.
One of my favourite meals, especially for breakfast or ‘onces’ (mid morning snack) is the Arepa, a typical flat (1/4 inches thick) cake made of corn flour. There are several variation of this, not all of them are vegan, sometimes they are made of egg (especially in the Caribbean coast) or cheese, but the classic recipe is plain and simple. You can eat them with avocado, fresh big tomatoes with lemon or vegan cheese. Remember to ask if they used mantequilla if you are vegan as sometimes they contain butter.
Colombia is also famous for its soups (sopas). I was a big fan of ‘Sopa de verduras’ during the cold nights in Bogota: these are typically made of seasonal and fresh veggie and mushrooms; delicious. Rice (arroz) will never go missing from the Colombian table. Colombians would often have it with egg, but you can find plain rice (arroz blanco) almost everywhere. My favourite was Arroz con frijoles (rice with beans), and I brought with me the habit of preparing this tasty and nourishing meal back home. Another all time favourite was ‘arroz con coco’ (rice with coconut), something I have never tasted before that was so refreshing and light I would always ask for the ‘bis’ (seconds, ndr). Coconut in general is used in a lot, as an oil but also for preparing delicious vegan desserts and juices. Once you tried patacones (plantain) you will never go back to chips again. This is a very typical Latin dish. You can have them fried, in a soup, as chips, stuffed and more. The typical sweet taste of bananas will melt in your mouth and they will always taste differently according to what they where cooked with, patacones are never boring.
Corn, yuca and potatoes also have a leading role in the Colombian kitchen and you will find them in different shapes and styles.
The selection of salads is endless – and I’m talking proper, rich salads with plenty of carrots, almonds, olives, spinach leaves, avocado, different types of mushrooms (champiñón). So is the choice of smoothies and juices: mango, pineapple, coconut, passion fruit, granadilla, guanabana, lulo, and more.
Colombia is gifted with a very fertile soil and the choice of fruits, veggie and legumes is just infinite.
I spent almost a month in this country and didn’t manage to try all the delicious exotic fruits and vegetables available. This allows you not only to have options but also to reach the right balance with all the essential nutrients (vitamins, proteins, fats, carbohydrates, etc) that you need.
Health stores and bio shops became very fashionable all around the country, you can always visit them to stock up on snacks or should you wish to do some grocery shopping and prepare something by yourself. Markets are also easy to find, they are a joy for the eyes and mainly plant/fruit-focused.
Speaking about restaurants, I have only been to a vegetarian restaurant once (the menu out of the window was too tempting) as I really didn’t feel the need. This was Anacardos in the old town of Cartagena, where I had an excellent vegetarian paella; you can also find soy burgers, delicious quinoa salads and much more. Even the bar on the beach in stunning Playa Blanca in Baru Island will serve you a vegan option with rice, salad and patacones.
Moving into the middle of the country, in beautiful Villa de Lleiva, a town that will restore all of your chakras, you can eat ‘al fresco’ in one of the many restaurants and enjoy your meatless meal.
Even Andres Carne de Res, probably the most famous restaurant in Colombia, not only for the food but for the full experience (live salsa music, over 60-page menu, unique design and an even nicer shop just to mention a few things) will have a wide choice of vegetarian and vegan food – have a look at the menu here.
Crepes y Waffles is a lovely food chain that I wish I could find in England as well. Here I had one of the best tofu salads ever! They also offer an entire vegetarian menu including crepes. Hopefully they will soon offer vegan crepes as well, – come on Crepes y Waffles, you can do it!
In general, Colombians have a strong connection with their land – they feel one with the Earth. I had the feeling they minimise waste where they can and, being very creative, they manage to cook part of plants and fruits we usually disregard in Europe.
And that’s how I survived as a vegetarian in Colombia, despite my friends betting I would eat meat on my third day.
And that’s how much the country of meat has to offer for non-meat eaters.
Don’t be ever afraid of your life choices, and you will find unconditional love along the way.
Useful words for a vegetarian/vegan in Colombia:
- Soy vegetariano/a – I am vegetarian
- Soy vegano/a – I am vegan
- No como carne, ni pescado – I don’t eat meat or fish
- No como leche, huevos, ni mantequilla – I don’t eat milk, egg or butter
- Tiene comida/carta vegetariana/vegana?- Do you have vegetarian/vegan food/menu?
- Lleva carne? – Does it contains meat?
- Me gustaría comer algo vegetariano/vegano, por favor – I would like to eat something vegetarian/vegan please
- Sin carne/pescado por favor – Without meat/fish, please.