The Produce of Ecuador

It is my firm belief that the best part of being vegan is the fresh produce we get to enjoy significantly more than non vegans. While travelling, especially backpacking, its very thrilling to be able to walk into the market on market day, pick up just the vegetables you need for just one meal and cook it into a delicious meal. I have noticed this time and again in hostels that the kitchen is the most crowded space. Many backpackers enjoy cooking a meal so its imperative that you know how to cook with just one pot or one pan and are able to clear the kitchen quickly enough. One of our favorites – stir fry fresh produce from market with minimal spices and eat it with bread, rice, noodles or just plain!

These pictures are from the amazing town of Banos in Ecuador. Its Ecuador’s adventure capital. The scenery is spectacular and the town has a very strong veg food scene – unfortunately, I still cant find my food pictures from here  I’ll be posting some food pictures and restaurant information in my next post.

Banos, Ecuador. You cant visit Ecuador and not go to Banos if you like the mountains.

Vegan Food in Old Town Quito, Ecuador

One can always heave a sigh of relief when entering a capital city while looking for veg*n food. I combine vegetarian and vegan here as both are equally challenging. After a not so stellar experience in Otavalo, we headed down to Quito on New Years day and settled in a hostel. We’d eventually discover that all the (vegetarian) restaurants would be closed that day. Thank God for chifas! A chifa is a chinese food joint named so in some countries in South America. A chifa will always be open, come rain or shine, be it a Sunday or a New Years Day. Not unlike in the US where we’d be on a road trip during christmas weekend and would only eat Chinese food. At a chifa, you can always get “arroz con verduras” or “tallarin con verduras”. Just dont forget to add “sin huevos” and the other “sins..”. There was a Chifa right next to our hostel, so dinner was taken care of.

The following day, I eagerly dragged my husband to the local Govindas restaurant in Old town, Quito. To my complete and utter delight, I discovered not one but THREE vegetarian restaurants on the same block!! All had set lunches for under $4!! If you are in Quito, I implore you to walk around the block that has Govindas and check out all three places before you decide on lunch.

Govindas and Kalpa Vriksha are both Hare Krishna restaurants right next to each other. Go up the hill and turn left to find a nameless vegetarian restaurant. Deal?

The meal at Govindas. Comes with soup and juice.

The premises also has a small Krishna temple:

The other Hare Krishna resto right next door. Why are there two restaurants right next to each other serving the same kind of food?

Go uphill (your legs will show you the way) and turn left to find this no-name veg almuerzo(lunch) place:

And to me, the crowning glory of our stay in Quito – finding authentic Indian food. I was craving and dreaming chole and and was so so happy to finally find it at an Indian restaurant in Quito. Indian restaurants in this part of the world are a rarity, so when a Russian girl at our hostel told us about this place, we walked 30 minutes to the La Mariscal district in Quito. When I say ‘we’, I am usually the initiator of food related activities and my husband just obliges.

Great India Restaurant, Quito, Ecuador; E4-54 Calle Calama between Calle Juan Leon Mera and Amazonas

Easy and low cost Vegan pizza

This is my first post for vegan Mofo even though it began yesterday. But I am now at a remote no-signal area in Coorg and could not get any signal anywhere even though I had the post composed yesterday! That said, here is some yummy, cheap, quick and easy vegan pizza. 

Vegan Mofo is a superb concept where vegan food bloggers blog all through the month (October this time) barring weekends and connect with fellow vegans from around the world. This great event is organized by the folks at the amazing Post Punk Kitchen! I am participating too because I love PPK, veganism and reading great vegan blogs. There is usually a theme to this event. My theme this time is very simple – its more a goal really – I just plan to put up my pictures and vegan-food-related information from South America by the end of Mofo. Not terribly exciting, I know. However, I hope the next vegan who goes to South America will find my information useful. I really doubt I’ll post 20 times this month – thats jut far too prolific for me, but I’ll do my best.

After four amazing months in South America, I am now living in Bangalore, India. Its been very exciting meeting the local vegan group here through potlucks, group lunches and other impromptu meetups. Being vegan here is easy and not so easy at the same time. The most basic south indian dishes are all vegan, so one never goes hungry. However, eating out with friends is more complicated – since I am always ordering the same things. I recently went to a five star restaurant for a birthday lunch and ended up passing on most of the dishes on the pre-fixe menu as they were all dairy heavy. Until the Chinese food came out. :)

Anyway, one thing I miss the most about being in India – vegan pizza with daiya! I’ve just moved here from the bay area, California where daiya cheese was available widely. My favorite hangouts there were z-pizza in Mountain View and Patxis in Palo Alto. No Daiya for me now.

Recently Swami decided to buy some Margherita pizza from the store. He was concerned about my dinner, so I promised him that I’d make one for myself. So I just decided to whip up this really cheap version at home using store bought pizza base. Each base costs only Rs. 10/- and I topped it with organic tomatoes and an impromptu tofu-mint sauce. The verdict – he liked mine more than his cheesy version, despite having left it in the oven a tad too long!

What you need:

  • Whole wheat pizza base from store
  • any pizza sauce
  • fresh tomatoes, sliced
  • basil leaves – fresh or dried
  • tofu sauce

tofu sauce: blend together: one packet firm tofu, a handful of mint leaves, salt, pepper and a tablespoon of lemon juice. I then garnished the pizza with dried basil flakes.

Salento and Valle De Cocora

The very memory of Salento brings a fuzzy, peaceful feeling in my mind. Imagine waking up in a eco farm house which is accessible to the town center of Salento by a rural mud road by a 20 minute walk, surrounded by the sounds of nature and incredibly lush greenery. Here you will hear no traffic noise, no sounds of tv, but only the occasional bark of the gentle in house dog, Pablo.

One of the views you’ll find as a part of the daily grind of walking to and fro town. We spent a week at this gem of a place and it remains one of my top favorite travel experiences of my life.

The main attraction here is the valle de cocora, which is a region filled with wax palms, Colombia’s national tree. The scenery is absolutely gorgeous, even though we walked 5 hours to see it all. :)

If you walk 2 hours from the La Serrana hostel through woods, down a hills and a creek, past a meadow and up another hill, you’ll arrive at the lovely home of Pedro and Juanita and their two daughters, whose home Sacha Mama is thrown open to travelers. They will walk you through their day, explain how they live a simple but highly sustainable life. They grow wild, organic coffee, fruits and vegetables and have a lovely little garden with a bird feeder to attract the most vibrant birds. The kids are home schooled and know how the transmission of a 4WD works thanks to their PhD father. The mom believes in eating mostly plant based food as she thinks its good for the body and the planet. The family doesnt want the girls to use facebook yet! :)

The house Pedro and family buit with their own hands. The birds up front:

And I just mentioned to Juanita once that I only eat plants and look what she made for us for lunch!

A huge bowl of scrumptiously simple salad (center) containing cabbage, carrot, tomato, onion and a dash of salt and lemon, a vegetable rich pasta with a home made tomato sauce, lemon juice. Needless to say, I took several helpings of the salad!

Black coffee, no sugar. Made from wild, organic, coffee beans. Pedro showed us how to roast the beans, grind them and make the coffee. Cant get fresher than this. The coffee was superb and I didnt miss the sugar at all.

Back to the hostel after a trek back through the rains, a volunteer from Kenya cooked a Kenyan meal in the restaurant. For COP 15000, we got a lovely taste of Africa along with great company.

We also stayed there for Christmas as did at least a dozen other travelers. Christmas special dinner was open to all and the vegetarian option was very vegan friendly! It was a candle light dinner, so the pics weren’t all that great. 

Otavalo, Ecuador

Otavalo was our first stop at Ecuador. After an interesting experience at the Colombia-Ecuador border where we tried our luck at a visa free entry and succeeded (yay!), we were quite charged for shopping at Otavalo. Otavalo is famous for its Saturday market. On this day, the entire town centro is filled with arts and crafts stalls and these stalls radially extend for several blocks. Its no surprise that this area has some of the most successful indigenous communities. The locals are proud about their culture and one way they show it is by wearing their traditional dress on a daily basis.

The arts and crafts here are quite amazing. The endless stalls of colourful scarves, intricate beads and pretty bags and baglets will make you go ga-ga. Who can resist this?

All well and good. But you’re probably wondering, what about the food. Unfortunately, I had a very unpleasant experience here. A mexican restaurant (near hostel valle de amanecer), that openly proclaimed that it was selling vegetarian food did have extremely tasty food. Despite repeatedly confirming that my soup had no animal products in it, I was aghast to find a small non-plant bit floating in my soup during our second visit to this place. My buoyant mood until then quickly plummeted and we immediately left the place. Its probably my fault – its no big surprise that soups are likely to be flavored with animal broth, so I really had no business ordering. Should have stuck to sandwiches and burritos where I could see the ingredients.

The second unfortunate thing that happened was that we were there during the new year weekend. Most restaurants that would normally have been open were closed. I cant even remember what we ate, probably sandwiches somewhere with lackluster fillings or a pizza without cheese (usually the easiest thing to get). 

The following day, we finally stumbled upon this place:

It was a small cafeteria style restaurant on the main centro. When we walked in, we saw a woman at a counter with all the food for the day in front of her. You’d pay her and she’d plate your meal for you to take to a table. Very simple and unpretentious. After yesterday, I wasnt expecting to find anything or be understood. I was glad to note, however, that she perfectly understood my request for sin-carne, sin pollo, sin queso, sin huevos. :)

A sort of potato preparation (I could only taste potatoes, oil and salt), an ear of corn, a fresh salad with lettuce, onions and tomatoes, some sort of boiled maize and roasted corn (visible to the left of the corn ear) and my perennial favorite – fresh avocados. But my favorite part was this:

Chicha, a fermented corn drink presumably made of corn or maize flour and is sweetened. It has that slightly sour, fermented taste and was really cold. Sooo satisfying. We were going to leave Otavalo and head to Quito after this meal, so it was a very great way to end our stay.

Picanteria Centenario

Otavalo, Ecuador

A vegetarian plate cost $3

Located next to Indigo Hostel on Calle Sucre (near Calle Sucre and Salinas, away from the centro)

Popayan – UNESCO city of gastronomy

Popayan is a beautiful white-hued town in Southern Colombia. Its a charming colonial city with its white facade – all white colored buildings – in the old town area. I highly recommend a visit to this place if you are travelling in Colombia. Soon after arriving at our hostel, I also discovered that Popayan is appointed as a UNESCO city of gastronomy. While Colombia is incredibly charming in many ways, I wasnt wowed by the food there – a decided lack of spice and vegetarian options led to rather bland experience during meal times, but that was not the case at Popayan.

We stayed at the Park life hostel, where the owner turned out to be a fount of information about local food. Not only that, the owner’s girlfriend is vegetarian, so he knew all the vegetarian hotspots. The hostel is charming with a tidy kitchen, so do try staying here – you can always cook something delicious if you dont feel like eating out.

At the hostel, you’ll find information on the notice board on what to eat! There is a tiny corner shop called “La Fresa”. Ask around and people will point you to it. As you get closer, dont worry that you might miss it. Its the busiest shop at the corner. Its nothing by a small room with a few tables and a very down to earth look. But the people standing in line patiently are testament to the fact that something really special is being served here.

Potato empanadas with Aji de mani (peanut-chili sauce). Its out-of-the-world. We started with a small order, and then quickly got another, and another, and another. I was ready to come back again and again, but sadly we could go only once. At least go once, please! The picture does no justice to this dish. You just have to take my word for it. And the word of other Popayans!

Another vegan delight that you’ll find in other places in the region. The Bocadillo! Its a great snack to carry on a hike or a day trip. Its Guava mixed with panela or sugar. The one mixed with Panela is far superior, but the sugar version is easier to find. Get some and you’ll feel glad for the sugar rush when you’re really hungry.

Bocadillo with panela – I found this in a tiny store in Silvia market and requested the propreiter to repeat the word so many times, she must have thought me wierd.

Bocadillo from the supermarket, Exito:

The owner at Park Life will tell you about this little unassuming French restaurant tucked away just a few blocks from the main plaza. Amazing veg*n friendly food at very un-French prices. Great for a special meal after the rigors of backpacking.

Street carts selling fruit can be found anywhere – you’ll never go hungry, my fellow vegan.

Colored popcorn! I didnt try it, but couldnt resist taking a picture.

 

Vegan Food in Cali, Colombia

Cali, Colombia is a huge city. Way bigger than we anticipated. Therefore, our time there was extremely limited. We were eager to move on to the next small town on our journey – Popayan. Before we left Cali, we visited a lovely Hare Krishna restaurant called Salud Vibrante.

Salud Vibrante is located at Av. 6N No. 13N-17, about a 25 minute walk from the hotel Inter Continental. Its a small, unassuming place. So it may be easy to miss. Its across the street from a massive blue building (see pic below).
Cost for set lunch: 6000 COP (a really sweet deal)
Includes: juice, soup, entree plate and dessert (fruit)
The lunch was awesome! There is also a small counter selling something that looked suspiciously close to potato bondas! Unfortunately, I was too stuffed to try. 
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Veg food in Medellin – Hari Om Vegetarian Restaurant, Medellin, Colombia

Hostels are a great place to discover good restaurants. Sometimes we stumble into cool vegetarian/vegan recommendations. We found a humble flyer for Hari Om vegetarian restaurant tucked away on a busy notice board filled with hordes of other pamphlets. It was a good fifteen minute walk, but totally worth it. It is run by Hare Krishna followers with a bit of an ital vibe thrown in and is open until 9 PM in the night. Not open on Sundays I think. 

Hari Om is on a busy street, a bit hard to find (the street numbers dont make any sense). But please do persist, ask around and find it. It would be great for them to have more customers and the food was delicious and people who run it are really friendly. The atmosphere is colorful, cosy and cheery.
The set meal for lunch (menu del dia) costs a very inexpensive COL 6500 for the following:
  • Juice
  • A bowl of hearty bean soup
  • A huge plate filled with a salad, brown rice, a TVP entree, and a fruit based dessert (banana with cinnamon sauce).
  • A small cup of berry sauce
Location:
Walk it up from Metro Estadio or Suramerica
If you’re staying near or visiting La Setenta (Carrera 70), its close by from there.
Carrera 66b Circular 4 7MedellínAntioquia
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Sol De India, Cartagena, Colombia

Sol De India is a lovely vegetarian restaurant run by Hare Krishna followers in the heart of the city. They are centrally located in the San Diego district (in fact, two blocks from another vegetarian restaurant). They have a set lunch and an a la carte dinner which includes items such as masala dosa (!!!). I didnt get to try the dosa, sadly. The set lunch can cost 8000 COL or 10000 COL depending on the number of dishes you can eat. They have a very cool A/C room and a lovely courtyard. The food was simple and very tasty.

Our set lunch consisted of a juice (jugo naturales en agua), a soup made with maize flour, a plate with 4 dishes – rice, a salad, a lentil dish and a vegetable dish. For 8K, it was a great and filling deal.
Find them here on Happycow.
Address:
Calle Tumbamuertos, 38-43 
Cartagena Colombia 0057
318-3607190
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Hostel Cooking: Vegan Pulao

I love cooking in hostels. Shopping for produce in a foreign country and using those ingredients to whip up a meal is an aspect of travel I enjoy quite a lot. South America is no exception, I came mentally prepared to cook a lot in hostels.

Rice is plentiful in South America, so when we stayed in a well stocked hostel, we made good use of the kitchen and whipped up a veg pulao. I was really happy to spot these tiny sachets of spices in the market and we got some cumin (comino) to use in our pulao. It was a bit bland, but we got by with what we have.

Hostelgourmet_pulao

I cook with whatever is available. In this case, I was glad to find some oil to cook with. Since we are backpacking, we are hesistant to buy anything that’ll require us to transport it.

We bought onions, tomatoes, peas, cauliflower, beans, rice and cumin powder from the store. We soaked the rice while cutting all the vegetables.