Tag Archives: colombia

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. 

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.

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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.

Vegan in Bogota, Colombia

Being vegetarian in Bogota is pretty straightforward, as Happycow has 36 listings for Bogota. However, as a vegan, I had a few accidents where I ended up with a bit of cream or cheese on my plate as I didnt make myself very clear in Spanish or forgot something from the list of things I cannot eat. But on the whole, since we didnt stay very long in Bogota, we got to check out only two restaurants there, both of which very good.

Boulevard Sesamo

Av. Jiminez 4-64 (at Carrera 3, in downtown near Museo Del Oro, Cudinamarca)

They are only open for lunch and have plenty of set lunch options. I tried the vegano burger and Swami tried the set lunch plate with rice and veggies and proteins and it comes with a free salad bar and a cup of juice with water. I think you can only use the salad bar once (not unlimited, but maybe I understood it wrong). They have a little store where they sell essentials like seitan, veggie burgers, soy milk etc.

A very hearty bowl of soup for Swami’s ejecutivo (executive) lunch

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My vegan burger. Even though it said “hamburgesa vegano”, it came with what looked like cheese. Luckily, Swami ate the cheese.

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Swami’s executive lunch plate, which looked and tasted a lot better than mine. Very balanced.

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The restaurant which we randomly spotted while walking down the road:

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This seemed customary, providing a banana with some jelly like thing:

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El Loto Azul

Carrera 5A N. 14-02 (at near La Candelaria historic district, Cudinamarca)

El Loto Azul is an establishment run by Hare Krishna devotees, so eggs are out of the menu. Be a little careful about the milk though, as its ever present as in most Indian dishes. But the service is really friendly and the food is excellent. They also have a tiny store selling veggie essentials.

A fresh salad from the salad bar with a mint-cilantro dressing:

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Vegetable soup with maize flour:

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Set lunch plate with garbanzo beans, greens, rice and bread:

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Another type of plate with coconut rice, avocado and friend plantain

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Fresh soy milk!

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We both loved this soup, it was really hearty and filled with vegetables and tasty to boot.

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El Loto Azul from outside:

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Being vegan in South America – an ongoing effort

My husband and I recently arrived in the city of Bogota, Colombia for our four month South American journey. We have always wanted to travel for an extended period of time and we finally got the opportunity to do so. So we quit our jobs and are backpacking around South America until April. Our tentative itinerary is to travel south from Colombia on towards Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Bolivia and head back to the States from there.

I am taking lots of food photos and will be sharing them here.

How is being vegan in South America so far?

Its not bad, but I’ve made mistakes. My spanish comprises of a few words and while I seemed to manage pretty well with it in Mexico, its harder in Colombia. Maybe because the accent is different and the pace much faster? Or is it because I am initimidated by new surroundings and forget to say key things? I dont know.

But there have been meals where I got a salad dressing that didnt look vegan or I got a dish with a layer of cheese on it. To turn it away or let it go waste goes against my principles of wasting food or respecting the pain and sacrifice that has gone into that dish. So I am trying and improving day by day.

However, we’ve managed to find vegetarian restaurants in unexpected quarters, while walking down the street and have had great fun exploring the grocery stores and cooking in hostels.

Stay tuned for upcoming posts.

Vegan in Mexico: Taxco

My repeated searches for vegan-friendly restaurants in Taxco often led me to Cafe Sasha [Juan Ruiz de Alarcon #1 (In front of the Hotel Los Arcos), www.cafesasha.com]. Unfortunately, upon arriving in Taxco, I discovered from the front desk of the hotel we stayed in that this restaurant had been closed. I was thoroughly disappointed, and resigned myself to a lack-lustre gastronomic experience for my stay there. This story has a happy ending, so please read ahead.

A typical street in Taxco:

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A cheese-free pizza with vegetables, available easily in Taxco:

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A fruit cart vendor:

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The friendly receptionist at the front desk then told me this, which I somehow managed to understand as follows:

“Even though Sasha is closed, there is another restaurant now in its place…”

“Soy vegetariano! soy no como carne, queso, leche, huevos…” I claim with not a little distress, trying to impress upon her the gravity of the situation here. The only vegetarian restaurant I knew about was closed, and this was a grave scenario in my books. Not to mention that we were tired, hungry and ready for lunch, a recurring symptom in as many days.

At this point, I don’t blame you for thinking that I place too much importance on my food and that I am probably making a mountain out of mole hill. While I do confess to dramatizing a little bit and the reality is that I can content myself with fresh fruit juices, bread, jam and fruit if it boils down to that, the truth is that one soon tires of eating such fare. Of course, this was 8 days into our trip and I had been reasonably well fed so far; so I didn’t have much to complain about. 

Anyway, back to our little conversation. 

“The other restaurant Sotavento is just down the street, and they have vegetarian food” said the receptionist. She wrote down the name on a piece of paper, and I took it despite being skeptical about the availability of vegan food.

True to her words,  Sotavento turned out to be on the first floor (US 2nd floor) right next door to our hotel Emilia Castillo. On the ground floor, they had a menu propped. On quickly scanning the menu, I lost interest upon spotting several cheesy-pasta items, not being in the mood for pasta with marinara sauce. But, we did return much later for a lovely dinner…

A little grocery store in the monstrously huge Taxco market (a must see!)

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We walked further along Taxco’s steep and tiny streets and quickly arrived at the zocalo (the center). We zeroed in on a tiny pizza place located in the zocalo. You have to navigate through a building and a flight of stairs to get in here. Mario’s pizza has a patio area, a very friendly waiter who spoke a little English and was very helpful in putting together a pizza with cheese on one side and no cheese on the other side (my side:)). I later discovered that there are several pizzerias in Taxco, who are perfectly willing to make you a pizza with tons of vegetables with no cheese, and I found out, quite tasty ones at that.

Later that night, we decided to get sotavento another chance. Not only was the restaurant open late (until 11pm), but the owner spoke very good english and assured me that she can put together a meal for me with plenty of vegetables – these vegetables were not even on the menu! I asked her to include as many veggies was possible. What resulted was a plate of four enchilladas stuffed with rice and vegetables, smothered with green sauce, topped with lettuce and avocado. Accompanying this was some really awesome salsas and the best bread I’ve had till date in Mexico. It goes to show how easy it is to easily skip past something without truly knowing what lies beneath. I was so full, I brought back leftovers to the hotel room!

At Sotavento, the bread and the salsas (the little white stuff is not vegan)

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You can barely see the enchiladas beneath all the lettuce, avocado and the salsa verde. I added pico de gallo on the top as well.

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Restaurant Information:

  1. Sotavento, Benito Juárez 12, Taxco, Guerrero, Mexico
  2. Mario’s pizza, zocalo, Taxco, Mexico

Vegan in Mexico: Oaxaca & Tlacolula

Before coming to Mexico, I had done my research on vegan food in Oaxaca. I had memorized the name of the single vegetarian restaurant, after having seen it over and over on the web and in the guidebook. But on our first morning there, I was tired, sleepy and grumpy and on a empty stomach. We had arrived via an overnight bus and having deposited our things in the hostel, we had to take advantage of our wakefulness to explore the ruins of Monte Alban. I wasn’t going to make it there without food, but this was not the time to fish out our sorry map and find out where that single vegetarian restaurant was. I was going to have to make do with whatever happened by us.

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So we walked down a randomly chosen road that would lead us to the shuttle bus to the ruins. Oaxaca is cozy and beautiful and not even my grumpiness was going to stop me from taking in the charm of the town. So then imagine my surprise when I spotted THE restaurant I had read about over and over, just standing there in front of my eyes on that randomly chosen road. Visions of food floated into my brain and my husband, smart chap that he is, agreed to a meal right there and then without any protest. We walked inside Manantial, to be greeted by a breakfast special board (it was 10 AM), a cool, green and pretty courtyard, a very friendly server; in that order. The restaurant was empty, so we got to chat with our friendly server and she even spoke some english and agreed to make my meal completely vegan. I recommend the breakfast special – a main dish, a small bowl of soup or beans or a salad, agua fresca and complimentary bread, all for 35 pesos. We left the place highly satisfied.

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So we resumed walking down the road towards the bus stop and a few blocks later, what do I see again? Another vegetarian restaurant! This one was a store + cafe sort of deal, a simple layout. They have a vegetarian lunch menu, which was enough to send me into rapture. I mean, how often does one stumble upon two such restaurants within a few blocks of each other? The set menu was also priced at 35 pesos and comprised of: agua fresca (juice + water), soup, salad and an entree plate with rice and a wheat gluten based stew.

At Trigo Verde:

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Now, you’d think I have had it with my good luck. Later that night, during a relaxing stroll near the el centro, we saw an outdoor market and a little plaza near it. When I see a little plaza, I feel this need to take a quick peak. It had a few cute stores and then this little gem: Gaia organic restaurant. Unfortunately it was closed – so I vowed to check it out later and quickly bookmarked the location in my mind. I eventually proceeded to have a simple meal of lentil soup and bread there the following day. Gaia is coziness personified with a friendly owner working out of a very homey kitchen and tiny staircase leading to an equally tiny space above. 

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While I had a back up plan, almost every single place I ate in Oaxaca was stumbled upon – its a happy feeling. Here I was worried about making do with <gasp> sandwiches and cheese-less pizza’s, but fate seemed to have other plans.

If you are in Oaxaca, you will most likely go on a day trip to Mitla, another archaeological site nearby and on the way back stop at a few other places. One of these places is a village called Tlacolula. Its famous for its sunday market, but on the weekday that we went, it was a quiet afternoon. There is a main road that leads to the produce market, and on this road are shops and simple restaurants.  At this point I wasn’t sure what I’d get to eat, but I was confident as we were on this little side trip with Jaime and Sergio, two very friendly Mexicans from our hostel who were also traveling to Oaxaca. They were also adept translators; so when they ducked into one restaurant where I recognized “flor de calabaza” (squash blossoms), champinones (mushrooms) and (cauliflower) on the specials board, I decided to give it a try.

I watched Sergio and the owner of the restaurant, a lady with a very friendly, smiling face, exchange pleasantries and such in rapid fire spanish with not just a little expectation. When I finally heard Sergio tell her that I wont eat cheese, eggs, meat etc and saw the smile and comprehension on her face, I felt a wave a relief – I was in good hands. The next word from her nearly threw my off my chair. 

“Vegano?” she asked. 

“Soy vegano”…I claimed excitedly, as I had pretty much stopped using that word in Mexico. 

More rapid fire spanish followed, but Sergio translated it: “My son is vegetarian, but his girlfriend is vegan.”

Whoa! Here I am, sitting in a tidy, no-frills, family owned restaurant in a village an hour away from another small town in meat-loving Mexico and I am (indirectly) having a conversation about veganism with a local. Imagine my delight at this unexpected turn of events. I then proceeded to enjoy a warm, soft tortilla with a layer of black beans spread on it and then filled with flor de calabaza (squash blossoms). On the side, I was given fresh avocado slices. I also tried one with mushrooms and one with flor de calabaza and epazote. Agua fresca de limon helped wash this down.

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As I went searching for my host a little later to thank her for the food, (in such an informal setting, it was easy to do), she told me that she could also make me a cauliflower lasagna type of dish without the cheese! 

So, when you find your way to Mitla next time and are traveling independently by public transport or shared taxi (a tour bus will not stop wherever you want), take a little break in Tlacolula, stroll around the lazy afternoon market, get a cool drink and slurp it down on a shaded bench in the centro, shielded by the scorching sun and then have a lovely vegan meal at.

Restaurant information for Vegan food in Oaxaca & Tlacolula

Restaurant Manantial, Tinoco y Palacios 303, Oaxaca

Trigo Verde, J.P. Garcia #207, Oaxaca

Gaia Gastronomica Natural, Antonio Labastida #115, Plaza Las Virgenes, Oaxaca

Los Comales Restaurante, Avenue Juarez #32, Centro, Tlacolula De Matamoros, Oaxaca