Tag Archives: ecuador

Vegan Travel: Vilcabamba, Ecuador (valley of longevity)

Vilcabamba is just awesome. Can I start my post in such a way? By the time we were done with Vilcabamba, husband and I decided that its the place to open a small, quirky Indian food cafe + B&B and settle down in our later years. Why do I say that? Because it looks like this:

and this:

Apparently the soil here is incredibly fertile and things just grow. Its way south in Ecuador, close to the border with Peru. Vilcabamba is a very popular retirement haven with middle-aged and older expatriates from English speaking countries. You’ll find them gathered around expatriate cafes discussing everything about the world. One such awesome place is Charlitos. A very unpretentious cafe with a simple international menu (mostly American) and a very friendly owner. The owner Charlie knows all his regulars and takes time to chat with the newcomers too. He told us that he’d never seen Indian backpackers before and recommended that we open an Indian restaurant there – I really warmed to the idea. :)

Anyway, he knows vegan and does a tempeh sandwich really well. Apparently, the tofu and tempeh is locally made. I was thrilled.

Tempeh sandwich with avocados from Charlitos:

Potato and pea soup:

Just uphill from the central plaza is Restaurant Katherine, another small hole in the wall cafe which is veg friendly. People are usually happy to put together something for me. In this case it was “arroz, verduras y lentejas” (rice, veggies and lentils).

Finally, after a long long time, I got to eat soy products in Vilcambamba. A tofu noodles dish from Resto. Terraza. Tofu isnt very easy to find in South America!

Tofu + vegetable noodles from Terraza:

Vegan friendly restaurants in Vilcabamba, Ecuador:

  1. Charlitos, on Diego Vaca De La Vega between Av. Eterna Juventud & Calle Sucre
  2. Restaurant Katherine; On calle sucre 12-54 & Fernando de la vega.
  3. Juice Factory, on Calle Sucre across from the park
  4. Terraza Restaurant – @ the corner across from the tourism office (oficina de turismo). Has tempeh and tofu dishes, rice and noodles.
  5. Hostal Izhcayluma just outside town has an extensive veg menu thats very popular with all types of tourists. We stayed there and had a lovely time.

Vegan Travel: Cuenca, Ecuador

Cuenca is a beautiful, colonial town in southern Ecuador. Narrow cobblestoned lanes, shady streets flanked by colonial buildings, little shops that dot these streets, a church every few streets thats a few hundred years old. All these interesting streets will culminate in a central square/plaza/zocalo where the locals will hang out during the weekends, street carts will sell local snacks and kids will run around and play with pigeons. Its the kind of place where I’d like to go live for a year or 6 months.

Thankfully, Cuenca is big enough and touristy enough to have good vegetarian food. A quick search on google will lead to plenty of results, so its really a matter of choosing the ones most convenient to you. I usually make a list of the veggie places with their addresses and phone numbers and mark them on a map (available for free at a tourist office) and if we happen to be near one during meal time, we check it out.

We stayed at Hostal Hogar Cuencana and we checked out the little international cafe just outside the hostel the day we arrived.

Bread with peanut butter, jam and cute little banana slices. Washed down with fresh black coffee. It is so satisfying to eat a comforting food like this in a foreign land.

We spent only a couple of days in Cuenca and that too was spent in two day-trips, so our meals mostly comprised of fruits, snacks and other supermarket staples like bread. But we did go to the Govinda’s on Juan Jaramillo 7-27 y Borrero for a lovely Indian-inspired meal.

A vegetable curry with coconut milk:

Stir fried vegetables with rice:

A local sweet stall. They sell a variety of chocolate, fruit, milk and coconut based sweets. I spotted plenty of fruit based sweets. I didnt buy any as I was hungry for real food.

At one time, we were walking down on a busy street after a meal and I spotted a restaurant selling a “vegano almuerzo”. I was bummed to have missed it. I didnt get a picture, but I got their brochure and here is their address:

Vegan meal in Cuenca, Ecuador

Nectar Veg Cuisine tea house & gallery, Benigno Malo 10-42 between Gran Colombia and M. Lamar streets. Phone: 2844-118. Nectarcuisine@vegemail.com

Vegan Travel: Banos, Ecuador

Banos is one of our favorite destinations from South America. Just to give you an idea, its nestled in a beautiful green valley, surrounded on all sides by mountains, one of which happens to be an active volcano. Its also Ecuador’s adventure capital. The term Banos literally means baths – the town has a natural spring for that very purpose. Yes, the Banans (?) sure do like to live on the edge. If you take a bus ride into Banos from any nearby city/town, say Quito or Latacunga, you’ll feel like you have left something weighty behind you and something heavy was just lifted off your shoulders.

The small town is brimming with backpackers and friendly locals who work in the adventure industry (rafting, paragliding, ziplining, mountaineering, biking etc.) and is home to an expatriate population too. Needless to say, veg-friendliness abounds in this little green hippie town. Here is what Banos looks like:

Pretty awesome, isn’t it? Now that you are there, you can eat this:

or this, among other delicious goodies at Casa Hood, which is owned by an expatriate-local couple. There is a small library from where you can choose to read a book while you wait (I nearly finished a novel, I made that many trips here!). I chatted with a friendly staff member here and she said they were considering bringing in some vegan baked goodies at some point.

The other awesome place at Banos is El Paisano (Vieira near Martinez, Banos, Ecuador), which is run an incredibly friendly Ecuadorian gentleman who also happens to be an artist. You can see his colorful and vibrant artwork displayed on the walls of his restaurant, also for sale. He is very clear about dairy-free dishes and will plate you some really yummy goodness.

His dishes are rich in vegetables and lentils and minimum seasoning, so it feels really fresh and healthy. 

Last but definitely not the least is Meeting Point cafe. The owner German has traveled extensively (even to India) and returned home and opened a cafe. German has coffee, food, free wifi and is great company especially when he has time to chat. 

Vegan pasta made just for me. It looks very simple, but it had all the right things – some olive oil, lemon, salt, pepper and mushrooms. 

Banos has many vegetarian friendly restaurants, thanks to its international crowd. At the same time, the prices arent backpacker friendly on a sustained basis. However, with a market like this, we chose to cook most of our meals in the hostel kitchen. 

Another little cafe that I spotted, but they were never open the time I was there. Just across the street from Casa Hood. Maybe they are open now?

Vegan granola!

Bolero, an instant barley drink, caffeine free and hermetically sealed. Didnt try this out, but this would be something I’d carry in my pack for instant nutrition.

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

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)

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.