Tag Archives: oaxaca

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

Traveling as a vegan In Mexico

I recently visited Mexico on a whirlwind 10 day trip. Given its such a big country with so many wonderful things to see and do, we – my husband and I, decided 10 days can only take us to a couple of places. This trip took us to Mexico City, Oaxaca and Taxco. This was my first international trip as a vegan and I was determined to stick to my lifestyle choice as much as possible. I had researched quite a bit and went armed with the knowledge of some vegetarian restaurants and with a few words in spanish to indicate milk, eggs, cheese, vegetables. I’d like to think I was largely successful, though its possible that I muddled up my Spanish somewhere and communicated the wrong things – but instead of getting overwrought about it, I’ll chalk it down as a learning experience.

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I also took photographs of nearly everything I ate and kept track of places I ate them in, so that I can share them here for future vegan travelers to Mexico – I’ll provide more details in a future post. This is more a summary of my veganism in Mexico, so please bear with me while I indulge in some prose.

It is no surprise that Mexico is a largely meat-based culture, which makes it a challenge even for vegetarians, much less vegans. Add to this their love of cheese (queso) and milk products (leche) and milkshakes (licuados), it appears a vegan will have a difficult time. Don’t let this stop you from visiting this wonderful country – with some planning and forbearance, its possible to be vegan. There will be times when it feels highly frustrating when you have been walking all day and an empty stomach is surely a recipe for disaster; and all you can see around you are food carts serving huge quantities of meat fried in large oil-filled pans, which you have no intention of going near.

Here is how you can be a vegan in Mexico:

Fruits are your friends – cut fruits, fruit juices and fruit sorbets

Fruits are everywhere in Mexico. While its not the primary component of a meal and not the protein giver, its an incredibly easy way to keep you satisfied until you can find proper lunch or dinner. Street carts and just-off-the-road stalls that sell cut fruits, fruit juices, fruit ices abound all around Mexico. Grab some fruits whenever you come across them; or buy some apples from the market (which is very likely a walking distance from the hostel). Bananas are great too, but tend to get mushy over the course of the day. So apples are best for storing. Alternatively, freshly made fruit juices are also easily available. Fruit juice without any added water or sugar is called “jugo” and with added water is called “agua”. Agua is unlimited in some of the buffet restaurants I went to.

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Quesadillas/Enchilladas need not always have cheese

While its true cheese is a primary component, I have had both these dishes without cheese. When street stalls or market stalls are the only options, I tend to look for places that pre-prepared stuffed tortillas just waiting to warmed up when buying. I found a lady selling an enchillada that only had mushrooms (champinones) stuffed in it, among other things. She had all these other stuffed items too, like parathas, but in various shapes and sizes. Some had cheese and some had meat. My enchillada was deep fried and not healthy at all, but it tasted good with the hot sauce she gave me and I was set for the night, food wise. Which is what really matters, as we had an overnight bus journey ahead of us. And it only cost 12 pesos ($1.03).

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Street food is really really easy to find and can be an ally!

Our days were packed with checking out the sights, so we usually had one good meal a day in a restaurant and depended on street food, fruits, snacks etc. for the rest of the day. It sort of worked out well. Some street food to try:

  1. corn – roasted or boiled, served with salsa picante
  2. fruits – see above
  3. any food stall that doesnt look too meaty (you’ll know it when you see it) – if your spanish is good, they might make you a taco with nopal (cactus) or flor de calabaza (squash blossoms). Ask if the beans is cooked with lard (mantequilla de cerde). If in a market, keep walking around until you find a stall that looks good. There are so many different types.
  4. potato chips – yes! they sell potato chips in tiny plastic baggies and add a generous amount of salsa picante to it. I loved this.
  5. nieves (ice lollies) – They are like sorbets or fruit ice. Ask for “sin leche” (without milk). I tried mango, mamey, tamarind, tuna (prickly pear) and loved them all.

Create a vegan spanish cheat-sheet

If there is one thing that can help beyond anything else, its to know spanish. My spanish was limited to very few words, and I never regretted it more, despite carrying a phrasebook. If I go back tomorrow, I’d go armed with a cheat-sheet specifically created keeping my dietary concerns in mind. People are friendly and often willing to help, if only we can communicate our needs clearly. Some phrases I’d be sure to learn for a future visit:    

  • how is this cooked? (this is tricky – easy question to ask, but I am sure I wont understand the answer…)
  • what are the ingredients?
  • Is this made with oil? or lard? or butter?
  • does this contain… (cheese, milk, eggs, butter, lard, chicken stock…)?
  • can you please make this without…. (milk, cheese, butter…)
  • what vegetables do you have?
  • I dont eat …. (milk, cheese, eggs….)
  • create a list of ingredients that cannot be eaten
  • also very useful – create a list of fruits/vegetables commonly eaten at the destination

Research Veg Friendly restaurants

Happycow and VegGuide are good starting points to make a handy list of veg friendly restaurants. I created a PDF of restaurants from these sites and other sites and uploaded them on the Kindle, making it easy to refer while walking down. It also helps to know approximately which area they are located in. Its not always practical to go to these restaurants, especially when they are not close to sightseeing spots. On the other hand, you may just be walking down a totally random street and recognize two restaurants from your prepared list (Iike I did in Oaxaca!). Mexico has vegetarian and vegetarian friendly restaurants, at least in the cities, we just had to research them a bit.