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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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