A Girl, Stir-Fried Guide to Eating Veggie in South America: The Best Bits and the Hard Bits

  
So… Blogging went down the tubes when we left Peru and entered Bolivia. If I had to give a reason I would attribute it in part to Ryan and I agreeing to spend less time in big cities and go off the main tourist drag as much as possible, meaning we often went a few days without Internet, and when we did log on I had about 60 messages (mostly from my family, I’m not that cool) to catch up on and reply “yes, I’m still alive.” 

Although, real talk, at some point I also made the subconscious decision to not worry about it and focus on my personal travel journal and other stuff. There’s only so much you can make mandatory for yourself to do regularly when you have no sort of routine. I’m glad I put the iPad down for the duration of the trip, but now I’m faced with the problem of how to blog about 2 entire countries over one full month. Blah. 

So my solution is to give my version of a guide to eating in Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. Since I am only one person and can’t eat everywhere, and because especially near the end we ran out of money and subsisted off pasta in the hostels, this will be fairly incomplete. Think of it more as a trail of vegetarian eating than a comprehensive guide: a vegetarian option in every town along the way, in the order I experienced them. You could trace this guide on a map from Lima to Santiago! And, for each country I’ll include tips, things to watch out for when trying to order vegetarian, etc. Sound good? Cool. Here we go.

  
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1. Peru

Lima: A bit expensive for food overall; most restaurants in touristy areas have veggie options but they aren’t very inspired. A lot of avocado and tomato sandwiches. But totally doable for a vegetarian, easy to find stuff! Also, great markets, so it’s a good place to buy produce and bread and eat in.

  • The Healing Dog Hostel in Miraflores: Great, my first one is a hostel and not a restaurant. I’m including it because this place had the one of the best breakfasts of all the places we stayed. They make their own peanut butter and jam, and it was the only hostel I’ve been to where you get homemade granola. So solid. Also they have super strong coffee and a hairless dog. 
  • Bircher Benner Vegetarian restaurant: This joint was recommended in Lonely Planet for veggie food. I wanted to try vegetarian versions of classic Peruvian dishes, so we checked it out. It was alright. A really funny dining room – like hasn’t been updated since they opened in the 1970s, but I don’t mind that much. We had vegetarian lomo saltado with soy meat – the flavors were spot-on, but the texture of the soy meat seemed not as good as meat replacements we get in the US, if you’re used to that like me. A bit on the squishy side. The vegetarian ceviche was pretty good. 

Cusco: A vegetarian heaven in Peru. Cheap and delicious. Go here. 

  • Green Point: The most well-known vegan cafe in Cusco with 2 locations. At lunch time for 12 soles (about $4) you get salad bar, soup, a choice of entree, a little dessert and a drink. This place is all vegan and the portions are big and really filling – be prepared to crawl home. Nice little courtyard to sit in, too. The daily soups and the salad bar are the highlights. 
  • Prasada: Another vegetarian restaurant in my favorite neighborhood, San Blas. Same price of 12 soles for the lunch special, but it’s smaller so you’ll be able to walk when you leave here. I went twice and had the tacos and the tacu tacu (rice and beans fried with curry and other spices, topped with salsa) and they were both delicious. I like the actual food a little more than Greenpoint, but I’m not sure Ryan agrees. It’s a toss-up. Great juices and teas as well.
  • Govinda: We spent ages trying to find a Govinda location that was open. Then we stumbled upon one inside the San Blas market. It was just a stall in the corner that you sit on benches in front of, and each day there’s just one choice. But for 7 soles you get soup, and entree that includes salad and a drink. This shit is home cooked, dirt cheap and delicious. See my previous post on Cusco for more on this and on Prasada. 

  

  • Korma Sutra: A fantastic Indian restaurant in San Blas, right at the top of the main square. Some of the best I’ve had at home or while traveling. Still dreaming of that Chana masala.

  
Aguascalientes: You come here for Machu Picchu, not for the food. Really touristy restaurants and expensive without too many exciting options. Back on the veggie sandwich grind. But I mean seriously, go to Machu Picchu. But bring food. There’s nothing to eat once you get up there.

  • Supertramp hostel cafe: the one really good place I found there happened to be under my hostel. I think it has its own name, but if you go to Supertramp, you’ll find it. Homemade veggie lentil burgers that made me feel full for the first time since we got to that town, and great salad. Cool vibe too.

  
Puno: You’ll probably end up here if you go to Lake Titicaca or are heading to Bolivia. Most people just pass through for the night. Was sort of pleasantly surprised though, good people-watching on the lake front.

  • Loving Hut: A vegan restaurant with one of those cheap lunch specials. They stay open for dinner though I think. Food was pretty good, lentils and rice, and there were lots of locals in there. Which, you know, is encouraging.

Other Peru Notes:

  • In general, eating veggie or vegan is pretty easy in Peru. Most restaurants in towns with tourists have an option. The harder part is getting good nutrition – there’s a lot of vegetable sandwiches and pizzas, but not too many choices with nuts or legumes and not very much variation in choices. Buy cheap bags of whole nuts and fruits and stuff at the market to snack on. Good way to save money too.
  • When you get to a town, even if it’s small, google vegetarian restaurants. Some places I was surprised to find a vegetarian or even totally vegan cafe. Like Puno.
  • Ordering veggie burgers: when trying to verify a burger is in fact a veggie burger, you can’t always just ask if it has meat. We had a very long and confusing conversation in Spanish with a chef where he was like “yes, it has meat” we were trying to say but it’s not beef? And he was trying to say yes, it has meat but it is meat of lentils. It was funny. Anyway they might insist it has meat, because “sin carne” would mean there’s no burger on the burger. So it’s considered meat of lentils. Feel me?

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2. Bolivia

Copacabana: The first stop for a lot of people when they get into Bolivia from Peru. A pretty quiet lakeside town, very pretty but a bit touristy on the food front. But all the restaurants on the main drag will have veggie burgers or tacos or something you can eat. 

  • El Condor and the Eagle: Our fave breakfast place. Owned by an Irish guy who is really cool and gives great tips for your upcoming destinations. Also keeps travel books that backpackers write comments, recommendations and experiences in. Invaluable advice all around! And…. Homemade beans on toast. (Note Irish soda bread is not vegan, but I’m sure he could sub in different bread). I was skeptical because I love my Heinz and Bachelors beans, but they were SO good. And filling.
  • Isla del Sol,  Challapampa village: Definitely make a trip to the Isla del Sol. Breathtaking. We stayed in the village on the North side, which is tiny. There are more restaurants on the South side where most people stay, so you’d have no problem getting food there. BUT if you stay in the north, which I recommend, go down to the water right where the boats leave, and next to a small shop there’s an unmarked restaurant. They have a vegetarian dinner option – quinoa, veggies, salad, and an egg omelette that was pretty nice actually (would still be enough food without the egg if you don’t eat eggs). We also had a lot of beer. Good night. 

  

La Paz: Pretty much what you’d expect for a capital city. Easy to find vegetarian food.

  • Street food: I got really into these when I was in La Paz… There are all these hamburger street food stalls around and they have fried eggs to put on top of the burgers. But If you ask they will make you one without the burger. So it’s a fried egg with fried onions and peppers on top, and picante sauce. And one fat french fry. Not at all good for you, but delicious and for the equivalent of about 50 cents. If you’re low on cash, get this and some fruit from street vendors too. Bam.
  • Reencuentro: another vegan cafe with a cheap lunch special. Salad, soup, a choice from 2 entrees and a drink. Really good value, but we found the entrees way too big of a portion and pretty bland. It is all vegan though, and very possibly it was just the day we were there that the main was lackluster. Nice place, anyway. Good option.
  • Star of India: Good lunch special with vegetarian options – a little more expensive than above but the food was good. I just love Indian food. Check it out anyway.
  • World Cafe: This place seems to be THE ex-pat cafe. Lots of options on the menu though, and a nice cute atmosphere. We spent like 4 hours here. Free wifi whoop.

Cochabamba: Another big bus connection town when heading South, really pretty nice though. Nice main square.

  • Gopal: A vegetarian cafe with a lunch special, mostly Indian food. Two locations. HUGE salad bar, best one I saw. And the entree was really tasty. By this time Ryan and I were splitting the lunch special everywhere so we weren’t stuffing our faces so much. Nice courtyard.

  
Torotoro: This is a little off the usual route. Some random guy told us to go here, and I highly recommend. This place ruled. There’s a national park here, and they have fossilized dinosaur footprints. Real ones! And you can take guided hikes to caves, canyons and waterfalls. We swam in a waterfall. It was freezing. Suck it up. But… Food situation was maybe the hardest of anywhere we went for vegetarianism. It’s a real small town. Like two restaurants. So here you will probably have to ask people if there’s something they can make you. No biggie though. If you’re vegan, I would buy food and try to find a hostel where you can make your own food. Much easier.

  • Town Cafeteria/Market: This is your best option for breakfast. Cheap egg sandwiches with tomato and coffee. The vendor on the left when you go in the door is good.
  • Ellie’s: Little restaurant right across from the cafeteria. We asked if she could make the daily special vegetarian for us, so she gave us rice, fried eggs, French fries and salad. With picante sauce of course! A bit plain but filling and cheap. Nice lady runs it. We went there twice – there was a cafe down the hill with vegetarian food but they never seemed to be open. Maybe they only open during high tourist season. Whatevs. 

Uyuni: The Bolivian town where the tours of the salt flats leave. Lots of touristy restaurants in town so you’ll be totally fine for food. Pretty much all the tours will accommodate vegetarians too, just tell them when you book it. We did the 3 day tour that ended in Chile. It was awesome. Flamingos, geysers, desert, lagoons,  salt flats, an overload of crazy beautiful landscapes. No problem with me being vegetarian. Was nice to not worry about food for a few days!

  

Other Bolivia Notes:

  • A lot of times if you go into a restaurant and ask if they have anything vegetarian, they will say no. But then if you ask them if they can make you something without meat, chicken or fish, they’ll be like oh yeah sure. 
  • Having said that, I got a lot of plain carbs with egg in different forms. Rice and eggs were the Bolivian version of the veggie sandwich in Peru. It’s definitely harder here. In fact, I ate pretty much every combination of plain carbs. Rice and French fries, rice and pasta, noodles and French fries….
  • Having said that, despite some difficulty I did not have to or feel like I was obliged to eat meat anywhere. A big relief. People are nice. Just ask. 
  • I did have one incident where I ate 2 fries that had been sitting in some chicken juice by accident. I thought it was just grease from the fries. Threw up all night. Gross. It was my own stupidity, just a warning to be careful. I was staying in a hotel made entirely of salt too. Dark times.

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3. Chile

San Pedro de Atacama: Our first stop in Chile. In the desert and one of the best places to stargaze in the world. This was my THANK GOD SALADS AND BALSAMIC VINEGAR town after all those plain carbs. Food here is really good, but so much more expensive than Peru or Bolivia. Your lunch will cost as much as your hostel for the night.

  • Roots: Really cool little cafe with the best coffee in town and lots of options. Pizzas, falafel salads, all around yummy town. Awesome breakfast. Right on the Main Street.

  
Pisco Elqui: Cute little town in the Elqui Valley with picturesque mountains and vineyards. Loved it here. 

  • Durmiente Elquino: Restaurant with a nice outdoor patio and delicious quinoa salads. I mean I don’t know what they did to that quinoa but it was the best I’ve ever had.

  
Santiago:

  • El Huerto: In Santa Maria. My mom’s best friend is from Santiago and took us here. It’s rated in the top 25 vegetarian restaurants in the world! Bit pricier but worth it. Top quality. Daily lunch specials too. Really fresh and clean food. I had fresh bean soup, and then eggplant with red peppers and a yummy sauce. And bread and salad. 
  • Los Miserables Tacos: in Bellavista. Just an order-at-the-counter place but they have a few vegan options in their normal menu and the tacos were good. Reasonable option.

Other Chile Notes:

  • My Chile section is clearly a lot shorter. The reason is that Chile is quite a bit more expensive than the first two countries, and we went there last… So in those days we ate pasta in the hostels a lot. And a lot of bread. On the grind, you know. 
  • The go-to street food in Chile is the completo, a hot dog with guacamole and tomato and ketchup and mayo. They don’t have vegetarian ones but if you ask they will make one with fries instead of the hot dog and without mayo. That’s right – a baguette with French fries, guacamole and tomatoes in it. Sounds weird, seriously good. If you need a cheap junk food fix, this is your answer. If you’ve had a few drinks, this is your answer. 
  • I had an experience here where I ordered vegetable soup and verified with the restaurant waitress that it was vegetarian, and she was like yes! Yeah! But then as soon as I tasted it I knew it was veggie soup made in chicken broth. Something else to watch out for!
  • Overall, Chile rules food-wise. If I could do it again, I’d save more money for eating out there!
  • Two words: cheap wine.

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Questions? Additions? Let’s chat! It was a wild ride. That’s for sure.

   
 

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Brewdaddy says:

    When ordering a veggie completo make sure you use the term PAPAPLETO! mmmm papapleto…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Anonymous says:

    Fantastic guide! Love the post. And humor 😉

    Like

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