Thursday, June 28, 2012

Vegan Eats in Colombia

We recently returned from a wonderful two week vacation in Colombia.  I had googled 'traditional Colombian food' before we arrived to see if anything happened to be accidentally vegan - and learned that Colombia is a very meat-centric country.  Given that all the traditional cuisine (even bean dishes), aren't vegetarian, I was really surprised at how many different vegetarian restaurants there were, and even more surprised when the folks at the veg. restaurants actually knew the word 'vegano', which is vegan in Spanish.   Happy Cow was incredibly helpful to us in finding places we could eat, and Jon kindly updated info on Happy Cow within days of our return which I really appreciate.  Thanks to everyone who keeps Happy Cow up to date, you rock.


In Bogota, we ate at Govinda's, a Hare Krishna restaurant with a fantastic veggie burger, and an enchilada-esque item (in the background of this pic).

Veggie Burger @ Govinda's, Bogota
We ended up going back a second time for the veggie burger - they even had vegan cheese on it!  The fries were a little lacking though.  The waiters were super duper friendly, and we got to see some amusing Hare Krishna-themed movies subtitled in Spanish.  The chairs are plastic and the place has got a bit of a high school cafeteria vibe to it, but I don't really care too much about decor myself, as long as the food's tasty.

The next day we ate lunch at another all-vegetarian restaurant called Zukinis.  Its on the second level in a multi-level building among a bunch of office buildings.  Its a cafeteria style place, where you get a tray and they load it up (there are a few choices), pay, and then go find a table. Lunch plate @ Zukini

Shown above is a quinoa soup, some greens, rice, an empanada, a squash dish, a salad and blackberry juice.  The food here was okay, a little mild-flavored for our tastes, but all decent and certainly very healthy.

We ate dinner at another 2nd floor restaurant: Aquario [no pics], with a tiny health food store on the first level.  We had tamales with seitan in them, but the flavor was kind of blah, and the seitan was too tender for our tastes.  A lot of the vegetarian restaurants weren't open for dinner for whatever reason, so this was one of the few nearby dinner options.

The next evening we ate dinner at Quinoa y Amaranto, a very tiny restaurant close to our hotel offering empanadas.  They usually put an egg wash on their empanadas, but if you call in advance you can get them without.  We didn't call in advance, but learned you could do this once we arrived.  They said this type of empanada didn't have an egg wash.

Dinner @ Quinoa & Amaranth, Bogota

The salad was really tasty, and Jon loved the empanadas, although I wasn't as much in love with them.  We bought some for our airport lunch the next day, and although they said they didn't have egg wash on them, as it turns out, they did, because I tasted that very distinctive eggy flavor and nearly barfed all over the airport.  I noticed the parts of the empanada where the egg wash drips were thicker and more obviously egg tasting due to the accumulated egg.  Luckily, I kept my gag reflex in check, but I wasn't shy about spitting my food out into a napkin in front of whoever. 


After Bogota we flew to Cartagena, a stiflingly hot tourist trap with a very unfortunate tradition of carrying tourists about in horse and carriages.  The sound of the drivers trotting their horses up and down the cobblestone roads all day under the blazing sun was like nails going across a chalkboard.  I couldn't help but think of what an awful life it must be, to be forced to trot up and down baking hot streets while the driver looks for willing tourists.  Despite the heat I never saw the horses being given any water.  The horse and carriages were there day and night, and I don't know how long the horses got to rest, how man hours they were forced to work in a day, or whether there were any laws to protect them - or if there were, whether they get enforced.

Jon's work has an office there and his co-worker Jorge and girlfriend Maria Fernandez kindly met us for dinner at Torre Luna, a restaurant conveniently just steps away from our hotel.  They have a separate vegetarian menu, and I ordered the amazing vegan pesto, which I devoured with relish.  We ordered a passion fruit, mango, and yerbabuena smoothie that was off the hook!  Jon got the veggie paella, which he wasn't too impressed with.  You know who else really enjoyed their dinner?  The local mosquitoes that bit up my legs while we ate.  There are a TON of mosquitoes in Cartagena, watch out!

We had a lot of fun talking to Jorge and Maria Fernandez, and they were nice enough to show us around town after dinner, including a stop at the delectable Gelateria paradiso, with amazing exotic flavors such as Uve de isabella, nispero, mamon among our favorites. Corozo and guanabana were also delicious.  I found a new love, a fruit they call nispero (sapodilla in English).  We also learned that Juan Valdez cafe shops are their equivalent of Starbucks.  The coffee is really good there.  Jorge also let us know about an accelerated learning dance school where you can learn to dance in just a lesson or two.  Jon is damn lucky that I hurt my feet tromping around in heels on that cobblestone, because otherwise we'd know salsa by now.

The next day we lunched at Restaurante Girasoles Vegetariano, another 2nd floor restaurant with a health food store on the first level.  This was a fixed-plate place, and we really enjoyed the food here:

Lunch plate @Restaurante Vegetariano Girasoles, Bogota
Some yummy tvp dish, an asian style stir fry of veggies, a corn fritter, a salad, and my favorite, a small piece of fake ham.  There wasn't anyplace to sit when we arrived, and so some older guy motioned to us to sit with him and another man.  As it turns out the two men didn't know each other either, and once the other guy left we had about 20 minutes of awkward conversation with the older man, including (why, why?), our choice not to have children.  The best part about getting past 'a certain age', whatever age that is, is that our choice not to have children will no longer be a conversation that even random strangers feel they can have with us.

We ate dinner at a darling little Indian place run by Hare Krishnas [no pics], which also has a massage parlor, a small shop, and rooms for rent.  I thought the food there was so so, Jon liked it better than I did.

After Cartagena we spent several days at Costeno Beach Surf Camp, a rustic surf lodge on the beach above Tayrona park, a nature preserve.  We had notified them in advance that we were vegan, so they made us yummy special vegan meals for lunch and dinner, and served us granola without milk for breakfast.  We then stayed one night in Santa Marta, a lovely seaside town.  We enjoyed a tasty lunch at a cafe called Vital

Sarah & lunch @ Vital, Santa Marta
Everything was tasty, except the potatoes, which were kind of dry, but we arrived at the end of their lunch hour and I think they had been sitting on a steam tray for a while.  I ordered a nispero smoothie made with powdered soymilk that was so rich and creamy, it reminded me of milkshakes from McDonalds that I enjoyed as a kid.  I decided I could become rich by importing nispero and selling nispero soy milkshakes.  Sadly for my potential customers (and bank account), I'm just not that motivated.
Late that evening, I was really in the mood for something snacky, but we found that many of the bars didn't serve any food, just drinks.  We settled on a little Mediterranean and Italian place run by a guy from either the U.S. or Canada, who was very accommodating about our diet, and made me two versions of a whiskey sour even though I think its pretty uncommon to order that drink in Colombia because he had to google it :)  I learned that there is a type of whiskey sour with egg whites in it - a Boston whiskey sour.  He was astute enough to ask if I ate eggs before serving me my drink.

We ate quite well in Colombia, way better than I had imagined.  We really enjoyed the gorgeous landscapes, the warm and friendly people, and learning a bit about Colombia's history.


Jon said...

Don't forget about all of the amazing fruits we ate! Pitaya, sugar mangoes, grenadillas, etc...

Josian in Colombia said...

If you area looking for a good veggie or vegan restaurant in Colombia.