Pero pollo no es carne!
If you're a vegan and planning for a trip to central america, you're probably thinking "what the hell am I going to eat"? Well you're not entirely wrong. Meat and eventually fish if you're around the coast is very present in the Central American diet. And when I mean very present, I mean it's pretty much everywhere.
A funny reaction you might encounter a lot when trying to navigate central american cuisine made veggie is "pero pollo no es carne"! which literally translates by "but chicken isn't meat"!. Indeed, for most central american people, chicken just isn't meat, hence their astonishment when you realize in shock that there is poultry in your "no meat, no fish" dish. This can usually be solved by a good laugh and an exchange of plate with another consumer.
At this point you're probably thinking that it's going to be tricky. But hey, no worries (as our friends from down under would say)! Here are a few tips on how to survive (and even thrive) as a vegan (and therefore a vegetarian) in Central America.
- Learn some Spanish
While this goes for all aspects of traveling including directions, where to sleep etc, when it comes to food and especially dietary needs, you NEED to speak a little spanish.
"Yo soy vegano y entonces no como productos que provegan de animales como carne, pescado, leche" etc which means "I am vegan and therefore don't eat animal products such as meat, fish and milk etc.." will go a huge way with waiters and street sellers
2. Shop at local markets
Grocery stores in Central America can be pretty disappointing as they're usually full of north american snacks (pringles, lays and other full of palm oil products) sodas and cigarettes. They can, however, be useful to buy pasta, rice and dry products.
The hidden gem though, is, MARKETS. Markets in Central America are colorful, cheap and everything comes from the local area. It's one of the only place on earth when you can indulge in avocados EVERY day without worrying about the travel it has made to reach you. While you may have to navigate between fish and meat stall, it's a great way to get to know the local, practice your bargaining skills and most of all try food that you would never think about at home!
3. Stay at hostels with kitchen
I find that's the best way to thrive as a vegan in Central America. As said above, you can find plenty of fresh fruits and veggies at local market and then cook them back at the hostel kitchen. Plus, it's actually a great way to socialize if you're traveling on your own for instance. Indeed, you can make extra and share your homemade meal with your new friends in the hostel.
4. Check online beforehand
While i'm not a massive fan of over planning when traveling and checking everything on the internet and on social media, it can sometimes be really helpful to navigate the local food scene or to not miss this incredible vegan restaurant in the middle of nowhere. Happycow is an excellent option as it lists most of the vegan/vegetarian restaurants out there and is super easy to use.
5. Share with fellow travelers
Don't underestimate your traveling companions out there! They can be real gold mines of information on what's not to miss at your next stop. And as travelers are usually quite open people, no shame in sharing that you're a vegan, you'll be surprised to find out how many also are! For instance, I met a great crew of fellow vegan in a tiny island off the coast of Honduras and it was so helpful and cool to have a little "crew" to share addresses and meals with!
6. Relax be friendly and understanding
You may not be able to be as strict about your diet as you would be at home so be ok with that! You're traveling so don't put pressure on yourself and just enjoy your journey! Plus, you'll hardly find locals as friendly and understanding as in Central America so just go with it, do your best, be patient and don't get annoyed when you're not being served exactly what you wanted and instead take it as an experience!
You'll only appreciate the easiness and comfort of home even more when you get back!
7. Eat guacamole (all day, every day)
Does not even need a description?
Oh, and if you're ever in Antigua, Guatemala, don't miss the place below. It had two places when I went and bothserve some of the best vegan food I have EVER HAD. Yes, you read right, EVER. So if you're a plant eater, give them a try, you won't regret it ;)
Samsara, 6 calle 7 avenida #33, Antigua, Guatemala