After leaving Rio de Janeiro, we flew to Iguazu Falls, one of South America’s best known natural attractions. Since leaving Brazil, we’ve been traveling through a series of small towns in Northern Argentina as we make our way up to Bolivia. So far, we’ve stopped in San Ignacio Mini, Posadas, Colonia Carlos Pellegrini, Tafi de Valle and Cafayate. Some of these towns are very, very small. Some are even too small to support a supermarket, which makes finding decent vegan food a challenge. However, there’s nothing like a string of boring food days to make you appreciate interesting culinary finds like Vegemite, artisan chocolate bars, and wine flavoured ice cream.
From the Brazil side of Iguazu Falls, we crossed the border and returned to Argentina. Before catching our bus to San Ignacio Mini, we needed to eat lunch. The small convenience stores near the bus terminal didn’t have any fruit or vegetables, limiting our vegan options to white crackers or wholewheat crackers. We decided to find a restaurant and stopped at La Esquina. They had a few vegetarian options and helped us figure out what we could choose from. I ordered the Iguazu salad. This was not a typical salad. Leafy greens were replaced with shredded carrots, papaya, oranges and hearts of palm, a vegetable harvested from the core of palm trees. It was a weird combination. I did my best but could barely make a dent. Selling for $22.00 Argentinian Pesos ($5.70 USD), this was a pricey salad by Argentinian standards.
John ordered the lunch special and had a bowl of vegetable soup, spaghetti and a drink for $29 Argentinian Pesos ($7.50 USD). The food filled our bellies and we were able to board the bus and continue on to the next town without thinking too much about where our next meal was coming from.
We’ve been taking a lot of long bus rides. Knowing that bus stations have nothing healthy for us to eat, we always try to pack snacks, bring leftovers or make sandwiches. However, there have been a few times when we didn’t have any leftovers and couldn’t find any good bread or vegetables to make sandwiches. On one occasion, we had to resort to making a meal out of crackers, nuts and Oreos. I suppose there are worse options but after a day of this we were craving fresh fruit, vegetables and beans.
Making meals from scratch isn’t the most convenient option but it’s cheap and keeps us healthy. I wish I could take credit for the vegetable and bean stew pictured below but all credit goes to our travel companions, Dan and Calina. They prepared this dish at our hostel in Posadas. By the time they were eating dinner, we’d already scarfed down some less than satisfying soy burgers. We made a mental note to stop being lazy cooks.
While we were in Posadas, I met an Australian guy who was traveling with a jar of Vegemite, a spread made from concentrated yeast extract. At first, I was intrigued. He talked about Vegemite with the same fondness I use when talking about nut butters (almond, peanut, cashew…yummmm). When he let me take a peak inside the jar and smell it, I became skeptical. It looked like black tar and had a strong, pungent smell. I tried a small dab on a cracker and almost had to spit it out. It was so salty and bitter! It wasn’t like anything I’ve ever tried. The only thing I can compare it to is vegetable bouillon cubes. Imagine a seriously salty vegetable bouillon cube spread. Ewwww!!! Apparently, people in Australia eat it almost everyday on toast. It’s marketed as being an excellent source of B vitamins.
From Posadas, we headed to Colonia Carlos Pellegrini, where we spent two nights near the Iberá Natural Reserve, home to the largest wetlands in the world after Pantanal in Brazil. We went on a walking and boat tour, and saw lots of beautiful animals (click here for some pictures). The “hotel” we stayed in didn’t have a kitchen. On our first night, the staff sold us on a three course dinner for $30 Argentinian Pesos ($7.80 USD). They seemed happy to accommodate our preferences but the end result was bleak. We ended up with a less than appetizing salad, white pasta with tomato sauce, and an apple and orange for dessert.
The next day, we looked elsewhere for food and found Yacarú Porá Restaurant. They were kind enough to make us some vegan empanadas with tomato, onion and oregano. Despite being a bit burnt, they tasted good and were 100 x better than the pasta and salad we had the night before. At only $2.00 Argentinian Pesos ($0.50 USD) each, we decided to eat lunch and dinner there. We even ordered empanadas for takeout so we’d have lunch for the long bus ride to Tafi de Valle.
It took four buses and 30 hours before we arrived in Tafi de Valle, a beautiful town surrounded by mountains. We’d mentally prepared ourselves for another town with limited options but found a huge vegetable and fruit stand within two blocks of the bus terminal. We filled several bags with vegetables and made a giant soup using carrots, potatoes, bell peppers, eggplant, rice, lentils, split peas, and tomatoes.
In Tafi de Valle we also found a very sweet surprise, local artisan chocolate. Some of the parings included quinoa, chia seed, roasted peanut, puffed rice, corn and raisin. We tried almost all of the flavours. This was some of the best chocolate I’ve ever had, ever. Where else can you find such amazing varieties of chocolate made without milk ingredients? And for $3.00 Argentinian Pesos, or less than $1.00 USD! If there’s a better vegan chocolate bar out there, please tell me so I can hunt it down.
Heading North from Tafi de Valle, our next stop was Cafayate. We stayed in the capital, in a hostel right next to a large fruit and vegetable market. In the mood for more soup, we bought several bags of vegetables and cooked up a liquid feast. This time, we were brave enough to add some acorn squash. We’ve noticed most vegetable vendors in Argentina have giant acorn squashes (at least I think that’s what they are) that they cut up and sell by weight. It was our first time cooking with this squash but it didn’t cause us any trouble and made a great addition to our soup.
We made soup instead of buying tickets to the hostel BBQ, which was very meat centric but did include some tasty grain salads. I was able to snag a few bites and tried a grain salad with lemon juice, tomatoes and onion, as well as a rice salad with spices, tomatoes and fresh herbs.
The Cafayate region of Argentina is known for its wine, with most vineyards specializing in Torrontes, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. Before going to Cafayate, we’d heard about their famous wine flavoured ice cream. I thought it sounded really cool and was bummed at the idea of not being able to try it. When we found out it was made without milk or cream, and is essentially a sorbet, I couldn’t help but jump for joy. We each got a cone, one Cabernet, red, and Torrontes, white, and shared. It certainly tasted like wine. It’s quite possible wine ice cream is just frozen wine. Whatever’s in there, it makes for a refreshing treat!