Too many restaurants in South America have gigantic menus with no apparent theme. The worst part is, half the time they’re out of everything and serving solo pizzas (only pizzas). Pita, a small takeout shop next to the popular Loki Hostel in Cusco, Peru, is different. They have two options on their menu: falafel or sabih. We all know falafels, the deep fried chickpea delights. Sabih is another popular middle-eastern sandwich, consisting of pita stuffed with fried eggplant and hard boiled eggs. Sabih sandwiches aren’t vegan but the friendly staff at Pita are more than willing to leave out the eggs or combine the eggplant and falafel.
We arrived in Cusco, Peru, ready to settle down and enjoy the last few weeks of our time in South America. Rather than stay in a hostel, we decided to find an apartment for our two week visit. While searching for yoga classes online, I came across a website with an ad for space in a yoga guest house. The stars aligned and we found a nice family with a room for rent. One of the best things about staying with a local vegetarian family was that they were able to give us some great advice on where to find cheap and delicious vegan food in Cusco. The first place they brought us was the Comedor Vegetariano in San Blas market.
After leaving the beautiful Isla del Sol, we took a bus from Copacabana and crossed the Bolivian border, entering into Peru. Our first stop was Puno, a town known for the nearby Uros islands, also known as the floating islands. We were there for less than 24 hours but managed to see the floating islands, and find a great dinner spot. Initially, we set out in search of a vegetarian restaurant recommended by Lonely Planet. We walked up and down the same street several times before coming to the conclusion that the vegetarian restaurant we were looking for had gone out of business. In its place was a new restaurant, Balcones de Peru. With the offer of a free glass of wine and a Peruvian music and dance show, we were lured in. First to arrive at our table was a plate of beautifully displayed root vegetable chips with a small dish of sweet and sour sauce.
After spending five days in La Paz, we caught a bus to Copacabana, a small town on the shore of lake Titicaca, the largest lake in South America and one of the highest navigable lakes in the world. From Copacabana, we took a two hour boat ride to Isla del Sol (island of the sun), a rocky island with lots of ruins and a small community of local residents. Before hopping on the boat, we had a few minutes to run to the market and grab some snacks. We whipped up a great tomato, avocado and rosemary sandwich for the ride over.
We found Namás Té (aka Namaste) on our second last day in La Paz, Bolivia. We were so impressed with their four course lunch menu, we couldn’t resist eating there two days in a row. It’s a beautiful restaurant, with friendly staff, great food and walls full of cool, local art.
As much as I love eating, it can be a scary experience in South America. Water quality and sanitary standards just aren’t the same as we’re used to in North America. After traveling for a few months, I was starting to gain some confidence. I’d heard lots of stories about people getting food poisoning from vegetables and meat but hadn’t experienced any problems myself. And, thankfully, neither had any of my travel buddies. We’ve eaten street food, hostel food and restaurant food without getting sick and, for the most part, being impressed with the vegan offerings. Of course, not every eating experience can be perfect. When you get a bad vibe from a restaurant, you really have to trust your gut.
I have a love-hate relationship with gringo restaurants. By gringo restaurants, I mean restaurants specifically in the business of serving foreigners. The good: They’re usually safe places to eat, conveniently located and serve familiar food like pizza, pasta and salad. It’s also been nice to see that the majority of them promote the fact that they have a vegetarian menu, which makes me curious about how common it is for backpackers and travelers to be vegetarian or shun meat for health safety reasons. The bad: Their prices may seem reasonable when you convert local currency to US or Canadian but they’re still wildly overpriced and completely out of reach for locals. The other drawback is their lack of local influence. It’s not as much fun to travel internationally and wind up eating the same things you’d find at home.
We spent four days in Sucre, Bolivia, taking our time to enjoy the local markets and colonial architecture. We had a chance to eat at one of the city’s two restaurants specializing in vegetarian food, El Germen. It’s a small, dark and cozy restaurant with two pages of vegetarian dishes, one page of meat dishes and a German inspired baked good section. While we didn’t try any sweets from the bakery, they all had butter, we did have a chance to try a traditional Bolivian/Peruvian dish, as well as one of our favourite Indian foods.
The Salar de Uyuni, Uyuni salt flats, is one of the most popular places to visit in Bolivia. In Uyuni, there are more than 60 companies offering three day tours to see the salt flats, as well as all of the nearby natural wonders. In three days and two nights you can see colourful lagoons, volcanoes, geysers and hot springs. After interviewing several companies and doing some online research, we signed on for the three day trip with Tito Tours. They seemed to have a focus on safety and were very willing to accommodate two vegans and one vegetarian.
Tilcara was the last place we stopped in Argentina before crossing the Bolivian border. We arrived late at night and left early the next morning, leaving little time to enjoy the dramatic mountainous landscapes and rich aboriginal culture. Feeling too lazy to take advantage of the kitchen in our hostel, we headed out in search of local restaurant offerings. Lola Mora was our third stop, luring us in with their Sopa De Mani, peanut soup.