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.
La Paz, Bolivia, is a big, crazy and dirty city. It may not have been my favourite place in Bolivia but it did have a sweet side. On the good side, there was Namaste’s amazing four course lunch menu, on the bad, Nueva Era’s crappy veggie burgers. We also found some pretty cool chocolate treats and one crazy drink.
Before traveling to South America, I’d only enjoyed quinoa in it’s simplest form, as a cooked grain. I’d never seen quinoa plants, enjoyed warm quinoa drinks or sweet quinoa desserts. This changed when we went to Bolivia. We saw the beautiful, colourful fields of quinoa during our Uyuni salt flats tour. The quinoa fields in this area are known for being resistant, having adapted to salty and alkalidic soils. They have bitter seeds and a high percentage of proteins. We learned there are more than 1800 varieties of the super grain. I had no idea quinoa came in more than one colour. There is white, pink, orange, green, red, purple, and black quinoa.
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 love finding interesting vegan treats. When we walked by the Drogueria Natural in Sucre, Bolivia, I peaked inside expecting to find some natural supplements and beauty products. My head almost exploded when my eyes landed on their sweets section. I read the ingredients on every package and bought every single item that turned out to be vegan friendly.
While in Sucre, Bolivia, we stayed at the Hostelling International Sucre Hostel, which was just down the street from the Mercado Campesion, the local farmer’s market. Luckily, the hostel had a kitchen and we were able to cook up some dishes using the local vegetables. The streets of the farmer’s market are lined with beautiful, brightly coloured produce. And it’s sooooo ridiculously cheap. We had to make sure we went with lots of small coins because you can’t even break a $10 Bolivian bill there.