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We had been warned that Argentina would be a difficult travel destination for vegetarians – it’s the home of the steak after all. After spending two months in Buenos Aires though we didn’t see what the problem was – we ate at lots of amazing vegetarian restaurants and wrote about the top 10 foods we enjoyed that weren’t steak.
Buenos Aires, however, is not the rest of Argentina. After leaving the capital we travelled to Puerto Iguazú before spending a few months in the Salta region in the northwest. After a week of road tripping around the area we were desperate for our own kitchen. Every day we were forced to eat a diet of medialunas, empanadas and either pizza or pasta for dinner. Worst of all, unlike in the capital, the pasta wasn’t even any good. We craved healthy food after consisting on this stodgy diet. Renting an apartment in Salta was wonderful as we were finally able to take advantage of the excellent vegetable market and cook our own meals.
That said, the vegetarian eating options in Argentina are much better than in neighbouring Paraguay. You’ll survive here, as we always do, and if you are lucky enjoy some meals along the way. Here’s what you are likely to be eating:
Breakfast in hostels and hotels is invariably medialunas (croissants) and coffee. They can be tasty but aren’t the most nutritious or filling start to the day. Every American we met dreamt of opening a breakfast restaurant as they longed for eggs, which are never served in the mornings. In more expensive hotels you may get some fruit and cereal to go with your pastries, if you’re lucky.
Empanadas in the northwest are renowned for being the best in the country, and we did find them tastier than in Buenos Aires, although that could be because we’d just come from the veggie wasteland that is Paraguay. There are less varieties of these savoury pastries up north though: you’ll invariably find carne (beef), pollo (chicken) and queso (cheese), so obviously we stuck to the cheese ones and had them often for a cheap lunch. Sometimes they throw in extra fillings along with the cheese like egg or potato, but these are never advertised on the menu – luckily the surprise ingredient was never meat.
Excitingly, in the north empanadas are usually served with aji, a chili and tomato spicy dip (see top photo). Well, it’s as spicy as anything ever gets in Argentina.
If you visit Cafayate be sure to visit La Casa de Las Empanadas, just off the main plaza, which has lots of interesting vegetarian flavours packed full with vegetables.
We do love empanadas, but got sick of eating them every day for a week.
Another traditional, tasty and vegetarian friendly dish that is commonly found in the northwest is humita, dating back from pre-Hispanic times.
Fresh corn and cheese are mixed together with onion to form a big mush which is served wrapped up in a corn husk and boiled. Unwrap your parcel and don’t eat the husk!
Avoid tamales which are like humitas but contain meat.
Locro is a popular local stew made with corn, beans, vegetables and usually meat. Apparently you can get a vegetarian version but we never managed to find one, which is a shame as it looked like it could be delicious. Let us know if you had any luck with this.
Quinoa is a grain-like food that is very nutritious and high in protein, and was sacred to the Incas. As it originates from the Andean region of South America we found it became quite common on menus when we visited the higher altitude towns of Cachi and Purmamarca. The quinoa dishes are sometimes vegetarian friendly so look out for it. Our quinoa stuffed pumpkin made a welcome change to pasta.
As with Buenos Aires the Italian influence is still strong in the rest of the country and pasta will always be an option, even in parilla (barbeque) restaurants. There is usually a choice of pastas and sauces with the vegetarian options being tomato, cheese and sometimes pesto. Unfortunately we didn’t find it of very good quality outside of the capital, as it was usually too stodgy. I also once found meat in my spinach and ricotta ravioli, even though the waiter had told me it didn’t contain any. Still, pasta makes a filling meal (two can probably share one portion) and can be found everywhere.
Like pasta, pizza is easily found with vegetarian toppings but the quality isn’t usually great with thick bases and too much cheese.
If you want to eat healthily, and are tired of the boring salads found in restaurants, self catering is really your best option. The market in Salta is excellent with a wide range of fruit and vegetables as well as dried beans, lentils and spices.
Salta Vegetarian Restaurant
Annoyingly Entre Indyas, a supposedly good vegetarian restaurant closed down just before we got to Salta. The only other vegetarian restaurant is Bios Diet (General Güermes y Pueyrredón) which serves rather bland, uninventive, but thankfully healthy vegetarian food such as soy burgers. There’s a daily special every lunch time plus a salad bar. In the evenings they only serve salad and quiche.
Learn Some Spanish
As with Paraguay your life will be easier if you can speak some Spanish to explain your eating requirements and check if a meal contains meat. A useful phrase to know is “Soy vegetariano/a” (I’m a vegetarian), although it is better to be more specific: “No como carne, pescado ni pollo” (I don’t eat meat, fish or chicken).
This isn’t a vegetarian specific tip but it’s important to remember that Argentines don’t eat dinner until late – 10pm is normal and most restaurants aren’t open before 8 or 9 pm.
Head to Buenos Aires
If you are travelling around Argentina and are desperate for a good meal then head to the capital. Check out our tips for the best vegetarian friendly restaraunts in Buenos Aires.
Please bear in mind that these vegetarian travel tips are based on our experiences in northwest Argentina. If you have found the situation different in other parts of the country please let us know.