If you're a vegetarian contemplating travel to Mexico, there's no need to worry: you won't starve, and you won't have to survive on a diet of rice and beans either (though these may well end up being staples, along with tortillas and salsa too, if you're not opposed to picante). Fresh produce is plentiful, so preparing your own meals is a great option if you have access to a kitchen. In restaurants, you may have to do a bit of extra work to make sure there is no meat, lard or meat broth added to your dishes.
Here are some tips for vegetarians traveling in Mexico:
Many Mexicans seem to think that being vegetarian means just not eating red meat, and you may need to explain "No como carne, ni pollo, ni pescado." ("I don't eat meat or chicken or fish.") Ovo-lacto vegetarians will find plenty of options to choose from, but vegans will have a more difficult time. In general, the concept of not eating meat is considered a healthy lifestyle choice, but those who don't consume any animal products at all may meet with incomprehension and surprise (ie. "Do you just eat vegetables?!").
Chicken broth (caldo de pollo) is often used in making rice and soups, and lard (manteca) is also used in the preparation of many dishes. Avoiding these hidden ingredients can be difficult, and if you're able to overlook their presence, your food options will be a lot more varied. If you must have food prepared without these ingredients, you may be in for lengthy negotiations before meals in restaurants, so you may prefer to prepare food yourself or seek out vegetarian restaurants where they exist (mainly in big cities).
Buying and Treating Produce
Mexican markets are overflowing with fresh fruit and vegetables. Fruits with edible skin and vegetables that are eaten raw can be disinfected with a product called Microdyn or Bacdyn (brand names), which you can purchase at most grocery stores in Mexico. Add 8 drops for each liter of water, and soak your fruits and vegetables in the mixture for 10 minutes (you can do this in a plastic bag in your hotel sink if you don't have a kitchen). Good restaurants in tourist areas will treat their veggies in this way so you shouldn't have to worry about eating salads. Read more tips for preventing Montezuma's Revenge.
Vegetarian Restaurants in Mexico
There are vegetarian restaurants in large cities and tourist areas throughout Mexico. The restaurant chain 100% Natural has restaurants throughout the country and they serve many tasty vegetarian options though these may not be traditional Mexican dishes.
In Mexico City, some meat-free restaurants to check out include the following:
- Yug Vegetariano offers vegetarian and vegan options. Yug is located in Colonia Juarez, at Varsovia 3-b, just one block from the Angel of Independence and is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
- Forever Vegan - as the name states, the menu is completely vegan and also contains gluten-free options. There are two locations, one in Roma at Guanajuato 54 corner Mérida, and one in Polanco at Alejandro Dumas 16.
- El Jardín Interior has a pleasant garden space behind a health food store. Located at José María Velasco 63, Colonia San José Insurgentes-
Take a Street Food Tour
While most street food tours feature foods with meat, let the organizers know ahead of time that you're vegetarian, and they'll be able to find options for you and suggest more, so this can be a good thing to do at the beginning of a stay to get some orientation about where you can find vegetarian options. If you're visiting San Miguel de Allende, Merida, Mexico City, or Oaxaca, you can take a plant food lovers tour through Frutas y Verduras Mexico.
Vegetarian Dishes to Try:
- Entomatadas: fried tortillas in tomato sauce, sprinkled with cheese, and garnished with onion slices and parsley
- Enfrijoladas: fried tortillas in bean sauce, sprinkled with cheese and garnished with onion and parsley
- Quesadillas: tortilla with cheese inside, sometimes with mushrooms or squash blossom
- Chile relleno de queso: stuffed chile pepper - (usually chile poblano) stuffed with cheese
- Papadzules - tortillas stuffed with chopped hard-boiled eggs and topped with a squash seed sauce, a traditional Mayan dish served in the Yucatan.
Useful Phrases for Vegetarians:
Soy vegetariano/a ("soy ve-heh-ta-ree-ah-no") I'm vegetarian
No como carne ("no como car-nay") I don't eat meat
No como pollo ("no como po-yo") I don't eat chicken
No como pescado ("no como pes-cah-doe") I don't eat fish
No como mariscos ("no como ma-ris-kose") I don't eat seafood
Sin carne, por favor ("sin car-nay por fah-voor") Without meat, please
¿Tiene carne? ("tee-en-ay car-nay?") Does it have meat?
¿Hay algun platillo que no tiene carne? ("Ay al-goon plah-tee-yo kay no tee-en-ay car-nay?") Do you have a dish that doesn't have meat?<br/>¿Me podrian preparar una ensalada? ("Meh poh-dree-an pray-par-ar oona en-sah-la-da?") Could you prepare a salad for me?
Resources for vegetarians in Mexico:
- Happy Cow's Vegetarian Restaurant Guide
- Vegetarian Street Food in Mexico City
- Frutas Y Verduras E-Book