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Eating Vegetarian on a Meat-centric Continent

Guest blogger Cara Caulkins is currently traveling the world. Follow her adventures on her blog, Round the World with C.

I recently spent nearly four months traveling through six countries in South America, where I had the opportunity to meet amazing people, witness some of the most breathtaking sites, and learn the basics of a beautiful language. However, as most travelers will agree, food is certainly a large component of any trip, long or short, and being a vegetarian can sometimes hinder experiencing a culture’s native cuisine. Here are some helpful hints I’ve discovered in order to enjoy wonderful vegetarian food in countries where meat tends to be the specialty.

Research ahead of time. Going somewhere new? Ask others that have been before or do a little online research to determine what is the typical cuisine. Knowing a culture’s specialty will help prepare you to navigate veg-friendly items to try as well as help you plan for modifications you might need. Larger cosmopolitan cities, like Buenos Aires, Santiago, and Lima, tend to offer more choices in terms of dining options and even vegetarian restaurants. But don’t forget, smaller towns and villages can also specialize in great local and fresh produce markets. Decide what’s important to you in the planning stages of your trip.

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Check out what’s local. One of my favorite parts of eating while traveling is getting to experience local specialties, as food is such a rich part of any culture.  Many of the countries I visited have indigenous vegetarian foods that are both delicious and nutritious. For example, in Peru, quinoa, (a protein-packed pseudocereal originating in the Andean region) is featured by itself or as part of delicious soups and stews. In Brazil, try a refreshing acai (which is typically served like a frozen smoothie mixed with fruit and granola) for breakfast or lunch. Add avocado to anything and everything while in Chile; it’s cheap and the freshest I’ve ever experienced. If you are of the Pescatarian variety, try seafood or fish while visiting coastal towns; you’ll always receive the freshest catch of the day.

Fruits and vegetables are key. Yes, meat is a large part of the diet in many countries in Latin America, but don’t be intimidated. Fresh fruits and vegetables are equally part of the main cuisine in nearly every country, and even better, the produce available is almost always locally sourced and in-season. Ask around or do some research ahead of time to scout the main produce markets. In nearly every country I visited there were weekend farmer’s markets and many of the larger cities have produce markets open every day of the week. You’ll be amazed at the color and size of vegetables compared to what you are used to seeing at home in the supermarket. Try a fruit you’ve never seen or heard of before like maracuja (passion fruit) for a new and delicious flavor experience.

Look to experts on recommendations for veg-friendly restaurants. If you’re a traveler like me who likes to frequent fun and delicious restaurants while dining out, it’s helpful to look to experts for recommendations on vegetarian dining while abroad. I have received many superb recommendations from Lonely Planet, including Café del Patio in Santiago, Greens Organic in Cusco, and Bio in Buenos Aires. It’s also often helpful to turn to your favorite websites and travel blogs for advice. Some of my best meals abroad came from blogger friends like Vegan Backpacker or from a quick search on Happy Cow, which lists vegetarian or veg-friendly dining options in a certain mile radius (there's even an iPhone app!).

Whatever your eating habits might be, don’t view them as restrictions while traveling, but rather as an opportunity to experience a new culture’s cuisine in a fresh way. ¡Buen provecho!

Want to be a guest blogger for SmarterTravel? Send your story pitch and a little about yourself to us at editor@smartertravel.com

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