vegan baker

notes for vegans heading down south america way
April 12, 2008, 7:19 pm
Filed under: exotic foods, pictures | Tags: , , , ,

This blog is not supposed to be about vegan travel. (I imagine it to be about the process of becoming a professional vegan pastry chef.) But I’ve learned useful things on my recent South American travels, and I thought I’d share. This is really only interesting if you’re planning a trip, but here goes anyway. In no particular order, thoughts on Peru, Chile and Argentina:

Peru has insipidly sweet canned soy milk and one brand of drinkable soy yogurt. Many cities have health-oriented restaurants where you can try local delicacies made with soy instead of alpaca, llama, guinea pig or cow. Peruvian chifas (which serve either Peruvian-Chinese fusion or straight Chinese food) will keep you alive, but rarely in an exciting way. Tourist traps are full of weird vegan burritos, pizzas, pastas and salads. Hostels have kitchens that will redefine the word if you think you need a blender and a chef’s knife to cook, but the food you make in them will be a great point of discussion with the locals (who will wonder why you don’t eat meat if you can afford to.) Quinoa comes from Peru, as do peanuts and potatoes, so you should go to the local market and try the versions you can’t get anywhere else. Pisco sours (the national cocktail) have egg whites in them, so you’re going to have to drink the pisco straight or abstain. Most wonderful of all: freshly made juice is available almost everywhere and is cheap, especially in markets.

Argentina has fake meat. A milanesa is a flattened, oblong pattie (purists make them with veal, but you’ll see lots of other meats used), and you can find soy and seitan ones in the freezer section, though you need to check for eggs. There are also vegan hamburgers (see above), but they’re not exactly up to American par. Dried soy meat and tofu are sometimes available in Asian groceries and health food stores. Argentina does not have soy milk, with the rare exception of the plainest kind of soy powder. The candy is often loaded with animal fats, but there are breakthroughs, including a kind of peanut m&m and a chocolate-covered lemon wafer bar full of hydrogenated fats. The pasta in restaurants is useless, as it is almost always eggy, but you can get normal eggless pasta in the grocery store. You can find water-based helado de agua in many ice cream shops, and sugary popsicles everywhere. Licuados are water- or milk-based blended fruit drinks which are widely available, and the water-based ones are always cheaper. Faina is a pizza topper made entirely of chickpea flour, and which I am passionately in love with. In Buenos Aires there are at least a dozen vegetarian places, so bring along the vegan passport/have passable Spanish (which is called Castellano) and you’re set.

Chile is a wasteland, but custard-flavored NIK wafers and aji crema (their answer to ketchup) force me to forgive the nation its animal fat-loving ways. In Chile, even more than Peru and Argenina, always pack some trail mix. That said, don’t risk taking fruit on long busrides, as they have fruit police. Seriously, fruit police who will search you.

General remarks: Asking if something contains carne is a mistake. Carne is beef, or sometimes a general word for red meat, but it does not include fish or chicken or whatever else the locals have domesticated. If you want to ask about a food, you’re going to have to go through every possible culprit and know ahead of time that cuy is guinea pig. Sometimes this is worth it, sometimes not. An important thing to note about travel to multiple countries is that free trade hasn’t triumphed over South America, so the same food will have different ingredients in different places, even corporate food like Oreos (if you eat sugar, they’re vegan in Peru, but not in Argentina.) Also, you’re going to lust after dulce de leche. You just are. It’s totally okay.


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