Wednesday, August 7, 2013

An Overly Personal Guide to Being Vegetarian in Ecuador

Before I came to Ecuador, I wrote a post about ethical eating while traveling and, as predicted, it's not been too hard to maintain my vegetarian diet here. I've met a lot of fellow travelers who are normally veg but eat meat while traveling because it's easier, and I don't judge them at all, but in my experience it's rarely been too hard to avoid meat in Ecuador. Inconvenient, of course, but not that hard. 
Obviously, the best places are the bigger cities, so Quito is awesome for me, but even in small, un-toursity towns, there is veggie food to be had. It's generally not anything special, and sometimes it has to be whined-for, but it's possible to get it. 
There are a few traditional dishes that are usually vegetarian: locro de papas, llapingachos, and fanesca. Locro is a delicious potato soup with cheese, avocado, and sometimes hot peppers. Llapingachos are fried cheesy potato patties (very greasy, very good) usually served with eggs, avocados, and some greens (also sausage sometimes so be careful). And fanesca is a traditional soup made only for Easter. It apparently has twelve grains because of the twelve disciples, but it also has eggs (and sometimes fish, fyi) and all sorts of creamy deliciousness that I can no longer remember. There are also side dishes like patacones (fried plantain) and lentils or beans and salads. Oh! Almost forgot: choclo. Choclo is just corn, but it's not like sweet corn in the States and people grill it and put cheese on it and it's SO GOOD. Get it from a street vendor, who cares about parasites?! Oh wait. But really, get it. 
When it comes to more substantial veggie meals, there are a lot of options, actually. In Quito, there are mostly small lunch places that serve vegetarian and vegan dishes, especially in La Mariscal. Unfortunately, I am awful at taking pictures and remembering street names (or name-names) of these places, but I'll do my best. I've spent a lot of time wandering around looking for them (not a lot of info on the web), so I hope this helps some.You generally have to look closely for small signs and weird, backdoor entrances.
The first place I'd like to mention is a little yoga center that doubles as a lunch place for a few hours in the afternoon. It's in Centro Historico, somewhere sort of near Mercado Central, but I really have no idea the actual streets. It wasn't that good, but it introduced me to the Spoon Revolution.There was a huge sign hanging in this place that said "Revolucion de la Cuchara," so I asked an employee about it. After about a half an hour rant of why eating animals is awful (I mean, I dislike being preached at, even when I agree) I learned that it's a vegan movement that actually could be kind of beneficial to join because apparently you can get discounts at all participating veggie restaurants (all over the world) if you show your "passport" to the "original kingdom." (That's where he lost me, the weird cult-ish sound of "original kingdom." Also I'm still a little unsure of what it is.) But, what really got me was that when I asked him why the symbol of the spoon, he said it was because forks and knives were so violent. "Why stab your food?" He asked me. And so I didn't! I gave up forks for Lent, just for the fun of it. It wasn't so bad, but I really enjoyed stabbing my salad after because it's pretty tough to spoon those greens. 
Um...now for more practical information, read the rest of this post.
There are apparently two veggie restaurants called "Formosa." One of them is in La Floresta on Luis Cordero and Andalucia and the other is on Jeronimo Carrion and Juan Leon Mera, in La Mariscal. Both are standard, some sort of asian veggie almuerzos. And by that I mean, you get a cafeteria style "plato fuerte" or "menu" for $2.75. It includes rice or noodles, soup, juice, and four different dishes. You can order other things as well, but I've never done so because who can top that price for a full veggie meal? (Actually one or two places can, but I'll come back to that later). The food at both places is pretty good and the menu changes everyday slightly so you get some variety. Most of the dishes are more tofu/veggie protein heavy than veggie-heavy, but there are plenty of all veggie dishes as well. Not a lot of fresh food at either place though, most of it is cooked well. The one on Cordero is slightly better in my opinion, but that might be because it's closer to my house.
Other similar veggie options exist throughout Quito. There's a place on Ramon Roca (the street near the Galo Plaza stop on the Ecovia) called "Restaurante Vegetariano" that does the same thing as Formosa, more or less, with slightly fewer options but for $2.50. There are actually quite a few of these types of places, which generally only have a tiny sign marking "vegetarian restaurant" somewhere near the entrance. Just walk around Mariscal for awhile and you eventually spot one. 
There's also "Quinua," which I'm always horrible at finding again, but which the internet tells me is on Cordero and 9 de Octubre. I think this place is strictly vegan and it has a good almuerzo that is not asian-influenced, but sort of Ecuadorian minus the meat. Again, probably around $3 and only open for lunch. It's not a buffet style though, you get whatever is on the menu for that day. Slightly more fresh ingredients. 
As far as a bit more upscale places, there's one called "Sangu," on Amazones and Davallos (or something like that) which has "green food," both veggie and not--but mostly veggie. It's more expensive and actually has a menu, which makes it more like the most popular veggie place in Quito, "Maple." Both have much more extensive menus, cute little seating areas, and are more like $6+ for a lunch. (Also, Maple is open for dinner as well, which is rare. Um, and it has a website? Which is nearly unheard of. It's on Joaquin Pinto and Diego de Almagro). They have a lot more options.
Another upscale option is La Cuchara de San Marcos, which is in San Marcos, an adorable neighborhood near Centro Historico. I actually didn't eat there, because their prices were higher than I'd anticipated and they had microbrews, so I chose beer instead, but the place itself is beautiful and the food looked really good. It's also open in the evenings and is also probably more like $10 a plate. 
Well, that should get you by. If not, send me an email because this post is getting out of hand. 
Also, here's a picture of an almuerzo I found on my laptop, I think at Quinua, judging by the contents. 

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