A Vegan in Mexico

Vegan Mexican Food

When I first decided to start my backpacking in Mexico I was a bit worried that being vegan I would starve before I learned what I could and couldn’t eat. The first few days were a bit tricky and I lived on fruit since that was the one thing I could buy (and recognize) without knowing Spanish. I quickly realized that the first words I needed to learn were food related because of my limited diet.

Once the basics are learned it’s fairly easy to find either vegetarian (& even vegan) friendly meals in restaurants as well as being able to make your own meals if the hostel (hotel, B&B etc.) you’re staying in provides a kitchen. From what I’ve seen most hostels do have kitchen access available and may even have some basic cooking supplies like vegetable oils, salt etc. that you can use.

One thing you will want to watch out for is animal products in foods that are usually a safe be at home. In Mexico for example, mustard often contains animal products where as in Canada it was a fairly safe bet. Also keep an eye out for lard in refried beans and check if the rice is cooked with chicken stock (caldo de pollo) or water (agua).

If you head to the local market (mercado) to buy fruits and vegetables to make your meals (which is far cheaper) I’ve been told it’s important to either peel them, cook them very thoroughly. If you’re like me and often prefer raw or lightly cooked veggies there are products available in most grocery stores and many pharmacies to clean them. Two of the brand names to look for are Microdyn or Bacdyn, to use them add 8 drops per litre of water and soak the fruits and vegetables for 10 minutes.

There are however times as a vegetarian or vegan that there just isn’t anything around that you can eat, so carrying a snack bar, small bag of dried fruit or nuts, or your favourite veg*n friendly snack around in your day bag is a good idea. This has saved my grumbling tummy (& my own crankiness when I get hungry) from annoying everyone around me quite a few times. I also pack a small jar of peanut butter in my main backpack so that I have access to protein if I start feeling a bit wobbly. Remember that while you’re travelling you’re probably doing far more physical activity than at home, so you may need to eat more than you’re used to. Thankfully fruit and vegetable juice is widely available here and small bags of nuts are sold in most corner stores.

The Great Parts of Travelling in Mexico as a Vegetarian

Once you get the basics of asking what’s in the food and being able to explain what you want, you’ll probably find that people in restaurants are often happy to make something special if needed, and the food is usually fantastic! Forget what you know about Mexican food, depending on the region you visit it may not remotely resemble what is served at your local Mexican restaurant at home. So far I’ve found that the mixture of flavours is great but less spicy than I’d expected. I did however try vegan (dark) chocolate with chillies and the heat from the spice with the bitterness of the chocolate almost made me swoon… pure heaven!

I’ve also noticed that many of the fruits and veggies seem to taste far better, maybe because they are grown locally so they arrived in my hands fresh, ripe and usually quite unbruised! The variety is amazing as well, depending on where in Mexico you go, you may get to try fruit you haven’t even seen before. Another wonderful thing is that fresh fruit is sold almost everywhere here, even chopped up and served from street stands as a refreshing snack.

Nuts are also very easy to find in most markets and even corner stores… so you will have a yummy way to get your protein (something omnivores seem perpetually concerned that vegans must be missing).

For all of us soy milk junkies, there’s soy milk in not only the usual flavors I got used to in Canada (regular, chocolate etc.) but also some mixed with fruit juice which is incredibly delicious! I’ve seen apple, orange, soursop, peach and a few others. Yummy, creamy, fruity goodness!

Helpful Phrases for Vegetarians & Vegans in Mexico

Here’s a few hand words to know for the vegan travelling Mexico to know so they can be able to avoid animal products. This list is far from complete but it is helpful to be able to go to a store and put together ingredients for a veggie friendly meal.

Meat (Carne):
  • puerco or carne de cerdo – Pork
  • pollo – chicken
  • aves de corral – poultry
  • pavo – turkey
  • pescado or pez – fish
  • mariscos – seafood
Animal Products (Productos Animales):
  • huevos – eggs
  • leche – milk
  • lácteos – dairy
  • queso – cheese
  • mantequilla – butter
  • crema – cream
  • yogur – yoghurt
  • manteca (de cerdo) – lard
  • caldo de pollo – chicken broth
  • miel – honey
  • mayonesa – mayonnaise
  • gelatina – gelatin
Other Useful Phrases for Vegetarians and Vegans in Mexico
  • I am vegan – Yo soy vegana (female) / Yo soy vegano (if you’re male)
  • I am vegetarian – Yo soy vegetariano/a
  • I don’t eat meat. – Yo no como carne.
  • I do not eat meat, pork or chicken. – Yo no como carne, cerdo/puerco, ni pollo.
  • I (do) (do not) eat eggs, milk/milk products or cheese. – Yo (como) (no como) huevos, leche/lácteos, o queso.
  • I don’t eat fish. – No como pescado.
  • I only eat vegetable and fruit. (for the times it’s just far easier to simplify) – Solo como vegetales y fruta.
  • Are there some vegetarian restaurants in the city? – Hay algunos restaurantes vegetarianos en la ciudad?
  • How is the rice prepared; with chicken broth, or only with water? – Como se prepara el arroz; con caldo de pollo, o solamente con agua? (Agua (water) is the answer you’re looking for)
  • leche de soja – Soy milk

Handy Vegetarian Links:

Do you have any other tips, resources or phrases that would make travelling as a vegan or vegetarian a smoother experience? Any tips on food to try? Know any easy recipes to make in the hostel kitchen? Share your wisdom in the comments.

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