Like most of the world nowadays, Central America is meat-centric. Most meals include some form of animal product. Cheese, cream, eggs and every cut of meat possible is heavily featured in the cuisine here. Yet surprisingly, following a vegan diet is actually really easy, in Mexico and Guatemala!
Like many cuisines worldwide, plant foods accompany every meal. So there are always vegan options! They may not always be obviously listed on the menu, but they are always possible.
In the last few months travelling in Mexico and Guatemala, we’ve managed to figure out what to order when we eat out, what to look for in supermarkets, and we’ve learnt some awesome recipes along the way too! I thought others might find this information handy, or simply be curious how we’re getting by as vegans here. So here we are – a quick guide to eating vegan in Mexico and Guatemala!
It’s worth noting firstly that tortillas are vegan. They may come in varying degrees of wheat and corn, but they traditionally do not contain any animal products! Tortilla products such a chips and tostadas (baked or fried whole tortillas) are normally vegan too, it’s only the flavoured packets in supermarkets that may not be.
Eating Out in Mexico & Guatemala
If you love avocado, you’re going to be just fine eating in Mexico! Majority of menus have guacamole listed, and it is always, naturally vegan! Including the tortilla chips that it comes with. Sean and I have mastered the art of making awesome, delicious guacamole now too, as it’s even cheaper to make at home – and it’s become a staple in our diet! My favourite recipe for guacamole contains minced garlic, coriander, lime, diced red onion, diced tomato and salt mashed into the avocado. So good!
Tacos and Burritos
Most restaurants in Mexico will have tacos and burritos on the menu, and even if they appear to only be meat-based, it’s super easy to ask for a veggie option without cheese! Tacos and burritos are always made with a base of refried beans and veggies, so it’s really quite easy for them to simply add more vegetables and leave off the meat and cheese. We’ve never had trouble ordering vegan tacos or burritos anywhere! Usually the fillings for both tacos and burritos include assorted grilled or sautéed veggies, rice, beans, salad and avocado.
Essentially, a torta is a toasted bread roll filled with lots of veggies! Same as tacos and burritos, it’s always possible to order vegetarian without cheese. One thing to note on these though – they usually use mayonnaise. It could sometimes be vegan, but if you’re unsure, I’d recommend asking for no mayo as well as no cheese. If you’re in the mood for an epic sandwich, then a torta is the way to go!
Pica de Guio
At some restaurants in Mexico, this really simple yet delicious tomato and lime salsa is offered with the guacamole, or alongside your meal. It usually consists of diced tomato, loads of lime, coriander and onion. It’s super fresh and tasty! Ridiculously easy to make at home too.
‘Plate of the Day’
Typically a heaping plateful of veggies, beans and rice, with tortillas on the side! We just simply ask for no cheese, mayonnaise or meat. Here in Xela, Guatemala, we have a favourite little local cafeteria where you can enjoy this daily feast for 10 Quetzals ($2 AUD). Amazing!
Aside from the local comedors serving more traditional food, there are a variety of cafes that also offer a menu of the day too, with different cuisines and usually a good price - so it’s worth looking out for! One place I recommend in Guatemala is Xela Green - their menu of the day includes a three course meal for 25 Quetzals! It includes fresh juice, soup, tortillas and a main meal (which varies but is always interesting), plus dessert. Pretty good deal, at a lovely vegetarian restaurant!
Vegan Street Food
If you get peckish while out and about, never fear – food is always near! Street food carts are everywhere, and often include some of the following delicious, accidentally vegan options:
Think caramelised fried banana, but a little chewier… I’m not sure that does it justice, just trust me, they’re awesome! I usually get them plain or with cinnamon, but if you’d like it sweeter, they often have sugar to dust on top.
Rellenitos de Platano
Plantain fritters stuffed with refried beans, fried and delicious! I am so excited to say that I’ve learnt how to make these! It is essentially mashed, cooked plantains, with a touch of flour to help form them into balls, with refried beans in the centre. They’re sweet and savoury at the same time! I know they sound strange, but seriously, they are so damn good. Especially when freshly fried!
Oh heavenly donut-y goodness! Luckily (and dangerously) churros are traditionally vegan, in Spain and in Central America. They have various toppings for them that are not so vegan friendly – but cinnamon and sugar is truly all you need! Occasionally we’ve come across vegan chocolate sauce though, so if you’re craving that chocolate hit with your churros, be sure to ask just in case!
Guatemalan Tostadas (or known in Guatemala as Enchiladas)
Fried or baked whole tortillas loaded up with toppings, easily made vegan! The base is a simple tomato salsa and/or refried beans, topped with beetroot, cabbage, carrot, onion and garlic. Surprisingly, some stalls will even use ground soy protein instead of beef, so always ask if it’s soya in case – it looks so meaty! Ask for no cheese/dairy on top, and you’re good to go!
Textured Soy Protein i.e. fake mince
It’s hard to believe how popular this stuff is in Guatemala! Textured soy protein (a.k.a. TVP) – that absurdly cheap packet of dehydrated soy ‘mince’ found on the bottom shelf of most supermarkets Australia-wide – is really popular here! It can even be found in bulk amounts at the markets. At street carts, it’s used as a topping for Guatemalan tostadas as mentioned above. I’ve been experimenting with it in the kitchen here too, it’s super easy to use and makes an awesome bolognese pasta sauce!
Vegetarian and Vegan Places
Scattered across Mexico and Guatemala, a vegan community is rapidly growing and along with it, many cafes and restaurants are appearing! So many places are catering for vegans, and we’ve found actual vegan options marked on menus in the most unlikely of places. Everywhere we go, one of the first things I do is type vegan into google maps in the area. It’s amazing to see how many options there are now! Check out the photos on this post for a couple of awesome cafes and restaurants we’ve been to. Let me know if you’d like a full list of places I recommend - I think that’d need it’s own post, there are so many!
So as you can see, it’s not hard at all to eat out! I’ve honestly just scraped the surface of vegan possibilities here. And of course, you can buy pretty much any ingredients you need to cook whatever you heart desires!
Here in Xela, Guatemala, I’ve even found vegan chocolate chips at a local health food shop, and they’re decently priced. There’re also two huge supermarkets here (Walmart and Paiz) that sell a range of Daiya goodies, a completely vegan brand – all kinds of vegan cheese, frozen pizza, three flavours of cheese cake and multiple sauces and salad dressings. It’s a little pricey, but it’s fantastic that it’s so easily accessible!
As tempting as it is to eat out all the time, we usually make our own meals too. We buy our fruit and veggies at markets, go to bigger supermarkets for soy milk, flour, sugar, etc., and buy locally made fresh tortillas. In Mexico, tortillas are usually in an esky by the counter at most stores and fruiterers (to keep them hot and soft - they’re made and delivered every day). Here in Guatemala, we’ve found an awesome place to buy fresh homemade corn tortillas at the cafeteria near the markets where we often have lunch (the 10Q menu of the day place!)
At any of the smaller stores or grocers, it is always worth asking at the counter if you’re looking for something and can’t see it, as usually things like herbs, spices, nuts and seeds are behind the counter. Often the fridge is too and can have freshly made juices hiding behind all kinds of veggies. So always ask!
In Valladolid, Mexico, we also went to a huge local market to buy our pure cacao (more about cacao coming soon if you’re curious!), and buy anything we couldn’t find there at the nearby stores. There’s a huge variety of fruit and veg at the markets in Central America, with countless stalls full to the brim!
When you’re travelling for as long as we are, it’s really worth looking around for the local places. Step outside the more touristy areas and you’ll not only get a more authentic experience, but the prices will also drop dramatically!
Small, local restaurants may not seem that appealing, with their plastic plates and wonky tables, but the cuisine there is far more authentic, and heaps cheaper. The people are super welcoming and are more than happy to accommodate for our vegan diets. We’ve never had any trouble ordering vegan so far, even at the most unlikely of places. Speaking Spanish (or attempting to at least) with a smile and friendly attitude goes a long way, too!
Everywhere in the world, the vegan movement is growing, and it’s only getting easier to be vegan. Even in Central America!
Though I can’t comment on the rest of Central America as I haven’t been there (yet!), I’d say there are more similarities than differences. I can’t wait to find out!
If you’re planning to travel as a vegan, I hope this helped you see how easy it can be! If you’ve already travelled, do you have any tips you could add? Or anything you really missed/struggled with while travelling? I’d love to hear your experiences!