And I didn’t just eat rice and beans!! I was speaking to a chef from my upcoming creative culinary school, who said she loved to travel, but never thought of South America as a destination; as from the outside it appears way too difficult to not eat meat and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Its true, for the first 4 months of my travelling I opted to eat meat out of ease. In the UK I uphold a plant based diet, so it was strange and not really enjoyable for me to eat meat during those primary months.
A few days before we entered Bolivia (when we were in the Atacama Desert) I decided to revert back to my old ways of eating (not fully vegan, but vegetarian) after a down right disgusting plate of fried chicken, and was very wary of the problems it would cause. I even cried on a bus about the sheer lack of non-meat options that were now facing me. It’s like I had just created a million problems for myself.
I was beyond surprised at how well Bolivia of all places catered for a vegetarian diet. We started in Tupiza where I was hit with terrible altitude sickness, as the city is nearly at 3000m above sea level. That being said, I wasn’t very hungry at all! However, over the two days to acclimate I did eat vegetable pizzas, crackers and the chef at breakfast made fresh scrambled egg for every customer. > Something to note here, as eggs are a great vegetarian protein hit, in Bolivia be extra (egg-tra) careful in the preparation of your eggs, as they could make you ill. I watched like a hawk mine being made fresh.
First surprise came as we booked a 4 day tour of Potosi and South Bolivia. This meant we were driven around in a 4×4 all terrain jeep for days with our tour guide and Bolivia chef. We were actually given the option of vegetarian food! So for 4 days, I had all my veggie meals catered for me – all sorts of soups, delicious vegetables, potatoes, QUINOA – quinoa is my saviour – and pasta.
On the tour we even got to visit a Quinoa Museum which was magical! They sold a variety of quinoa based food and drink, like quinoa beer, quinoa chocolate bars and popped quinoa – which I bought for emergencies when I need a protein hit.
When our tour was over, we were dropped off in the town of Uyuni were we had a day to chill until we boarded a coach to La Paz. A quick scan of HappyCow app (why didn’t I download it earlier!!??) told me there were one or two vegetarian cafes here. I decided to go to Lliphi as it was just around the corner from the hotel we were staying at. I found a handful of like minded travellers who also were craving something without meat in it. I had the quinoa soup (which is freaking delicious and I’m going to recreate it every week when I get back to England), a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon and quinoa based milkshake. The service was kind of slow, but the guy running the whole cafe on his own was very friendly, and even discounted my wine for me!
Later that night we had an overnight bus to La Paz, we booked through Todo Turismo for an extra bit of luxury. And guess what, there was a vegetarian dinner option on the bus! And it was out of this world! Crispy, perfectly seasoned, deep fried quinoa and cheese croquettes with a side of beans and cooked vegetables. Honestly, this was one of the best meals I have eaten so far (5 months in) of my South America travels. So deliciously crunchy, and the cheese tasted mature and tangy – almost like a good British cheese <3. Long story short, they are going to be a party staple in the future. It definitely beat the the miscellaneous grey meat that was sometimes provided for dinner on the Argentinian buses.
Now, La Paz isn’t the capital of Bolivia, but it is the administrative capital and it had more diverse dining options than the rest of Bolivia. Again HappyCow app was my friend and highlighted all the top veggie places to eat. We stayed in Sopocachi, so a lot of the restaurants and cafes we went to are around that area, here is my top four;
Go Green – WOW. Completely vegetarian and vegan fast food – its my absolute favourite food, and this was so incredible, I want them to move to London so everyone in the UK can obsess over their food! We had the vegan chicken nuggets, two types of burger – quinoa (which was the best plant-based burger I have ever eaten in my whole life) and the Inferno de Frijol (spicy bean burger!). My mouth is watering thinking about it all!
Namas Te – When on a mini trek to find this place. It was worth it. I had an enormous mouth watering plate of quinoa falafel balls, baked flat bread, with a salad that had been drizzle with a french mustard dressing, and big plate of fresh salad, while Tom had the onion soup. It was so incredible, that when I got full, I had to ask them to wrap it up for me to eat in our hotel later.
Vinapho – I love Vietnamese food, and pad thai is one of my very favourite things to eat in the WORLD. This place offered it with fried tofu cubes and it was incredible. I had to stop myself coming here everyday. They offer a vegetarian version of pretty much every dish on the menu.
Ciclik – Now this place isn’t vegetarian but they offer a whole lot of veggie options, and even mark it out on their menu with a little green square. It makes it soooo much easier to see exactly what you can choose from.
Here I have had the plate of nachos (tops of cheese, beans and guac), the falafel wrap, quesumacha (a spicy cheese and potato soup, typical to Bolivia), sopa de mani (peanut soup, also typical to Bolivia) and yuca frita (fries made out of yuca; which is like a fibrous potato with a slightly sweeter taste).
In supermarkets in La Paz, I stocked up on all the plantbased goodies such as peanut butter, almonds, my own packets of quinoa soup that was ready to make, and made sure we stayed in places that had kitchens so I could make my own vegan meals.
Furthermore, I visited the street markets of Le Alto (which is a quick and fun cable car ride away from central) where I bought a massive bag of, you guessed it, quinoa and lots of protein heavy vegetables.
I think the secret to success here in Bolivia of being a good veggie or vegan is (everybody say it with me) QUINOA! Its high in protein and one of the few plant foods that contain all eight essential amino acids. It is also high in fibre, magnesium, B vitamins, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin E and various beneficial antioxidants. And I learnt at the museum that they are nine different colours, flavours and types of it in Bolivia – I am still to try the pink one, but omg its so pretty.
I wish I could have gone to more restaurant to sample more of the vegetarian food here in Bolivia, but a lot of the time I was in bed with food poisoning :(. My parting advice to you is, be extra careful with raw vegetables in this country, eat cooked veggies where possible – and don’t be afraid to visit as it isn’t as dangerous and meat-based as once believed!