I Survived as a Vegetarian in Peru, And You Can Too

“You might have trouble finding food.”

These words were solemnly delivered to me, on several occasions, as I talked with meat-eating friends about my upcoming trip to Peru. I had never been to South America and was excited to finally check off a long-time travel goal of mine, but began rethinking my packing strategy as I prepared for the meat-loving country. Perhaps less layering pieces for the Inca Trail, and more snacks?

I have been a vegetarian for almost 18 years. In that time, I’ve travelled through farm communities in Laos, beer halls in Germany, remote villages in Australia, even Memphis, Tennessee (90-95% meat thanks to plentiful bbq joints), all while maintaining my dietary choice. While it has sometimes been a challenge (in a carb-induced hangover in Memphis I began wondering if I’d develop scurvy), I’ve always managed. Would Peru be too much for me?

Our journey began in Lima. Breakfasts at our hotel were easy enough to navigate; I’m used to scarfing fruits and veggies when I know I may not see them again for awhile and took advantage of the buffet set-up to start each day. Hotel breakfasts are pretty standard with what they offer – white, starchy rolls and jam, cheese and luncheon meats, other meats (so much meat! at every meal!) and “essence of coffee” which still confuses me, given the coffee that’s produced in the region. Lunches and dinners took a bit more planning; I spent a lot of time Googling recommendations in between practicing “Soy vegetariana” and “No como carne, ni pollo, ni pescado, ni jamon”, which basically means “I can’t eat anything on your menu, man alive help me.” My fiancé, on the other hand, could eat everything on any menu, twice, so he happily went along with many of my suggestions. I had good success at Tostaduria Bisetti, Saqra and Burrito Bar.

Saqra in particular has a mushroom ceviche that is out of this world; Steve practically licked the bowl. It was nice to be able to experience a Peruvian culinary staple and understand what the fuss is about, having never had ceviche before. Thankfully pisco sours are vegetarian.

We travelled next to Cusco. The altitude mucked about with my appetite for a bit, which was somewhat of a blessing as it allowed me to pace myself on the carb addiction that I was quickly developing. Peruvians love potatoes! And quinoa. I love these foods too, but my pants were quickly becoming snug. As Cusco caters to more tourists than Lima, I did find it easier to find food options, and highly recommend La Bodega 138 (we may have eaten there three times, no regrets, it was amazing), Granja Heidi and Organika. I would move into Organika if I could, just for the pumpkin soup and lava cakes. While I do eat dairy and eggs, I think vegans would manage just fine in Cusco with the number of veg-only restaurants available. It was a pleasant surprise. Menu options favour local ingredients and are on the simpler (albeit spicier) side, all washed down nicely with Argentinian wine or a local ale.

A special shout-out to the Meeting Place Cafe for its out-of-this-world waffles and for actually serving café con leche. My adventures in trying to find a simple coffee with milk in Peru deserve a post of their own.

In between stops in Cusco we walked the Inca Trail (and survived! More on this later!). If you’re doing the Trail, make sure you book with a tour provider who can accommodate your dietary restrictions. Our tour porters were fabulous and did the best they could with a vegetarian and two gluten-free hikers, but by the third day I really noticed how lethargic I was from a steady diet of rice and deep fried eggplant. I ate a lot more trail mix and chocolate covered almonds than I’d intended which helped me get by. But I did not feel great after.

Lunch after completing the Inca Trail was, well, potatoes:

IMG_2665

I managed to find a banana and a coffee in Aguas Calientes, and added Inka Corn to the mix. It wasn’t the most balanced meal I’ve eaten, but to be fair the chips A) came with mayo and B) the mayo was infused with lime which is a fruit!

We went back to Lima for a few days post-Cusco, and I was now armed with more awareness over what Peruvian dishes could actually be vegetarian which made things easier. When looking at menus, watch for:

  • Locro De Zapallo (a stew, traditionally made with meat but in this case replaced with butternut squash. Delicious!)
  • Humitas (small sweet tamales made of corn)
  • Aforementioned mushroom ceviche
  • Rocoto Relleno (stuffed peppers, usually with meat so double-check first!)
  • Quinoa soup (especially in the Sacred Valley)

Also, it’s not the worst idea to scope out a grocery store and pick up some snacks to tide you over. The crackers, cheese and fruit we picked up were lifesavers on a day where I had found it particularly challenging to find foods I could eat and I was feeling very hangry.

 

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Eating and Drinking Our Way Through Paris

Rue Montorgueil
If I had to choose only one activity to do on a vacation, I would wander a farmers’ market. it combines many of my favourite things – people watching and food among them – and is a great way to sample the local culture of the place you’re visiting. So I was pleased as punch to visit the Rue Montorgueil street market during a recent trip to Paris with Steve (also – meet Steve! He’ll pop up in posts occasionally – he’s pretty swell).

Smack in the centre of Paris and just a short walk from Étienne Marcel, Les Halls or Sentier on the métro, the market is a great place to visit if you only have a short amount of time. Pedestrian friendly, flat and wheelchair accessible (it’s closed to traffic), the market’s three-block radius makes it easy to sample some of the finest food shops, bakeries and kitchenware stores Paris has to offer in one stop.

Tasked with the all-important “acquire le lunch” plan, I set out to tackle the street while Steve gave his knee a much-needed rest. My game plan was simple – I needed a nice fresh baguette (preferably warm), some berries, a strong cheese (the kind that, as my Dad says, “bites back”), something sweet and of course red wine. The beauty of a market is that all of your senses come alive, so I decided to let my eyes and nose make the decisions for us and hoped my (basic) French skills wouldn’t let me down.

First stop – fruit. I figured this would be a good easy acquisition, and stopped at the well-named Palais du Fruit. It was beautiful. Baskets of all sizes dotted the shop with brightly coloured raspberries, strawberries, blueberries and gooseberries artfully displayed. Thick stalks of white asparagus caught my attention and I picked up a neighbouring nectarine and held it up to my nose – heavenly. I could have easily purchased the entire contents of the shop, but exercised restraint and picked up two small half pints of raspberries and blueberries (thankfully that was all I purchased, because those suckers cost NINE Euros – about $14).

Next stop – something sweet. I have, shall we say, a slight taste for chocolate (replace slight with massive and taste with constant cravings) and thought a small truffle would perfectly compliment the meal. I popped into L’Ateilier du Chocolat and quick settled upon two Grand Marnier truffles which might go down as one of the best life decisions I’ve ever made. Now, to find bread.

My nose led me into Maison Kayser – not as famous as some of the other boulangeries on the street, but sometimes you just need to go by instinct – and my eyes zeroed in on a stack of  pain aux cereals resting in baskets behind the cash. Crispy with a crust of crunchy millet and flax seeds, I was sold. There was a small line winding around the shop but I didn’t mind the wait – the smell of freshly baked bread wafted through the air, making it difficult to choose just one baguette as they all smelled delicious.

For the cheese I needed Steve’s help (not just for his bilingualism, which admittedly came in rather handy for this trip) and we opted to let the cheesemonger at La Fromagerie make the decision for us (another move that might go down as one of the best life decisions either of us has made). It was slightly salty, strong and would pair well with the baguette and berries. Now, what was missing? Right, the most important part – the wine!

A highlight of the market was Le Repaire de Bacchus, our supplier of wine for the afternoon. We weren’t sure whether we could in fact enjoy a glass (or two) in public and upon inquiry discovered that it is in fact illegal…but everyone does it. Oh to have the sense of nonchalance towards life that the French have! Our lack of glasses (and worse, a corkscrew – apparently the French don’t do screw tops, classy folk) was quickly solved by the helpful gal in the shop, and she set us off with all we needed and a pre-opened bottle of delicious and reasonably priced vino to pair with our lunch.

We enjoyed our spread in the grassy park surrounding the magnificent Église St Eustache, soaking up some sunshine on a warm spring afternoon before tottering off to the brilliant Musée d’Orsay (more on that later). 

Market haul

If (for some reason) the stalls of the market don’t satisfy your cravings, I’m sure any of the charming cafes and restaurants dotting the street would. Perfect for people watching and spending an afternoon with good company, which seems to be an unofficial French past-time.  This was absolutely one of my favourite markets! And I’m not just saying that because I got mildly afternoon drunk on a weekday.

Asparagus love

Have you been to Rue Montorgueil or do you have a favourite market from your travels? I’m always on the hunt for new ones to explore – let me know where my senses should guide me to next!

Eating ‘Round the World – English Cream Tea

English food is more than cheese and chutney, despite what this blog might lead you to believe. There is, of course, the ultimate in English fare – the cream tea (there are also numerous other items that are well known, such as fish and chips, bangers, and many pies that contain ingredients I don’t want to talk about). But for this post alone – let’s talk about the cream tea!

A delicious combination of tea with scones, clotted cream and jam, the cream tea is readily available in quaint cafes, restaurants and even pubs across England. For a proper one, however, you must go to Devon and Cornwall. Who “owns” the cream tea remains a bit of a mystery (seriously – there have been battles over which one reigns supreme), and both varieties are certainly very different. You can’t play neutral on this one and declare “Erm, I like both” when asked which is your favourite. Only one can be declared a winner.

In the interest of journalistic fairness, I felt it was important to sample both a Devonshire and Cornish cream tea to present a balanced review. I also enlisted the assistance and taste buds of my parents to weigh in on this important matter. Therefore, I present to you the ultimate test, polarizing opinions everywhere: Devon vs. Cornwall – Which cream tea takes the cake? (scone?)

First, some vital stats:

Cornish Way

  • Traditionally served with a “Cornish split”, a slightly sweet bread roll. While these are now harder to find, the methods in which the scones are to be eaten remains the same – first a healthy spread of jam, followed by a dollop of Cornish clotted cream. Butter can also be involved here, if your arteries are thinking “Let’s really make this interesting!”

Devonshire Way

  • Split the scone in two, topping each side with a spoonful of Devonshire cream followed by jam. No butter allowed!

Taste Tests

Cornish

Cornish Tea
Before…
Cornish Tea
After. As you can see, I clearly didn’t like it.

Location: Hole Foods, Mousehole, Cornwall

The Challenger: Two baked-on-site scones (not warm, although it was nearing the end of the day)
Accessories: Your choice of blackcurrant or raspberry jam with a little side pot of Cornish cream. Oh, and a big pot of tea.
Thoughts:  Generous amounts of both spreads and the scones were golden on top, a bit crispy. Inside, they were dense and able to support a nice glob of cream and jam without falling to pieces. The Cornish cream itself was thick on top with the consistency and colour of a soft butter. Sacrilege alert – I ate mine the Devonshire way as I just can’t wrap my head around the idea of putting cream on top of jam – sorry Cornwall. My Mum, however, prefers the Cornish method and was pretty content with the results of eating it the “traditional” way. We all agreed that the scones are excellent and the tea is perfection. Eaten overlooking the harbour, so bonus ambiance points awarded.

Score: 5 out of 5 cups of tea

Devonshire

Devonshire Cream Tea

Location: The Pea Green Boat Cafe, Sidmouth, Devon

The Challenger: Two warm scones with a dusting of icing sugar
Accessories: A generous pot of Devonshire cream and a prepackaged strawberry jam. And a big pot of a tea.
Thoughts: Warm scones! Big points right there, although they had a taste more like a tea biscuit than the sweetness of a scone that I’m used to.  The cream was a whipped consistency and a bit runnier and paler in texture and colour. I’m familiar with Devonshire cream as that’s all we can get in Canada, but I have to say – the Cornish cream had a more appealing taste. I ate my scones the Cornish way this time (why not do things backwards?) and have to say – jam first may be better (Mum, if you’re reading this, you were right). The tea itself tasted far superior here – whether it was due to our front-row seats to the ocean I’m not sure, but I need to toss in some bonus ambiance points again.

Score: 4.5 out of 5 cups of tea (minus 1/4 cup for the texture of the cream and another 1/4 cup for the scones)

The Winner: Cornish! Apologies to my Devonshire-resident Nan and her love for their clotted cream.

In all seriousness though, they’re both delicious. Try them both out if you’re trekking around England! Perfect for quieting that pesky grumbly tummy between lunch and dinner.

Day Tripping – Marazion

Have you heard of Marazion?

If you live in the UK (or even closer, Cornwall), likely yes. If you live outside of it, like me, probably not. Which is a damn shame, because it’s a really lovely place.

Upon maneuvering ourselves out of town (you can read about that adventure here or visualize what it felt like here) we headed to Marazion for lunch and a wander. Here’s three things you can do in this wee gem of a town:

IMG_26901. Get Your Stroll On
Marazion is small and perfect for a wander. Along the winding main street you’ll find a few little shops and galleries, some of which cater more to tourists but are still worth a look. There’s also a nice path along the waterfront where you can gaze at St. Michael’s Mount or better yet, go across to it. When the tide is out you can follow a causeway across to it; the tide was unfortunately very much in when I was there, and we opted not to take a boat across and just look at it from afar.

2. Eat
I guarantee you the best lunch you will have in Cornwall at  Delicious: Marazion, a great little deli just on the far side of town. Get it? Deli? Delicious? I was sold by the fact that they were punny, and also had bunting. They could have sold nothing but ham and I probably still would have gone in. Parked in a window seat (good for spotting drivers trying to navigate around double decker buses on the small roads – seriously, what is with these roads?!) my Dad and I tucked into cheese and chutney sandwiches that were the biggest sandwiches I have ever seen, let alone consumed. Freshly grated Cornish cheddar with a mean bite, sweet and tangy chutney, fresh bread and coleslaw on the side. I opted for a gluten-free bun which was a wise decision as it helped to contain the downpour of cheese making a hasty escape – I wasn’t going to let any of that deliciousness go to waste! People often scoff at the idea that British food can be good, but everything is fresh, simple and reallyfreakingdelicious.

As an aside, I would be very interested to know where my cholesterol levels stood at the end of this trip, but that’s neither here nor there.

Following our sandwiches, we grabbed lattes and seriously the best hot chocolate of my life to go, and I was sad to leave. I dreamt of cheese that night…

IMG_27013. Beach Yourself
Maybe it was from the half-pound of cheese. Maybe it was the fact that the sun had finally come out and everything was warm and smelled like sea salt. Maybe we were tired from the stress of getting the car out of Mousehole that morning. Whatever the reason, we parked ourselves on the beach to look at St. Michael’s Mount and take in the views of the sea and promptly fell asleep. Families around us poked around in the sand and played, we snoozed through the whole thing. Choose your own adventure on that beach, it’s nice and peaceful.