In my opinion, Mexico is one of the easiest places in the world to eat as a vegetarian. The country has a great climate for growing fruits and vegetables, plus there is a burgeoning healthy living movement. In fact, the only time I struggled as a vegetarian was when I tried to go out for an “upscale” or expensive meal, as some people associate meatless meals with being poor and thus demand meat all the time. So what does a vegetarian day look like in Mexico?
Breakfast is a vegetarian’s best friend in Mexico. Market stalls and inexpensive restaurants serve up lots of amazing egg-based dishes to give you a protein punch. Try ordering a plate of chilaquiles verdes con huevos revueltos (tortillas scrambled in tomatillo salsa, topped with scrambled eggs) or huevos a la mexicana (eggs scrambled with tomato, green chile and onion). Entomatadas are tortillas soaked in spicy tomato sauce, often topped with fresh cheese and onion slices, which are good for people who don’t eat eggs. Any of these dishes can be served with a side of frijoles refritos (refried beans) and should certainly be enjoyed with a glass of fresh-squeezed juice (jugo). If you prefer something a little sweeter, Mexican restaurants dish up great fruit salads- huge piles of tropical fruit often topped with fresh yogurt and puffed grains (amaranth being a favorite).
Lunch and dinner are fairly interchangeable in Mexican cuisine. You’ll likely find a dish involving a tortilla with some fillings, whether it’s a burrito in the north or a tlayuda (as seen above) in Oaxaca. Of course there are also tacos, quesadillas, sopes, tostadas, fajitas, flautas, gorditas, etc.- all based on tortillas (or ground corn). Tortillas in any form can often be filled with vegetarian options like refried beans, rajas (green peppers), potatoes, squash blossoms (flor de calabeza) or cheese. In Zacatecas a unique kind of enchilada (enchiladas mineras) comes filled with cheese and topped with sauteed carrots and potatoes. I also enjoyed eating soups all around Mexico, trying everything from cream of cilantro (heaven!) to simple vegetable soups with chile-spiked broth. Unless you’re dining in a vegetarian restaurant you might not want to think too hard about the kind of stock used in the soup, however. I would also encourage you to eat salads in Mexico- I easily ate more than one hundred salads while I was there, and I never had an upset stomach. Even hole-in-the-wall restaurants and market stalls tend to be careful about rinsing vegetables in purified water, especially when they’re serving foreigners.
There are also lots of great snacks in Mexico! I became horribly addicted to plantain chips, and probably ate more than my fair share of chile-dusted peanuts too. If you’re on a long-distance bus trip vendors will wait at stations with fresh, hot corn on the cob (on a long stick) for you to enjoy (sometimes you’ll find cups with just the kernals). A number of frozen yogurt chains cross the nation and serve plain frozen yogurt that’s got lots of yogurty tang. Street vendors and big supermarkets also sell pre-cut fruit in cups- sometimes you’ll find mixed fruit salad, other times a whole cup of just pineapple, just papaya, or just jicama. I ate street fruit regularly and didn’t ever get sick.
As for beverages, vegetarians will be happy to find lots of fresh fruit juices that are prepared before your eyes. Another fun drink is an agua fresca, which is fresh fruit blended with water and sugar, then strained into a cup. My favorite flavour is watermelon (sandia), though with the added sugar I had to save it for special occasions. Horchata is a sweetened and lightly spiced rice milk drink that is lovely when homemade. I don’t recommend drinking Mexican tap water, though I used it for tooth-brushing without problem.
And finally, I want to emphasize that Mexico really is experiencing a healthy living boom. Most shopping malls have at least one “natural” store selling everything from essential oils to protein powder to natural foods. You’ll be able to find tofu, texturized vegetable protein (TVP) and other vegetarian meat alternatives here, as well as soy milk. Big cities have health food or vegetarian restaurants, such as El Jardin Buffet Nutricional Vegetariano in Guadalajara, and the great Buffet Vegetariano Los Murales in Mexico City’s Century Hotel (Zona Rosa).