For all the non-meat eaters that will attend family gatherings during the holidays, Faye Griffiths has a few tips on how to be prepared in case vegetarian options aren’t available, and also how to avoid the awkward explanations when asked why you’re not eating everything on your plate.
Being a vegetarian in Colombia can be difficult sometimes. It is true that there are plenty of chain restaurants with good vegetarian options, as well as increasingly more independent outfits offering a full vegan or vegetarian menu. However, chances are that if you’re spending the holidays in Colombia, you’ll be sitting down to a family meal at least once or twice.
So how do you go about that? Well, in many English speaking countries, Christmas meals are usually excessive with plates bearing up to ten different ingredients. Subbing your turkey for a couple of crappy vegetarian sausages is not that bad when it’s masked by a mound of mash, vegetables and gravy. But in Colombia, the meal on Christmas Eve is more buffet like. In my experience, possibly a starter and then some potato or Russian salad and some cold meats. If you’re not a meat eater that leaves you with, oh…..
So, go prepared to whoever’s house you are visiting. Take with you one or two types of salad – for a bit of crunch to go with all that potato and mayonnaise and/or get yourself some good quality fake cold meats. I don’t recommend any from the supermarkets as they’re bland and of poorish quality. Pan de Nobles in Chapinero does a great gluten steak – fresh, well flavoured and at $8,000, well priced. If you’re not so keen on eating a hunk of gluten, the Tienda Dietética chain, which can be found in a number of neighbourhoods, has some reasonable quinoa and soya cuts. Soy Salud on the carrera 21 with calle 55 has the best churrasco filets.
But if you’re not really a fan of the fake meat situation, get some portobello mushrooms from the grocer, grill them up and add your favourite topping. At the best of times, commentary on your non-meat eating can be tiring and you definitely don’t want it at Christmas. And if none of those options work for you, just eat a huge plate of potato salad and pretend that you got your teeth bleached that morning and can’t eat anything that’s not white.
You might go to a meal where the tradition is more to have tamales. This is perhaps easier. Again, all of the shops listed above stock good quality vegetarian tamales. Don’t leave it too late to pick one up, though, as they often sell out. And make sure that the vegetarian tamal is cooked just as long as the others. It needs that time to make it soft and give it the same sort of fatty texture.
If the thought of a vegetarian Christmas in one of the most carnivorous cultures in the region still fills you with gloom, then follow my advice: drink lots of wine and try to forget about it. It’ll all be over in a week or two.
By Faye Griffiths