I’m currently living in Colima, Mexico, working part time as an English assistant at the University of Colima, whilst working on my freelance copywriting and translation portfolio. Have a read about how it’s going so far here. I have been here since the beginning of October, and I’ve been figuring out how to keep myself well nourished ever since.
I have been a vegetarian since I was 15, although I had always refused to eat red meat, and attempting veganism since January of this year. Have a peek at my reasons for doing so in this post. I decided the best way to go about it was to only buy and prepare vegan food for myself, but to eat eggs and dairy products whenever I was invited to someone else’s house for dinner, or when I was out and there were no vegan options on the menu.
When I found out I was coming to Mexico, I resigned myself to the fact that dairy would be featuring fairly heavily in my diet once again. Somewhere like Mexico City, veganism is taking off and there are dozens of vegan eateries or places with vegan options on the menu, but that hasn’t quite made it to Colima. Colima is a small city about an hour from the Pacific coast, 10 hours west of Mexico City, and there isn’t a vegetarian restaurant in sight.
Whenever you tell someone you’re vegetarian in a lot of less veggie-friendly countries, their first thought is to find you somewhere that serves salads. I swear that the next person who suggests I have a salad after I’ve been out drinking the night before and am in dire need of something deep fried, will suffer the consequences. Much as they mean well, people just don’t seem to understand that there are other options out there besides salads, and that I cannot live on lettuce alone. But I digress.
The only vegetarian option at the majority of places is something involving cheese, so I’m applying the same rule as I do at home, and not worrying about eating vegan when out and about.
Despite most people looking at me sympathetically when I say I’m veggie, feeling sorry for me that I won’t be able to experience the local food, I think I’m doing pretty well.
On a weekend trip to Michoacan for day of the dead celebrations, we stopped at an authentic buffet restaurant, complete with old women milling blue corn and hand-shaping the blue tortillas, and when I asked for everything vegetarian I was given a selection of five different vegetable dishes, all of which were delicious.
Some of my favourite things to eat so far are:
Chiles rellenos: peppers stuffed with cheese with a tomato sauce over the top. Perfect with a few handmade corn tortillas (don’t go overboard on these, they’re deceptively filling).
Tamales: Mexicans usually eat these for breakfast, but you can normally get them any time of day. They’re ground corn in corn leaf parcels, and usually have meat in them, but you can find them with swiss chard and other vegetables in place of the meat. Incredibly filling, and vegan!.
Frijoles: A lot of places will do you an order of beans if you’re feeling like you need some protein, and you can often get tacos de frijoles, extra yummy with some guacamole or pico de gallo, tomatoes and onions chopped up small. Be careful though, they often put pork fat (manteca) on refried beans, so it’s best to check before you order. Cooked beans that haven’t been mashed up should be fine.
Chongos de zarmora: These definitely aren’t vegan, but I have always had a weakness for dulce de leche, and this is dulce de leche on steroids. The kind of desert you’ll find room for even if you’ve already scoffed 8 corn tortillas. The one on the left, in the cup! Environmental nightmare, but that’s Mexico for you unfortunately.
Unfortunately I can’t recommend any vegetarian establishments in Colima, but if you’re ever in Tecoman, the nearest town to the famous surf beach Pascuales, about half an hour from Colima, make sure you head to Maggis Salad Shack. They serve a great range of hearty veggie and vegan options along with huge juices packed full of goodness. I had a huge veggie burger, stuffed with salad, and a juice the size of my head for the grand total of about £3.
NOTE: If you’re travelling to Mexico as a veggie, make sure you brush up on your Spanish skills before you arrive. As is true the world over, meat fats or stocks are used where you’d least expect them, and it’s never consistent, so you need to be able to ask if something has any meat content and understand the answer!
Cooking for myself
Whenever you move somewhere new, you spend the first few weeks trying to scope out where the best place is for your weekly shop. I spent the first month living with a host, and the closest supermarket was Walmart, which is definitely not geared towards vegetarians, and is pretty pricey.
I have to admit that one month in, I had a bit of a energy-crisis. I knew I was moving house so I stopped buying in so much food, and I went away for a weekend which always means a less balanced diet than usual. This, on top of having eaten badly when I was settling in and the hot climate here in Colima, was probably the reason I was suddenly hit by a wall of tiredness and was having headaches, and felt like doing precisely nothing. Since then, I’ve been on the case and focusing on my nutrition.
Since moving to the town centre, I’ve discovered a great little place called ‘La Habanera’ which sells grains, nuts, cereals, spices and dried fruit by weight, so I’ve been stocking up on supplies. I’m also close to lots of tiny fruit and veg shops, so I have a wander down there once or twice a week.
Now I was vaguely aware that Chia seeds were a super-food of Mexican, but little did I know how incredibly cheap they were out here. To anyone not familiar with these little grey seeds, in the UK you’re probably looking at least £2 for 250g if you know where to shop, whereas here you pay roughly 40p. Having always been very sparing with my precious chia back home, here absolutely everything I make gets a generous dash of chia seeds.
As far as nuts go, peanuts are very cheap out here and almonds are definitely cheaper than they are at home. Walnuts are ridiculously expensive, so they’re off the menu for the time-being. Dried fruit is very affordable, and my replacement for chocolate has always been raisins, so I keep my cupboard well stocked with them.
One thing that’s brilliant about Colima is that it’s the land of the coconut palm, so there’s no shortage of coconut oil around, excellent news for me as I use it for cooking and my DIY cosmetics, which I will get round to blogging about one day. 1L of extra virgin organic coconut oil will set you back about 170 pesos, roughly £7, so definitely cheaper than in the UK, where you’re looking at about £11 a litre on a good day.
I’m generally living on pasta sauces with lentils or chickpeas, lentil dahls, quinoa, hearty salads with some kind of pulse involved, and homemade veggie burgers. Oh, and absolutely everything I make involves avocados. I discovered the joy of the avocado late in life, but I am now in avocado heaven, as they cost around about 20p an avocado, rather than the 2 for £1.50 you might find in England if you’re lucky.
Unfortunately, I have heard some rumblings recently about the damage that the avocado boom is doing in Mexico, as discussed in this interesting article. Any thoughts on that more than welcome!
Have you lived in Mexico as a vegetarian or vegan? Have you got any tips for vegetarian dining in Jalisco or Oaxaca? Please comment!