Veggie Tales in Buenos Aires

By Robert J. Brodey

I know it’s not nice, but I sometimes make fun of vegetarians. In fact, in meat-crazed Buenos Aires, I make jokes at the expense of one vegetarian every day (thankfully, she is a very patient woman).

In the kingdom of beef, where waiters are known to bring you pork if you tell them you don’t eat meat, the vegetarian traveler faces some challenges.

Argentina is a place where the weekly asado — the ubiquitous barbeque — is a national obsession, and, on average, a half-kilo of meat is prepared for each person in attendance, not including meaty appetizers.

I have been in Argentina for three weeks, fattening up on beef and heady red wine, when I hop in a cab to pick up actor and veteran vegetarian, Lara Arabian, who is arriving in Buenos Aires for a week of urbanity.

The cab driver, Luis, brags that he has built a two meter long grill in his backyard and discusses the finer points of the BBQ. It’s serious business, and it has shaken my faith in Canadians as a diehard barbequing people.

But life for vegetarians in Buenos Aires isn’t all doom and gloom. It is, after all, a cosmopolitan city with a growing consciousness around health and diet.

In the evening, Lara and I stroll the pedestrian walkway of Florida Street seeking veggie friendly options, but we retreat to the hotel restaurant, disappointed. I sit down to a hardy steak, while an anemic looking salad is placed before her.

“This is definitely worse than I expected,” she says, looking grim.  “We can do better than this.”

Veggies not included. Photo by Robert J. Brodey

I agree. Besides, I am getting tired of eating dead animals, and her quest is starting to feel like my own.

I consult with the online restaurant guide, which boasts over 3000 Buenos Aires restaurants in its database. In the search engine, I type ‘vegetarian’ and get 14 restaurants, five of which are closed. Just for fun, I punch in parrilla, barbeque grill, and 394 entries pop up.

With such slim pickings and a growing hunger, we head out to Rigoletto in the neighbourhood of Recoleta. At 10:30pm, this bar/restaurant is just beginning to fill up with patrons. Lara orders a savory bowl of mushroom filled ravioli with tomato sauce. With a large Italian population in the city, pasta seems like the most easily accessed option for vegetarians.

The following day, as we roam downtown, we find Alma Zen, a bustling vegetarian restaurant. I maw down on a veggie empanada, while across the table, Lara looks deeply relieved as she digs into a buckwheat salad with olives and lettuce.

It’s clear that the vegetarian fairies are smiling down on us when we stumble onto a small shop called Harlem that sells, among other things, organic breads and cookies. It’s a dream come true, and we stock up on multigrain snacks, which I treat like carbon credits for meat-eaters.

After a week in Buenos Aires, we sit down to one last meal at a tasty restaurant named Los Loros in San Telmo. Before us, are two big leafy green salads featuring healthy portions of pumpkin and tomato. It feels so good eating vegetables that I promise myself that I’m going to go vegetarian.

Well, at least for a day.

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