From our bistro table alongside the cobblestone street bursting with taxis and mopeds, I survey the local scene: the outdoor patios of restaurants on all four corners of this intersection at El Salvador and Angel Justiniano Carranza are buzzing with laughter, conversation, and the omnipresent beso greeting. Our waiter has just recommended a delicious raw vegan five-course sampler and we relax into our chairs as my husband and I sip our organic Malbec. I look around and realize that we could easily be in any metropolitan city—DC, New York City, Los Angeles—only we’re not. We are in the self-proclaimed grass-fed beef capital of the world, a place known for asados and parillas and a gaucho culture of leather and carne; a place to make vegans shudder, but a place that, as it turns out, is actually a vegan wonderland.
At least, that’s how I see Argentina now. But when the news came that our family would be moving to Buenos Aires for my husband’s job, I was filled both with excitement and terror; I was thrilled to live in Latin America but petrified that I would not be able to properly nourish my vegan family in a country known almost exclusively for its meat. After all, when using the words “vegan” and “Argentina” in the same sentence, I was inevitably met with laughter. Needless to say, my doubts about effectively and healthfully being vegan in Argentina crept in as our departure date drew nearer.
So it was a pleasant surprise that, our first weekend in Buenos Aires, a friend suggested we peruse Chinatown, which should be a vegan’s first stop in any country. Here, I was elated to find an assortment of tofu, vegan yogurt, and vegan empanadas. I also stumbled upon their enormous grain and dried bean selection and have since made a weekly visit to this vegan beacon of hope in this carne-loving city. Here are five of my favorite spots.
Kensho: A raw vegan restaurant located in the heart of Palermo Soho, a trendy upscale neighborhood known for its eateries and nightlife, Kensho is famous for its Chori Nori, a raw vegan chorizo wrapped in a nori sheet. Try the five-course sampler for a meal that does not disappoint, and sit outside for a true Argentine nightlife experience.
Buenos Aires Verde: Our first vegan outing in Buenos Aires was to Verde. A shabby-chic vibe emanates from this rustic restaurant. The menu is full of vegetarian and vegan fare, and while you wait for your everything-made-in-house meal, peruse the modest but mighty almacen of organic, local olive oils; wine; herbs; jams; and raw vegan desserts.
Buenos Aires Market: If you happen to catch this once-a-month organic fair that’s on Avenida Rivadavia, save your appetite and arrive early. The fair, though small in scale, is bursting with colors, aromas, and flavors unparalleled, a great glimpse of the veg scene of Buenos Aires all in one space. I recommend eating your way through the vendor stalls.
El Colmado: Though not a strictly vegan restaurant, this café on a quiet corner across from the US Embassy and the famous La Rural convention center offers more vegan options than most Argentine restaurants. The menu boasts un poco de todo; these restaurateurs are aiming to attract an eclectic clientele and have been successful thus far. Try the grilled eggplant salad and sample the delicious assortment of teas offered.
As I sit back in my chair and savor the most delicious cashew cheese I’ve ever eaten—it has spent three months in a cool cave before being served on my plate—I realize that my fears about being a vegan amongst vaqueros were unfounded. Being vegan here is uncommon, but not impossible. To be vegan is to live cleanly and eat whole, a mindset unfettered by location or culture. And sure, maybe I can’t find vegan mayo here, but our move to the land of cattle and asados has brought me back to basics: we eat more legumes, beans, veggies and fruits than we did before our move here, and most importantly, we are an example of a healthy, happy, non-asado eating family in Argentina. Our Argentine friends frequently pepper us with questions, curious about our lifestyle. Though our vegan lifestyle is as far from the typical Argentine diet as can be, they have always conceded that a vegan diet is truly the healthiest way to live. And we happen to agree. ¡Viva vegano!
Kate Reimann is a freelance writer and mother of two mini-vegans. She teaches a mean cycle class and relentlessly tries to change the world, one vegan plate at a time.