I often get asked whether I find it difficult to stick to a vegan diet whilst travelling. Some countries can be harder than others but through perseverance, you will be sure to find a vegan alternative just about anywhere you may roam. I have compiled this blog post to help fellow vegans, vegetarians, and the ethically conscious alike to help prepare expectations on vegan meals in Mexico.
If you want to learn about vegan tacos, eating cooked cactus, authentic guacamole and more, read on!
Apart from the vegan or vegetarian specialty diners – most options in Mexico for breakfast consist of eggs (huevos) and are not suitable for vegans. Fear not, whilst in Mexico I was able to find fruit platters on many breakfast menus! On occasion this was served with yogurt, which can be ordered without for a vegan dish.
If you are hangray and need to order a more filling meal, you may find restaurants featuring enchiladas or tacos and tortillas on the breakfast menu which in many cases can be ordered vegan – see below!
Lunches & Dinners
You’ll never guess whats next… MEXICAN food!
All the traditional Mexican restaurants I visited had the option of tacos, enchiladas, fajitas and quesadillas. All but quesadillas, can usually be ordered vegan with a little tweaking and carefully scripted Spanish. (fear not I will teach you!)
As in quesadillas, the main ingredient is cheese and to Mexicans this would be little like ordering a cheese toastie without the cheese… it just would not make sense.
Save the quesadillas for when you are at home and can opt for a vegan cheese and explore the far easier options to order you’ll have on your Mexican holiday. As for the mainstream non-traditional dishes you’ll find in Mexico for vegans include salads (ensalada) and soups (sopas) and the beloved vegan back up French fries (papas fritas).
The Difference Between Tex-Mex and Traditional Mexican Food
The dictionary definition of Tex-Mex cuisine is ‘food having a blend of Mexican and Southern American features originally a characteristic of the border regions of Texas and Mexico.’ Essentially, Tex-Mex is the term coined to describe the dishes that came out of combining Mexican cuisine with western concepts. It is the United State’s (mainly Texan) spin off on Mexican food. If you come from Australia, USA, Canada, or New Zealand chances are the Mexican you are used to is actually Tex-Mex.
Tex-Mex creations include nachos, burritos, hard tacos, chilli con carne and burrito bowls all of which are dishes that are not traditionally Mexican and will not be easily found in Mexico.
Another fact to consider, is that rice is not consistent inside traditional Mexican meals and only found in Tex-Mex. It is important I make this comparison before you develop your expectations of Mexican cuisine. The wide spread introduction of Tex-Mex has left westerners with a foggy understanding of traditional Mexican food.
*Vegan Tex-Mex examples*
Tacos are a dish of tortilla filled with meat and vegetables. They can be ordered in either corn or flour tortillas.
Both tortilla options are vegan by default, ingredients are as simple as water, salt and flour or corn that is pressed into a flat dough and cooked like a pita bread.
Now I know what you may be thinking… ‘Jess I thought tortillas and tacos were seperate dishes?’ Well, no. Traditional Mexican cuisine would consider taco’s to be the dish, and the tortilla to be the, well, the tortilla in which the tacos filling is inside. You do not order a tortilla you order a taco which will be filled in a tortilla. The tortilla is kinda like what bread is to a sandwich. Make sense? I hope so!
This is yet another contrast between Tex-Mex and traditional Mexican cuisine that has left westerners a little confused. For a vegan taco, most menus will have a grilled vegetable taco dish with beans (frijoles) and cheese (ques0) that you can order without. To do this say ‘Sin Queso’ which translates to ‘without cheese’. We will go over this later in the article.
Enchiladas are tortillas (usually corn) that stuffed and tightly rolled. The enchiladas are then baked and doused in sauce. The sauce is either ‘red’ or ‘green’ usually variable on what filling you order however in most circumstance you should be able to choose. Red is usually very hot as it is made with hot red chillies, tomato, vinegar, onion and spices while green is a much milder version of the same sauce made with green chillies. Both sauces should be vegan if made traditionally. To order this vegan you will need to find a location (common) that serves vegetarian enchilladas and order without cheese. (again this is ‘Sin queso’) Thankfully unlike the Tex-Mex version where cheese is smothered as a sauce on top of baked enchiladas in Mexico cheese is not the main event. None the less, always order without, as they made sprinkle cheese on as decoration.
Although a Tex-Mex creation, it was commonly found on menus in the restaurants I visited during my stay in Mexico. There will usually be a vegetable version of Fajitas if they are available. Mostly served as a plate of grilled vegetables with tortilla on the side. I found this to be more of a DIY kinda dish. This meal is not usually served with cheese if you order the vegetarian however it is always better to ask for the meal without just in case (sin ques0).
Salsas and Sides
‘Pico De Gallo’ is the most common traditional salsa in Mexico and it by default vegan made with chopped red onion, tomato and cilantro. You may find this on your table as a condiment or may order it separately. It is very tasty and I would highly recommend giving it a try. Side offerings may also be sliced lime (limon – I know very confusing) which goes great to add a citrus taste to a grilled carb fueled meal. You may also wish to order a side of beans (frijoles) if not included in your chosen meal and or guacamole and corn chips. Both vegan hurrah!
Rejoice! Guacamole will be your best friend in Mexico! Served just about everywhere it is a Mexican staple used as a dip, spread or salsa. Nowhere does Guacamole quite like Mexico. Made with smashed avocados (aguacate) red onion, salt, lime juice and cilantro in its most basic form. All versions of guacamole in Mexico are default vegan. You may choose to order this with a side of corn chips as an entree or on the side of tacos as an extra filling or dip.
Although in western countries a cactus is usually thought of as a desert plant or object of aesthetic appeal (patterns for phone cases or a decorative plant to bohemian interior decorators) for Mexicans this is as a delicacy. Cactus is cooked and eaten everywhere . The prickles are carefully removed and then the ‘pad’ of cacti is cut open and either boiled or grilled. The cactus ‘meat’ can be eaten off the skin or removed from skin and chopped in pieces. Cactus is a must try vegetable you may only find as a delicacy in Mexico – best to jump on the opportunity! Some say it taste like green bean, I thought it tasted like pickle!
Many restaurants will serve fruit juices which are always so fresh! Be sure to insist this is made with water (‘con agua’ translated ‘with water’). Looking for something alcoholic? A Corona with lime is a great choice found just about everywhere in Mexico but don’t forget to try the tequila! Mexican tequila is made from blue agave traditionally and should not have any animal product. For a traditional non-alcoholic drink try finding ‘Atole’. Atole is a Mexican drink made of water, cane sugar, corn, cinnamon and vanilla – this is default vegan but be sure there is no chocolate ( on the rare occasion it is an added ingredient.)
The most common Spanish phrases I used to order vegan abroad are the following:
I am – soy Vegan – vegano (male pronoun but most common) or vegana (female pronoun)
Vegan diet is without – vegan dieta es sin Without animal products please – sin animale producto por favor
What on your menu is vegan – que en el menu es vegano? Do you have – tu tienes
Vegetarian – Vegetariano (many will not understand vegan – try ask for vegetarian options when in sticky situations then order without the animal products)
With – Con Without – Sin Water – Agua Eggs – huevos Butter – mantaqilla Milk – leche Milk products – leche producto
Meat – cares Beef – res Chicken – pollo Salad – ensalada Fruit – frutas Vegetables – verudas Green – verde
Ingredients – ingredientes Strawberry – fresa Pineapple – piña Avocado – aguacate French Fries – papas fritas
Beans (usually black beans served cooked as is or refried) – frijoles
Just like back at home you’ll find plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables at your local grocery store in Mexico. Expect all the pantry staples but you will not be able to find more sophisticated products such as, mock meats. Purchasing packets or nuts, chips, pre made tortillas or avocados are always great snacks for the road. You’ll also find a variety of soy milks too.
Download the Happy Cow app– This app is a public service hub for vegans and vegetarians to source plant based animal friendly meals whilst traveling. Simply put in your location and Happy Cow will search and provide peer reviewed eateries which cater to your requirements. Searches can be done to find vegan restaurants, vegetarian restaurants or eateries with vegan options that also cater to meat eaters, which is useful for group dinners. You can also use the app to list your own restaurant or review a place you have been to. I cannot recommend this app enough as a necessity for all veg travellers! I use it in every country I visit. Download Happy Cow here!
Download Google Translate– While google translate is amazing for fast translation to break the barrier of communication, not only will it help you explain to your waiter what you wish to order it can also TRANSLATE MENUS USING CAMERA. All you need to do is download Spanish onto your phone. This will allow you to not only use the camera to translate menus in real time but it will also allow you to translate conversations or your sentences without the use of internet. Mind = Blown. Download here!
Final Parting Notes
Although it can be just that little bit more complicated to order a dish vegan in a country which does not have your native tongue -sticking to your ethical values as a vegan eater IS very possible and rewarding no matter where you are in the globe. There is no need to break your veganism just to travel, and, with a little research and guidance from locals you’ll find that many traditional dishes around the globe are by default vegan or can be made vegan with the simple removal of meat. It is also not as common in local delicacies to add unnecessary milk products or egg so in many cases you may find it EASIER eating traditional cuisines abroad where unnecessary additives is not as common as they are in western countries haha! I wish you all the very best in your travels and hope you stay safe, well find and curious. Happy Eating!
PS: To read about my favourite vegan cafe in Tulum click here!