Central America Veggie Travel: Not Just Rice & Beans
There’s far more to Central America veggie travel than just rice and beans (though, yes, you will probably eat a crazy amount of rice and beans). Here’s a guide to travelling as a vegetarian in Central America, including ordering veggie meals, dishes to try in different countries, and my top Central America veggie travel tips. Buen Provecho!
Typical Central American Dishes
Menú del Día
One of the best ways to fill up in Central America is to do as the locals do and order a menú del día. This is a set meal, usually accompanied by soup and a drink, which is typically eaten at lunchtime. These meals consist of some combination of rice, beans, plantain, potato, vegetables, and meat (usually chicken).
Of course, to make the meal veggie, you can simply ask for it without the meat. However, the word carne doesn’t just mean “meat”, it can be used to refer specifically to mincemeat. So if you ask for a meal “sin carne” (“without meat”), you may still end up with chicken! The best bet is to ask what exactly is included in the meal (see the list below), and then specify which part you want left out.
Here is a list of handy Spanish words when ordering a menú del día: arroz (rice), frijoles (beans), papa (potato), verduras/ vegetales (vegetables), sopa (soup), huevo (egg), jugo (juice), pollo (chicken), carne (meat/ mincemeat), pescado (fish).
Other Common Veggie Dishes
Fortunately, when you feel like taking a break from rice and beans, you’ll easily find a restaurant with a few veggie options. Unfortunately, these may end up being the same three options over and over again: pizza, pasta, and veggie burgers/ sandwiches.
Pizza is common throughout Central America, and, despite what some pizza purists might say, is perfectly fine, if a bit boring. There is usually little variation in toppings, and the cheese will always be mozzarella.
Veggie pastas range from perfectly prepared creamy sauces and tasty vegetables, to simple spaghetti with a bit of tomato sauce thrown in.
Similarly, veggie burgers and sandwiches can range from tasty grilled veggies or a vegetable patty, to some lettuce and tomato in a bun.
Of course, these are just the common vegetarian dishes that exist throughout the entirety of Central America. There are countless local dishes to try in the various countries that make up the region (see Central America Veggie Travel By Country below).
Vegetarian Restaurants in Central America
If the above choices sound a little boring, it’s worth seeking out vegetarian restaurants. These may be harder (though not impossible) to find in smaller towns, but in the big cities you’ll find plenty of vegetarian and vegan restaurants. Use websites and apps such as Tripadvisor and Happy Cow to find a vegetarian restaurant near you.
Veggie Snacks & Street Food in Central America
As is the case in many regions, the street food in many Central American countries can seem very meat-based. However, there are many veggie snacks to choose from.
Perhaps the easiest, and tastiest, way to grab a quick veggie snack is to stop and one of the fruit stalls and pick up a freshly squeezed juice, a bag of sliced mango, or a bowl of sweet berries. The only problem is that the fruit back home will taste bland by comparison!
In some Central American countries, there are some tasty local vegetarian snacks to choose from. See “Central America Veggie Travel By Country” below.
Central America Veggie Travel By Country
While similar dishes exist throughout Central America, each country boasts its own distinctive cuisine, too. Here are my top vegetarian dishes to try in each country:
Anyone who visits Honduras will quickly become familiar with baleadas. These are flour tortillas filled with refried beans, cheese, and cream, and are sold just about everywhere. Vegetarian-friendly, and delicious!
Other veggie Honduran dishes include macheteadas (a fried baleada), and tajaditas (plantain chips with salsa and cheese).
Papusas are everywhere in El Salvador. These are corn tortillas stuffed with various fillings, including vegetarian fillings such as beans, cheese, mushrooms, or vegetables. Other great vegetarian snacks to try in El Salvador are reguas, a corn cake with shredded coconut and cheese, and yucca, a root vegetable that is served fried at many food stalls.
In El Salvador, be sure to check out the Juayua Food Festival, where you’ll find a range of tasty dishes, including plenty for vegetarians.
Belize offers an incredible taste of the Caribbean. Though the food here is largely fish-based, the friendly folk of Belize are more than happy to whip up a vegetarian alternative. During our time in Caye Caulker, I feasted on vegetable coconut curry, jerk vegetables, and the banana bread that was sold by bicycle vendors. Not to mention all the rum and pineapple we could drink!
Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula
I had heard bad things about the food in Mexico, mostly that it is nothing like the food we consider “Mexican” elsewhere. While that may be true, the Mexican food on the Yucatán is every bit as tasty!
Vegetarian food in the Yucatán largely consists of corn tortillas topped with assorted vegetables, cheese, salsa, and guacamole. The best part was the spice. I hadn’t realised just how much I missed spicy food until I reached Mexico- it’s definitely something that is lacking in most of Central America.
Though there are plenty of places offering poor substitutes. During our time in the Yucatán, we had our fair share of doughy tortillas with plastic cheese and processed beans. But there are also plenty of freshly made, delicious meals to be found. My favourite meals were at the open air markets in downtown Cancún, where we could grab loads of cheap and tasty food from a stall, while enjoying some live music.
Top Tips for Central America Veggie Travel
When ordering a menú del día, don’t forget to ask if the soup is veggie. Even though I asked for my meal “sin pollo“, I once received a dish of soup on the side that was filled with chicken feet!
If you say you don’t eat meat, most people will assume you eat fish. So remember to clarify whether you do or don’t.
Try to learn at least enough Spanish to be able to order food and clarify your dietary requirements.
Most hostels have well-equipped kitchens for self-catering, and most towns have decent supermarkets for supplies. Try hostel cookers for some recipe inspiration on the road!
Heading onwards to South America? Then check out my veggie travel guides to Colombia and Ecuador.
Got any more Central America veggie travel tips? Be sure to share them in the comments!