When I chose to study abroad in Argentina, one of the most meat-loving countries on the planet, I didn’t have high expectations for my experience as a vegetarian. I expected to receive a lot of weird stares and order a lot of French fries at restaurants for lack of better options.
But Argentina proved me wrong! Even though Mendoza doesn’t have as many adventurous culinary options as the larger metropolis of Buenos Aires, I have found vegetarian meals very accessible here.
Almost every restaurant will have at least one vegetarian option. Thanks to the strong Spanish and Italian influence, pasta and tortilla de patatas are common menu items that are reliably vegetarian.
But my favorite part about the food scene in Mendoza has been the delicious, pay-by-weight vegetarian buffets sprinkled throughout the city. Often my meals will cost me about 90 pesos or 2.50 USD, the same as if I had prepared them myself.
Over the course of the semester here, I’ve met dozens of Argentine vegetarians, and we always bond immediately talking about the best vegetarian and vegan places to eat in the city. They tell me that the vegetarian movement is growing here and there’s a great community of people who pass around recommendations for recipes and places to buy meat alternatives.
Veganism, however, isn’t as common (yet) in Mendoza. Because I’m also lactose intolerant, I was worried that I would be forced to choose between meat and cheese when eating out. But waiters are always helpful in suggesting choices for me, and always leave out the cheese when I ask. If you are strictly vegan, however, I should warn you that your dietary choices won’t always be well-understood and you might be accidentally served animal products. But as the vegetarian and vegan movements grow, restaurants are offering more and more vegan options.
I was lucky enough to be placed with a vegetarian host mom who cooks me amazing, veggie and legume-filled dinners every night. Other students have trouble adjusting to the skewed ratio of meat to vegetables that Argentine host families often serve, but I have had a wonderful experience.
Four out of thirteen students on the program are usually vegetarian. Two of them decided to take the semester off to make meals easier for their host families. One will occasionally eat fish when her host mom prepares it, but otherwise eats exclusively vegetarian.
Talking amongst the four of us, we’ve decided that it’s easy to eat vegetarian in Mendoza if you’re up-front with your host family about dietary restrictions and you can resign yourself to a limited menu when eating out.
I still sometimes get weird looks when I first tell people that I don’t eat meat, but I happily munch my grilled vegetables alongside people eating their steaks without feeling like I’m missing out on any opportunity.
Emma Houston is an English literature and Spanish major at DePauw University who studied abroad with IFSA at the Mendoza Universities Program in Argentina in the fall of 2018. She served as an International Correspondent for IFSA through the Work-To-Study Program.