Mexico is famously a foodie paradise and although it's easy to find vegetarian options of these culinary delights in the tourist resorts such as Tulum and San Cristobal, we wanted to experience the real Mexican food and what better place to do it than the grit of Mexico City. We stayed in a wonderful hostel, Casa San Ildefonso, which was a sanctuary from the chaos of the city. It is within walking distance to all of the food mentioned in this article and offers a delicious free vegetarian breakfast. Here is our guide to authentic Mexican food for vegetarians.
After a gruelling 14 hour bus ride we arrived in Mexico City in need of food and coffee. We checked into our hostel, Casa San Ildefonso, and headed straight out onto the bustling walking street and we didn't have to walk far before stumbling across some delights. The first street vendor we came across appeared to just be selling bags of Doritos but for some reason there were crowds of locals all buying them. I thought to myself that Doritos are really popular here until I looked a little closer and realised they were filled with salsas and other goodies, fun! We bought a one and watched as she split the bag open sideways and poured in fiery looking salsas, some salad, cheese and other crunchy bits. This delicacy we had stumbled upon is known as 'Dorilocos' and is such a fun and interesting street snack. However, our mouths were now on fire and we were in need of something to water it down. I ran to the next kiosk to grab a drink only to find they had a real coffee machine with cooling Frappes on offer. It was every bit as good as something you would get in Starbucks but for a fraction of the price. Both of these are just a few doors down from the hostel.
We headed down the crowded market streets towards La Merced, the biggest and oldest market in Mexico City. En route we passed street vendors offering all of the well known Mexican delights. The only issue was that they all appeared to be meat heavy. After a while we just had to try some of this incredible street food on offer. With my limited Spanish I began asking the vendors if they had 'vegetariano' to which some simply shook their heads while others were more welcoming to the idea. The first vegetarian treat we found were known as 'Flautas' or 'Taquitos' which are cornflour tortillas stuffed with cheese rolled up and fried with a variety of salsas and salads to top.
As we continued down the busy street we were intrigued to see tortillas of different colours being offered up. We found a lady selling quesadillas served in dark blue tortillas. These tortillas are exactly the same as the regular cream coloured ones you're used to but, with 60 varieties of corn in Mexico, these are made from blue corn instead. Again we asked if she could do us a vegetarian option which she was happy to do and served us a mushroom and onion filled quesadilla. It was delicious! (see title graphic)
Later that evening we were really struggling to find anything open as it was the elections and everything closed early. Nearly having to settle for a Subway, we finally managed to find one place who would sell us some takeout 'para lleva' and had vegetarian options. We ordered 'Alambres Vegetariano' which is basically a DIY taco kit with spiced veggies including the popular cactus leaves and fried up with cheese, tortillas and salsas which we then took home and devoured in the quaint hostel communal area. Don't make the mistake of ordering one each like we did, as one portion is definitely big enough for two!
The next morning we took full advantage of the hostel breakfast which has to be one of the best in town. With good coffee, cereals and delicious bread. Later we decided to learn more about the food culture of Mexico by taking a cooking class with Mexican Food Tours. They offer vegetarian options and the chef, Educardo, really knows his stuff. We booked online for the price of 1800MXP which sounds expensive but was definitely worth it for the knowledge, recipes and quality of the food we received. The tour begins by visiting a local market to learn all about the fresh produce and ingredients used in the class. We returned to the traditional kitchen to make three delicious courses including a bean soup with dumplings, veggie tacos with chilli salsa and guacamole (the best we've ever had), veggie mole and a guava dessert. The food was restaurant quality and plentiful enough to fill us for the rest of the day. He even send the recipes over in an email following the class.
Our final day in Mexico City was one we really wanted to make the most of as far as food was concerned as we new we'd never eat Mexican food like it again, or at least until our next visit! Again we made the most of the free breakfast as Casa San Ildefonso before heading out on our own self guided food tour. As we weren't visiting Oaxaca on this trip, another foodie paradise, we really wanted to try the cuisine as it's supposedly the best in Mexico. There are two Oaxacan places right next to each other on La Santísima, one is a street food vendor the other, Xaachila, is an authentic sit down restaurant with the best Oaxacan food in town. Again they don't exactly cater for vegetarians but if you ask they will provide you with a vegetarian variation of the original Tlayudas which is a crisp, pizza style tortilla smothered in refried beans, cheese and salad.
In the evening we visited the tourist favourite area of Roma. This place is full of vegetarian restaurants although you might not be getting the authentic experience. We do however, highly recommend Por Siempre Vegana Taqueria for the best vegetarian and vegan tacos in Mexico and possibly the world. With a huge selection of faux meats such as steak, chipotle sausage or pastor, this street side stall is killing it with a crowd of people most of the time. Vegetarian or not, this place needs to be checked out!
Satisfied and with our bellies full to the brim with delicious Mexican food it was time to board our flight home... and time for the diet to begin! Mexico is a culinary utopia, don't be restricted to the tourist restaurants, get out there and try everything this wonderful country has to offer without restriction. Hopefully this blog will help you on your way to experiencing the real Mexican cuisine even as a vegetarian.