Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Vegetarianism in Chile

Because all of us know... Chile's favorite vegetarian option is ham.

Probably for a huge mix of reasons (such as lack of popularity/trend, difficulty to work around certain foods, less ability to be picky, traditional foods with meat, etc...) vegetarianism isn't very common in Chile. I would guess the majority of people don't even know what it is or that it exists. To their confusion, it does. And grasping the concept seems to be one very. difficult. task.

I am probably the easiest "vegetarian" to please in the world. One rule- "don't feed me chunks of animal flesh." But in Chile, this rule is soooooo difficult for some reason. Nobody gets it!

I would guess that this is the reaction when I tell someone "I can't eat meat from an animal",

(click to enlarge- broken down by personal percentage estimates)
70% - OK, would you like ham instead?
10% - What? How? Is that possible?
10% - Can you eat chicken?
5% - OK, interesting, we'll work around it.
3% - What about fish?
2% - So do you like steak?

I say Im probably the easiest to please because I don't even argue usually if someone makes a dish with meat and just lets me separate or eat around the meat. Heck, I'll eat chicken soup and just leave the pieces of chicken in the bottom. I'm obviously not trying to save any animals here. And I love fish, I eat eggs, etc...

Its interesting though because the majority of the people here just cannot grasp the concept. They find it so weird they dont even pause to consider what a vegetarian might or might not eat. When I first came to Chile for study abroad I remember over and over and over going on field trips and getting the vegetarian option (there were about 3 of us) and it nearly always had ham, or a meat sauce or something.

People who find the concept strange but try to understand usually wayyyy overreact in the opposite direction. Like at a lunch of spaghetti with alfredo sauce and some chopped up pieces of hot dog, instead of offering me the spaghetti with alfredo sauce without the piece of hot dog...they'll serve me a plate of flavorless slices of tomato and carrots and beets or something.

I'll remind you all I'm from Minnesota, and often tend to be nonconfrontational and especially willing to please, so often times I will eat something with meat if its too awkward for me to say otherwise (meaning, for the umteenth time someone hasn't understood and I'm not willing to throw a fit once its on my plate) Luckily I can usually just take a bite, say "mmmm" and pass it off to my boyfriend. It was about a year of Saturday and Sunday family lunches before my boyfriend's mom, who means well, stopped serving me cazuela with a huge chicken leg occupying half the bowl.

My favorite story involving the issue still manages to crack me up. At one point about half year into my first stay in Chile I was looking for a new place to live. Someone offered to introduce me to a couple that rented rooms in a boarding house. The family invited me over for dinner, and realizing the potential for an awkward moment (that could potentially be permanent), I was very clear I couldn't eat meat from any land animal. I gave them suggestions that we could eat some type of pasta, tortilla, quiche etc, but they assured me not to worry as they had heard about vegetarians before. On the day of the lunch they invited me in to sit and told me that they knew I was a vegetarian so not to worry, they had made something special for me: beef soup. I felt too bad to crush them with my harsh words explaining that beef was, in fact, cow meat, I just ate it. To make matters worse it was the type that pretty much has the texture of a bouncy ball and I had to chew each piece about about 2 minutes.

Then came surprise #2: "vegetarian dessert." This part had me curious because, well, never in my life have I had a conflict with a dessert for any reason, its basically an irrelevant food category! But this time they got it right, kind of. I watched, baffled, as they took out a blender and added a little bit of nearly EVERYTHING from the refrigerator that was not meat. All together. The result was an applesause-like brownish mixture I nicknamed "Plant Potpourri."

Anyway, bit by bit consciousness of the concept is growing in Chile.
Thankfully, for the sake of people who are more strict about their diets and exceptions than I am. One piece of interesting evidence, Allie wrote about a while back - the Papapleto...
Its a traditional Chilean hot dog with avocado, tomatoes, and mayonaise but with the meat replaced by french fries! Its been around for a little while now but now vegetarians have mid-morning night-out-in-town junk food options too.

Also in Valparaiso there are a number of low-priced vegetarian restaurants:
Epif- I can't rave enough. The place is excellent as far as food, drinks and atmosphere and not particuarly expensive in terms of price
Bambu - This place is a little more expensive that some of the other options, though not expensive. I thought the food was good though not the absolute best. Its on the street Independencia, number 1790 on the second floor. I did like the green decorations.
Natur-in - on the street Colon, the place is kinda hidden and has
excellent juices, and nice main entries but overall the food is a lot of quantity with little flavor.
Govinda's- The Hare Krishna place actually has quite decent vegetarian
lunches that are pretty healthy, tasty and cheap. Its in the plazuela Ecuador where it departs to the street Ecuador on the second floor.
Mora - Oops I still haven't been but it looks kinda cuteish.
Jardin del profeta - Its half block from the Plaza Anibal Pinto on Esmeralda or Condell. I've found the food quite good with tons of options, though inconsistent. Its a little less in terms of quantity so prices can rack up if you order multiple things but I think I'd rank it #2 behind Epif overall.


Maeskizzle said...

Hilarious! I love the graph, it reminds me of the onion. ehehehehe.

Imagine being vegan here! hahahaha

My friend D always orders "completos falsos" which she describes as a completo without the hot dog. There's a bomb place to grab one in Santiago in Bellavista, just off Pio Nono, I believe on Dardinac.

Instead of papas fritas that the papaleto has, you can order it with porotos verdes and cheese and then of course, avocado and tomato.

The papaleto sounds REALLY tasty. I should see if they make those there. It reminds me of the Argentian hot dog. They also have french fries, but are a far cry form the completo, since they have no avocado.

Cincinnati Chile said...

I can imagine it would be very difficult to be vegetarian there especially when eating out. Trying to order one of the smoothies on the menu without one of the ingredients (like a banana) you would have thought I was asking them to change the law of gravity. I can only imagine trying to order spaghetti without the meatballs or something like that. I don't think they have many Indian restaurants there but I'm convinced I could be vegetarian with Indian food. Good luck!!

La Chilengüita said...

My question for you Lydia (btw it was good to see you Monday night!): What are your reasons behind being vegetarian?

Because it seems to me that it doesn't have much to do with the fact you are trying to save animals if you will still eat chicken soup but leave the pieces at the bottom. Maybe it grosses you out? I somewhat understand accepting a dish with meat and separating it, but I also know vegetarians who won't eat anything that has touched meat. So I guess I am just curious what it is about meat, chicken, ham, etc. that you decided to stop eating it?

I think you can use your vegetarianism to teach people here about it, enlighten them if you will--perhaps they would understand better if you gave them your reason for not eating it. I know not all vegetarians are that way because they want to save the animals, but at least giving a reason to someone who has a thick skull (ie. can't understand) or has thin skin (will be offended if you don't eat their food) will help out your cause and I'd imagine they will be more helpful.

And on a side note, you mention the non-confrontational thing--if not eating meat is important to you then I think you need to learn to be confrontational about it. Hell, with a ton of things in Chile it is necessary to be confrontational or you will just get walked all over.

I think part of the reason it is hard for people in Chile to understand it is because this country LOVES its meat. On the news talked about the avg. yearly consumption of meat in Chile vs. in developed countries like the US. Chileans eat 2 times the amount of meat that we do in the US per year. Just think about how important the asado is here. I definitely think more food diversity needs to be introduced, but change is slow.

Just my two cents....

emilyta said...

im not necessarily a vegetarian but growing up my parents never cooked red meat and so i never really developed a taste for it. if im cooking for myself i dont even really think about meat being an option....

at my work we all eat in the cafeteria and there are three options for menus: normal, vegetarian and diet. i ate the normal at first but then switched when i saw how much better the vegetarian options always are. just an example of a chilean company that does it right!

lydia said...

maeskizzle- we tried to convince someone in santigao once to make the papapleto (on a really hungry night where everything was closed) and they were so weirded out and wouldnt. finally we bought the completo "falso" (love it! hah) and the fries seperately and mixed them ourselves.

i should try that other version or the argentinian one! they sound interesting, i would lovvve adding cheese.

cincinnati chile- hahah i know right? its really funny though when they consider it the principle ingredient. then again, i once worked in a restaurant in the US where people HATED people asking for adapted orders, though out of principle, not that they didnt understand.

yeah indian food would be great...but its not easy to find here.

la chilenguita- ah, haha. i didn't state my very simple reason behind it all- i dont like it. its the texture i dont like, not the flavor, so thats why i dont mind eating things from the same plate and whatnot. also why its not of maximum importance that i hold my ground because its ... my eating something i don't like vs. someone else probably feeling pretty bad/disappointed/uncomfortable etc.

however, since i dont eat it hardly evvver if i do eat a lot it probably wont sit very well... but in the times i do i just have a bite or so.

i dont really like the whole meat industry in general but not enough that i want to be preachy.

emily- awesome! i think in the US often the veggie options are better, often more creative too....but im glad its that way some places here.

Allison Azersky said...

Hahaha, since I wrote that blog post I've become ever more intrigued by the papapleto. I feel like I should have one before I leave Valpo... in about two weeks. Want to meet up for one??

Oh my god. I can't believe I just asked someone to go out for papapletos. :)

Annje said...

I actually gave up being vegetarian while in Chile--it was just too hard--with the plate of over-boiled veggies, a hard-boiled egg and ham--as you said. (actually it started in Ecuador where I agreed to eat chicken... and then had it almost every day for 4 months withm y host family) Plus, in Chile I tried an actual steak for the first time in my life (after growing up on ground beef) and then I was all: "animal rights??? bla bla bla gimme some more of that rib-eye. (with all due respect for animal rights, of course) I just kind of forgot why I had become vegetarian anyway.

Of course the chilenguita has a point that if it is important to you, you might have to become more confrontational.

lydia said...

Haha, well... like i said in the original post and my reply to her.... its not.
If someone reallllly doesn't get it and has served me a special meal with meat I'd rather just let it slide and get out of not eating in a way where I dont have to say anything. Having an extra hungry boyfriend asking to take some extra bites can be pretty sly.

That is... until he becomes 100% vegetarian too! haha but Chilean at heart, as long as someones out there having an asado I think thats not likely to happen.

Bummer you had to give up. Sounds like we dont/didnt eat meat for entirely different reasons though... mine are pretty flexible, so I dont actually think i'll ever have to give it up. Though hopefully it gets easier over time and with an increasing variety of restaurants and sauces and stuff.

Was ecuador as bad or worse? Luckily my only host family here was vegetarian! They made quite good food, though still really fried. But thats pretty rare.

Allie- yes! haha, quite the date eh?!

Sara said...

I have no idea how I missed this post before. Vegetarianism. the concept eludes most of the continent. A friend took a picture of the menu from a restaurant in Montevideo and it was "vegetarian sandwiches" all of which included ham, or even beef. Because beef is so vegetarian. Maybe if you could like just take the part you wanted and then like put the cow back in the pasture. but seriously? We cracked up.

1 comment:

  1. Also in Argentina they think that eating chicken is a veggie option.

    Jack Summers