I think the most appropriate way to begin a blog entry about being vegetarian in Buenos Aires is to do so with an anecdote. A few weeks ago, a fellow vegetarian and I went to a dinner party being put on by one of our local friends. As we sat down at the table, we realized that the meal consisted mainly of meat and more meat, with a quick salad and bread rolls tossed in. My friend whispered to me, “Well, this would have been awkward a month or two ago …” It’s true, it would have. But since coming to Buenos Aires, we’ve become “social meat-eaters,” so to speak. It’s similar to social smoking: you won’t eat meat on your own or if you had a choice, but you will eat it at social gatherings (like asados) and other traditional Argentine get-togethers. Especially if it’ll save you some cultural awkwardness, because it’s not like you don’t have other ways of speaking out already.
Our host overheard the conversation we were having, and revealed that she had been a vegetarian before coming to Buenos Aires, too. In fact, five out of the other six people sitting at the table with us had also been vegetarians! And the one who hadn’t was a born-and-raised Argentine and meat-lover. Go figure.
I realized early on that being vegetarian would be somewhat of a challenge in Buenos Aires. Actually, it took no more than the first few days of my study abroad program orientation, during which we were served strictly ham & cheese in every form possible, to make the decision to be flexible with my vegetarianism.
It wasn’t just that being vegetarian isn’t as popular here as it is in my university town of Berkeley, CA, home to at least three or four vegetarian restaurants on every block. It’s also that a nicely prepared piece of meat, at an asado or at a parilla, seems to invoke a sense of national pride and camaraderie among Argentines. I remember the first time I went to an Argentine’s asado, I refused the piece of meat I was offered, noting that I was vegetarian. “Oh really? I see … Now try my steak!” was his response.
And so began my practice of eating meat at the occasional asado or parilla. And I’m glad I did, because I see it as being part of my Argentine experience – that, and it has usually turned out to be a pretty tasty choice if I stick to having just a little. I’ve figured I can readjust my eating habits as I see fit when I return home, and when it isn’t quite as awkward to be the only vegetarian on an estancia trip. Luckily, it’s also very easy (and cheap) to cook your own vegetarian dinners and get your daily fixing of vegetables when you want them. I’ve also been told there are many vegetarian hotspots in Palermo Hollywood that cater to fellow non meat-eaters. The New York Times, for example, had featured a host of vegetarian restaurants in Buenos Aires in its travel section. Additionally, most restaurants seem to have at least one vegetarian option if you’re determined to stick to your vegetarian guns.
Also Read: Buenos Aires is becoming Vegetarian Friendly
Just be warned: my first night here, I went to a restaurant with some fellow hostel mates and had to look long and hard to find something vegetarian. Despite the fact that I was starving and jetlagged, I decided on a salad that said it included carrots and eggs. Imagine my surprise when my “salad” arrived, and was solely a bed of shredded carrots and two eggs cut in half. No lettuce, no tomato. I hardly picked at my shredded carrots that night, and as I looked longingly at my fellow meat-eaters, their empty plates, and their full stomachs, I knew sometimes, something’s gotta give.