Thursday, 1 August 2013

Vegan Brazil 1: Rio de Janeiro & Foz do Iguaçu

I guess the first question is: why am I talking about being vegan in Brazil when there are so many other things I could be sharing about the incredible experiences I'm having here? I guess that the answer is that I wanted to write about this subject because, when I told friends, family and even relative strangers about my plans to spend around seven weeks in Brazil travelling on my own, many people assumed it would be very hard or even impossible to both eat well and keep to my ethical standpoint as a vegan here. However, I'm very pleased to be able to say that, so far at least, this definitely isn't the case.

Rio de Janeiro
Refeitorio Orgânico, Botafogo, Rio de Janeiro

I think that most foreigners (and indeed most Brazilians too) will be surprised to hear that, according to the vegetarian and vegan travel website HappyCow, there are at least seven vegan restaurants and ten further vegetarian restaurants within the city of Rio de Janeiro alone. Whilst I was in Rio, I visited three of them, and would have gone to more if there hadn't been so much disruption disruption in the city during the World Youth Day, which I wrote a bit about in my last post.



After visiting each cafe or restaurant, I wrote up a review on the HappyCow website, which I think is a really important and useful tool for helping vegetarians and vegans around the world to find good places to eat. I had some really fantastic "per kilo" meals at the vegan restaurants Tempeh in Centro and Refeitorio Orgânico in Botafogo, as well as a lovely tofu pancake from the lunchtime à la carte menu at the Vegetariano Social Clube in Leblon. By clicking the links above, you should be able to find my individual reviews for each place.

Obviously, in most vegan or vegetarian restaurants, it is going to be pretty easy to eat a good and filling vegan meal, but I also managed to do well even well outside the city limits and beyond the reach of a vegetarian restaurant or even a decent health food shop. I actually spent the majority of my time in Rio well outside the city centre and tourist area, in a neighbourhood called Recreio das Bandeirantes. Even there, in the local cafe/restaurant which did per kilo meals, I managed to eat pretty well.

Although traditional Brazilian food is indeed often centred around meat, what many people don't realise is that actually an awful lot of the huge variety of of so-called "side dishes" and salads are vegan, and put together can make up a surprisingly delicious, filling and well-balanced meal. In one sitting, I would happily munch away on a selection of servings from a buffet which included chickpeas, lentils, fruits and vegetables of all kinds, bread (being careful to avoid "pão de queijo", which is bread made with animal-sourced cheese), salads of all kinds and much more.

Even when firmly outside the city centre of Rio de Janeiro, it is definitely possible to be vegan and eat very well at these kinds of places, although I do recommend that you take a good look round first at the buffet options before getting seated, and a working knowledge of food-related Portuguese will stand you in good stead for ensuring that you get the most out of what is available. I was particularly lucky to have the help of Greenpeace Brazil staff and volunteers whilst in Recreio, who assisted me when my own Portuguese failed me!


Foz do Iguaçu

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the city of Foz do Iguaçu, where I am currently staying, is not quite as vegan-friendly as Rio de Janeiro, to say the least. Although it is indeed a tourist centre with vast numbers of visitors flocking here to see the incredible Iguaçu Falls, many people stay outside the city centre on the main road which passes both the falls and the airport, and in general food options don't seem to be fantastic for both veggies and non-veggies alike.

That said, however, I definitely have not suffered on the eating side of things! There is a great health food type shop here called Emporio Pomare, which sells a variety of delicious fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains as well as tofu, vegetable burgers, snacks and even vegan chocolate, so I've had plenty to cook with here at the youth hostel as well as to make up packed lunches each day.

In addition to this, there is one vegetarian restaurant (sadly only open for lunch) which does an excellent value all you can eat buffet for just R$15 called Cheiro Verde, where I had a wonderful lunch on my first day here in Iguaçu. Around half the hot dishes were suitable for vegans, and when I asked them about other vegan options from the buffet they made me up some vegan spring rolls especially for me. I can't recommend them highly enough in this city, which is otherwise not the most veg-friendly of places.

The only other place I've been to worth noting here is Trilha do Açaí, which sells incredibly delicious bowls of frozen açaí fruit with your choice of toppings, including all kinds of fruit and crushed nuts. Whilst you need to be careful of their tendency to put honey in their dishes and the cereal which comes with it, this place is definitely worth checking out.

Açai with ground nuts and pineapple at Trilha do Açai, Foz do Iguaçu

Conclusions so far ...

I don't know that this blog post has an argument, or even summarises many useful thoughts on being vegan in Brazil. I hope that, by the end of my trip, I will have some more to say on this subject and will be able to write about it here. However, I hope that by sharing some of my initial experiences of being vegan just in two cities in Brazil, I can encourage people to realise that actually, it's definitely possible and even pretty straightforward to eat well as a vegan here if you are able to use a little forethought, preparation and have some working knowledge of Portuguese, or at least are prepared to learn.

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