Thursday, April 2, 2009

Delicious Vegan Food in Playa del Carmen

For years I've heard that it's hard to be vegan in Mexico. My well-travelled vegetarian friends have told me that "there's no tofu or soymilk in Mexico", "there's lard in everything", and "even if you ask for something without cheese, it will come with cheese because they put it on everything". I didn't want my diet to keep me from enjoying the beaches and incredible scuba diving of the Mayan Riviera. Before leaving for our trip, I tirelessly searched the internet for vegan-friendly options. It sucks to be hungry when your traveling, so I wanted to be prepared. Armed with a list of eight possible restaurants, we confidently made our way through the heart of this fun and quirky beach town. Looking back, two places were our clear favorites: 100% Natural for snacks and light meals, and Babe's for dinner and drinks.

The first day we arrived in Playa del Carmen, we checked into our hotel and walked over to 100% Natural. Since it was so close to where we were staying, and since it offered the most fantastic fresh juices, guacamole, and some tofu options, it became one of our regular stops for the rest of our stay. Most of the seating is outdoors, surrounded by big trees. The weather was perfection: about 75 at night with a slight breeze, 85 during the day. It was a pleasure eating outside!
I loved the prices: this enormous and insanely delicious juice was something like three US dollars. My favorite juice combinations were the California (apple, lemon, orange, and pineapple juices), the Bali (pineapple, lemon, spinach, and orange), and the Oasis (pineapple, strawberry, and orange). 100% Natural also has veggie burgers and a fried veggie/noodle dish with plain silken tofu.

After dinner, we'd walk around Quinta Avenida and wander in and out of all of the little shops.I loved the architecture and laid-back attitude. Though there was no boardwalk, it sort of had a boarwalk-vibe in that there were tons of tourists walking up and down this pedestrian only street just steps from the ocean. Some stores were just crammed with affordable tourist-y trinkets. I loved the bright colors! Other stores sold Mexican art (Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera were well-represented on almost everything from magnets to stationary), and still others sold Havaianas and T-shirts. I almost bought one of these jellyfish lamps:Dia de los Muertos figurines were everywhere. This bride and groom were life-sized! The last thing I expected to find was Thai food in Mexico, but we ended up eating some sort of Thai influenced dinner pretty often. Babe's is a noodle bar. That is, they serve delicious noodle dishes and huge, cheap and delicious icy drinks. It's casual, Thai, simple, fresh, and fun. This isn't authentic Mexican food, but it was delicious, cheap, and filling. Our favorites were the spring rolls and the spicy fried tofu.

Speaking of authentic Mexican food, it was kind of hard to find something sin pollo, carne, pescado, huevos and queso. Our one night at an authentic Mexican restaurant was just OK. They put some kind of weird cheese all over the guacomole and the fried veggies and rice were just mediocre.

Prepared for the worst, I actually packed some food and made sure our hotel had a kitchen. This worked out really well, we were able to cook and save some money. Plus, it was so convenient to store last night's leftovers in the fridge, then heat them up for lunch the next day in the microwave. Breakfast usually consisted of tofu scramble or oatmeal. I brought silken tofu, tofu scramble mix, and little oatmeal packets.

There was a Starbucks right around the corner from where we were staying, and while we totally supported Java Joe's often for delicious espresso, it's worth noting that the Playa Starbucks has soymilk!
In my next post, I'll write about Akumal...land of many sea turtles and more great vegan food!

15 comments:

bittersweetblog said...

Oh, what fun, I love the ambiance in these places!

shellyfish said...

You're making me miss Mexico! I spent lots of time there (I used to live near the US/Mexico border), and was lucky because most of the places I went were small villages and we would make our own food or I'd eat grilled veggie tacos. Eating in restaurants is not easy - but it sounds like you did ok!

Vegan On Stage said...

looks like you had an amazing time!!! me and my boyfriend have been looking for vacations... was it super expensive to go there?

The Vegan Snorkeler said...

It wasn't too expensive. The dollar has a really good exchange rate to the peso right now. We also got a good deal on flights and the hotel. I used www.kayak.com to search for cheap flights. I had so much fun there, I highly recommend it!

RadhaNarasimhan said...

Nice to read about your trip. We are a vegetarian family that travels to the Yucatan about once a year. How funny that we also discovered the Babes restaurant- just walking down the street. Unfortunately, I have not discovered too many other good veg options besides 100% Natural. We eat alot of peanut butter and banana sandwiches. I also found you can get TVP at the local groceries. We ended up buying canned spaghetti sauce and making pasta in our coffee pot one day.

disa said...
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Sylvia said...

Where did you buy the tofu?

The Vegan Snorkeler said...

Sylvia-I wasn't sure what to expect in Playa, so I brought some vacuum packed silken tofu just in case. I knew we were staying in a place that had a kitchen, so that helped.

Karl Robinson said...

"Media Luna" also offer vegan food - quite near "100% natural"on the first floor.

Delighted Scribbler said...

I'm not a vegan, please allow me to assure you and all vegans that you will be quite happy with your choices in Mexico. There are many soy products, including soy milk, soy ice cream, tofu, soy sausage, soy chorizo, soy burgers, soy toast, and even soy cookies. If you eat wheat gluten, there are also many products available. Most restaurants won't have these, but most grocery stores will.

As I said, I am not a vegan. I'm not even a vegetarian, but I've found that especially the soy milk selection is broader, tastier and smoother in Mexican products than most of the products commonly found in the US. It's just an opinion, but I would encourage all vegan travelers to enjoy Mexico. You can find food easily, it's only your restaurant choices that shrink a bit.

Cristi Fer said...

Cristi Fer Tienda naturista has veggie meat, soy, almond, and rice milk, And other staff for vegetarians and celicos, cristiferhealthfoodstore.blogspot.com/

Cristi Fer said...

Cristi Fer Tienda Naturista is a new store in Playa, You van get vegie meat, soy, rice almond milk, etc. cristiferhealthfoodstore.blogspot.com/

Another Day In Paradise said...

I live in Playa and am yet to discover a truly vegan restaurant. While 100% natural has some veggie options (if you consume dairy etc) but the jacoque they use in many of their dishes is dairy. Admittedly their soyburger is pretty good, but it comes with said jacoque (like a cream cheese curd style spreadable dip)

Their juices are also fantastic, but as for vegan options you may as well stick with buying your fruit at a supermarket!

If you can head towards the 30th street with 30th (the other side of the Mega(this is not a typo) there are 2 other organic-style restaurants (La ceiba - which also has a minimart (dac) and across the road the "nativo". The juices are a fraction of the price and just as fresh as the 100% natural.

moki said...

Hi - Aw - I'm homesick (spent a winter just down the beach from Playa once)... My daughter and i ate a lot of fresh tortillas (no lard) w/avocado spread on them and (when we could find them) ground pumpkin seeds/pepitas and a squeeze of lime...delish!

Organicos Riviera Maya said...

You can go eating to BIO-Natural with a organic vegetarian and vegan menu..

5th av between 40 and 42

Pretty good!