Naturlandia, Vegetarian Food Flourishes in San Blas

A small, welcoming place, less than a block from the popular Plaza de San Blas, Naturlandia (Carmen Alto 146) opened to provide people with quickly prepared vegetarian food made from the natural products of the region of Cuzco. Besides food, it also has a mission to teach people the benefits of vegetarian living. Its motto seems to be with gusto and life for all.

San Blas is one of Cuzco’s main tourist destinations because of its narrow, cobbled streets, its quaint plaza, its amazing church, and the fact that since ancient times it has been a zone of craftsmen. This shows in the numerous shops offering fine handicrafts different from those found in the rest of the city’s numerous handicraft markets.

But it is more. San Blas is also a zone where different kinds of people come together. There are the traditional craftsmen who sell in the Plaza’s Friday and Saturday fair, the young people with dreadlocks and lots of red, yellow, and green, young men and women working the streets to sell paintings and crafts to the tourists, Evangelicals with a cafe mission and Sunday services, Israelis who have just finished their obligatory military service and are looking for experience, counter-cultural Argentines and Colombians and many tourists from all over the world.

As a result, San Blas is a magnet for people who wish to make the world a better place. Naturlandia is a group with that end.

Naturlandia's Entrance
Naturlandia’s Entrance

Naturlandia is more than a place of respite from Cuzco’s unrelenting sun in July. It is also a foundation composed of people from elsewhere in Peru, especially the nearby, large city of Arequipa, who offer classes and workshops on natural living, protecting the environment, and vegetarian living.

Fitting that theme, Naturlandia, opened only four months ago. It offers an inviting place, pleasant people, healthy food, and affordable prices. It is small, with one table, three barstools, and a couple of couches. Its decoration consists of pictures of fruit on the wall, a poster advertising itself, flyers, and a small, visible cooking area, and display case filled with seasonal fruit.

Though small, it is tranquil and relaxing. One can sit and enjoy an inexpensive freshly made juice, a sandwich, and / or a dessert while basking in calmness. That attitude is radiated from the people who work (volunteer) there. They are people convinced of the rightness of their way who seem to have found peace.

It is fun to draw them out in conversation and learn why they came to Cuzco. But it is also fun to just sit and relax. You can read their fliers or just their phrases on the walls, such as “animals matter to me”.

Naturlandia's Entrance
Naturlandia’s Entrance

More and more vegetarian restaurants are appearing in Cuzco. A decade ago there were almost none and the idea of vegetarianism struck most people as strange, if not unhealthy. Now, both to meet the needs of visitors as well as the demands of local peoples, as well a the desire to promote healthy lifestyles, vegetarian offerings are much more common. San Blas with its cultural openness may well have the largest concentration of them.

Like others, Naturlandia offers Andean and Cuzqueño products, with an emphasis on local. From these are made pastries–such as the famous fresh corn cake (pastel de choclo), gluten and soy “meats”. On the menu, though, you can see the emphasis of naturlandia. They offer juices, yogurts and fruit salads, sandwiches, hamburgers, and tacos.

When we visited we ordered three sandwiches to taste the variety on their menu. These included a Neapolitan Sandwich–of tomatoes and fresh basil, a Mediterranean sandwich–with tomato, lettuce and a seasoned patty of vegetarian meat, as well as a hamburger of vegetarian meat and condiments.

Vegetarian Hamburger
Vegetarian Hamburger

They toasted the bread in a press which made it dry and tough to consume, as if it were days-old. That seemed a mistake. Otherwise, the sandwiches were delicious, each in its own way The ingredients were fresh, natural, and well combined.

The Neapolitan sandwich was especially good. You could taste the pungent flavor of the basil and the combination of the soy cheese and tomato against the crunchy bread.

The hamburger was composed of a vegetarian patty with crisp, green lettuce and ripe tomato.  It was tasty, especially with the olive dressing they brought.

Similarly. the mediterranean sandwich consisted of an appropriately flavored vegetarian “meat” prepared as if a breaded cutlet along with lettuce and tomato.

We also ordered fruit juices They were abundant, fresh, and full flavored. We ordered pineapple, grape with pear, and a combination of yogurt and lúcuma (a Peruvian fruit). In each you could taste the fruit. They were not watered down but were full fruit blended and in a glass.

On finishing our sandwiches and juices the three of us looked at each other and smiled. We were satisfied and content. We started discussing our impressions of the place and the service we had received.

David said, “while not the best, it is very pleasing because the place is tranquil and what they offer is good and healthy.”

Mediterranean Sandwich
Mediterranean Sandwich

Just as in other restaurants, Naturlandia makes its own products. These include their fresh corn cake, their soy milk, and their yoghurt.

Naturlandia is a good place. They offer commitment to an ideal, fresh and natural fruit juices and salads, as wlel as sandwiches and desserts. In Cuzco’s hot july sun it is an oasis.

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