Vegetarian Food Grows in Cuzco

Vegetarian food is claiming more and more recognition in Cuzco. As evidence of this, you can find in the colonial core both vegetarian restaurants and traditional restaurants that increasingly are finding room on their menus for vegetarian fare. Many offer set meals based on vegetables because vegetarian cuisine is seen as lighter, cleaner, more healthful, and nourishing. Changes are afoot here.0

Cusqueños increasingly read that not only humans but other beings as well have the same right to life as us and that people do not need to eat animals in order to survive and be healthy. Some scientists claim that humans as a species were born to be vegetarian, since our teeth are not sharp and pointed like those of carnivorous animals.

Whatever the case, our ancestors were not as carnivorous as current urban diets might think. Mostly people ate vegetables and fruits given to them by the Pachamama. Meat was an add on for rare occasions, such as when sacrifices were made or people had rites of passage. People did not expect to have a piece of meat as the core of every meal, as has become common in our present city life.

In that relationship with plants and animals, the Incas and their ancestors had a philosophy, a spiritual relationship, that joined them together. Neither animals nor plants were material objects for people to dispose of how they wished, but different beings with which people had a relationship.

Mercado San Blas, Govinda Lila
Mercado San Blas, Govinda Lila

In this, our ancestors were a bit like the Hindus, that also saw an ethical bond among various beings. Furthermore, the original meaning of the word vegetarianism implies a balanced philosophical and moral sense of life. It goes far beyond a mere diet of fruits and vegetables. The Latin word vegetus means “complete, healthy, fresh, and vivacious.”

Many religions and forms of belief have supported vegetarianism. One of the most popular is Buddhism and Hinduism. In India, people are vegetarian because of religion, custom, and conviction.

While initially vegetarianism may have been a foreign import, today it is striking more and more roots into the soil of Cuzco. The first public vegetarians were probably the Hare Krishnas who came to Cuzco with their saffron robes and, beside dancing and chanting in the main Square, opened Govinda Restaurant. Other restaurants followed as local people took interest in vegetarian living, other groups came to promote vegetarianism in this spiritual center of the world, and Cusqueños became more and more involved. It is not just tourists who ask for vegetarian meals, but increasingly local people as well.

Salad El Encuentro
Salad El Encuentro

Vegetarianism in Cuzco has ceased to be a religious or simply traditional practice. Instead the dietary and philosophic concerns of a global vegetarian movement have found their way to Cuzco. In Cuzco people distribute pamphlets and flyers advocating for vegetarianism as a nutritious, ethical, and healthy option for nourishing yourself.
Even Cuzco’s athletes are getting the message. They are finding that eating vegetables fits well with a schedule of workouts and training, as they are much easier to digest than meat.

Here is one example of the change in Cuzco. A few days ago I was walking down Tandapata Street with a friend. We were discussing the importance of vegetables for health and especially for athletes when we came up on the market of San Blas. We decided to enter and see what was offered to eat.

We went through all the food stands and the caseras (sellers) offered us fried fish, rice with chicken, and other dishes, all built on meat. But nothing struck our fancy.

When we arrived at the door that opens onto the market’s patio, we found a stand that offered vegetarian food. We sat at the table and the happy and smiling woman poured us a glass of apple-water to slake our thirst. Quite a few other people were also seated there, waiting for their food. They included both foreigners and Cusqueños.

When the soup arrived it immediately opened my appetite with the first spoonful. Filled with flavor, one could taste each of the vegetables distinctively in a savory liquid. It was very pleasing.

The main dish, or segundo as it is called here, we had a rice pilaf with flakes of carrot for color, as well as black beans. Our plates also contained gluten, or as many people call it, soy meat, along with a salad of tomato, cucumber, lettuce, and beets. The plate was filled with color, flavor, and above all was very nutritious.

Soy Balls, El Encuentro
Soy Balls, El Encuentro

As we got ready to leave, the casera offered us another glass of apple-water and sent us off with a smile, telling us to come back the next day for a segundo of menestras, beans. lentils, and such.

The following are vegetarian restaurants within Cuzco’s colonial core..

Calle Saphi 584

Choquechaca 152

El Encuentro
Santa Catalina Angosta 384
Calle tigre 130

Govinda Lila
Inside the San Blas Market

Other restaurants can be found in the rest of the city.

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