In the land of parilla and asado, beef is often the protein of choice. Many would describe Argentine meat as the best they have ever tasted. When explaining to an Argentine waiter that I don’t eat meat, the response is often, “Oh okay, no problem, we have cheese empanadas, cheese raviolis or pizza.” When I explain that I don’t eat cheese either, I am often met with a look of utter confusion and a response that is something along the lines of, “Well, what do you eat?”
I usually greet this response with a friendly smile. I get exactly where they are coming from. There was a time not too long ago when I would have asked a vegan friend the same question. There seems to be a general concern that a vegan diet lacking in animal products will leave a person perpetually hungry and malnourished. I beg to differ. Instead of getting into the specifics of why I eat what I eat, I usually explain that eating a healthy diet of mostly vegetables, fruits, legumes and grains seems to work well for me. Food choices are personal, and while I may have a strong opinion about what I choose to eat, it’s not my place to judge what others choose to eat or not eat.
Enough about that. Let’s get back to Argentina. Argentina’s extensive farmland supports its beef industry, but it also supports its agriculture, which offers an array of fresh produce, especially during the summer months. The fruit here is sweet, juicy and full of flavor and vegetables are crisp, and rich in color and flavor. Fortunately, salads are plentiful, even at traditional parillas in the most rural towns of Argentina, and restaurants have been extremely accommodating. I was most surprised when I ordered a vegetarian lasagna (with cheese, of course) at Melescla, a small, family-run restaurant in Maipu. They kindly offered to adjust the recipe and make the vegetarian lasagna from scratch, sans fromage. I used to never ask the kitchen to make such modifications, as I feared I was going to be that “difficult customer” that the serving staff would complain about, but I have discovered that most Argentine restaurants are more than happy to adjust a menu item so that you walk out the door as a happy customer.
The traditional parillas in rural Argentina offer more than just meat… you just have to be willing to ask. Here are some of the delicious results of asking a few simple questions:
Vegetarian flatbread pizza, sans fromage at Berlina (Bariloche, Argentina):
Baked eggplant milanesa, Mandarina (Cordoba City, Argentina):
Carrot gnocchi topped with fresh basil and a tomato and mushroom white wine sauce, Mandarina (Cordoba City, Argentina):