Following a plant-based diet outside your comfort zone might be difficult. Sofia Toraño, Mexican vegan chef, gave Mexico News Daily her favorite tips for shopping vegan in Mexico. “It’s less complicated if you think about what you can eat, as opposed to what you can’t eat,” is Sofía’s rule.
Remember that pre-Columbian Mexican food was plant-based, with an incredibly rich diversity of plants, grains, seeds, and nuts. Since 2010, the cuisine in the country has been recognized by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage to Humanity.
Fungi and vegetables like corn, nopales, and tomatoes can be found in most traditional Mexican cuisine dishes. Some traditional dishes and garnishes that are originally 100% plant-based include:
- Most salsas of any color and texture, including mole
- Rice and beans
- Nopal salad
- Stuffed chiles
- Quesadillas with no cheese (as found in Mexico City)
Make the most out of local markets and stores, where you can always find fresh fruits and vegetables of great quality. Grocery shopping in Mexico is extremely accessible and cheap — especially in big cities, where it’s the norm to have a grocery store or market within walking distance from your home. Having these makes vegan shopping much more amiable, according to Sofía.
“When I became a vegan — which happens to most people who switch into a plant-based diet — I encountered a whole world I didn’t know existed. You find more vegetables than you used to eat, and once you start treating them like the main protagonist of your diet, a whole world of possibilities opens up before you, and you make the most out of all the flavors, colors, and textures available in plants,” she reveals.
Chickpeas, beans and lentils: Your base. These foods are high in protein, iron, and other minerals.
Fungi: In Mexico, there are around 200 species of edible fungi. Sofia thinks they are the “future” of sustainable nutrition. They need very little dirt and resources to grow and are extremely nutritious, delicious, and versatile. Mushrooms and other fungi are great for replacing textures and can be cooked in an infinite amount of ways (vapor, sealed, boiled, baked, etc). They are also part of Mexico’s pre-Hispanic heritage and a staple in both vegan and non-vegan Mexican cuisine.
Tofu: It can be found anywhere and in all its variety of textures and displays. It’s made out of soy, is high in protein, and is very healthy. Different tofu textures can be used for different things, which comes in useful when using it to replace animal foods.
Nooch (nutritional yeast): Don’t be set off by its name: Nutritional yeast is an inactive yeast that comes out of different fermented plants, like corn. It has a cheesy quality to it and is a delicious condiment that adds flavor and texture to any dish.
Brands to look out for in your grocery stores:
- Tofutti: Great sour cream and cream cheese.
- Goodcatch: Pre-prepared vegan seafood packages, such as salmon burgers and fish fingers.
- Vio Life & Q Veggie: Great plant-based cheese brands.
- Heura: Spanish meat substitutes, such as chicken and sausages made out of soy.
Read labels carefully. Keep in mind that animal products are still used as stabilizers, conservatives, thickeners, etc. in plenty of Mexican processed foods. A lot of the time they are hidden and used in non-intuitive places. For example:
- Grenetina, gelatine: a protein extracted from animal bones.
- Substitute: ‘Agar-agar,’ a gelling agent made out of red algae.
- Albúmina: a protein that can be found in egg whites and milk and is a word uncommonly used to refer to egg whites in products.
Keep an eye out for our next article on Sofia’s favorite quick vegan recipes, using these ingredients and tips.
If you live in or visit Mexico City, visit her favorite vegan restaurants:
Paxil Seafood: A small street food stand serving vegan seafood. @paxil.plantbasedseafood Colonia Roma Norte.
Plantasia: Plant-based dishes inspired by oriental flavors from Japan, China, Thailand and Indonesia. @plantasiacafe Colonia Roma Norte.
Los Loosers: The first mushroom-forward, plant-based restaurant in Mexico. Since 2011. @wearelosloosers Colonia Roma Norte.
Vegan Ramen Mei: Plant-based ramen. @veganramenmei Condesa.
Miga Vegana: Vegan sourdough bakery. @miga.vegana Roma Sur.
Goys Burgers: Plant-based burgers. Can also be found in Guadalajara. @goysburgers Polanco, Hipódromo Condesa, and Nápoles.
Montserrat Castro Gómez is a freelance writer and translator from Querétaro, México.