Sorry for not posting this right away- perhaps I'm still in vacation mode :)
Trying to eat vegetarian in Cartagena, Colombia wasn't like trying to scale Machu Picchu without hiking equipment, but it was kind of like getting by in a remote village with little Spanish language skills... mine of course consisted of "Soy vegetariana y no como carne, pollo y mariscos- tienen platos vegetarianos?"
Which, all things considered, was all I needed to say at some places- as a more tourist-friendly city, beautiful Cartagena aims to please, and with a little explaining, I found several restaurant owners willing to accommodate. Even on day tours with set comidas, grilled fish and chicken were cooked separately from the coconut rice, lime marinated veggies, and plantains, making it very easy to offer someone my extra piece of fish in exchange for some extra veggies or coconut rice (which was fabulous, by the way, I'll be making this at home soon!)
The eating highlight of my trip? The unexpected discovery of a vegetarian restaurant in the San Diego district of Cartagena called Girasoles.
Open just for breakfast and lunch (and offering takeaway options, for potential visitors who might be concerned about their afternoon snack/dinner options), Girasoles served vegetarian items (like vegetable empanadas, and carrots and radishes in a creamy dressing, though I'm not 100% sure if this dressing was entirely vegan) and vegan items as well (marinated seitan and soy milk flan anyone?) As the English-speaking Colombian tour guide who shared a table with us explained, many people make a point of eating a vegetarian meal once a day for their health- a different reason than many American vegetarians/vegans, but I think no matter what the reason, as long as people are more open to the idea that you really don't need meat in your diet, they're off to a good start!
For the Girasoles set lunch, we enjoyed Colombian-style vegetarian- we started with a simple, pinto bean soup, followed by a plate of seasoned rice, marinated seitan, salad, and cold vegetables in a creamy dressing. Unlike other Latin American cultures, Colombian food is very simple- no heavy sauces, seasonings, or spices- so it can be light and easy, especially if you're eating veg! The best part? A filling lunch for my honey and I set us back about $6.50 USD... yes, for the two of us.
In addition to sampling Colombian food, we also found veg-friendly options in other global cuisines that have made their mark in Cartagena. We stopped in El Bistro in the Centro district for dinner one night, a German-owned bistro with a Latin and French serving staff that made Continental-Latin fusion. Authentically Colombian? No, but the delish vegetable curry with rice was enough to satisfy my tastebuds. (sorry for the grainy photo!)
Italians have also made a big impact in Cartagena (this should not have surprised me, we're everywhere!) and we discovered a number of Italian restaurants, as well as plenty of other restos that serve at least one or two pasta dishes in addition to traditional cuisine. I can't say I had a problem with this. Though there are a number of inexpensive options for Italian, my honey and I chose Da Danni, owned by two Italian-trained Colombian chefs. Though the bill came out to what would've been a typical dinner out in NYC, my rigatoni arrabbiata was far better than the pastas I've had to endure in Little Italy. Definitely worth it.
I even lucked out in a Colombian sushi bar, of all places! Tabetai, also located in the San Diego district, has a vegetarian roll that is not on the menu- a Japanese-Colombian fusion of avocado and fried banana. Vegetarian and not traditional- it's how all eating should be! Isn't the adventure aspect of a vacation really what it's all about?