There’s a plant based dining revolution happening on "One Happy Island"!
I can personally attest to how difficult it’s been to get decent plant-based cuisine on this island in the past few years. My daughter, Jessica, is The Vegan Vacationista, and whenever we’d go dining together on Aruba, it was always a challenge. She quickly tired of steamed vegetable plates, chalky tasting tofu, and uninspiring pasta while I happily indulged in beautifully prepared and artfully plated gourmet fare. But now she’s delighted to witness an entire vegan revolution happening on the island right before our eyes.
We first noticed changes last year at snack spots like Eduardo’s Beach Shack and healthy food places like Nourish Café at Island Yoga. Many were easy to find because of their obvious names like Pura Vita and Mundi Health Café. Others not so obvious like Carito's Bakery inside Fantastic Gardens. And the brand new Alfresco is well worth seeking out too. Though it’s easy to “veganize” pizza, skipping the cheese rather defeats the appeal. But thankfully, there’s a spot called Itza Pizza that uses cheese made from cashews! Alfie’s in Aruba has a great vegan version of Quebec’s famous poutine, and Coffee Break Aruba now offers vegan baked goods. But one cannot live on lunch and snack foods alone! Fine dining had yet to really catch up.
Although many chefs went out of their way to create special vegan dinner dishes for Jessica, the public doesn’t know about them. Da Vinci Ristorante, Screaming Eagle, and Pure Ocean all came up with superbly tasty vegan full-course dinners, but even if you can call ahead and ask for options, they’re not on the menu.
At Aruba Ocean Villas we witnessed how seriously inspired and gourmet vegan cuisine can be with a little imagination. Their private chef at the time, Annelotte Ellis, made us food so delicious and creative that it was downright addictive. (Deep fried vegan Brie with mango dipping sauce? Yes, please!) She’s since opened her own spot near the big red windmill called Delicious, so ask about their vegan options.
It was plain to see that Aruba’s chefs were indeed willing and eager to venture into this territory, but maybe they could use a little help. And frankly, we also needed help finding existing upscale dishes that were already available in established spots. Enter Meredith Marin, aka Vegan Aruba, just the guru we were all looking for!
We stumbled upon Meredith on Instagram and were delighted to meet up with her on our last trip. She is truly a force to be reckoned with! Having adopted Aruba as her new home (she’s originally from New York), she is now on a mission to bring a powerful vegan movement to the island. She offers in-kitchen training classes, workshops, events, and even digital courses on how to cook and eat vegan easily.
On the restaurant front, the very first spot to sign up for her consulting service was Cuba’s Cookin’. Now they’ve just rolled out a whole new menu with fascinating takes on traditional dishes like Tofu Ropa Vieja, a vegan version of Cuba’s national beef dish. Following suit, Elements at Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort will now also be offering a brand new comprehensive vegan menu thanks to Meredith’s tutoring. Though they were already among the first to offer vegan options like Wheat Spaghetti with Roasted Green Tomatillos and Rainbow Squash sautéed in Virgin Olive Oil with Garlic, Leeks, Tofu, and enhanced with Dijon Mustard and Riesling Wine. Now doesn’t that beat plain pasta and tomato sauce?
Plant-based food need not be boring! Meredith says, “I'm so inspired by the positive response to veganism on the island. Vegan Aruba has turned into a social and culinary movement and there’s no turning back now. More and more restaurants are reaching out for vegan consulting, while vegan-cooking classes have long wait-lists, and everywhere I go it seems someone tells me they’re trying to go vegan. Aruba is on its way toward becoming the vegan culinary capital of the Caribbean.”
Meredith also tells us that at Las Ramblas, a well-established steakhouse at La Cabana Resort, they have a wonderful Tamarind Tofu, and the faux Seafood Platter at Fishes & More is to die for. She helped them create it out of watermelon tuna, carrot lox, fried Portobello “shrimp” tempura, Cajun tofu fillets, and lychee ceviche served with brown rice and crispy fried nori. We can’t wait to try that!
It’s a brave new vegan world on “One Happy Island” these days. Find out more as the movement grows. Vegan Aruba will be launching a new site soon, but for now you can keep up via Instagram at: http://instagram.com/veganaruba.
And read Jessica’s blog at www.veganvacationista.com for some past articles on Aruba’s vegan offerings.