It took awhile for me to fall in love with Miami. I had some initial trouble finding internet sources from my usual haunts for good eating besides the Happy Cow (which I made a map from), so I was kind of on my own. Plus, I was traveling with all non-vegans and no car, staying by the airport (don’t do it!), and had shows to go to every night in downtown Miami so time for hunting down restaurants was extremely limited. After I returned I did find a great website, Meatless Miami, so check it out if you are traveling to south Florida. I learned some valuable lessons that I thought I would share.
The Airport District
Lesson 1: Call ahead. Especially if you don’t have a car and it is the holidays.
The first day I tried to go to the Prana Health Store to have lunch and pick up supplies. They were closed for new years! We checked out every other place in the strip mall but all the Cuban and Peruvian places were veg-free so we got stuck with Chinese food, lucky for us the server was incredibly friendly and gave me the low down on the best vegan dish. It was really good and of course I don’t know the name, it wasn’t the ma pa tofu. After we finished eating Mr. Smurf checked out the bus situation while I happily digested and wrapped up my leftovers. Suddenly, he came running in saying we had to go right now to catch the bus or wait an hour for the next one! We ran down the street to see the bus waiting ahead of us but we couldn’t make it on time. For an hour I sat on the dustiest most industrial road you ever saw in your life, across the street from a prison waiting for the bus to come. Qué lástima!
The day got much better as it went on, though, and later that night everyone had veggie burritos in a parking lot.
Lesson 2: Don’t be afraid to look ridiculous
After accidentally sleeping until 2 pm the next day we were off to a Cuban restaurant recommended to me by a friend in Little Havana called La Carretas. I made a plate from the sides and I had more plantains than ever before in my life! They also had yellow rice with no meat and mashed yucca. Unfortunately, I ate way too much and then we decided to walk ~50 blocks to downtown.
At first, walking through Little Havana was really fun. In Cuba the symbol of the rooster is significant so all over little Havana they have giant cocks decorated differently. We took lots of pictures for cock tour 2009. I made a very bad decision to dress for the show instead of the walk so I was wearing poor (but cute & vegan) walking shoes and a very light dress. I was really cold so we slipped into a Cuban store to find a sweatshirt. Instead I found a blanket with the Cuban flag that I draped around me for the rest of the walk. I felt a little silly walking but at the end of the night the cab driver totally gave us a huge discount because we had the flag! Which reminds me that in Miami the buses do not run late so plan accordingly.
Lesson 3: Be open-minded
The next day the boys went to play disc golf while Amanda and I went to meet with our friend Trisha at her better hotel on South Beach. It was called the Starlight and it was practically on the beach. I didn’t think that South Beach would have much for a person like me but it turned out that I really liked it. The art deco is a lot of fun, the beach was beautiful and Caribbean blue, there are people from all over the world staying there and it didn’t seem overly cheesy like everywhere else I have been to in Florida. We even found an Indian store on Hispanola street that we loved filled with really inexpensive beautiful dresses. It was amazing and totally unexpected.
There was a lot to laugh about as well, like the slam-tight leggings painted to look like designer eurotrash jeans and a lot of the mannequins with really big boobs. We also saw a lot of really tiny dogs that appeared to be used as Paris Hilton-style accessories. I almost cried looking at the baby puppies in an all pink pet store because I felt so sorry for them and angry at their situation and simultaneously completely overwhelmed by their excessive cuteness.
We ate a Peruvian restaurant that I didn’t get the name of. They didn’t speak much English but assured me that tallarines verdes was free of animal products. I later looked into it and it seems that there are indeed vegan versions of the Peruvian dish although I don’t think mine was. Basically you cook onions and garlic with basil and spinach and then blend so it is like a cooked pesto. I want to try to make it when basil is plentiful later this year because I liked it more than regular pesto. I also got a pineapple batido with water and felt like I left the United States was far behind.
Lesson 4 Ital is Vital
Everything got better each day we were in Miami, the food, the weather, the concerts; so it was no surprise that New Year’s Eve Day was, without a doubt, the best day of the trip. By this time we had the bus system totally figured out and I convinced everyone to ride out to Little Hati to check out an all vegan Rastafarian place called the Garden of Eatin’. This is the kind of place that I dream of finding on vacation. It was tucked away behind another building with little kids playing soccer in the parking lot. We had two choices, vegan chicken or jerk tofu with sides and that was it.
I opted for the curry vegan chicken with the vegetables and the rice & peas. The inside was a little small and dark. I asked if they had any outdoor seating since it was gorgeous outside and they immediately set up a table outside for us which was very friendly. The food was unbelievable. For such a small amount of money you get a gigantic portion of glorious vegan food that makes me want to move to the Caribbean. The curry chicken had amazing flavors and wasn’t too hot but there was a really spicy chunky salsa type sauce that you could add to punch it up if you were so inclined. I just needed the tiniest bit and it spiced everything. The vegetables were a mix of cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, and onions and were delicious. I wish I could eat it again every day. I read that they sometimes have fried Jamaican patties and other fun items as well that I wish I got to try. The Jerk Tofu was good too and Mr. Smurf also had the kidney beans which were just fantastic and I wished I could eat them all.
After we left the Garden we ended up walking through Little Hati since it was such a beautiful day. We went into quite a few different shops and it was like another world. I read that in Hati the slaves used the Christian symbols to practice voodoo undercover and it is really interesting to see the two melded together. We went into shops that were filled with bottles of herbs with handwritten labels. Everyone was so friendly and the barter system was very much alive.
After the walk we took the bus (we finally learned about the all day pass) back to South Beach for some final 2009 beach time. One thing that I didn’t know about Miami before is that there are no open container laws and the bars never close. Unless it is happy hour is really expensive to get drinks at the bar (although you can barter and find deals) so it is cheapest to buy your supplies and take them with you. We made bloody mary’s and met up with friends on the beach just as things were starting to really rage on South Beach.
And then we took off for the last show of the New Year’s run. In a lot of ways it was the perfect trip. I love Miami and I hope to go back for future New Years’ now that I have the whole transportation and where to stay thing all figured out. There is still so much to see and I can’t wait to go back. .
Happy New Year!