Today I walked into a small "pancho" restaurant--near my school across from the famous concert hall Luna Park--which is a place that sells hotdogs and some burgers, too, and there was literally nothing on the menu meant for non-carnivorous me. So, in my forward north-american, porteño-cringing way I decided to ask "hay algo vegetariano [do you have anything vegetarian]". The Buenos Aires native I was with reddened and put up his hand as if asking for forgiveness for my defiance against his country, as he waited for his two hotdogs he had just ordered.
The answer was first a laugh and then a no. I noticed on the menu that there was a small egg sandwich (if you are a vegetarian that doesn't eat eggs or cheese, this entry is not for you), that had jam, cheese and egg. I asked if they could simply not place the slice of ham on my sandwich in order to make it vegetarian. There was an awkward moment where all of the non-vegetarians looked around puzzled at each other wondering if I could be serious. As I often say, it is not that it is particularly hard to find vegetarian options if you know where to look and what to ask for, but it is certainly difficult to make someone understand that I don't eat things that were part of a living animal.
Amused, they prepared my egg and cheese sandwich adding lettuce and tomato. I garnished it with ketchup and crushed chips. They asked me for 4 pesos (a little more than one U.S. dollar), and I haggled them down to 3 pesos (less than one U.S. dollar) since I was not getting the piece of ham. My original plan was to go buy a salad for 30 pesos at a natural food deli a block away, but for under a buck, I couldn't resist.
The moral of this story is that asking for the vegetarian option in a country that does not understand vegetarianism may not be as successful as simply investigating the menu and showing the restaurant how they could make something with meat ok for us herbivores (at least of the lacto-ovo variety, in this case).