August 8, 2010 10:16 AM   Subscribe

Vegetarian eating in Spain -- help me, Askme-Wan Kenobi

Off to Spain. What are some good vegetarian eatables to look out for? Apart from patatas bravas. I'm keen for veg versions of homestyle Spanish food -- don't wanna eat macrobiotic burgers at yuppie health food stores.

Vegan is best, or lacto-veg; I don't eat eggs cos of battery hen bastardry.
posted by dontjumplarry to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
vegan traditional homestyle Spanish food?

You realize this is the country that considers ham a spice?

You can't have traditional and vegan. You might be ok with veg as long as you like eggs and potatoes.

veg is not incredibly popular outside of a few bean dishes (most with pork). In south you see some long cooked greens, salads, etc. I'm sure in homes there is a lot more veg, but dining out there many times I've struggled to limit my protein intake (they eat a ton of fish in addition to the meat)

This is not to say you can't find tasty vegan food in the bigger cities in Spain - I'm sure you can - but not traditional stuff.
posted by JPD at 10:56 AM on August 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

gazpacho is one of the more vegan examples of spanish cuisine and is very traditional

also, there are plenty of vegan tapas dishes, like champiñones al ajillo (yum), and pan con tomate (yum)

you can also find falafel in most Spanish cities & towns or get a bocadillo de queso (hearty cheese sandwich - ask for it with guava paste for a real treat!)

but here's the real advice: if you are ordering food in Spain, especially southern Spain, you must be very very specific about your dietary preferences and always ask "what exactly is in this?" - this country has a love affair with ham like few others

i have often been served "vegetarian" dishes that had shredded or diced pork spread over it - when i asked about this i was always told "it's only a little bit - for flavor!"
posted by jammy at 11:04 AM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

You can get by with vegetarian if you include eggs - tortilla is a very traditional Spanish dish, basically a big fluffy fritatta.

If you don't want to eat eggs, you're probably limited to certain tapas.

I don't want to call out vegans or anything, but in general folks with politicized dietary requirements should recall that virtually zero human cultures are naturally vegan. It's a luxury that we've only been able to afford within the last 50 years or so of human culture, and that only in affluent parts of the world. There are very few places on the planet that you can travel and eat authentic local food that meets vegan standards, without a lot of culinary contortionism.
posted by Sara C. at 11:28 AM on August 8, 2010 [4 favorites]

You will find vegetarian restaurants in the bigger cities, but as most people have said, you might be in trouble if you don't eat eggs. If you were to add fish, I think you'd be fine, but it's pretty difficult to be a out-and-out vegetarian and especially a vegan in Spain.
posted by ob at 11:53 AM on August 8, 2010

Wow, I guess I went to a different Spain...

I had no trouble at all as a vegetarian in Spain. First, the food markets are amazing, and you'll find fresh produce, nuts, cheese and eggs (if you eat those) in abundance everywhere. And everyone knows what a vegetarian is.

Every town and restaurant I went to had something that could be made vegan on the menu - and vegetarian food is a no brainer and already on the menus. I for one could live happily off of Patatas Bravas, Gazpacho and beer. : )

If you happen to go through Barcelona, there's an amazing chain of vegan restaurants/juice bar that you should visit called Juicy Jones. And if you want authentic vegetarian Paella, just go to the restaurant Organic - they also have a booth in famous food market Boqueria.

The best reference for vegetarians in spain is the website SinCarne. And this list at Happy Cow is great as well.

If you need more help, let me know, I have two vegan friends who lived in Spain and a roommate from Madrid.
posted by jardinier at 1:16 PM on August 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Mario Batali wrote a book called Spain, A Culinary Road Trip, chronicling visits to every region. He was accompanied by Gweneth Paltrow (among others), who is vegan, or at least vegetarian.. Every meal they ate is documented, and he includes some recipies. so you could judge for yourself what is edible.
posted by path at 1:49 PM on August 8, 2010

jardinier - people are being pessimistic about the notion of eating "authentic" Spanish food and also keeping to a strict vegetarian (no eggs, no fish) or possibly vegan diet. Obviously, as in most parts of the world where international tourists go, there will be vegetarian restaurants. And of course you can go to a market and buy anything you want. But a vegan is going to have very few options on a traditional Spanish menu.
posted by Sara C. at 1:55 PM on August 8, 2010

My advice dontjumplarry, is to ignore the naysaying. I heard the same thing before I went to Montreal, and wound up eating delicious veggie Poutine there. I heard it again before going to Spain and wound up finding traditional fare served everywhere that was vegetarian and sometimes vegan. The same thing is said here, how can you eat a 'traditional' thanksgiving as a vegan? And yet, we do it every year with Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, casseroles, biscuits, everything. The same is true in Spain. Again, just check out the web sites I linked to, and remember there are vegans and vegetarians everywhere in Europe, just like there are here.

I asked restaurants to make/serve me traditional fare without the meat, and they did. All you need to do is be respectful and polite and explain what you don't eat - as though it's an allergy or anything else that restaurants always have to deal with.

Here is a partial list of veggie and vegan tapas from an expat site:

Vegetarian tapas

tortilla de patata = potato omelette, often containing onions
tortilla de pimientos = potato omelette with bell pepper
tabla de quesos = an assortment of cheeses
croquetas de patata = potato croquettes (breaded, deep-fried, and cylinder-shaped)
croquetas de queso = cheese croquettes (breaded, deep-fried, and cylinder-shaped)
patatas bravas = fried potatoes served with spicy tomato sauce and garlic mayonnaise
quiche de rocquefort = a Rocquefort cheese and egg mixture cooked in a light pastry shell
buñuelos de queso = cheese fritters
empanadas de queso = cheese-filled turnovers
aros de cebolla rebozados = batter-fried onions
montaditos = small roll sandwiches; bread choices include white and wheat; vegetarian filling choices include a variety of cheeses, omelettes, and sometimes vegetables
tosta = a tapa on a slice of bread; vegetarian choices include a variety of cheeses, omelettes, and sometimes vegetables

Vegan tapas

pisto manchego = zucchini, tomato, bell pepper, and onion stew
escalivada = grilled eggplant, onion, and bell pepper
aceitunas = olives
champiñones al ajillo = garlic-sauteed mushrooms
alcachofas al ajillo = garlic-sauteed artichokes
pimientos asados = roasted bell peppers
pan con tomate = bread rubbed with ripe tomato, olive oil, and salt or garlic
berenjena con miel = fried eggplant strips drizzled with honey
zarangollo = zucchini and onion stew
posted by jardinier at 2:27 PM on August 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

I hope this goes without saying, but you MUST learn (or brush up on) the Spanish for questions you're going to have, and make sure your vocabulary includes the words for "vegetarian," "meat," "fish," etc. Please don't be the tourist who thinks it's Spanish people's job to understand your English-language questions about your own dietary needs.

I don't have specific advice since I was only in Spain for a few days, a long time ago. But I had no problems eating vegetarian. And I was just going to the restaurants everyone in the group wanted to go -- no "yuppie health food stores" were involved.

I don't think that telling you this is impossible (with all the flexibility of tapas? really?), or saying that people in Spain eat a lot of ham, is very helpful.
posted by Jaltcoh at 2:35 PM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

On Jaltcoh's point, this is a useful resource for traveling veggies.
posted by jardinier at 2:37 PM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Mario Batali wrote a book called Spain, A Culinary Road Trip, chronicling visits to every region. He was accompanied by Gweneth Paltrow (among others), who is vegan, or at least vegetarian.. Every meal they ate is documented, and he includes some recipies. so you could judge for yourself what is edible.

I watched a lot of that series when it aired on PBS last summer. I hate to reveal that I know even this much about Gwyneth Paltrow, but she was macrobiotic for awhile, I don't think that she was ever a vegan or even a true vegetarian and she certainly didn't adhere to a vegan or vegetarian diet while on that series. However I think that she said on the show that she does not eat anything with four legs and a face. But that still left her with seafood (of which they seemed to eat quite a bit) and egg dishes, such is a tortillas. I distinctly remember one show where they were sharing dishes and one was some sort of bean dish. Gwyneth raved on and on about how wonderful it was and that there must be some magic ingredient. Mark Bittman tasted it and replied (I'm paraphrasing): "I hate to tell you this but the magic ingredient is meat." It was flavored with ham bone or something that had been taken out so it wasn't obvious by the name of the dish or even looking at when it arrived.

Obviously I don't think that you're going to starve in Spain. Indeed I imagine that you'll be able to cobble together some very tasty meals. Like Gwyneth (and I had a friend who had similar experiences in Mexico), you occasionally might be surprised by the inclusion of meat (whether in the form of something cooked in chicken broth or with a ham bone) in something that you thought was safely vegetarian. I just wanted to nix the idea that the book mentioned above would include a lot of ideas for vegetarian meals in Spain. Like I said, I watched a lot of that series and aside from when they were eating pastries for breakfast or stealing some fruit during a visit to the Alhambra, I don't recall a significant amount of vegetarian food on offer other than a few tapas dishes.
posted by kaybdc at 3:56 PM on August 8, 2010

Re Gweneth Paltrow and the series about Spain - there are also quite a few episodes where she and her dietary whatever don't factor, at all. I remember an episode almost obsessively devoted to ham wherein she has gone back home to do something with her kids, Batali is also off somewhere else doing something else, and it's just Mark Bittman and the Spanish actress who is their liaison to Spanish culture, cruising whatever region, eating as much pork as they can possibly handle.

It was flavored with ham bone or something that had been taken out so it wasn't obvious by the name of the dish or even looking at when it arrived.

Yet another reason why it's going to be difficult to be a vegan traveler in a culture that isn't your own and where you don't speak the local language fluently. At home, it's easy for me to figure out whether there might be trace bits of meat in my food which weren't immediately apparent. If that bugs you, in a place like Spain you're basically SOL.

To clarify - do I think one can be vegetarian, even vegan, in Spain? Of course. There's going to be felafel on every corner, and lots of markets where you can buy your own raw ingredients. There will be a few traditional dishes you can deal with, like gazpacho, and some tapas, too. But it's going to be a chore, and you might not be able to eat as authentically as you'd like.

I just got back from a trip to South America where I basically had to throw my vegetarianism out the window because after a week I was sick and tired of only having one or two things I could reliably eat (and I'm a really lax dairy-worshiping pescatarian!). I'm not going to pretend this is easy, and it's not because I have something against vegetarians/vegans, it's because I just went through this, myself, and there is just no easy answer, at all.
posted by Sara C. at 4:42 PM on August 8, 2010

You might not be able to eat as authentically as you'd like.

exactly. OP's last question was about authentic non-tourist spain - he needs to realize that compared to Anglo-Saxon countries vegetarianism and authenticity are mutually exclusive. If you really want to experience Spain - a place I absolutely love - you need to put your food issues aside and try everything because so much about Spain is in the food and the culture surrounding eating.

I mean this is not a judgment on veg as a lifestyle- I think it is a perfectly reasonable lifestyle choice - but if you want to find authenticity it is a massive issue.
posted by JPD at 5:43 PM on August 8, 2010

I lived in Spain as a vegetarian, with a preferentially-vegan roomate, for six months.

We chose to do a homestay so that we could cook our own vegetarian food. You can always find vegetarian things to eat if you prepare your own - I mean they have markets just like we do, and I could live on fresh bread with olive oil and cheese, and there's bakeries everywhere - but be aware that the Spanish smother *everything* they prepare, including hard-boiled eggs, tortilla espanola, and french fries, in mayonnaise. So if you want to go vegan you'll have to ask for your patatas fritas explicitly sin mayonesa, por favor.

Gazpacho is amazing and you could probably just live on that every day. There's a white version too, made with almonds, raisins, and apples. Never-ending olives and fresh bread are kind of de rigeur on restaurant tables.

But be prepared for it to be difficult, and don't get freaked out when (like jammy says) your "vegetarian" dish comes covered with diced pork. Or fish. (Most Europeans, I found, consider seafood an intrinsic part of a vegetarian diet.) So you will have to become very explicit about asking questions like "Contiene jamon esa sopa? O pollo? Contiene mariscos o pescado? De que esta hecho el caldo?" rather than just "ese plato es vegetariano?" Because American and European assumptions about what "vegetarian" means vary widely. And you will also have to become resigned to the possibility of accidentally eating some meat at some point.

Other than that, it's totally doable and you should in no way allow it to make you nervous or unhappy about what has the potential to be an absolutely amazing experience. I wish I were in your shoes - I miss Spain so much. I wish I had stayed the full year.
posted by GardenGal at 7:33 PM on August 8, 2010

Madrid and Barcelona for sure have plenty of vegan and vegetarian restaurants which will be easy to find outside of the touristy areas. In Madrid, check out Chueca and the area around Plaza de Santa Ana. There are plenty of ensaladas you can find with great Spanish veggies that are standard fare. Also plenty of vegetarian soups exist. FresCo is a great buffet restaurant chain where you can get all sorts of vegetarian food at very good prices.

Here is a good guide you can print out.

Despite bullfighting being practiced, Spain is not a backwards carniverous culture. Barcelona has recently banned the sport.
posted by JJ86 at 8:15 PM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

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