November 22, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Spain, Travel, Travels in Spain

You’ve gotten the memo by now – Spain has lots of delicious food, but a healthy chunk of it involves meat. This wouldn’t be such a big deal except that you’re a vegetarian, which kind of makes the idea of really enjoying the country, much less not starving to death, kind of seem impossible. Lovely. Just what you’ve always wanted in a vacation – lots of good wine and a totally empty stomach.

Fear not, my friend. A couple of weeks ago I had my first vegetarian visitor (eh hem, challenge). Most of my guests have been more or less like me when I arrived here – not terribly carnivorous, but willing to try a bite of just about anything. (Years later and I cannot live without my beloved jamón, but you already knew that.) So with the arrival of this new cuisine-restricted friend, I was enthusiastic to show her that a vegetarian can not only avoid starvation while traveling in Spain, but can actually come to appreciate its cuisine. Challenge accepted.

Our journey through Spain took us to Ávila, Toledo and down south to Sevilla, Carmona and Granada. Our first stop in Ávila required a visit to one of our favorite restaurants, El Molino de La Losa, where we noshed on their giant tortilla española (made with some 24 eggs), which was as spectacular in taste as it was in size. This basic Spanish dish (usually made with a humble six or so eggs) is often a vegetarian go-to, but can’t really be fully appreciated unless it’s done right – that is, homemade and slightly moist in the center (nothing is worse than a dry, hard tortilla – I’m an expert, I know this). Accompanying our tortilla, we sampled a variety of Spanish cheeses along with membrillo, which is a sweet jelly-like substance that is orgasmic when served with a little bread and queso manchego (strict vegetarians should note that, as with many cheeses, animal product may be used in the making of manchego cheese). I should mention that the texturas de chocolate dessert also happened to be vegetarian as well (crazy, right!?), so of course we had to try that too.

Down in Sevilla, we made like natives and ordered gazpacho and salmorejo like they were going out of style. Salmorejo is similar to gazpacho, but thicker and typically served with hard boiled egg and pieces of jamón on top (so be sure to ask for salmorejo “sin jamón” if you are a vegetarian). Accompanying our many meals were setas a la plancha (grilled mushrooms) and that fabulous ratatouille-like dish, pisto manchego (you learned how to make that a few weeks back, remember?). And to start our days, we fueled ourselves with classic Spanish breakfasts such as pan con tomate (toast with olive oil and crushed tomato) and churros con chocolate. Doesn’t sound half bad, does it? Well, it wasn’t.

On the way to Granada, we stopped in Carmona, a pueblo famous for having one of the longest histories in the region and also, as fate would have it, for its dish of espinacas con garbanzos (spinach and garbanzos). It was so awesomely delicious that we ordered two plates of it and even tackled a couple more bowls of gazpacho for good measure.

Heading east we ended up in Granada where we dined at the always-a-crowd-pleaser El Huerto de Juan Ranas. There we had an epic dinner, taking in the view of the Alhambra and chowing down on vegetable couscous (a common dish in Southern Spain). Perfectly cooked carrots, zucchini, squash, onion and even raisins danced in our mouths along with the pearly bits of couscous. Seriously, if this is what being a vegetarian in Spain looks like, then sign me up!!

Returning to Madrid, our tummies were oh so happy, not to mention oh so meat-free. Being a vegetarian in this country may draw lots of weird looks (like “you poor thing” kinds of looks), but otherwise is entirely doable, if not utterly enjoyable! Just note down some of these delicious vegetarian dishes and arm yourself with two short phrases: “lleva carne?” (does it have meat?) and “sin carne, por favor” (without meat, please).

Here is a list of some other commonly found vegetarian-ish dishes in Spain:

    Patatas bravas (potatoes with salsa – and no, it’s not Mexican-style salsa!)
    Paella de marisco/verduras (seafood/vegetables)
    Croquetas de setas/gambas/bacalao (mushrooms/shrimp/cod croquettes)
    Empanadas de atún/bacalao (tuna/cod)
    Gambas al ajillo (shrimp served with garlic in olive oil)
    Verduras a la plancha (grilled vegetables)

*La Tortuga Viajera has finally gotten on the Twitter bandwagon. I’m still not entirely convinced, so come follow me to see if I end up getting on board with the whole thing. I make a persuasive argument, don’t I?

19 Responses to “A vegetarian’s survival guide to Spanish cuisine”

  1. Andrea Says:

    I’m an almost vegetarian so this list will come in handy for my next trip to Spain. Oh and I vote patatas bravas as the best tapa ever!

  2. Erin Says:

    Hmm, if I had to pick a favorite tapa, it would have to be homemade croquetas (and queso manchego, but it’s a staple in my diet, so it doesn’t count!).

  3. Sarah Says:

    Boquerones all the way! But, that’s not vegetarian ; ). I’m always amazed at how little I know about Spain after being here for so long! ha ha ha! If it weren’t for you, Erin, I don’t know what I’d do!

  4. la_canadiense Says:

    This is super useful. I read a few times before coming to Spain that it’s really difficult for vegetarians here. But I actually know a Spanish vegetarian and she doesn’t seem to have too much trouble! I think the problem is the mix of it not being well known concept here and foreigners who don’t have great Spanish and aren’t familiar with the dishes available (and no menus describing everything!). I have similar issues because I don’t eat seafood or much fish…

  5. Kristen Says:

    Hi Erin,

    I found your site a few months ago when I moved to Madrid for love – sound familiar? 🙂 I am vegan. Yeah, I know… how do I survive in this country?

    I loved this post! It’s all about making it work.

  6. Ayngelina Says:

    Great post, I`m not vegetarian although many times when I travel I go for the no meat just beans option although I cannot imagine doing it in Spain.

  7. Erin Says:

    I’m finally just now coming out of my non-vegetarian Thanksgiving coma! @la canadiense, I think you’re right, it is not so much an issue of available veggie options, but that people aren’t really used to the concept. I had to work really hard to sell the idea of a meat-free meal option at our wedding (the reaction was generally, “why would someone not want meat!!???”). @Kristen, being a vegan is just a whole other world of difficulty that I can’t imagine! Have you tried the vegan restaurants in Madrid? It’s nice that there is at least some awareness. Hope your transition is going well!

  8. Daniel Says:

    Oh man, I was a vegetarian my first 2 years living in Madrid, and it wasn’t easy. One can only eat so much tortilla de patatas…

  9. Erin Says:

    So you finally gave in then? While there are lots of good vegetarian options (well, lots relative to just tortilla), it is definitely a lot harder to enjoy the country , much less get to know it, without embracing the meat. I’m definitely more carnivorous now than I’ve ever been in my life!

  10. Om Says:

    Hi! Awesome post. I’m an omnivore, but I do enjoy vegetarian food every now and then. So yeah, I guess I’m kind of like a part-time vegetarian lol….I’m glad Frances told me about this blog. Keep up the good work. 🙂

  11. Erin Says:

    I think you will do just fine in Spain then! Particularly when you are part-time carnivore ;). Glad you are enjoying the blog!

  12. adrian Says:

    sorry but manchego cheese is not suitable for vegetarians as it uses animal derived rennet, probably from calves stomachs 🙁

  13. adrian Says:

    or fish either

  14. Erin Says:

    Wow! Ok, so after a quick read on the making of most cheeses, it would appear that strict vegetarians can not eat cheese then – is that the conclusion? If so, FYI vegetarian friends – a touch of some animal product is used to help in the coagulation of milk (read more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheese). As for the fish, I included fish options because I have many vegetarian friends who do indeed include some fish in their diet, which I’m sure you will agree isn’t unheard of :).

    Thanks for the info. Interesting stuff! I will amend the post accordingly….although would love to first get to the bottom of this one!

  15. adrian Says:

    at least here in the UK most cheese (80 – 90% maybe)is made with rennet from non animal sources such as bacteria and certain plants. Though in Europe a lot of cheeses have to be made traditionally using animal rennet. There is some vegetarian cheese out there though in spain. just hard to find. Will have to ask my spanish gf

  16. Erin Says:

    Fascinating! I had no idea. Now I just can’t decide whether to burst my vegetarian friends’ bubbles or not. Hmmm.

  17. adrian Says:

    am in spain for xmas and been looking around the supoermarket.. its so tough here!! i got ofered a simple biscuit till i read was made with pork fat 🙁

  18. Erin Says:

    Maybe if you ask the Three Kings nicely, they’ll bring you some pork-free products 😉

  19. Bharti Says:

    Oh thanks!!! You seem like such an angel in your bridal dress!!!!! And thanks for the tips on vegetarian food – I am from India and was looking for just this!!! 🙂

    Gracias!
    Bharti

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