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?