Vegetarians get a bit of a raw deal in Spain. This is the country of jamón, calamares and cocido. In which other country could you ask for a salad and end up with a plate of meat (true story)? But there is a whole world of Spanish vegetarian dishes out there, thanks in no small part to the year-round supply of fabulous vegetables and lush fruit, as well as the country’s Moorish heritage.
How do I start?
Most mainstream tapas bars with a decent sized menu will have options suitable for veggies, although they aren’t usually marked with the helpful ‘V’ as they tend to be in the UK and US. If you aren’t sure, try asking ‘Tiene comida vegetariana?’
What should I order?
To start a meal or for nibbles, most restaurants tend to serve bread and olives. Look out for pan con tomate – crusty bread slathered with fresh tomato puree, especially popular in Catalonia. Traditional Gazpacho (cool tomato soup) or Ajo Blanco (garlic soup) is a good way to begin a summer meal.
Failsafe options available in even the grungiest of bars include Tortilla Española (potato omlette), Pimientos Padrón (sometimes-spicy fried green peppers), Patatas Bravas (fried potatoes with a spicy sauce) and Tabla de Quesos (cheese board). Salads are popular year round, as are the beautiful blanched asparagus (esparragos) from Navarra that are sometimes used to top them off.
Gusto Guides’ personal favourite is Berenjenas Fritas con Miel (sliced aubergines deep-fried and drizzled with honey), and we are also partial to Madrid favourite Revuelto de Champiñones (scrambled egg with mushrooms). Mushrooms are often served as a star ingredient by the bowlful: Champiñones al Ajillo (mushrooms with garlic) is pretty much what it says on the tin, and delicious to boot.
If you are fed up of tapas and want a proper plateful, many Spanish vegetarian dishes (other than the ubiquitous vegetable paella) tend to vary from region to region – we recommend asking your waiter for their specialties. Keep an eye out for Olla Gitana and Habichuelas con Arroz. In Catalonia, Escalivada (a plate of smoky fried vegetables) is also popular. Mallorcan Tombet is a layered vegetable dish and Pisto, from Murcia and La Mancha, is a tomato-based vegetable stew topped off with a fried egg or fried bread.
Middle Eastern food is popular, especially in Barcelona and further south in Andalucia, meaning that there is some fairly spectacular hummus and falafel action going on in these areas.
Where should I go?
If you get tired of combing through mixed menus, here are a few veggie-only restaurants to try on your travels:
Al Natural; Zorrilla,11; Tel: +34 913 694 709
El Restaurante Vegetariano; Marques de Santa Ana 34; Tel +34 915 320 927
Amaltea; Diputacio 164; Tel +34 934 54 86 13
Govinda; Placa de la Vila de Madrid; Tel +34 933 18 77 29
La Báscula; Carrer dels Flassaders; Tel +34 93 319 98 66
La Cerería; Baixada de Sant Miquel; Tel +34 933 01 85 10
Garraxi; C/Tejeria 9; Tel +34 943 27 52 69
La Tastaolletes; C/Salvador Giner, 6; Tel +34 96 392 18 62