It takes a fair bit of commitment, not to mention money, to spend time in Spain as a vegan. Well, unless you are a fruitarian and then it’s a piece of (fruit) cake. “Soy vegano/a” (I’m vegan) may be met with incredulous looks at more traditional Spanish restaurants, where meat, fish and/or cheese will be the center of many of the dishes. If you say that you are a vegetarian (soy vegetarian/a) you may be offered something with fish or even jamon (ham), but not too often. Spain is a country of meat, fish, white bread, cheese and pastries. There are vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Barcelona and Madrid and a few other main cities, but less so in smaller cities. However, as with any cities, once you find a markets where you can buy your ingredients and some restaurants you can count on to fit your dietary needs, you’ll be all set.
Vegan and vegetarian eating in Barcelona
Eating outside of vegan or vegetarian restaurants may be more difficult. Spanish fare is very much based on animal products, and the most traditional tapas menu may not have much of interest to vegans, but other restaurants should have options that fit to your needs. If you are at a more traditional place, the delicacy known as pan con tomate (bread and tomato) is often tasty, and the traditional patatas bravas (spicy potatoes) is another staple of the typical tapas menu, but you might want to ensure that the oil is non-animal and hasn’t been used to cook items of a non-vegan friendly nature. However, seeing as Barcelona is a large and trendy city, there are a variety of tapas and meals that use eggplant, chickpeas, hummus, substitute meats such as jackfruit, and delicious vegetables, and lots of restaurants that adapt to a vegan and vegetarian diet.
Self-catering, naturally, will offer more food options. There’s a good range of vegetables to be found – generally a good few varieties of lettuce, loads of different types of tomatoes, knobby cucumbers, red and green peppers, potatoes, onions and the lovely source of fat that is the avocado. These can be found everywhere from supermarkets to convenience stores and markets. For a more inspiring choice, large markets, such as La Boqueria on La Rambla, are the best bet. Here you can buy imported exotic fruits, whole young coconuts, kale, chilies, and all sorts of delicacies. Markets are a good place to pick up cheaper items and luckily, Spanish markets are pretty spectacular places – just avoid looking at the fish and meat sections if they make you squeamish.
The best supermarket, but definitely not the cheapest, is Carrefour. The larger stores even have a small organic/healthy section where you can pick up substitute milks such as soy and almond milk and organic and vegan cookies and other desserts. Your best resource for anything other than olive oil and vegetables in Catalonia is the chain of organic supermarkets – Veritas. Here you can pick up premium priced oils, seaweeds, organic rice and pasta, tofu products, chocolate, herbal teas, organic coffees, potato chips and eco-friendly washing products and cosmetics such as Weleda. They generally also have a small variety of baked goods. It’s not a cheap place to shop, but for alternate milk and other staples, it’s great to have around. Most cities and small towns tend to have at least one little independent organic shop that sells the usual range of gluten free breads and pastas, soy and rice milk, nuts, seaweeds, agave syrup, organic sugars and herbal teas.
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Items like spirulina, agave, hemp seed, maca, cacao and coconut oil, were all fairly hard to come by up until recently, but now are thankfully on the rise. Nuts and dates are available in markets, but in supermarkets they are generally limited to a few basic types. It’s worth locating the nearest market and buying in bulk. Finding places outside of big cities, such as Barcelona, Madrid, that offer soy milk in drinks can be a little harder, but you shouldn’t have too much trouble. When ordering salads, explain that you want it without tuna or egg, and with dairy-free dressing. Add in a ración (portion) of pan con tomate, and you have a vegan meal!
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