I bet you've heard it all before. "YOU want to go to SPAIN?! Don't even think about it! The Spaniards think tuna is a vegetable!" All too often, vegetarians and vegans are made to think that they will be scorned as complete outcasts the minute they step foot in the country.
Well, don't believe a word of it! Spain is a lot more vegan-friendly than you've been led to believe. The truth is, most places are. The key word here is friendly. For the most part, its inhabitants will go out of their way to meet your needs and make you feel at home, even if they don't quite understand why you wouldn't want pig flesh tossed in your salad, floating on top of your soup, or wrapped around your asparagus.
"Spain is more vegan-friendly than you've been led to believe. The truth is, most places are."
The availability of specialty vegan products and restaurants catering specifically to vegans will of course depend on where exactly in Spain you are. The two largest cities, Madrid and Barcelona, are a paradise for vegan travellers. You will find scores of vegan and vegetarian restaurants there, and even mainstream establishments are starting to cater for vegans. For example, you can pick up a vegan croissant at Le Pain Quotidien or a vegan brownie at Shanti Gelato in Barcelona.
In smaller towns, it's a different story. It's certainly true that traditional Spanish cuisine focuses heavily on meat, particularly ham. That said, there are a number of Spanish dishes that are as traditional as chorizo and yet are completely and naturally vegan, and even more that can be easily adapted and made vegan.
And let's not forget the local markets. They offer fruits and vegetables galore, and a fascinating cultural experience to boot.
The following is a list of just some of the naturally vegan or easily veganized dishes Spanish cuisine has to offer. While I've attempted to break them down into different categories, these are flexible. Is a parrillada de verduras a starter or a main dish? Are churros a breakfast item or a dessert? You get to decide!
As a vegan in Spain, your lunch may be made up of a combination of soups, salads and side dishes that come together to create a delicious meal. Don't worry, this isn't weird, and in fact you'll find locals doing the same thing. This is the beauty of tapas culture.
pan con tomate (a.k.a tostada con tomate)
Bread rubbed with puréed ripe tomato, olive oil, and salt or garlic
coca de vidre con tomate
similar to pan con tomate, but served on a thinner flatbread
tostada con mermelada
toasted baguette spread with jam
long sticks of fried dough sprinkled with sugar
Soups and Stews
a cold, raw soup made of blended tomatoes and other vegetables
gazpacho de espárragos
a variation of gazpacho made with asparagus instead of tomato
a cold soup similar to gazpacho, but creamier as it's made with stale bread and olive oil
crema de verduras
a thick and hearty soup made from a variety of vegetables blended together
ajo blanco (a.k.a gazpacho blanco)
a cold soup made with garlic, stale bread and almonds
sopa de tomate
this one is a hot (cooked) tomato soup
[Note that, while these soups themselves are usually vegan, they are often topped with ham or egg, or both, so be sure to order them "sin jamón y sin huevo". In some places (especially in Extremadura), ajo blanco is made with egg yolks.]
mixed green salad, often served on a large platter in the centre of the table
ensalada de pimientos
roasted peppers, onion, tomato and olive oil
ensalada de zorongollos
An Extremaduran version of ensalada de pimientos made with a special type of pepper, and sometimes with potatoes
ensalada de pepino
tomato, cucumber and onion salad
lettuce, tomato and onion salad
tomato slices with salt, garlic and olive oil
[Note: The first two salads listed above often contain eggs, ham or tuna, so order them with "solo verduras, sin jamón, huevos o atún" (only vegetables, no ham, eggs or tuna). On the bright side, creamy salad dressings are rare, and salads are usually dressed simply with olive oil and vinegar.]
fried eggplant, served with either honey (miel), molasses (miel de caña), or salmorejo (see soups above)
roasted bell peppers
sautéed artichoke hearts
chunky fried potatoes in a spicy tomato sauce
sautéed asparagus (ask for no mayo [sin mayonesa])
espinacas con garbanzos
spinach with chickpeas
roasted red pepper, eggplant and onion
espinacas con pasas
spinach with raisins, often also served with pine nuts (piñones)
patatas a la campesina
potatoes in a tomato sauce with onions and bell peppers
pimientos de Padrón
little green peppers from Galicia (some are hot and some are not!)
salsa de berenjena
a cold dip made from puréed eggplant
sauce made with tomatoes, garlic and nuts
fried vegetables, stacked and topped with tomato sauce - a Mallorcan specialty
There is an almost endless variety of tapas in Spain, and the above is really just a sampling of what you might find. As recipes vary, always check to make sure that what you order is vegan.
parrillada de verduras
grilled mixed vegetables
similar to ratatouille, with tomatoes, onion, bell peppers and eggplant or zucchini (ask for no egg on top)
champiñones al ajillo
sautéed mushrooms with garlic and olive oil
paella de verduras
rice and vegetable dish seasoned with saffron
assortment of nuts and raisins - a Catalan specialty
long sticks of fried dough sprinkled with sugar
fresh fruit (a common option in set lunch menus)
Useful Words and Phrases
caldo de carne or pescado
meat or fish broth
polvo de leche
Words to watch for: Of those listed above, the animal products that are most common in Spanish cuisine (and tend to sneak their way even into otherwise vegan dishes) are jamon, atún and huevos. Especially jamón. Curiously, dishes that are listed as vegetariano will often contain atún. Because we all know tuna is a vegetable :-/
setas, hongos, champiñones
leche de soja/soya
nueces, frutos secos
*Some packaged juices in Spain have milk added to them. This should be clear from the packaging (there's usually an image of a splash of white liquid on the box), but look for leche in the ingredients list to be sure.
I am vegan.
No como ningún producto de origen animal.
I don't eat any animal products.
¿Este plato lleva carne/pescado/huevos/lácteos?
¿Puedo pedir esto sin...?
Does this dish contain meat/fish/eggs/dairy?
Can I order this without...?
*If you are male, say "soy vegano". If you are female, say "soy vegana".
Brands that Make Vegan Products
A number of vegan products are available in regular supermarkets, such as Mercadona and Consum Cooperativa. Aldi is recommended by locals as a particularly vegan-friendly supermarket chain. In addition to those chains' store brands, the following brands also make vegan products:
Products they make
Various types of plant-based milk, soy cream for cooking, margarine
Soy milk, yogurt, pudding-type desserts, soy-based meat products
Soy milk, cookies, crackers, etc.
Vegan meats and cheeses
Vegan ice cream (also makes dairy ice cream)
Organic brand sold at Aldi, make plant-based milk and meat products
Want to learn how to travel easily in even the most carnivorous of countries? Just enter your email below to grab your copy of my free ebook, "8 Steps for Fun and Easy Vegan Travel"!
Many thanks to my fellow vegan bloggers, Kim from Brownble and Iosune from Simple Vegan Blog for their helpful local insights. You ladies rock! Thanks also to the vegan Spaniards who were kind enough to answer my questions on social media.
Did I miss anything? If you know of any other vegan dishes or have a helpful tip for travel in Spain, leave a comment below and share it!