We arrived in town rather late and, wanting to eat dinner quickly, stumbled into a place near our hotel called El Boliche del Gordo Cabrera. Now, this is definitely not what I would describe as a vegan-friendly restaurant; indeed, the menu consists mostly of grilled meats (beware the photo on the homepage if you click on the link above).
Nevertheless, I was able to find a delicious and wholesome vegan meal there, which just goes to show that it’s not necessary to seek out specialty health food or vegetarian restaurants in order to eat well, although there are many such restaurants to choose from in Barcelona, and I do suggest you give them a try at least once.
But if none of these are close by, or if you are with a non-vegan travelling partner, or if you just want to explore traditional Spanish cuisine, know that it’s perfectly possible to have an enjoyable and delicious meal at a mainstream restaurant such as this one. A word of advice though; you’ll probably want to ask for a table that doesn’t face the kitchen, as its glass walls provide an all-too-vivid view of whatever is on the grill.
Our meal started off with coca de vidre con tomate, a variation of a common Catalan specialty. This was our first taste of it, and from this point on we were hooked.
It’s a very simple dish made with fresh bread and olive oil and is similar to Italian bruschetta in many ways, except that the tomato is puréed into a spreadable sauce. The standard version is called pa amb tomàquet in Catalan, or pan con tomate in Spanish, while I believe coca de vidre refers to the fact that it’s served on a thinner flatbread.
In Barcelona it’s popular not only as a starter but also as a breakfast item and is a great way to start the day.
Next, I had the parrillada de verduras. Since parrilla is the Spanish word for grill, a parrillada is simply anything that has been grilled, which in most cases is a selection of various cuts of meat. A parrillada de verduras, however, is something quite different:
a wonderfully colourful selection of fresh vegetables served hot off the grill. This particular one included eggplant, zucchini, a winter squash of some sort, tomatoes, mushrooms and asparagus. Why hello, my old friend asparagus! I haven’t seen you since last spring, nearly eight months ago. I do like to eat with the seasons as much as possible, but it was a treat to enjoy asparagus and winter squash in the same meal.
I didn’t really expect to find anything vegan on the dessert menu, but there was one item called “nuestro músico” (our musician) that caught my eye. The description referred to it as a local Catalan specialty and made no mention of any egg or dairy ingredients, just nuts and raisins. I asked the server about it, and she said it was served with ice cream but could also be ordered without.
I was imagining something like an English Christmas pudding – a dense and decadent cake made of nuts and dried fruit. As it turned out, though, it was simply an assortment of nuts and raisins.
That being the case, I don’t think it was particularly good value and would not order it again, though the fact that it came served with a glass of Moscatel dessert wine did redeem it somewhat.
I later did some searching and found that it is indeed a Catalan specialty and gets its name from the fact that the musicians who played at village fiestas would grab a handful of nuts and dried fruits when they got up from the table and would snack on them between songs.
While the standard dish does seem to be just plain nuts and dried fruits paired with sweet wine, I did find a few variations, including this one where the nuts and fruits are placed on top of a dollop of melted chocolate, which sounds about a hundred times better.
The hotel where we stayed did not serve breakfast, but the staff recommended Martí Creative Café nearby, which serves a variety of croissants, sandwiches and breads. We went there on our first morning in Barcelona, and I asked the girl behind the counter whether they had any vegan options.
She apologetically said, “No, not to my knowledge”, but then I remembered Kim from Little Green Kettle saying that you can always, ALWAYS get tostada con mermelada (toast with jam) for breakfast in Spain, so I asked if they could do this and the staff was quite happy to oblige.
This suggestion seemed to get the ball rolling, because the waitress then said they could also do pan con tomate, the wonderful pureed tomato on bread that we had tried the night before. I went with jam the first day and tomato purée the next; both were delicious, but I liked the tomato the best.
This was a good reminder not to be afraid to ask for what you want when eating out. Even if there don’t appear to be any vegan options available, you will find that they often magically appear if you just ask.
And of course, it’s a good idea to know the names of a few vegan dishes commonly found in the cuisine of the country you’re in so that you can ask for those. Most people, even if they know what veganism is, have never thought about which dishes from their cuisine might be vegan, so if you can provide a few suggestions this can really help them to help you.
For lunch, I had already decided to check out a vegetarian restaurant that had been recommended to me, but on the way there we passed by this place:
La Fabrica is an Argentinian-owned place that just opened about five months ago and specializes in one thing – empanadas (a stuffed, baked pastry that is popular in many Latin American countries, including Argentina).
Given that Argentinian cuisine is so heavily dominated by meat, I really didn’t expect to find anything vegan here and almost passed right by, but something made me turn back and stick my head in the door to peek at the menu. Once my eyes made it down to bottom, this is what I saw:
Four vegan options! And not just accidentally vegan either; these guys were obviously making an effort to cater to their vegan customers. The options are: vegan 1 (mushrooms, zucchini and artichokes); vegan 2 (escalivada (red pepper, eggplant and roasted onion)); vegan 3 (soy mincemeat, red pepper, olives and onion; and vegan 4 (pisto (a variety of fried vegetables with sauce)).
The staff said that they normally have two or three of these available on any given day, and over the course of two visits I was able to try the first three. My favorite was probably the vegan 2, though they were all good.
I liked vegan 3 the least, but that’s probably because I’m not a big fan of meat of any kind, even when it’s made from soy. The first time we were there they also had this mouth-watering selection of dessert empanadas, all of which were also vegan.
Since we were about to eat lunch, I decided not to get one of these but planned to try them upon our return the next day. Unfortunately, when we went back they were no longer there.
When I asked about them the staff said that they make them if they have time, but that since they don’t sell as well as the savory empanadas they are not a top priority. So you’ve been warned; if you see them, grab them while you can!
So now, onto lunch at Teresa Carles. This is a beautiful and stylish – yet still affordable – vegetarian restaurant that has been in business since 1979. It’s quite popular, and we had to wait a few minutes to be seated.
The waiting area was filled with huge baskets of fresh produce – definitely a good sign. During the week Teresa Carles offers a good-value set menu that changes weekly and includes five different choices of main dishes, most of which are vegan.
You can have the full menu that includes soup or salad, main and dessert, or you can also choose just one or two of these courses. Since we had just had an empanada at La Fabrica, we decided to forego the starter and went for just a main and dessert. I chose the vegan whole wheat ravioli filled with tofu and wild mushrooms and topped with a pumpkin sauce:
Nick had the Beluga lentils with pumpkin, spinach and grilled eggplant:
This also sounded great, but I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have vegan ravioli. As soon as it arrived I knew I’d made the right decision; the dish was so beautifully presented and tasted just as good as it looked! For dessert we both went with the homemade apple strudel with tofu cream and cinnamon, which was also delicious:
This probably ranks as my favorite meal in Barcelona, and that’s saying something considering all the scrumptious food we ate.
It’s probably high time I mentioned that the main reason we had come to Barcelona was for this:
The ISU Grand Prix Final – one of the biggest events of the year on the figure skating calendar. I’m not much of a sports fan in general, but I sure do love figure skating!
And I got to see my favorite skater, Yuzuru Hanyu, bounce back from a nasty injury to win the final, so it was all very exciting! The venue for the event was the Barcelona International Convention Centre, which is a bit outside the city center near the El Maresme-Fòrum metro station.
I knew that we would be at the venue all evening, and, since I didn’t really fancy popcorn and potato chips for dinner, I figured I should probably bring my own food with me. So, when we made a quick visit to the Mercat Santa Caterina, a local market near the Barri Gòtic, I took the opportunity to stock up on a couple of local specialties:
espinacas con pasas (spinach with raisins) and escalivada (roasted red peppers, eggplant and onion). These were perfect for munching on at the rink while waiting for the event to start.
I found out later that bringing food into the venue is actually not allowed, but the security staff had been so preoccupied with the fact that I had a water bottle in my bag that they failed to notice the food. Lucky me! I checked, later on, to make sure, in case I wanted to bring food again the next day, and was told that it was not.
But, when I mentioned I was vegan the man at the information desk changed his tune and said that I could just explain the situation to the security guard at the door and they would let me bring my own food in. In the end, I didn’t need to though, so I can’t confirm whether this will work or not.
On Saturday we tried out another long-standing vegetarian restaurant in Barcelona, called Biocenter. This place has a more casual atmosphere than Teresa Carles and is basically a self-service restaurant, where you go straight up to the kitchen and order from a list of five or so pre-made meals. The day we were there only two of the options were vegan, and neither of them particularly appealed to me.
I decided to skip the seitan shish kebabs and opted instead for a macrobiotic plate of rice, lentils, vegetables, and some type of sea vegetable whose name I can’t recall.
The meal was definitely well-balanced and nutritious, but unfortunately, it tasted rather bland. I would have really appreciated a vegan version of the stuffed eggplant Nick ordered, which seemed much more appealing. For me, though, the redeeming feature of Biocenter was the salad bar:
Apart from the boiled eggs you can see in the background, everything was vegan! And since you are allowed to return to the bar as many times as you want, you could definitely make a filling, tasty, and inexpensive meal out of just the salad options, which included various leafy greens, chickpeas, lentils, cucumbers, tomatoes, beets, pasta, rice, olives, sunflower seeds, toasted sesame seeds and nutritional yeast.
For dessert, I chose this banana and coconut cake, which was nice, but again, I would have welcomed a vegan version of the brownie that Nick had. If you’re making, say, pasteis de nata, then yeah I can understand why you wouldn’t bother trying to make them vegan, but come on, is it that hard to veganize a brownie?
I don’t mean to sound picky or ungrateful, but one of the reasons I go to vegetarian restaurants is to enjoy the luxury of having plenty of options to choose from, and apart from the salad bar I didn’t really feel like that was the case at Biocenter. But maybe I just went on the wrong day.
That night we were back at the Convention Centre for more figure skating, but this time we had about an hour to kill between events so we headed to the Diagonal Mar shopping mall across the street. The third floor is filled with restaurants, many of which had vegan options on their menus. In the end we chose a place called Pure Cuisine that claimed to serve “comida sana” (healthy food).
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that it was this “healthy” tag line that lured me in. And, while my meal there was delicious and I have no regrets about my choice, I do think the restaurant’s claim to healthiness is little more than a (successful) marketing ploy.
While the tofu red curry I ordered contained plenty of fresh vegetables and was indeed pretty healthy (apart from the fact that the tofu was fried), there were many other dishes on the menu that were decidedly less so. And shouldn’t they have served brown rice instead of white if they were truly concerned about providing healthy choices?
But, deceptive marketing aside, the red curry was very tasty and filling. The sauce turned out to be quite watery though, more like a soup than a typical curry. If I had known that ahead of time I wouldn’t have bothered ordering the rice, as it just got lost in the soup.
The menu included both Asian and Italian dishes, but I would advise sticking to the Asian options as most of the kitchen and wait staff were of Asian origin, so I imagine these dishes would be the most authentic (and also the most vegan-friendly).
There was a tofu stir-fry and a pad thai that were already vegan without making any changes, and you could easily veganize the fried rice by omitting the egg. Looking at their website, I see now that they are calling themselves a “Thai fusion” restaurant, though I don’t remember seeing this tag line anywhere when we were there.
So, on to our last day in Barcelona. Due to our odd schedule, with two and a half hours of prime lunch time taken up by the figure skating Gala, I was never exactly sure which meal we were eating, as we just kind of grazed on random things throughout the day. Every bite was delicious though!
So I guess the first thing we ate counts as breakfast. Now, I honestly do love our newly-discovered breakfast of pan con tomate, but for me nothing says breakfast in Spain like churros. In case you’ve never seen or tasted churros, they are long sticks of fried dough sprinkled with sugar and typically dunked in a mug of super thick, eat-me-with-a-spoon hot chocolate. The good news: churros are vegan!
The bad news: eat-me-with-a-spoon hot chocolate is not. Yes I know, you can eat the churros without the hot chocolate, but then they just taste like…fried dough. I don’t actually care for the hot chocolate on its own; I find it way too thick and rich to drink straight, but as a dunking sauce for churros it’s hard to beat.
I had pondered this dilemma in great depth before we left for Barcelona and had even considered making my own chocolate sauce to bring on the trip. But then I would have to get it through security at the airport, and it would probably go bad if I couldn’t refrigerate it, so I gave up on the idea and resigned myself to a churro-less visit to Spain. And then, sweet mother of Jesus, this happened:
Chocolate covered churros! And the charming elderly lady knitting behind the counter assured me that, while the hot chocolate had milk in it, these babies did not. So I was able to have my churros and my chocolate too! They come in plain chocolate, chocolate with nuts and chocolate with coconut varieties. The coconut was definitely my favorite. If ever you’re in the Barri Gòtic neighborhood in Barcelona, be sure to stop in at Churreria Granja Ruz.
After the Gala we found ourselves back at the mall, where we stopped in at Smudy Juice Bar for some smoothies. We both chose the “Yummy” with soy milk (mine was with no added sugar).
Packed with mango, strawberries and banana, it certainly lived up to its name! When I’m in my regular routine back in Geneva I normally have a (very) green smoothie every morning for breakfast. I treat them mostly as a vehicle for getting my daily dose of leafy green vegetables, but this was a reminder that smoothies don’t always have to be green. Fruit is loaded with nutrients too, after all!
Later that day we made our return trip to La Fabrica for more empanadas. And when I say more, I mean a dozen. Is that an absurd number of empanadas for two people? I have no idea really. Everyone else seemed to be having just two or three, but I had no problem at all polishing off six in a row.
And if that weren’t enough, having just rolled myself out the door, I made it about 100 metres down the street before I was stopped in my tracks by this:
Obviously, there was no way I was passing this up. The random gelateria, for the record, is called Shanti Gelato. When I asked the man behind the counter what made them want to sell vegan brownies, he said that he’s not vegan himself but that his wife and brother are, and that with so many kids with food allergies these days they wanted to make treats that everyone could enjoy.
They also offer several vegan and gluten-free flavors of gelato. Well done guys! Here’s yet another vegan find in the Barri Gòtic. So that just about wraps up our stay in Barcelona; not bad for three days, eh? There are sooo many more vegan options in the city that we didn’t get around to trying though. They’ll just have to wait until the next trip!
Another thing I definitely want to do the next time I’m in Barcelona is take a day trip to Montserrat. It looks beautiful! Have you been? Let me know in the comments below!