Eating Vegetarian Food in Spain

If you’re used to eating vegetarian food in America, get ready for a challenge in Spain. 

Vegetarianism is still a weird concept to a lot of Spaniards, so explaining your preferences can lead to confusion. Not only do Spaniards eat a lot of carne, they often don’t consider finely shredded meat or flesh-based products (like broth) to actually be meat. (If you shred up the jamón really small, it doesn’t count, right?) Finding vegetarian food can be an adventure or a chore, depending on how you spin it. But fear not, it can be done!

Tip #1: Speak some Spanish.

I never had any major issues in Spain because, while my spoken Spanish is rough, I’m able to get “I’m vegetarian”, “does this have meat?” and “no ham, please” across with ease.  If you don’t speak Spanish, you’ll probably want to study up on some phrases (see tip #3) or bring a print-out explaining your dietary needs.

Tip #2: Have patience and be flexible

People will give you weird looks, call over their managers, accidentally bring you extra meat instead of no meat. Have endless patience, do your best to communicate your needs up front, and laugh off the worst interactions. (A waiter in Toledo flat-out told me I should stop being vegetarian.) You can always get a bocadillo (see the next tip) or mushroom tapas later.

Tip #3: Do your research and have go-to choices

Before I went to Spain I researched vegetarian tapas choices and used Pocket to save the most useful blog posts to my tablet for offline access. (I’m not sponsored by Pocket or anything, I just think it’s undervalued as an app for travelers!) Bocadillos were a favorite, even though the idea of an egg, potato, and tomato sandwich is still weird to me. I also liked mushroom and egg tapas (I asked for the jamón to be left out) and, of course, the gazpacho.

If you don’t speak Spanish, lists of food vocabulary words like this one may be helpful. I also saved this article, which is a fantastic primer on eating vegetarian in Spain. Print the lists or save them offline.

Tip #4: Eat Middle Eastern

This was the easiest compromise for our family, which includes one meat-lover, one meat appreciator, one will-eat-meat-sometimes type, and me, the vegetarian. Middle eastern restaurants are plentiful in the south of Spain and have quality choices for meat eaters and abstainers. Bonus: they seemed to be open earlier than Spanish restaurants, which was great for us since we weren’t able to adjust to Spain’s 10pm meal time.

Tip #5: If you get stressed, just try a vegetarian restaurant

Sure, eating at a sit-down restaurant can be hard on the wallet, but you know what? Sometimes it’s worth it. Vegetarian-only places can be a nice haven if you’ve had a hectic day (or few days) of struggling to find food that suits your needs. This is what we ended up doing in Toledo, where vegetarian food was especially scarce. Madre Tierra gets my family’s seal of approval for having good food, a quiet atmosphere (if you’re there right when they open), and a great wait staff (although there weren’t quite enough of them).

Best of luck to all you vegetarian travelers out there! Please share your favorite veggie restaurants, tapas dishes, and bocadillo shops below!

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