There is no denying that Spain is a land of carnivores. Every where I walk I see fresh and cured meats in display cases, on restaurants menus or hanging from the ceiling. There is even a dried pig’s leg in my kitchen. There is still hair on it people! As a self proclaimed “pollo-tarian” who has trouble eating off the bones of chicken, I originally found it difficult to find things to eat without seeming like a big burden to others. In reality, I found that if you if you firmly stake your ground, you will thrive abroad as a vegetarian in even the most carnivorous of countries.
So, how did I change things?
The host family
Staying with a host family is wonderful and I highly recommend the experience. However, having someone cook your meals for you also means that you do not always have a choice when it comes to what you have for dinner. If you want to experience everyday gastronomy of a culture while still staying true to your health and personal beliefs, start off by making your eating habits VERY clear on your housing application. Although it may seem like you are coming off as high maintenance, you will have a lot easier time making your tastes known earlier. Otherwise, the day will come when you have a large plate of duck liver in front of you and sweet women eagerly smiling at you from the other side of the table.
If you do end up being served something you do not like, it is also important to make that clear. I had to switch host moms last minute, so I was met with a woman who did not have prior experience with vegetarians. Apparently, in Spain pig is such a big deal that she figured she could change my mind with a piece of breaded and fried ham and cheese—I was not in agreement. This was one of the tougher nights I had with my host mom, but now I get heaps of vegetables every day and small chicken dishes only a couple times a week. Life is good.
(AKA Dining Out)
In Andalusia, tapas are complimentary with nearly every alcoholic beverage you order. They make for a cheap meal, a giddy buzz, great conversation and allow you to try a handful of smaller dishes without gaining 50 pounds. At times, it may seem like the tapas following is against you though. Some restaurants do not let you choose what you receive with your beverage, while others offer a lot of meat and seafood.
Do not fret though! I have been able to find a tapa at every restaurant and bar I have visited. Learn the names of your favorite veggies and your most hated meats so that, when you have a choice, you can select something that you like. If you do not have a choice, simply ask the bartender for a vegetarian tapa. Although they are elusive, I have met vegetarians in Spain and they all do this too.
Give these dishes are try if you can:
- Salmorejo=Tomato gazpacho with avocado
- Berenjena frita con miel=Fried eggplant with honey
- Tostada con tomate y aguacate=Toasted bread with tomato and avocado
- Tortilla Española=An omelet of potatoes and caramelized onions
- Patatas bravas=Fried potatoes with a mayonnaise or red tomato sauce
- Ensalada de garbanzos=Chickpea salad
- Croquetas de verduras=A mash up of different vegetables and cheese, breaded and fried
If you are living in an apartment and cooking for yourself, you will have absolutely no problems finding what you need. Spain does love its produce, especially in the covered markets in the larger cities.