Ahhh… you’re finally able to get away and enjoy a proper Spanish vacation. You’re getting excited, thinking, “I’ll be sunning on the beach, relaxing, and eating vegan in Spain. I can’t wait!”
Wait, eating vegan in Spain…. whaaaaat?
Sure, everyone talks about the the great weather and the relaxing culture. But eating vegan? Well, that’s not exactly a thing in Spain, is it?
Well, to be honest, most tourists and expats in Spain do usually rave first about the excellent non-vegan foods they love: jamón, queso, seafood paella. These are all on the top of the list. But if you’re starting to feel a little letdown fellow plant-based cuisine seeker, don’t worry!
Surprisingly, it turns out there are plenty of things to sample, eat, and enjoy in Spain that are (or easily can be) vegan. Do not panic!
Pan con Tomate
Let’s begin our journey with breakfast. Most Spaniards like to have something small and fairly simple in the morning.
Fortunately for us, there are two breakfast staples that you can confidently order without worrying about being bamboozled by surprise ham: pan con tomate and churros.
We’ll start with pan con tomate: fresh bread, mashed fresh tomato puree, garlic, olive oil, and salt.
This one took me a while to fall in love with, but now it’s all I want for breakfast! I prefer to get multi-grain bread and sit on a terrace while I enjoy my americano and greet the day with a healthy dose of people-watching.
In some special places if you order pan con tomate, don’t be surprised if they bring you the ingredients and expect you to make it yourself. Don’t be intimidated!
What you do is take the raw garlic and rub it against the bread, then cut the tomato and slather all the juicy bits into the bread. After that, sprinkle some olive oil and coarse salt and sit back and enjoy!
You can get other things on top of your bread like marmalade or just olive oil, but there is something so refreshing about fresh Spanish tomato that it takes breakfast to the next level. Try it!
Drink Suggestion: Tea, coffee… or even a small beer (caña) if it’s past 11am!!
If you’re eating vegan in Spain, then you’re really about to get excited about the second most traditional breakfast, churros. Yes! Spanish churros are VEGAN! Woot! Woot!
Traditionally churros are made with flour, oil, salt, and then fried. Sadly, most Spanish churros lack the cinnamon and sugar that some of us got used to back home, but they still hit the spot if you want a fried and delightful pastry.
So go ahead, get a couple, and dip them into your morning coffee! Bars and cafes are now starting to carry more soy milk, too, so don’t be shy to ask for your café con leche de soja!
You can find different variations of churros across Spain, including porras, which are thicker and more doughy. For the quintessential churro experience in Madrid, head to Chocolatería San Ginés. EVERYBODY recommends this place and for good reason. They’ve been around since 1894 and are located in the heart of old Madrid. Of course, their churros are delicious, too!
If you’re in Barcelona, try Churrería Laietana, a small little churro shop that has perfected their fried dough!
And if you’re traveling a little off the beaten path, you may find a Valor near you, as there are multiple locations throughout Spain. Founded in 1881, Valor is known for its chocolate, but they also have some pretty tasty churros on their menu, too!
Drink Suggestion: Coffee with (soy) milk
Next on the agenda is tapas. You heard that right! Eating vegan in Spain and eating amazing, authentic tapas is 100% doable!
But, please note that many restaurants and bars in Spain serve tapas gratis (free) with a drink. So, if you’re hoping to eat on the cheap, you’ll be at the mercy of whatever the bartender or kitchen feels like giving you. However, in case the free option isn’t vegan-friendly, there are always other dishes you can order off the menu.
Patatas Bravas are arguably the cornerstone of plant-based tapas life. Take me to any small town in the mountains, and I am guaranteed to want this dish. Take me down to the bar around the corner, and I’ll probably feel the same way.
I live for cubes, or slices of potatoes, fried and covered in a spicy tomato sauce. Sometimes these nuggets of potato goodness are smokey, sometimes extra spicy.
But let’s be real, Spain doesn’t do spice like other places, so finding extra spicy bravas is RARE. So, hold on to those “spicy” potatoes and cherish them for the unique, delicious morsels they are!
Each bar has its own idea as to what makes a good bravas sauce. As someone who has sampled quite a few of them, I do have to say that I have yet to taste a bad one. If you’re in Madrid, the best spot for bravas is arguably Docamar.
Drink Suggestion: Whatever beer they have on tap!
Pimientos de Padrón
Yum, yum, yum… pimientos de padrón, small fried peppers covered in a mountain of olive oil and salt. This small dish sometimes falls into the tapas category but usually is included as a side dish.
Popular in the north but accessible throughout the country, this dish makes eating vegan in Spain easy mostly because it is perfect with some chilled Rueda or Albarino wine! Pimientos de padrón are a crowd-pleaser and a godsend at Galician restaurants.
Typically not spicy, you can eat the whole pepper. However, pimiento-roulette is a real thing, and there are some spicy peppers out there that can bite. It’s only happened to me a few times over seven years- so happy eating, and why not add the thrill of danger to your snacking?
Drink Suggestion: white wine- vino blanco (Rueda or Albarino)
Known as the Spanish ratatouille, Pisto is usually ordered as a ración, which is a larger sized portion than a tapa. But, you can also find it on toast, like the picture above.
Essentially, tomato sauce, eggplant, peppers, and zucchini are all stewed together to create a beautiful dish that is not only full of veggies but also full of deliciousness. It’s a classic dish for all those eating vegan in Spain.
Typically the dish is a little sweet, slightly acidic, and the veggies are cooked to make a perfect melt-in-your-mouth experience. Pisto can come with egg or cheese, so double-check about any unwanted toppings before you order!
Drink Suggestion: White wine or red wine
Garbanzos con Espinacas
Chickpeas? Good. Spinach? Good. Together? GREAT!
While this Andalusian dish may seem like a no-frills filler, it’s actually anything but. The secret that makes this combo so great is the sauce. While recipes may differ slightly, many include almonds roasted with garlic and a robust bread. This combo combined with some red wine and tomato provides an insanely delicious and thick base that makes for a decadent stew.
However, in some restaurants in Spain, this vegan dish could include chorizo…. the horror! So, be sure to ask if their version is, in fact, vegano.
Drink Suggestion: Red wine
Gazpacho / Salmorejo
You’ve probably heard of the cold tomato soup that is gazpacho. Tomatoes, peppers, and cucumber blended and chilled to make a refreshing treat for a hot summer’s day. Gazpacho’s cousin salmorejo takes all the right parts of cold tomato soup and blends it with bread and garlic to become a creamy bowl of refreshing dreams. I mean, add some bread for dipping, and suddenly you’re dipping bread in bread soup. Now, that is luxury.
Note: Traditionally, gazpacho will not have any non-vegan surprises, but salmojero typically comes with egg and jamón topped as a garnish. If you are ordering for yourself ask for it “sin huevo y jamón“- without egg and ham. If you are sharing with non-veggos ask for “jamón y huevos aparte“- on the side. It will save you the trouble of fishing out ham bits and get you straight to enjoying your meal.
Drink Suggestion: White wine or beer
Parrillada de Verduras
For those of of us eating vegan in Spain, this is arguably the easiest dish to find. It’s simply a plate of grilled vegetables, or a parrillada de verduras, and its seasonality makes it beyond fantastic! Normally made up of eggplant, zucchini, asparagus, and peppers, chefs change it up to highlight the best produce the country has in-season.
This plate is a vegan’s dream and is my ultimate fuel when traveling around Spain. Grilled veggies with olive oil and salt may not seem that exciting, but trust me when I say that veggies in Spain have a different flavor than those in the U.S. They taste….. stronger? Better? More… real? Natural?!
There’s something about biting into Spanish eggplant or asparagus that is just so exciting to me. The ingredients never overpower the flavors, and each vegetable tastes like a sunny day. And after an entire trip of just eating potatoes and pan con tomate, a grilled veggie plate is very welcome!
And if you find your plate of vegetables come with a side of red sauce, ask if it’s romesco. Romesco sauce is made with tomatoes, spanish red peppers, almonds, hazelnuts, garlic, olive oil, and toasted bread. It’s perfect for dipping!
You’ll usually find romesco sauce in Catalonia, especially around calçot season. Calçots (pronounced cal-sots) are kind of like large mild onions, and when they’re in season Catalans go crazy for them! In the winter, you’ll find grilled calçots on seasonal menus across the region. That’s the great thing about Spain– there’s always a vegetable in-season that makes its way onto the parrillada!!
Drink Suggestion: Red wine
Grilled artichokes. When in season (winter), these are such a TREAT! Not all bars will have them, but when they do, oh my, are they delightful. Usually, it’s just a plate of artichokes with the classic combo of olive oil, and salt. It’s a great dish to share among friends when you are out at a bar and pairs excellently with vermouth! Guaranteed to be a hit with all your non-vegan friends as well. Anyone can enjoy this dish.
Drink Suggestion: Vermouth or beer
With garlic or on their own, mushroom culture is real in Spain! There are many different kinds and while it may seem a bit crazy to spend a bit more on these “funguys,” they really are a great addition to any meal! Plates of mushrooms are popular everywhere.
Sometimes you’ll see “setas” on the menu, and other times you’ll see “champiñones.” Technically, setas are oyster mushrooms, while champiñones are button mushrooms. However, you’ll hear the word seta used generically in Spain to describe any kind of mushroom. It really doesn’t matter, though, because any you come across, especially doused in garlic, are excellent with some crusty bread!
Drink Suggestion: Wine or beer
Eating in Vegan in Spain
Yes, Spain is still figuring out the whole vegan thing, and sometimes you will order some beans and they’ll come covered in ham. But despite the odd surprise, the times they are changing.
Sure, as a vegan it may seem difficult to find many foods to enjoy, but access to fresh and delicious vegetables is a huge point in Spain’s favor. Also, there are so many more options now than there were a few years ago. A good amount of vegan restaurants have popped up in the larger cities, and quite a few restaurants list a vegan option on the menu. It may just be a hummus and crudités plate or some avocado toast, but c’mon! Who doesn’t love some avocado toast?
If you’re a vegan living in Spain, what are your favorite go-to vegan Spanish foods? What did I miss? I’m always down to explore new and delicious options!!
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