As a vegan, one of my main concerns when travelling is that I won’t be able to experience authentic, traditional cuisine from around the world, especially in countries where the most well-known food comes from animal products. This was the case when I went to Spain: when you think of traditional Spanish food, you’re probably picturing cured meat or seafood paella. While it’s true that most famous Spanish dishes are not vegan-friendly, it’s definitely possible to eat vegan in Spain (and I’m not just talking about veggie burgers).
To my surprise, I found several traditional Spanish dishes that are accidentally vegan; in addition, there are others that can easily be modified to remove animal-derived ingredients. So, even on a vegan diet, it is still possible to experience traditional food while visiting Spain – here are some things to look out for. Buen provecho!
So, what can a vegan in Spain eat for breakfast?
Churros and porras
A popular breakfast pastry (or dessert) often served with hot chocolate or dulce de leche, churros are normally vegan-friendly without the accompanying dipping sauces. But, trust me, you won’t be missing out on anything; they’re good enough with just a sprinkling of sugar.
Additionally, you could try some porras, the lesser-known cousin of churros. Made with the same ingredients, the only difference is their shape and size; while churros are thin and curved into a teardrop shape, porras are long, thick and completely straight. The batter is usually vegan in Spain but it’s always a good idea to ask for the ingredients just in case.
Tostada con tomate
A savoury breakfast offering which is loved all over Spain, but particularly in Catalonia. It is very similar to Italian bruschetta since both recipes include the same basic ingredients: bread and tomato. However, the difference lies in the preparation. While the Italians dice or slice their tomatoes, the Spanish serve tomato pulp on top of toasted bread, often with olive oil or garlic.
Tostada con tomate is a popular breakfast dish, but it can also be found served as a snack in Spanish tapas bars. Obviously, the main ingredients are vegan-friendly, but the Spanish do love slapping a fried egg or a bit of meat on top of anything! So, check how it comes before you order and request the dish without animal-based accompaniments if necessary.
This kind of goes without saying, but a vegan in Spain definitely needs to take advantage of all the fresh fruit available. Having grown up in the UK, I’m familiar with rather bland and tasteless imported fruit; for this reason, any time I’m in a Mediterranean country, I can’t leave without having some of their juicy, sweet peaches, succulent apricots and plums, or fragrant citrus fruits. Furthermore, when I was last in Spain, I saw many exotic fruits that I didn’t recognise, even after translating the name into English.
What about vegan tapas?
Originating in Madrid, this is a classic tapas dish which is popular today all over Spain. There are many local variations of the recipe, but the basic principle is usually the same; the dish consists of irregular chunks of fried potato typically accompanied by a spicy tomato sauce poured on top.
In some regions, patatas bravas also come with aioli – this is not vegan in Spain, so you’ll need to ask for the dish to be served without it. If you’re travelling with non-vegan friends, you could ask for the sauces to come on the side instead. Recipes for brava sauce differ across the country, but it generally contains tomatoes, garlic, smoked paprika and some seasoning; however, some places add pieces of jamón to their brava sauce and others use egg as a thickener, so check before you order! In any case, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find an accidentally vegan version of patatas bravas wherever you are in Spain.
Champiñones al ajillo
As a fan of both mushrooms and garlic, this dish ticks all the boxes for me. It’s simple but full of flavour, and it should be vegan wherever you are, as long as the recipe used does not include cream. You can also find it served on top of toasted bread, like the tostata con tomate mentioned above.
Patatas a lo pobre
The name of this dish roughly translates to “poor potatoes,” which refers to the humble nature of the recipe; a simple combination of potatoes and peppers, this dish originates among the peasants of Andalusia. In spite of its simplicity, this is a delicious vegetarian appetiser; however, you’ll need to watch out for the fried eggs, ham or chorizo that may accompany the dish.
This may seem obvious, but it’s worth mentioning purely because Spanish olives are possibly the best in the world; Spain is actually the world’s leading olive producer and there must be a reason for it. Besides, olives are a safe and sure option when there’s absolutely nothing else available. Pair some Spanish olives with a packet of ready salted crisps and a glass of wine; then, sit back and soak up the Spanish evening air.
Espinacas con garbanzos
Spinach with chickpeas is a simple but nutritious tapas dish and a favourite in the south of Spain, particularly in Seville. It’s sometimes referred to as “potaje de vigilia” (vigil stew) due to its association with Lent; this association comes from the religious prohibition of meat on Fridays during this period. However, this connection is relatively new – the recipe actually has historic links to North Africa and Andalusia’s Arab ancestors.
Despite the simplicity of this humble dish, its enduring popularity is certainly proof that it’s worth trying. Nevertheless, when ordering, watch out for the addition of boiled eggs on the side and the inclusion of fish in the stew, without which the dish should be vegan-friendly.
Are any traditional Spanish soups vegan?
This refreshing and flavoursome cold soup is the perfect entrée on a hot summer’s day in Spain. Originating in the south of Spain, this is an absolute must for any vegan in Spain during the summer months, especially if you are visiting the warmer regions. You can find gazpacho served as a starter in restaurants or you can buy it bottled in supermarkets. Either way, you can’t leave Spain without getting a taste of this classic part of Spanish cuisine.
Salmorejo is very similar to gazpacho – both are cold tomato soups. But, while gazpacho blends tomatoes with other vegetables (like peppers and onions), salmorejo is a mix of just tomato, bread and sometimes garlic. The addition of bread makes this soup thicker and creamier than gazpacho, so you’ll find salmorejo served in a bowl instead of a glass. Since it’s so much heartier than gazpacho, you could have salmorejo as a main for lunch or dinner; just remember to order it without egg or ham.
Often referred to as “white gazpacho,” the recipe for ajoblanco actually predates gazpacho by several centuries. Ajoblanco is the original Andalusian cold soup; it contains bread, garlic, and, most importantly, almonds, an ingredient brought to the Iberian peninsula by the Moors. These were staples of the Andalusian peasant’s diet in the Middle Ages, whereas tomatoes did not arrive in Spain until the discovery of the New World. Ajoblanco is a creamy yet refreshing summer soup; it will be completely vegan unless milk is added to the recipe, although this is rare. Ajoblanco is often garnished with grapes, melon or apple – the perfect addition to an energising summer soup.
Wait – there’s more!
Paella de verduras
Paella is probably one of the most well-known dishes to come from Spain, but I was surprised to learn that it isn’t actually considered a national dish. In fact, Spaniards tend to regard paella as a Valencian speciality. Regardless, due to its international fame, you’re likely to find paella in any city in Spain nowadays.
Just look for “paella de verduras,” a vegetarian-friendly variant of the renowned Valencian rice dish – but be careful! Sometimes tuna or ham wind up in vegetarian dishes – even if it says “vegetarian” on the menu. This is Spain, after all! However, a simple “no quiero el atún o jamón por favor” should do the trick and, voilà, vegan paella! A good vegan paella is honestly a magnificent thing and something that a vegan in Spain absolutely cannot miss out on!
Pisto is a traditional dish which comes from the Murcia and Castilla la Mancha regions of Spain. Packed full of healthy and delicious ingredients, pisto is a hearty vegetable stew that could even be called Spain’s version of the French dish, ratatouille. It contains many typical Mediterranean ingredients: courgette, aubergine, tomato, peppers, onion and olive oil. Although it’s usually completely vegan, you may see this dish served with a fried egg or cured ham on top; once again, simply order without these accompaniments and you’ll be able to enjoy the taste of Spain just like anyone else!
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