Story and Photos by Rupeshi Shah
Here are some tips for surviving as a vegetarian in a country known for its jamón (ham) and mariscos (shellfish), so you’re not stuck eating “salads” with just lettuce and pineapple:
Paella! Vegetarian paella is delicious, and you’ll feel like a true Spaniard. The portions are huge, so splitting with a friend is highly recommended. That said, it’s worth it to have that hot, filling meal. I found it to be too salty at certain restaurants, and the best was in Toledo, a town south of Madrid, and El Escorial, a palace northwest of Madrid.
Be patient. Some waiters and your abuelita (grandmother) won’t understand what you mean by vegetariano. Say you’re looking for dishes sin carne y pescado (without meat and fish). Then they’ll recommend seventeen choices with jamón in them… a lot of people don’t consider ham to be meat. Explain that you don’t eat jamón either, and just nod your head as they tell you you’re insane. And then order whatever two or three choices are left.
Get a few appetizers instead of a main course. Patatas bravas will always be on the list, which you can supplement with another dish, possibly gazpacho. Just be sure to request your food not be sprinkled with atún (tuna) or jamón.
When you’re on the go, there’s always bocadillos de queso (cheese sandwiches). Not exactly like beloved grilled cheeses, but they do the job.
Buy an apron, and get cooking! You’re not making meals for a grand dinner party, you’re just making enough for yourself, which is doable. You can get fresh fruits and vegetables from local markets. Boil some rice or pasta, and then for protein….
Check out NaturaSì, a supermarket chain that’s kind of like the Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s of Spain. You’ll be able to find tofu burgers and hummus for a reasonable price. My favorites were frozen patties with corn and cheese. There’s a NaturaSì right by the NYU in Madrid campus, close to the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium.
Peanut butter is not really a thing in España. I found it rarely, and when I did it was always pricey. I’d recommend bringing some with you from home, if possible.
Churros! Granted, they’re not a real meal… but any dish con chocolate always makes things better.
This story appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of Baedeker.