Expert Advice: How to Eat Vegan in Spain

When you think of Spain, one of these images probably comes to mind: a brunette dancing flamenco in a red dress, a bustling plaza crowded with people enjoying their afternoon café con leche, or a dinner table scattered with tapas and glasses of red wine.

Having spent the past several years living in Spain, I can attest to the reality of all of these stereotypes. Flamenco is a big deal, especially in Andalucia. The tradition lives on in formal shows at concert halls, restaurants, and bars. Visit a bigger city and you’re guaranteed to stumble on some very impressive street performances, too.

As for the plazas, they are the epicenter of culture in Spanish villages and cities alike. In every city I’ve visited, it seems like all you need to do is turn a corner to discover a lively square full of outdoor cafés.

And finally, it’s also true that Spain is the birthplace of tapas and the third largest producer of wine in the world. In case you’re not familiar, tapas are small portions that can be eaten as a snack or combined to make a full meal. My favorite thing about tapas is that in some regions, they’re offered free of charge when you order a drink at a bar. Let’s face it, who doesn’t love free food?

Sangria: Spain’s most popular adult beverage

Tapas are also great because they represent the culture of sharing that prevails in Spanish cuisine. Sharing small plates is a great option if you’re indecisive because it means you get to try everything on the menu. The thing is, if you’re vegan, you might get a little discouraged when the chef’s vegan tapa recommendation is the Tortilla Española (Spanish Omelette made with eggs and potatoes). But hey, at least they didn’t suggest the blood sausage, right?

It can be tough explaining to waiters that vegans don’t eat eggs, and I’d be lying if I said that Spanish food culture isn’t heavily meat-centric. Ever heard of “Cochinillo Asado”? I’ll spare you the description. Let’s leave it to our bravest readers to look it up on their own.

Nonetheless, there’s no reason to get discouraged. I assure you that you won’t starve in Spain, and you’ll even find that there’s an assortment of authentic local dishes that have been vegan all along. There’s also a whole range of veganizable dishes, but we’ll save that for another day.

Tomatoes and potatoes: two staples of Spanish cuisine

Before diving into specific food choices, let me first mention that Spanish culture and cuisine are very diverse. There are 17 regions in Spain, each boasting its own unique traditions, topography, language or dialect, and cuisine. The country’s rich culinary culture is precisely one of the things that make it a worthwhile travel destination.

In every region, there are local specialties of which some are vegan. But if you’re looking for a more generalized guide to Spanish cuisine, you’ve come to the right place.

Despite their differences, Spanish regions are still unified by some cultural and culinary aspects. There are some vegan options that you’ll be able to find anywhere you travel in Spain. The thing is, you have to know what you’re looking for. Over the past few years, I’ve tried and tested all sorts of things in Spain, and I’ve compiled this list of the most common and delicious vegan choices at Spanish restaurants.

Expert tip: On the rare occasion that you don’t see any of these dishes on the menu, try asking the server for something in particular. I’ve found that restaurants often have staple dishes that they don’t bother listing on the menu.

Easy Vegan Tapas:

  • Aceitunas: olives, served in a variety of ways, my personal favorite being seasoned with vinegar, scallions, and garlic
  • Banderillas: a small skewer with a combination of pickles, olives, onions, gherkins, and artichokes
  • Pan tumaca a.k.a. pan con tomate: bread with garlic and tomato pulp, basically the Catalan version of the well-known Italian Bruschetta
  • Pimientos padrón: roasted green peppers, conveniently bite-sized, very salty, and for the most part mild
  • Pimientos del piquillo: roasted red peppers with oil and salt
  • Patatas bravas: potatoes with a slightly spicy tomato sauce. The sauce can contain mayonnaise or chicken broth, so I recommend asking the waiter before ordering.
  • Champiñones al ajillomushrooms served in a sizzling olive oil, garlic, and chili
Champiñones al ajillo

If you’re dining alone, looking for a bigger meal, or simply not into sharing, you can also try these appetizers or main courses:

  • Gazpacho: chilled tomato purée
  • Verduras a la plancha/a la parrillagrilled vegetables
  • Judias verdesgreen beans with garlic
  • Pisto de verduravegetables in tomato sauce, usually made with eggplant, zucchini, onions, and peppers. Similar to the French Ratatouille
  • Ajoblancochilled almond and garlic soup
  • Paella de verdurasvegan paella

These are some of the items that I really personally enjoy and that you’re likely to find anywhere you travel in Spain. Again, there will be specialized dishes in every region, for example, Papas Arrugadas con Mojo (potatoes with spicy sauce) in the Canary Islands or Patée de Aceitunas (olive spread) in Andalucia.

Now that we’ve covered some of the vegan-friendly menu options that you’re likely to come across on Spanish menus, I’ll offer you some guidance on what not to order. I found out the hard way that the following dishes are not as veg*n as they seem:

  • Crema de verduras: vegetable soup often made with cream. Fine for vegetarians, not so much for vegans
  • Sandwich vegetal: sandwich with hard-boiled eggs, cheese, mayonnaise, and sometimes even tuna or chicken
  • Garbanzos: chickpeas with beef
  • Lentejas: lentil soup with chorizo and other kinds of meat
  • Leche sin lactosa: this might seem obvious to most people, but it turns out lactose-free isn’t the same thing as dairy-free, whoops!

If you thought you couldn’t travel in Spain without compromising your values, this list should help convince you otherwise. It’s not exhaustive, but it will help you navigate menus at the more traditional Spanish restaurants in cities and villages alike.

Expert tip: if all else fails while eating out in Spain, don’t be scared to ask the waiter if the chef can make you something. I’d suggest politely reminding them what is and isn’t vegan-friendly, just in case 🙂

In addition to all of these already vegan foods, there are plenty of plant-based restaurants all over Spain that will offer vegan takes on some of the other traditional Spanish dishes. Especially in Madrid and Barcelona, there are tons of places where you can go to try amazing cruelty-free foods and meet like-minded people while you’re at it.

Oh, and also, don’t forget you can always cook and make snacks for the road if your accommodations allow it. Keep an eye out some of our go-to recipes if you’re looking for easy travel-friendly meals.

Expert tip: bypass the produce section at the grocery store and seek out the neighborhood frutería instead. The produce will definitely be fresher and it will probably be cheaper, too.

That’s all for now, fellow vegan travelers.

We’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment and let us know what some of your favorite Spanish foods are.

5 thoughts on “Expert Advice: How to Eat Vegan in Spain

  1. Reply
    youngforever231 - May 26, 2018

    Thanks for the tips!

    I love gazpacho! And I find myself eating a lot of patatas bravas at restaurants as a main dish rather than a side, because they are filling and often one of the only options. I find it challenging to find healthy vegan food at Spanish restaurants, since most of the food served is fried or smothered in oil, which is delicious but not something I’d like to eat on a regular basis.

    Sometimes I get ensalada mixta menos atun y juevos, which is essentially lettuce and tomato… a little boring but at least it’s healthy. Or ask for a bocadillo de verduras, which they occasionally will make.

    To be honest I struggle a lot at restaurants, and only eat out like once a month for social occasions. I’d love to live in a city with more vegan options. I did find some great ones in Barcelona and Sevilla, but not in the tiny town where I live! (It’s called Almendralejo!)

    1. Reply
      Melissa - June 14, 2018

      Hey, thanks for the comment! I love gazpacho, too! It’s one of my go-to’s, especially on warm sunny days. I also eat patatas bravas (or papas bravas as they call them in the Canary Islands) as a main dish. Honestly, I eat potatoes pretty much every time I go out because sometimes they’re one of the few options like you said.

      I used to try to eat low-carb but I’ve given that up when eating out. I’ve found that there are so many delicious varieties of potatoes in Spain that I can’t resist, especially when my main dish is a side salad or some other vegetarian tapas. Luckily Nolan and I both walk a lot so the carbs haven’t had too much of a negative effect on us!

      Can I ask what brings you to Almendralejo? I looked it up because I hadn’t heard of it and it looks tiny indeed. Do you like it there? It must be hard to live in a place with so few vegan options. Do they have meat and dairy substitutes at the grocery stores or herbolarios there?

  2. Reply
    Jessica La Torre - May 2, 2018

    Thanks for blogging about this topic, Melissa! I’m planning a trip with some of my friends, and I’ve been curious about this topic. I have fewer restrictions, though, since I’m vegetarian. In general, do you have any etiquette tips for asking about non-menu options?

    1. Reply
      Melissa - May 5, 2018

      Hey Jessica! I’m glad you found this helpful! I was vegetarian for over 10 years before going vegan. If you ever have other specific questions about vegetarian travel, feel free to reach out any time 🙂

      As for asking waiters about non-menu options, I’d suggest learning some keywords in Spanish if you don’t already know them. For instance “I don’t eat meat” is “No como carne“; “Do you have vegetarian options” would be “Tienen opciones vegetarianas?”; “non-menu options” is “opciones fuera de carta“.

      In my opinion, it’s more polite to address people in their native language unless they’ve already demonstrated that they’re comfortable speaking English.

      Another tip I can offer is to be specific as to whether or not you eat fish and seafood. I’ve found that people often use the terms vegetarian and pescetarian interchangeably. If you don’t eat fish or seafood, here’s how you would say that in Spanish: “No como pescado o mariscos“.

      Finally, I’d suggest looking at the ingredients they use on their menu and coming up with something you’d like them to make. Something along the lines of “I see the steak is served with mushrooms. Would it be possible to make the mushrooms as a side dish, without the steak?” That way you’re giving them some helpful guidelines as opposed to putting them on the spot.

      Honestly, when the server friendly, I ask them to make me something vegan with lots of vegetables and it usually works. It also tends to start a conversation, which is nice!

      I hope this is helpful. Please let me know if you have any other questions 🙂

  3. Reply
    Sophie - May 1, 2018

    TE QUIERO

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