Living out a dream and moving to a vivid country like Spain could be the best decision I ever made. This country is wonderful with an interesting culture, and it welcomed me in a warm way – even in the job market. Barcelona is the second-largest city here, and it is located on the eastern Mediterranean coast.
These features make it a perfect home for expats in search of great summer weather and metropolitan experiences. However, as a vegetarian, I am challenged daily by a restricted number of choices when it comes to the Spanish cuisine. Everything pales in comparison, even the many beautiful Antoni Gaudi architecture works or the gorgeous beaches, to the demands of a hungry stomach.
The majority of the restaurants here have all their vegetarian dishes with an extra side of meat, which does not make them any better options for me to consider. Plus, their love for ham is known worldwide. However, based on my year of Spanish cuisine experience, I found some tips and tricks that will help anybody survive as a vegetarian in Barcelona.
The Other Meaning of Vegetarian You Didn’t Know
While Spanish people are a welcoming and honest nation, there can still be room for some misunderstandings that usually result from the cultural gaps. So, proceed with extreme caution when selecting your next restaurant to try.
Even though the website or brochure specifically uses the word “vegetarian” to describe some of the dishes, it doesn’t mean that these dishes are what you are looking for. And I found out about this the hard way. Some local restaurants describe a vegetarian dish as simply lacking red meat. However, my vegetarian lifestyle includes no meat at all, not even the tuna that the Spanish vegetarian salads are rich in.
So, whenever you talk to the restaurant staff about your requests, make sure you specify exactly what ingredients you want left out of your meal. The laconic word “meat” can be interpreted in too many ways that lead to incorrect guesses.
A Lovely Trip to the Market
When there are not a lot of options in the big city, I usually take matters into my own hands and find a delicious solution. Despite the love of meat that seems to have affected every restaurant, Spain is known for its rich crops of vegetables, like tomatoes, garlic, onion, eggplant, peppers, potatoes, cabbage, and artichoke. In other words, Spain is one of the leading producers of vegetables in Western Europe.
Consequently, all Spanish markets are a delight for the taste buds. Barcelona’s best-known market is by far La Boqueria, which you can find on La Rambla. It has gained a lot of popularity, especially among tourists, due to its diverse types of goods. Here you can find a huge array of fresh vegetables and fruit.
However, if you are not fond of crowded places, there’s a better option in Sant Antoni Market. It actually covers a larger area than La Boqueria, and most of the tourists are not aware of the existence of this market. The low prices for quality products make the market somewhat of a hidden gem.
Health Food Stores
However, if you are looking for a larger variety of foods for vegetarians, check out your nearby health food stores. Their products are a paradise for any vegetarian.
The most common products are soy, rice, and almond milk. Here you can also find tasty alternatives to meat, such as seitan or tofu designed as kebabs, hamburgers, or filets.
Barcelona Reykjavik: This is a delightful health food store located in the heart of Barcelona, at only a five-minute walk from La Rambla. Here you can find spelt, rye, vegan, gluten-free, and sugar-free products.
Veritas: This is actually a chain of stores scattered all over Barcelona. They are popular for their little in-store bakery and wide range of organic vegetables and fruit. Their stores saved me from many cases of hunger when the streets were overflowing with delicious foods, but nothing quite proper for me.
You cannot call yourself even a mere Barcelona tourist if you haven’t tried their most traditional snack, tapas. These appetizers can mean many different things, from a mixture of olives to a wide plateau of ham, salami, and cheese. The good news is that there are many kinds of tapas for vegetarians, but you need a little bit of research before taking tapas with your wine. So, here are some basic safe versions of tapas that work perfectly for vegetarians.
- Pisto Manchego – zucchini, tomato, bell pepper, and onion stew
- Escalivada – grilled eggplant, onion, and bell pepper
- Aceitunas – olives
- Pan con Tomate – bread rubbed with ripe tomato and olive oil
- Zarangollo – zucchini and onion stew.
The beauty of the big city life is that you can spend quality time with your friends at a fancy restaurant instead of spending the time cooking by yourself. And being a vegetarian shouldn’t keep you away from these special moments. Instead, this personal choice is another way for me to enjoy life even more. So, the following are the best vegetarian restaurants in Barcelona:
- Vegetalia – (Carrer dels Escudellers, 54) this restaurant is entirely safe for all vegetarians. Most of their dishes are prepared with ingredients from their own organic garden that works only on sustainability concepts. You can try their smoked tofu tempura or their fresh smoothies.
- Café Mandacarú – (Calle Magalhães, 35) the menu here follows the Mediterranean vegetarian trends. You will feel spoiled here with exclusive dishes, such as blue cheese and baba ganoush. This restaurant also hosts great jazz performances which round up a successful night out in the big city.
- Juicy Jones – (Carrer de l’Hospital, 74) if you are bored with the same old vegetarian recipes, there’s always something new at Juicy Jones. The chefs here love to experiment with fresh ingredients, and their huge popularity speaks volumes about the success of their unimaginable food combos.
All in all, this is my tested survival guide for your vegetarian appetite while in Barcelona. It would be a pity to say goodbye to such a wonderful and cultural city just because you can’t get along with the food choices. However, with a little patience and diligence, Barcelona and you are going to become best friends.
Phoenix Hutton is a freelance photographer and a professional travel writer, who enjoys finding unconventional destinations and discovering many different cultures and traditions in the process. She loves chronicling her journeys on HolyCity.org.