Being a vegetarian in Spain
At the start of my second year of university, after thinking for a long time about environmental and ethical issues, I decided to stop eating meat and fish and become a vegetarian. Now, being a vegetarian in the UK is generally quite easy. Almost any place that serves food in Britain will have some kind of vegetarian option on its menu (even if that turns out to be a slightly grey, boring salad), and the abundance of different foreign restaurants easily available means there are many different options on offer.
But two years later when I graduated from university and decided to move to Spain, I suddenly realised that I might encounter some problems! Considering that one of its most famous sports is about killing bulls, animal welfare might not exactly seem like Spain’s top priority. I had been to Spain a few times before becoming veggie, and all I could remember now was meat, meat, meat. In Spain I wanted to enjoy the life and culture as much as possible, not be at home always cooking for myself!
As you can imagine, I was quite nervous about eating out in Spain. In some ways, I had a reason to be. A large number of Spanish dishes are based around meat or seafood, the most famous of course being jamón (ham) and paella (a rice dish) with seafood. Vegetarianism is quite rare in Spain and Southern Europe, and many older Spaniards have trouble understanding it. My main struggle was explaining that as a vegetarian no, I do not eat tuna or any other fish, yes, jamón and chorizo do count as meat and no, I’m not a vegan, I do eat eggs, milk and cheese.
At the beginning, facing so many unfamiliar food words that weren’t in my Spanish-English dictionary, it did feel very difficult. But as I began to get familiar with Spanish menus, a whole world of vegetarian and authentically Spanish food opened itself up to me, and I don’t just mean vegetarian versions of usually meaty dishes. Of course, there are the Spanish classics: tortilla (a giant, hearty potato omelette eaten almost daily by some Spaniards) and patatas bravas (fried potatoes with a spicy tomato sauce) that are available in almost any bar you can find. But if you look around there are more vegetarian treats, many of them a little more nutritious than these potato-based delights. Pisto, a dish of soft sautéed vegetables in tomato topped with a fried egg, is tasty, healthy and filling. Espinacas con garbanzos (spinach and chickpeas cooked in lots of garlic) are a delicious and great snack to get your iron and protein fix. My favourite, however, would have to be berenjenas con miel, slices of aubergine battered and deep-fried and drizzled in honey. With food like this, who needs jamón?