A Traveller's Guide to Vegetarian Eating in Spain

Published on 7/19/2011 in Health

At a recent comedy night here in Barcelona, Adam Bloom described Spain's obsession with meat perfectly by saying "if you ask for a green salad don't be surprised if it comes with a dead cat as garnish". Spain is a meat eating country through and through and although dead cats do not feature on the menu, almost every other type of animal does. The national favourite is pork, in all forms, especially jamon - cured ham cut directly from the pigs leg.

I remember a night out in Madrid with some Spaniards and the enthusiasm for the jamon was incredible. At the time I didn't know what it was, and was shocked and equally disgusted when a dead pig's leg was brought to the table, hoof and all. Then, to the delight of the everyone at the table, it was carved into thin slices in front of us. On your visit to Spain you can see pigs legs everywhere - shops, markets, restaurants and homes.

In this environment it is easy to see why vegetarianism is misunderstood. In fact, even telling people that you are "a vegetarian" is met with a look of confusion followed by a question like "so what do you eat?" The reason for this may be due to the fact that during the Franco Regime it was strongly discouraged; vegetarian restaurants did not exist and it wasn't until after Franco's death in 1975 that veggie restaurants were allowed to open and the discussion of the health benefits of a vegetarian diet allowed to be discussed.

VegetablesHowever, not all hope is lost. In fact, Antoni Gaudi, Barcelona's famous architect, was a vegetarian. It is possible to be a Veggie in Spain if you are prepared, avoid the pitfalls and learn a few key Spanish phrases.

Eating Out

I have 4 main categories for eating out, the most worry-free option is to eat at vegetarian restaurants although there is also the other great option of eating international cuisine, going to a traditional Spanish restaurant with a list of vegetarian tapas in hand or self-catering. The best choice for you depends on the type of vegetarian diet you follow. For vegans, the safest option is to stick to vegetarian restaurants or make your own food, it is the only way to guarantee that what you're eating does not contain animal products. For ovo-lacto vegetarians and pescatarians, there is much more opportunity. However, if you are eating in a non-vegetarian restaurant it is very likely that your veggie dish will be prepared along side meat and may even be cooked in the same oil.

Meal times in Spain are strictly adhered to; lunch is served between 2-4pm and dinner 9-11pm. It is almost impossible to eat in a restaurant outside of these times, although in the more touristy areas you will probably find somewhere. Also, I feel it is important to say that the service, in general, is very slow. If you are in rush don't go to a restaurant and simply buy a sandwich (bocadillo) to take away (para llevar), or make a small picnic. Eating here is a pleasure and even lunch is enjoyed at a steady pace.

Vegetarian Restaurants

To find vegetarian restaurants, the best website is Happy Cow, although there are some others. These websites give you the addresses and some reviews of each restaurant. I recommend printing off these lists before you come here to visit as it is very unlikely that you will be able to ask at your hotel for the nearest vegetarian restaurant - they won't know! Most of the restaurants don't offer a fine dining experience, most are very relaxed, hippy style, and often self-service. Generally you will find that the staff can speak English. They are often quite cheap and you can get a menu del dia, which is a set menu including a starter, main, dessert, bread and a drink for 8-10 Euros. For most restaurants, you won't need to reserve a table.

International Cuisine

Depending on where you are in Spain, International cuisine can be a great place to get a tasty meal. There is the obvious choice of Italian. The Italians have many vegetarian dishes and of course there is pizza. Unfortunately, cheese made without rennet (cujo) is unavailable, so you might want to ask for your pizza without cheese (sin queso).
There are also fantastic Morrocan, Lebanese, Peruvian, British etc. restaurants that often offer vegetarians options.

Traditional Cuisine

Okay, so you are in Spain and want to try some of the traditional food. There are hardly any vegetarian dishes but there are a few tapas, without meat. Tapas, small appetizer dishes, are eaten in bars during the evening. There is a reasonably sized list of vegetarian tapas but in reality you won't find even a fraction of these in most tapas bars. The best you can hope for is patas bravas (deep fried potato wedges with a spicy mayonnaise sauce), green olives, pimientos de pardon (small peppers fried and cooked in salt- sometimes you get a spicy one in the dish!), pan con tomate (in Catalunya you will find bread smothered with fresh tomato and olive oil- a great invention!), tortilla (a layered potato omelette), escalivada (roasted vegetables often served on toast) and plates of cheese (though with rennet). Unfortunately there is no guarantee that your food won't be prepared with oil that has had meat prepared in it.


If you are in self-catering accommodation, or simply like to make picnics for your days out and about, there are plenty of options and places to buy food. I always take a few pieces of cutlery, plates and cups with me on holiday. The markets are an obvious choice and you will find it a treat visiting the fruit and vegetable stalls. You will always find a market near at hand as this is where the locals do a lot of their shopping. It is important to go in the mornings, before 2pm to get the best picks.

If you are in Barcelona you must visit the Boqueria, this is a treasure trove of goodies and a great picture opportunity! You can buy juices and fresh fruit salads to take away and there is a great little Greek stall at the back of the market, which sells spinach and feta filled filo-pastries.

There are many health food stores where you can find specialist ingredients, check out the Happy Cow website to find your local shops.

Another option is to buy a sandwich (bocadillo) from a bar or bakery to take away (para llevar) but there is a limited selection of fillings, with cheese (con queso), omelette (tortilla francesa) or potato omelette (tortilla). The sandwiches are very simple and do not contain salad.

Pit Falls

Make it clear that you are vegetarian and don't eat meat or fish. Now here comes the double whammy because Spaniards understand meat to only mean cuts of meat such as steak or pork chop - this does not include bacon pieces or pieces of ham. So it is important that you make this very clear that you do not eat any form of meat otherwise you will end up with ham on your cheese toastie, or bacon pieces on your salad.

The pastries, including croissants, often contain lard (manteca) from pigs so they are perhaps best avoided.

Green salad (ensalada verde) is a very uninspiring choice. It consists of some iceberg lettuce, pieces of tomatoes and a few olives on the side. It also often comes with tuna (atun) so make sure you ask for it without tuna (sin atun).

There is a sandwich (bocadillo) called vegetal, but this is not a vegetarian sandwich! It is actually salad with tuna and mayonnaise.

Quick Summary

1. Be organised and look into where you are going to eat.
2. Be ready with a list of possible tapas options
3. Have your few phrases of survival Spanish committed to memory.
4. If eating out remember that the meal times are fixed.
5. Enjoy the fresh fruit and vegetables from the markets.

Written by: Jayne Miller

About the author:

I created my website veggieinspain for vegetarians like me living here in Spain or those travelling around.  Living here as a vegetarian is a challenge, as I am sure you all know.  Eating out can be a problem and finding your usual ingredients can be difficult. However, living in the Mediterranean not only brings sun, sea and sangria but also great fresh produce.  I hope that you will follow me on my culinary journey cooking up tasty dishes, reviewing restaurants and talking to others who are involved in vegetarianism here in Spain.


You can contact me  with your recipes and restaurant recommendations - I will be sure to use them!  You can also follow me on facebook.

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freddy88 said:
Thursday, August 20, 2020 @ 2:36 PM

You posted a nice article. Thanks a lot!

luispihormiguero said:
Wednesday, September 12, 2012 @ 5:33 PM

More things:

The lunch is between 13:00 and 15:00 PM (maybe even a little earlier if you go to a touristic zone). The dinner is between 20:00 and 22:00 PM. No one eats at 16:00 PM or 23:00 PM!

The potatoes omelette is called «Tortilla de patatas», and not just «Tortilla». A «Tortilla» can be done with potatoes, ham, tunna, vegetables, cheese... and even without nothing (Tortilla francesa). It would be better if you say what kind of omelette you want.

luispihormiguero said:
Wednesday, September 12, 2012 @ 5:17 PM

I am a Spanish vegetarian, and what you said about vegetarianism with Franco is FALSE. He never attacked vegetarian people.

Spain is a country with a huge animal husbandry and fishing history. That's all. Don Francisco Franco Bahamonde, el Generalísimo, doesn't have anything to do with vegetarianism in Spain.

Suchet said:
Saturday, April 14, 2012 @ 2:37 PM

Yes you are right Patricia - Vegetarianism is everywhere - its only we as people who fail to communicate what we want - You only have to look around and find vegetarian food can easily be purchased or made in any country - and Spain is a country where Vegans and Vegetarians do thrive - there are over 2 million there.

And there are many vegetarian restaurants and eateries there which are located in Spain.

Check out this link below if you would like to find a vegetarian restaurant in Spain.


Suchet said:
Saturday, April 14, 2012 @ 2:37 PM

Yes you are right Patricia - Vegetarianism is everywhere - its only we as people who fail to communicate what we want - You only have to look around and find vegetarian food can easily be purchased or made in any country - and Spain is a country where Vegans and Vegetarians do thrive - there are over 2 million there.

And there are many vegetarian restaurants and eateries there which are located in Spain.

Check out this link below if you would like to find a vegetarian restaurant in Spain.


Patricia said:
Sunday, August 14, 2011 @ 10:50 PM

There are many vegetarian restaurants in Spain, and vegetarianism has been well known about in Spain for a long time (I've been here well over three decades). Certainly in some remoter areas it is possible that the concept has not been heard about. I have Spanish friends who are vegetarians.
With the wealth of vegetables available in Spain there are many dishes which are vegetarian anyhow. Wonderful omelettes made with any vegetable you like.
There are so many legends around about the Franco regime, I lived in Spain for some years at that time and I certainly never heard of vegetarianism being frowned upon LOL.


Jayne Miller said:
Wednesday, August 3, 2011 @ 10:43 PM

Thanks for all your comments- if anyone has any queries or needs some specific help you can email me at jayne@veggieinspain.com

Ray said:
Monday, August 1, 2011 @ 12:52 PM

Veggies are o.k. as long as they go quietly about being a veggie, and don't go banging on about being "shocked and disgusted" when some meat turns up on the table.
And do they honestly come over all unnecessary if they think that the pastry might have been prepared in oil that had also had meat prepared in it, or that the lentils had sat next to a tin of corned beef in the cupboard ?
I can't stand broccoli-but if my hosts serve some up at dinner I don't fall off my chair and crawl off to the bathroom to splash my face with cold water.
Live and let live-do it quietly and with good grace.

Jeff said:
Wednesday, July 27, 2011 @ 6:05 PM

I've been a regular visitor to various parts of Spain for more than ten years, and as a non meat eater I've had very few problems in getting a good meal, though sometimes the choice can be limited. I do eat fish and seafood so that obviously helps. Whenever I have a suspicion that meat might be added to a dish I simply tell the waiter: "Soy vegetariano - NO carne, NO jamon"

Jim said:
Wednesday, July 27, 2011 @ 2:10 PM

What a bonkers rant that was. The article was about how to find vegetarian food in Spain. At no time did anyone suggest that people didn't have a right to eat meat. Smoking wasn't even mentioned and as for gay marriage.......

I do worry about your mental state, with quite so many hangups just ready to burst out without provocation!

will said:
Tuesday, July 26, 2011 @ 10:14 AM

I am a meat eating smoker. I respect others rights to not have my cigarette smoke around them and equally their right to choose to be Rhinoceros- like (veggies) in their eating preferences and arrangements. But how come, far from respecting their right to choose, am I and the likes of us born-to-be-carnevores pilloried by the minority? What about MY rights?

I find the 'norm' being eradicated on a daily basis and anyone expressing a 'normal' view lambusted. As a boy, the word 'Gay' conjured up a picture of a happy child skipping through a blossomed orchard. The word 'Marriage' referred to the joining together of a man and a woman. Not any more; hi-jacked by homosexuals and apparently I have a condition called 'Homophobic' for saying so. It is me yet again in the wrong. I might appear to be straying off the point but it is exactly this:

I wholeheartedly approve of and accept other peoples choice of lifestyles, from eating to loving. I expect others to respect my choice too. That's it; Here endeth the rant. I'm off to have a Corned Beef sandwich, a quick smoke, then a cuddle with my not-same-sex Wife.

Pete said:
Saturday, July 23, 2011 @ 2:18 PM

I once went to Pizza Hut and orders a margaretta pizza thinking myself safe as the chains are consistent but no - it came with pieces of ham in it. I refused to pay and ordered a replacement explaining that pizza hut don't do that with ham in USA and UK.

Now I only ever eat self catering when on Spain.

The supermarkets have a great range for veggies and the local grocers are cheaper and fresher than UK. So for me eating in Spain is now something I look forward to enjoying on each of my visits. But I have to say my cooking is wonderful - and she that must be obeyed always rewards me for my kitchen labour !!

comotuquieres said:
Friday, July 22, 2011 @ 1:00 AM

I am a pure vegetarian, and when I went to UK in 1964, I lived on boiled vegetables with extra helping of salt and pepper. Believe me average homes, folks, and restaurants had NO Concept of Vegetarianism just like the Spaniards Who alike have no understanding at all of Hindus strict concept- who do not take a life to keep alive.
As a student working student, in the canteens, my fellow students used to say "Just take the peas from the minced meat surely you can have that with mashed potatoes!" Or the fried egg from the breakfast that was cooked together with bacon & sausages. "scotch egg that was coated with mash & chicken was regarded as vegetarian."
20 years later I started teaching "Every day Indian vegetarian cookery and over 18 years half of the Buckingham-shire turned into vegetarian, almost.
I remember when I had a Bedsitter with a young Scottish family where I had to share their kitchen,
Every Thursday I would go Hungry as Sandra cooked Liver+ veg. for the evening meal as I would just walk in after a hard days work and study. I used to put a towel under the door to block the smell penetrating from the gap under the door of my bedsit. Inevitably I used to feel sick. I can write a book about my traumatic experiences. I still survived and made people aware of it. Now for the past 10 years I have the same challenge with my Spanish life. Here I speak to the chefs and firmly with the table attendants and using the Spanish restaurants, as I often take clients with me, they more than often use my recipes. My friends- almost all nationalities including Spanish, Colombians,Cubans, Russians,Polish thoroughly enjoy my variety of lunches & dinners. They are all learning the healthy options, So There is Hope for us Vegetarians. It may take a bit longer but "nothing is impossible."

Pizza -ask with mozzarella or emental as these have no Animal rennet.

Murcia Region has a meat free day a week so in most of the Spanish restaurants they serve a dish called "Arroz con Garbanzos, Just like "rice and Daal" prepared with boiled mashed Chickpeas cooked with (ajos) garlic and herbs and spices (No chicken stock) Introduced to me by my Marciano supplier and now very good family friends.

More and more younger Spaniards are going to Indian Restaurants specially vegetarian ones. Also many use the Indian supermarkets to buy almost everything,especially "Basmati Rice. I used to have Have Spanish and French students, and they were always served vegetarian meals never missed meat for 6 weeks.

Two of the students parents invited us for "Feria de Sevilla." The two daughters, who came to stay with us never told the parents, we were vegetarians and so wen we arrives to their beautiful Andalusian home a little later The mother -Mari Pili (Maria Pilar) Said I"I want to show you something" So we went to a cold room full of every kind of meat you could imagine of was hanging on skews and the shelves were laden with other meats, "i have specially bought all these so you can choose what you want to eat over our tow weeks stay. I went numb When I explained her that we are pure vegetarians she said "Maria and Nuria never told her that." It was her way of appreciating our hospitality as the girls always chose to stay with us and we treated them like our own and they loved our food too. Burt I had given the girls a present that hey wanted-A Spice Box so we used that to cool with and they went out of their way to make food for us Isabella their cook loves cooking with me and earlier in May I was invited to "Rocio" and Isabella had made Spinach and garbanzos, and My very favorite "Gazpacho de Ajo con Almendras" A delicious chilled soup for hot days and served with fresh olive and red chilly bread.
There are many vegetarian dishes that are available. I have visited España many times in the past and always found ways to enjoy diet. I use local ingredients to create vegetarian dishes.
Anyone wishing to have the above Recipe will be welcome.

Michael said:
Wednesday, July 20, 2011 @ 6:39 PM

Vegetarians should not go to France or Spain and expect to eat vegetarian food in a restaurant. Self catering is the best option.

Last year I asked for a vegetable (solo) paella. It was not for me as I had arroz abanda, but I tasted the vegetarian option and was sure I could taste chicken stock. I said nothing as the vegetarians said it was good!!!

Comadreja said:
Wednesday, July 20, 2011 @ 5:42 PM

Interesting that vegetarianism was outlawed under Franco. Do you have any more information on why that was? I suspect it might be because before he came to power the anarcho-syndicalists (his arch enemies) were promoting teetotalism and vegetarianism.

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