Here in Spain, telling someone that you are a vegetarian often evokes the same reaction: the listener looks at you like you have three heads and then proceeds to tell you that you’re crazy. I used to be a pescaterian, but before coming to Spain I decided that I really wanted to immerse myself in the culture: jamón and all. So while I’ll try a little bit of anything, I can definitely empathize with many of my vegetarian friends, whose poor host moms are horrified by the idea of a bocadillo filled with anything other than meat. That being said, it’s definitely possible to be vegetarian here in Spain, and I often choose the option sin carne when it’s available. Here, some traditional Spanish foods that are equally as delicious as their meaty counterparts:
1. Tortilla: Probably my favorite Spanish food, tortillas here are very different than what my California-born, Mexican-food-inhaling self always knew. They are kind of like an omelet or crustless quiche: egg layered with thinly sliced potatoes and onions, sometimes with peppers, zucchini (my favorite), mushrooms, or other vegetables. They are a lot of work to make so my host mom usually buys hers at the supermarket, but the homemade ones are always the best!
2. Gazpacho: this cold tomato soup (with peppers, onions, garlic, and olive oil, and often served with chopped hard-boiled eggs, cucumber, green onions, and bread that you tear into pieces and let soak in the soup) was so refreshing on the 100-degree days (still can’t switch over to Celsius…) we had this week. Another one of my favorites. There’s also salmorejo: Like gazpacho, but with bread blended in. (They even found a way to put bread in their soup!) It’s a little bit more acidic-tasting. You’ll see this more on tapas menus or served as a sauce over tortilla.
3. Pan tumaca/pan con tomate: Slices of bread spread with a kind of tomato paste and drizzled with olive oil. This is often eaten for breakfast, which seemed weird at first to my granola/waffle and pancake/maple syrup/breakfast-loving self.
4. Garbanzos con espínacas: These. Are. The BEST. It’s literally just garbanzo beans cooked with spinach (and olive oil, like everything), and it kind of tastes like a stew. Super filling and delicious, it’s the one ridiculously large portion my host mom gives us that I’m ever able to finish.
5. Paella: Okay, everyone knows what paella is, but I was a little shocked when my first experienced involved shrimp that still had shell, tail, EYES, everything. And little tiny whole crabs that I attempted to crack open (and failed). And then there’s usually chorizo and chicken. So my favorite variation is my host mom’s vegetarian one with peas, mushrooms, carrots, and other vegetables.
6. Alubias: These are large white beans, kind of like cannellini beans (maybe the same?), that are served either hot or cold with peppers, onions, and olive oil, or other variations. (Beans have become my new favorite protein source here…)
7. Lentejas: Lentils, usually cooked as a kind of stew with potatoes and carrots. Delicious.
8. Pisto: Could eat this for EVERY meal: eggplant, zucchini, peppers, and other vegetables in a kind of tomato sauce. Sort of like ratatouille.
9. Patatas bravas: Fried chunks of potato with a spicy sauce. Spanish version of French fries, but better. (Careful: the sauce can be majorly spicy!)
10. Zanahorias/patatas/tomates aliñadas: These are served cold—carrots, potatoes, or tomatoes usually simply with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and sometimes garlic or other spices.