Sometimes I can’t figure out why I decided to make the transition to vegetarianism in one of the most difficult places: the south of Spain. Here in Andalusia, ham legs hang from the ceilings of bars. Cafés display televised bullfights to enjoy with your afternoon coffee. Some villages actually have animals in their names because they eat so much of them.
Zahara de los Atunes: as famous for its tuna dishes as for its beauty.
Suffice to say, it’s not easy, but it sure isn’t impossible to be vegetarian in Spain. Below are my 8 tips for those who want to maintain or transition to a veggie lifestyle in a carnivorous country.
1. Check out local markets
Mercado Central de Abastos, Jerez de la Frontera
Local fruit and vegetable markets are by far the best way to find cheap, high quality produce. You’ll spend half of what you would in the supermarkets, and you’re also supporting local businesses. It can be a little intimidating at first, especially if you don’t know the language, but what better way to get a crash course?The markets are crowded, and if you are in a place like Jerez, you’ll have to be pretty assertive or you might find yourself elbowed out of the way by an aggressive abuela (grandma). That being said, the vendors are generally really friendly, and they’ll often gift you a few extra pieces of fruit for loyalty.
Una gitana (gypsy) selling spices, nuts and veg outside the market.
2. Look up your local food coops and farms
Local produce market from a local organic farm. Picture taken from La Reverde’s website.
A gem that I found while living in Jerez is the La Reverde farm cooperative that dedicates itself to the production and consumption of local organic and artisan products. These types of organizations naturally draw in vegetarians, vegans and the veggie-curious, which is great for expanding your social network with like-minded people. A bonus is that these coops usually offer educational workshops with themes that vary from healthy eating to artisanal beer tasting.
A delivery of mixed veg from La Reverde
3. Shop around
I do most of my shopping in the market, but there are some products you need to go elsewhere for, especially if you would like to indulge in plant-basted meats. Try visiting different supermarkets to find the products you’re looking for. In city centres, supermarkets tend to be smaller, so try once a month to go to one a little outside which will have more options for seitan, tempeh and tofu. Always make sure to check out the international section for ingredients to make your homemade meals more interesting.
A little organic store in Jerez de la Frontera
Most towns will have an organic food shop, which often promote vegetarian events and activities. I tend to only buy health foods that I can’t find anywhere else, because they tend to be pricey in these types of shops. Lastly, Amazon’s supermarket section is amazing – I get so many vegan essentials like nutritional yeast, coconut oil and miso for cheap, without even leaving the house!
4. Use travel apps
The Happy Cow app and website is great to find veggie restaurants while traveling. It will let you find veg-friendly restaurants even in the smallest villages. If you’re with a persistant meat-eater, it also lets you know what options there are for you based on your diet. I find that it’s more up-to-date than other vegetarian apps out there, and the layout is very user-friendly.
5. Research local vegetarian/vegan dishes
I would dare to say that every country has a typical vegetarian dish. Remember, meat and animal products were luxury items to poorer populations back in the day, and so there is bound to be a staple peasant-style meal anywhere you go. It may not be the most fancy of dishes, but you will still get to indulge in the local cuisine when going out to restaurants.
Ajo caliente, a typical winter tapa in Jerez, which happens to be vegan! Picture courtesy of Cosas de Comé.
6. Learn key phrases
Making the effort to learn a few phrases in the local language makes you a much more likeable traveller, especially when you are asking for special services. Unlike North America, Spain is not a service-oriented country; I’ve had sugar packets thrown at me when I asked for brown instead of white. Don’t waste your time learning the word for vegetarian or vegan – when you are in a carnivorous country, most of the time people don’t really understand what that means, and you almost certainly will end up with a surprise on your plate. Rather, learn the words of the things that you can’t eat. In order to be taken seriously, say that you can’t eat these things because of an allergy or a religious reason.
7. Stock your bag with snacks and condiments
Galician spices at El Mercado de los Abastos. A little baggie of one of these spices in your purse may save you from a bland vegan meal!
This is a tip that I need to get better at, and it really is a lifesaver. When you haven’t eaten in a long time, combined with trying to find a restaurant that suits your needs, it’s very easy to get “Hangry” (a combination of hunger and anger). This is why it’s good to have energy bars or zip lock bags of snacks ready on hand. Another essential is to have packets of condiments like soy sauce or mustard in the case that the restaurant can only offer you a plain bowl of rice. Turns a terrible meal into perfectly average!
8. Get friends and locals involved
Couchsurfing potluck. Sorry for the quality, this photo predates my new camera!
Host a vegan or veggie potluck at your place and invite your guests to get creative in the kitchen and bring a plant-based dish. Not only are you getting people curious about your lifestyle, but you’ll get to try a variety of food. I do this through Couchsurfing, which makes it even more interesting because people bring dishes from their home countries. Also, if you host, you get to keep the leftovers! Score!
What are your tips for being vegetarian or vegan in a meat lover’s country?