Vegetarian Spanish tapas: an impossible quest?
Vegetarian tapas you must try in Barcelona
Love tapas? I do as well! When I decided to become vegetarian a few years ago, I thought I would have some difficulties to find vegetarian food, specially during my tours. To my surprise, I could go nearly everywhere and find some wonderful vegetarian food and tapas. And they are as good as the “regular” ones! Or even better 😉
To tell you the truth, when touring with more than 4 people I was often able to order a variety of tapas that included vegetarian and non-vegetarian tapas so I had enough to eat and my guests wouldn’t even notice I was avoiding the meat and the seafood! That’s great news if you are traveling with meat eaters: you don’t need to drag them to a vegetarian restaurant to find vegetarian tapas: they are available in most “regular” tapas bars. And you’ll see that some of them are even vegan tapas. Let me show you my favorite ones (and usually quite easy to find).
This is our favorite vegetarian Spanish food:
Escalivada. The Catan verb “escalivar” means “to cook in ashes”, which is the traditional way of cooking in a fire place. Nowadays, most places just bake in the oven, but then the smoky flavor is lost. Other places would roast it in a grill, which is a better alternative. Escalivada is a refreshing dish made of roasted veggies served cold and peeled. Most of the time it’s red pepper, eggplant, onion and sometimes you can add potatoes, tomatos or garlic. Once cooled, the veggies are dressed with generous olive oil and salt. It’s good as a side dish, or on a toast, in a salad… And as a tapa! In Barcelona we love the one they make at Cerveseria Catalana, which comes topped with baked goat cheese. Plain escalivada (without the cheese topping) is vegan friendly.
Pimientos del Padrón. These tiny green peppers from the village of Padrón, in Galicia, are one of the most popular vegetarian Spanish tapas. They come fried and sprinkled with course salt. Their particularity is that some of them are mild and some other are hot, and there is no way to tell before eating them. In Spain there is a saying: Pimientos del Padrón, sometimes they’re hot and sometime they’re not! Eating them is like a foodie Russian roulette: you’ll be looking at each others faces to see who got the super hot one! We recommend that you take a small bite of it and chew it to make sure you have a “safe” one before putting the whole thing in your mouth. In Barcelona, the most authentic ones are served at Pulperia Celta, a traditional Galician bar. This is a purely vegan tapa.
Fried Eggplant. As simple as slices of coated deep-friend eggplant. Their secret? The way they’re cut and fried! The thinner, the better! Then instead of mushy and oily they get crispy almost as chips. We love the ones at Bar Cañete, near la Rambla and around the corner from the Liceu Opera House: they come sprinkled with molasses. Yum! If you are vegan, ask before ordering to find out if dairy was used to prepare the coating (otherwise it should be 100% vegan).
Artichokes. Spaniards absolutely love these delicious winter veggies. Artichokes can come in many different presentations: baked in the oven, pickled, in omelette, cut in quarters and deep-fried… It’s too bad they are seasonal and you only find them fresh in the wintertime (the rest of the time the ones you’ll find are frozen, not fresh). Our favorite are the artichoke chips by El Quim in La Boqueria Market: thin slices of artichoke fried as crisps. Wonderful! My husband waits the whole year for them to be in season and take me to the market for lunch to order a plate of them! Some artichoke recipes are vegan and some are not: ask before ordering!
Croquettes. Traditional croquettes in Spain are made with bechamel (white sauce) and ham, cod or chicken. However, there is also a nice vegetarian variety of vegetarian croquettes made of cheese, mushrooms or spinach. And sometimes other vegetables. So don’t assume croquettes will always be vegetarian, but ask what flavors they cater before ordering. The take-away counter Ramon at the bottom of La Boqueria market always has a nice selection of vegetarian croquettes available. And sorry, croquettes aren’t vegan (unless you find them at some local vegan place). By the way, if you are staying in an apartment instead of a hotel room and want to cook, you’ll often find them in the frozen food section of any supermarket – or for a delicious gourmet experience, prepared to be thrown into the frying pan at the poultry store Avinova at the market of the Boqueria.
But wait! There is more! Do you want to know what is the top vegetarian tapas that you’ll find in pretty much every tapas place? Share this post to discover it:
Patatas bravas. Undoubtedly, this is the tapa par excellence that you can find in pretty much any tapas bar in Spain. Patatas bravas are fried potatoes topped with a red mildly spice sauce (hence the name “brave potatoes”) and a white aioli garlic sauce (although some bars will only serve it with one sauce instead of two). Every bar has their own way of cutting and frying the potatoes, and of course, their own brava sauce recipe, what makes that each time you’ll eat them they’ll be slightly different. This is why locals will “pilgrim” to some specific bars in town said to have the best bravas in town. In Barcelona, most people will agree that the very best are the ones at Bar Tomàs, in the Sarrià neighborhood. Patatas bravas are usually vegan unless they’ve used dairy to make the aioli (which should only be made with garlic and oil, but sometimes people cheats and adds egg to it). Ask before ordering, or order the sauces aside or without aioli to be safe.
So what about you? Head to the comments below and tells us: what are your favorite vegetarian tapas?