Being Vegetarian in Spain

Two years ago, when I came to Tufts I quickly realized that the meat served in the dining halls wasn’t worth eating. After a year of limiting my meat intake at Tufts, I decided to go all out and stop eating it. I replaced the bacon at brunch at Kelly’s Diner with grilled tomatoes, stopped ordering turkey sandwiches at the Kosher deli (the tofu is delicious!), and started getting the free guac on my burrito bowls at Chipotle.
Balanced nutrition is very important to my family. Growing up, I was used to eating fruit as dessert (as I’ve found is a common custom in Spain), being served more vegetables than carbs, and drinking skim milk at least twice a day. Already, the majority of the meals at my house were meatless, and we ate rice and beans at least once a week. This made being a vegetarian when I went home for the summer easy.
In the US, most people agree that “vegetarianism” is when a person doesn’t eat the flesh that comes from any animal. This is different than pescetarians, in America, who eat fish but no other animals, or vegans who eat no animal products including milk, cheese, eggs, and honey.
Before I came to Spain I heard that it was going to be hard to continue being a vegetarian. I figured that because jamón is such a staple, and I didn’t want to deprive myself of fully experiencing the culture of Spain, that I would break the vegetarianism and eat a little meat when offered. I expected that I would be able to find good vegetarian meals at restaurants. I expected beans and nuts to be prevalent in the diet of Spaniards, but I could not have been more wrong.
I underestimated the prevalence of jámon and “filetes” (thin pieces of meat generally cooked with little seasoning in a skillet) in the average Spainish household. I didn’t expect that “vegetariano” in Spain means someone who really just prefers vegetables. Most importantly, I didn’t realize how unpleasant I would find meat.
After a few weeks of unappetizing dinners of cutlets of meat, and receiving tuna on every salad, I’ve learned that sticking to what you actually want to eat is really important. Eating good, wholesome food you enjoy eating directly impacts your mood, your feelings and your general day-to-day experience.
Everything requires balance, and for me the extreme change in diet when I arrived in Spain was hard. Recently, I’ve been asking more questions about menus, and sticking to what I really want to eat rather than sacrificing my happiness to “make it easy.” I’ve been much more honest with my host mom about what I like, and along the way I’ve discovered some great restaurants and cafes.

Some of my favorites are below:
Vega: nestled on a side street on the edge of Malasaña, Vega offers a completely vegan menu. I only found this little place about two weeks ago and I’ve already been twice. The do a killer menú del día for 7.90 euros in which you get a starter, choice of entree and dessert, bread, and a drink. My only complaint about the restaurant is that I can’t eat the whole loaf of bread. Vega’s food is complemented by the cute atmosphere of airplants hanging from the ceiling, bench seating, and mixed tiles. Overall: 10/10 would recommend.

Delina’s: a staple for the program, Delina’s provides cheap, filling, design-your-own salads just down the street from the program center. My favorite combination so far is quinoa base with salad greens, cherry tomatoes, and mozzarella cheese with balsamic, but with the changing topping selections the options are nearly endless.

Arepa Olé: Mexican/Central American inspired food is definitely a staple for me back home, so I was excited to find a place that had arepas. There are two locations (one in Chueca, the other near Plaza Mayor) that serve fresh, flavorful arepas filled with just about anything you can think of. Best of all, they have a (small) selection of hot sauces to add some much needed spice to your time in Madrid!

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