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Can you live in Spain AND be vegan? Apparently so...
PARENTS who bring their children up vegetarian or vegan are fighting for schools to cater for their kids in the canteen – often, only meat options are available or, at best, meat or fish, and families who choose not to include one or both of these in their daily diets say their rights are being ignored.
Children with allergies or intolerances, including diabetic or coeliac kids, are always offered lunch options suitable for them, as long as they show a doctor's note, and pupils whose religious background affects their diet such as Hindu families, where beef is off the menu or, more commonly in Spain, Muslims who do not eat pork, ham or bacon, have an automatic legal right to school meals free from these products. Indeed, with Moroccans being Spain's largest foreign resident community due to the historical and cultural ties between the two countries, and their geographical nearness, this has been automatic for decades.
But Spain has always been behind the rest of the western world when it comes to vegetarianism, and even more so veganism – if you live on the coast, you can successfully avoid meat and still eat well and satisfyingly at any restaurant and shopping at any supermarket, provided you are at least pescatarian; inland, where meat is a staple part of the traditional cuisine, this can be harder, but for 'true' vegetarians who do not eat fish, life can be more difficult. For vegans, it may even be impossible.
Or is it?
Nearly one in 10 Spaniards is vegan or veggie
According to a report by Lantern in 2017, titled The Green Revolution, Spaniards are cutting back drastically on their meat consumption and nearly 8% of adults follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, not including pescatarians, who eat fish but not meat.
And the Spanish Vegetarian Union (UVE) is battling for schools to accept this and move with the times.
Its chairman, David Román – whose 18-year-old son is the first documented case in Spain of a child raised 100% vegan from birth, and who has always been perfectly healthy, despite dire warnings from his paediatricians in childhood – says schools are getting better at catering for non-meat-eating pupils, although currently, the only region where the right to a vegan or vegetarian option for school lunch is enshrined in law is the Basque Country, which made this compulsory for all its education centres in 2012.
Supermarkets and Spanish recipes
Luckily, if you're into home cooking, there are plenty of vegan and vegetarian recipes out there on Spain-based websites that take into account ingredients you'll find easily in local and national shops, and 'niche' supermarkets are starting to crop up to cater for vegans – such as Eco-Organic in Ondara (Alicante province) – whilst even mainstream grocery store chains are beginning to get with the programme and offer ready meals or dinner ingredients without animal produce, such as vegan cheese, mushroom burgers and soya mince.
What about restaurants?
Eating out can still be a hurdle, however; it can be a drag being the only one at your restaurant table limited to lettuce leaves and bread whilst the rest of your group enthuses about the succulent succession of courses they tuck into.
But depending upon where you are, vegan and vegetarian restaurants are rapidly increasing in number nationwide – and their fare is so delicious and filling that many of their customers are actually carnivores.
Here's a small selection, based in provincial capitals, although a quick search for restaurantes veganos or vegetarianos followed by the name of your nearest towns is sure to throw up a few names you can try.
Pizzi & Dixie (Madrid)
Chef Nacho Sánchez was one of the top pupils of Michelin-starred vegetarian and vegan specialist Rodrigo de la Calle, and his eatery on the C/ San Vicente Ferrer does his old teacher proud. Check out the boletus and truffle mushroom risotto, the Dixie ceviche and 'volcanic pizza', among other completely vegan Italian-style options.
Veggie Garden (Barcelona)
Close to the central Plaza de Catalunya, this flamboyantly-decorated restaurant offers Indian and Nepalese cuisine along with moussaka and hummous, all using organic ingredients.
Its banana and chocolate milkshake and long list of smoothies are reputedly to die for, and you won't have to break the bank with its lunchtime set menu coming in at just €8.50. Hard to believe this vast selection is entirely vegan.
One of the capital's longest-running vegan joints, this classic diner became popular years before the vegan trend took hold thanks to its top-quality ingredients, sizeable portions and being unafraid of changing to meet its clientèle's evolving demands. Its best-rated dish is the pipirrana jaenera, a delicious combination of vegetables and flavours topped with beansprouts, rocket, tomatoes and red cabbage (shown in first picture).
Punto Vegano (Madrid)
Run by two Uruguayan vegans whose dishes would convert any meat-eater, however hungry, this locale near the Debod Temple offers tempting treats such as spinach ravioli with tomato sauce, croquettes and coconut and lemon tart. A warm, lively and cosy establishment with a young clientèle, this restaurant on the C/ Luisa Fernanda will stun you with how flavoursome vegan dishes can be.
A relatively new face in the capital, this restaurant on the C/ Manuela Malasaña has shot to local fame with its simple-but-effective approach to meat-free and dairy-free dining: using classical recipes but adapting them to a vegan version with fresh, organic and healthy ingredients. Regulars swear by its mini-pizzas and Pad Thai.
Starting out life as a small patisserie in the Arenal Market, this cosy and welcoming eatery has expanded its repertoire into vegan tapas, pastries stuffed with pisto (Spain's version of ratatouille), vegan burgers and kebabs, pizzas, vegan Russian salad, and chocolate and banana crumble – as well as continuing its old role as a café. Find it on the C/ Pastor y Landero in the heart of the southern city.
Offering organic vegan cuisine using entirely local produce, Gustu is so much more than a restaurant: it also operates as a catering school and nutritionist's clinic. But it's still a very cheap option – the weekday lunchtime menu includes four courses and comes in at just €14.50, with a thick, filling vegetable soup for starters and a different 'dish of the day' for the main course, featuring grains and cereals, beans and pulses, or TVP (textured vegetable protein), which is every bit as tasty and satisfying as meat. Find it at number 52 of the C/ Iturbide in the Basque city.
Alameda Rock (Sevilla)
Light lunches and snacks that will leave you pondering over whether you need to bother with dinner include chick-peas and spinach, vegan burgers and pizza with non-dairy cheese, omlettes and 'meatless meatballs' with tomato sauce, plus a vast array of sandwiches.
As a bonus, you'll get a great view over the vast Guadalquivir river on the edge of the city.
It seems incongruous how a chain run by chefs from Scandinavia - and with branches in the Danish and Norwegian capitals, as well as Malmö in Sweden – could be so popular for its Mediterranean cuisine, but don't knock it until you've tried it. Modern, colourful and affordable vegetarian and vegan dishes include boletus mushroom and toasted hazelnut croquettes, vegan burgers with sun-dried tomatoes, caramelised onion, rocket and vegan cheese, and dishes with a south-east Asian flair, too, Copenhagen also offers a delicious lunchtime menu for just €11.90. And its location is in one of the most attractive parts of the city – the Russafa district behind the main railway station. Get your fill at its branch on the C/ Literato Azorín.
If you're a vegetarian or vegan, you're almost certainly an animal lover, meaning you'll be 'feline great' at this culinary temple near the Jaume I metro station on the C/ Boria. A 'cat café' combined with a diner offering a vast selection of vegan burgers, vegan tapas and over 30 types of Spanish and catalán-style beer, customers can even ask to borrow the piano to serenade their party as they sup.
Quinoa Bar Vegetarià (Barcelona)
Probably Spain's smallest restaurant – with just three tables and a handful of bar stools – Quinoa has never had to advertise as its reputation has spread entirely by word of mouth. Just in case you were in any doubt that you were in a vegetarian or vegan restaurant, the poster depicting the classic track by The Smiths, Meat is Murder, at the entrance will reassure you. Given its diminutive size, Quinoa Bar is always full, so booking is essential – but regulars promise it's worth the wait just to try their tzatziki, which is apparently heaven.
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