A vegetarian’s guide to Barcelona
Somethingyousaid.com’s Koren Helbig gives a heads-up on the best places to get your vegetarianism on in Barca:
So you’re a herbivore, dreaming of a visit to sunny and meat-obsessed Spain… but just a little terrified you’ll return home tanned yet gaunt from days spent snacking solely on queso (cheese) and pan (bread), huh?
Well, it could happen if you’re not in the know about where to go. Unfortunately loads of traditional Spanish bars still offer little in the way of sustenance for vegetarians and vegans, although pescetarians will fare better. And chances are you’ll probably head home a tad scarred from walking past the seemingly endless rows of jamón, the incredibly popular yet kind of stinky dry-cured sides of ham.
But all is not lost, aspiring traveller!
Thankfully there’s a bunch of amazing meat-free restaurants popping up all over Spain, perfect for those nights when you wish to dine out safe in the knowledge that there’s no way atún (tuna) or pescado (fish) will sneak into your dish.
Barcelona, being the fabulously cosmopolitan city that it is, has really embraced the whole food-sans-meat thing. In the two months I lived there, I made it my unofficial mission to seek out and test as many of these eateries as possible. I’m the canary in the goldmine, people.
Read on for all my secrets on where’s best to go and why.
This Barcelona institution, established in 1980, surely has to be the city’s number one meat-free restaurant. Zero in on the unbelievably cheap €10.50 completo set menu, which gives you access to soup, a salad buffet, the choice of four mains and dessert. You won’t find better value for money.
There’s a dizzying array of fresh salads to help yourself to and plenty of the offerings are vegan. My quinoa, broad bean and shittake mushroom paella main was among the best meals I’ve eaten in Spain.
I challenge you not to over-eat here – I accidentally piled my plates high and left looking like I was in the latter stages of a multiple-child pregnancy. In fact, I was so full I even had to get dessert para llevar – takeaway – an option readily offered up by the kind waitstaff so obviously I’m not the only one who has over-indulged here.
Barcelona’s colourful Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, just off the bustling Rambla, rates highly on the list of places to visit for most tourists. But here’s a sneaky little tip for those who like to munch meat-free: walk through the market all the way to the back wall (sorry, but you’ll have to walk past the smelly fish section) and in the right-hand side corner you’ll find a stall bearing the slogan “Organic is orgasmic”. That’s no lie.
A brimming plate of organic fare costs €10, which is a tad pricey. But there’s a bunch of tasty options to choose from, including tacos, paella, lasagne and stuffed peppers. Eating here is also a little experience in itself. There’s no tables, so most people just plonk themselves along a nearby curbside and tuck in. It’s entirely pleasant on a sunny day.
This chic eatery is so popular you best book in advance to guarantee a table, especially in the evenings.
Located just off the trendy shopping laneway of Carrer dels Tallers, the cosiness of Teresa Carles’ lovely exposed brick walls is a welcome reprieve from the hustle and bustle of La Rambla nearby. But beauty comes at a price.
Each dish is reasonably priced but you’ll want to order several to fill up and I reckon you’d be lucky to leave having spent less than €30 per person. Nonetheless, it’s worth it if you’re willing to splash out for a change. Each dish is like a mini work of gourmet art that tastes even better.
Obviously a place that’s popular with foreigners, the Teresa Carles’ dishes nonetheless have a Spanish flair. And if you really like what you can try, you can buy bottles of wines, oils and jars of olives from their rustic range to take home.
4. CAT BAR
Everything here is vegan, which is particularly exciting because it opens the door to the wonderfully cheap and filling world of the menu del dia – the menu of the day, which is usually so meat-orientated in other eateries that it’s to be avoided at all costs. Cat Bar offers a solid starter, main, desert and a cheeky beverage for €10.90, a rather rad deal. There’s a good selection of nine beers on tap to choose from and you can buy things individually off the menu, too.
Naturally, there are cats everywhere: carvings, pictures and paintings lining the walls but sadly no living examples that I could see. And there’s a piano. And a little book exchange. And an upstairs area. Yup, this cozy place oozes cool.
(I was so overwhelmed by all the kitty goodness that I forgot to take pictures. Here’s a picture of some cat graffiti instead.)
5. OTHER EATERIES THAT RATE HIGHLY
And here’s a few others that deserve a passing mention. There’s El Jardí Barcelona, a tasty tapas bar tucked in a corner of the beautiful gardens of Hospital Santa Creu (which, incidentally, was the place Gaudi died after he was hit by a car. Hungry now?) It’s not strictly vegetarian but there’s plenty on offer for those eating sans meat.
La Bascula is hidden in the alleyways of Borne – Carrer dels Flassaders, 30, to be precise – in a former chocolate factory. They have a seasonal menu, cater for vegans and their tables are made from old doors. Um, cool much?
Gopal vegan deli shop, on Carrer dels Escudellers in the Gotic area, is a super cute, teeny-tiny lunch spot, specialising in a tantalising range of homemade vegan burgers for under €5. You can grab them to go or pull up a stall at one of their little tables.
If you’re after something a tad different, try Veggie Garden on Carrer dels Àngels, 3, near El Raval. This two-story restaurant, which often has a (fast-moving) line despite its spacious size, offers Indian and Nepalese food for vegans. Plus, it’s right near MACBA, Barcelona’s ace Museum of Contemporary Art, so you can scoot on over after a good dose of sight-seeing.
6. IF ALL ELSE FAILS, CHECK OUT HAPPY COW
These are the places I’ve been lucky enough to chomp my way through … but turns out there’s a freaking huuuuuge bunch more! So if you’re still on the hunt for something to munch on sans animal products, check out the ever-wonderful resource that is Happy Cow.
Now go forth and book that Barcelona holiday, fellow herbivores. The world is your vegetarian oyster.
Words and pictures by Koren Helbig.