One question that's asked surprisingly often by our interns is about the availability of vegetarian tapas. Well… any vegetarian who’s ever scanned a tapas menu in Spain will tell you that it can be tough finding meat-free options!
The Spanish in general aren’t big on the vegetarian lifestyle, and high proportion of local restaurants and bars haven’t caught onto the concept all too well yet.
It’s common for traditional tapas classics to be listed on menus without mentioning meat or fish – but one or the other is highly likely be lurking there once your plate arrives. For example, ‘croquetas’ (the king of tapas dishes), unless they specifically state otherwise, will always contain ham, while an ‘ensaladilla’ (Russian salad) or ‘ensalada mixta’ (mixed salad) is highly likely to contain prawns, tuna or other seafood - or else ham again.
This can make menu-browsing for the vegetarian consumer quite tricky!
That being said, even the Spanish enjoy vegetables, and while you have to stay on the alert while ordering (to be on the safe side, it’s always best to check any dish with the waiter before actually ordering) there are certain dishes that you should be pretty safe with – and which taste amazing.
So here are our top picks for the BEST, tastiest, meat-free dishes that Andalusian tapas cuisine has to offer!
1. ‘Queso iberico’, ‘queso manchego’ ‘queso ‘frito’, or ‘queso de cabra’
Ok, we know these aren’t vegetable dishes, but this is after all only a meat-free list!
First-off, ‘queso iberico’ and ‘queso manchego’ are simply too different types of Spanish cheese. The first is made from a blend of cow’s, sheep’s and goat’s milk, while the second is made from sheep’s milk, and refers to the region it comes from – La Mancha, in central Spain. If you see either of these listed on tapas menus, they will usually refer simply to small plates of good quality cheese, sliced into traingles, to snack on or share.
Both are hard cheeses with mild but
Then we come to fried and deep-fried cheese… :D All over Seville you can find amazingly tasty examples of this tapa! Possibly not the healthiest choice so don’t eat this everyday… but damn these dishes are good!! You usually get either camembert (same word in Spanish as it’s a French word :D), goats cheese (‘queso de cabra’, or sometimes just ‘cabra’) or something similar to Camembert such as Brie.
If you see ‘rulo de cabra’, this refers to an entire mini-wheel of goat’s cheese, fried juuust until melting point, usually served with honey, a fruit compote, and some mini-toasts. The fried dishes often come with quince jelly – a gorgeous veggie delight – and this is called ‘membrillo’. If you are a cheese-lover, any of these options are to die for!
2. Espinacas cos garbanzos
This is a super-common tapa and is simply means ‘spinach with chickpeas’… and that’s literally all it is …except for a generous helping of oil. It comes in a little bowl, and is always flavoured with subtle curry spices. Always delicious.
3. ‘Salmorejo’ or ‘gazpacho’
Anyone with any prior knowledge of Spanish cuisine is likely to have heard of one or both of these. They are both extremely typical Spanish dishes – salmorejo being more common in the South, and gazpacho in the centre and the North. They are both, essentially, varieties of tomato soup, served cold. This may not sound immediately appetizing, but trust us, they actually taste really good – their huge popularity with locals and expats alike is testament to this. DISCLAIMER: remember to ask for them ‘sin jamon’ (‘without ham’) – otherwise they may well come with diced ham on top.
4. Patatas Bravas / patatas alioli / patatas a lo pobre
Another two tapas staples, and again, two that anyone with any previous knowledge of tapas will already know. ‘Patatas’ are potatoes (duh), and within the context of tapas menus the word usually refers to fried chunks of potato, or sometimes simply fries (as in chips). ‘Bravas’ and ‘Alioli’ are two types of sauce: ‘bravas’ in an ever-so-slightly spicy tomato sauce (often suspiciously similar to ketchup!), while ‘alioli’ is a garlic-y mayonnaise.
Neither one of these is the most exciting of dishes, but they ARE both genuine Spanish bar-food staples, and can be relied on to be filling, tasty, and meat-free!
Patatas a lo pobre’, are potatoes served
with green peppers. The name literally
means ‘poor man’s potatoes’.
5. Pimientos del padron
‘Pimientos’ are peppers, and this is literally a dish of small, fried green peppers – the mild kind, NOT hot ones. They are prepared simply, with just a sprinkling of sea salt. They will be a little oily since they are fried, but this gives them fantastic flavour. This is a wonderfully typical, cheap, tasty dish to have alongside something a little more filling!
6. Berejenas a la miel
These are aubergines (berejenas) with honey (miel). Always deep fried, and again, more a tasty treat than a belly-filler, these are an Andalusian speciality, particularly local to Granada, but also commonly found in Seville and Cordoba. If you find good ones they will be light and crispy. Especially perfect if you have a sweet tooth!
7. Tortillita de esparragos
This is… once again… a deep-fried dish. The Spanish just love their oil!! Embrace it and enjoy it, since you’re only here for three months! Any ‘tortillita’ is a deep-fried something, and the ‘what’ will depend on the full name. ‘Tortillitas de esparragos’ are – you guessed it! – deep-fried asparagus! You can also get, as another fantastic local speciality, ‘tortillita de camarones’: deep-fried shrimp tortilla. This is a super-thin, crispy ‘‘omelette’’ of sea-food deliciousness! For those pescatarians out there, this is one taste explosion that you should NOT miss if you see it on a menu.
8. Croquetas de boletus/croquetas de setas/croquetas de champiñones
‘Setas’ and ‘champiñones’ both mean ‘mushrooms’, and ‘boletus’ is also a kind of mushroom. So, all these three names refer to mushroom croquettes! These are far more difficult to find than regular croquettes which, whatever name they carry, will almost always contain ham. However, mushroom croquettes can be found here and there, if you keep your eyes open for them. You can also find general mushroom tapas around and about – again though, you have to remember to look. Keep an eye out for the words ‘champiñones’ and ‘setas’, and if in doubt
ask the waiter whether that particular dish
contains meat or fish, or, if so, if you can
have it ‘sin’ (without) these.
9. Paella de Verduras/cous cous de verduras/…anything ‘de verduras’
‘Verduras’ means ‘vegetables’… and ‘de verduras’ means ‘of vegetables’. And obviously, you all know what paella and cous cous are! So this is pretty self-explanatory. These dishes can vary in style, but are often spiced with curry flavours, just like the espinacas con garbanzos. Also like that dish, this tapa can tend to be quite oil-drenched… but this does add to the great flavour.
This may be last in our list but it certainly isn’t least. Pisto is a delicious, versatile and naturally vegetarian dish originating from the regions of Murcia and Castilla La Mancha – the two regions to the north and east and Andalusia. It’s a vegetable medley, a little like ratatouille, made from tomatoes, onions, courgettes and peppers (again, always the non-spicy kind). It’s traditionally offered as a starter before a main meal, so look out for it as a starter on menu-del-dias - but it can also be given as a tapa in its own right. It is often served with a fried egg (heuvo) on top, and is frequently sprinkled with bits of ham – so remember to ask the waiter to serve it ‘sin jamon’, and if you don’t like egg, ‘sin heuvo’.
Remember to look out for dishes with names you don’t know and try translating them on your phone or asking the waiters about them, as you may be pleasantly surprised by the original creations bars can sometimes offer. Also, ask waiters what meat-free and fish-free dishes they can offer. Aim for bars and restaurants that seem to bridge the gap between the touristy and the local: these will be the ones that offer the most chance of finding a good variety of quality dishes at reasonable prices. Especially make sure that you explore all the alleyways, from the heart of the city centre outwards - these are where you find the real gems! A tapa will generally cost you between 2 and 5 euros anywhere in the city.