One challenging week as a vegetarian in Barcelona

Is life really that difficult as a vegetarian in Barcelona? We challenged the predominantly meat and fish-based Catalan cuisine through a week of discovering restaurants, organic shops and vegan eateries in the city. Ham legs tied to the ceiling do not help the perception that vegetarians would have to survive on a diet of nuts and bread, but after our search we found that Barcelona is an incredibly vegetarian-friendly city. This short guide, organised following the days of the week, will help you to know your way around it.

A fruit stall at La Boqueria market (by A. Martínez)
A fruit stall at La Boqueria market (by A. Martínez) / Harneet Bahal / Amélie Martinez

Harneet Bahal / Amélie Martinez

March 2, 2015 06:00 PM

Barcelona (CNA).- Food is one of the main local cultural features, and Catalan cuisine is especially replete with typical meat and fish dishes such as ‘Estofats’ (meat and vegetable stew), ‘Esqueixada’ (salted cod salad with tomato and onion), ‘Embotits’ (cured dried sausages) and ‘Botifarras’ (Catalan raw sausage). Being vegetarian in the Catalan capital can seem nerve-wracking and challenging, bumping into ham shops with legs tied to the ceiling at every corner is not an easy way to feel welcome in a city. However, once you overcome the first impression, Barcelona is a very friendly place for non-meat- and fish-eaters, offering a large range of vegetarian products, while at the same time, revealing the wealth of Catalan food.

Monday-shopping at an Organic store

Monday is as one of the best days to go shopping as most of the shops are empty of customers, enabling you to choose quietly which products are the best and cheapest. There are a lot of organic shops in Barcelona and almost every neighborhood has a vegetarian store. One of them is Veritas, the leading organic supermarket chain in Spain, based in Barcelona. This refined shop offers a great variety of products, from pastries to cleaning products, and more conventional ingredients such as tofu and organic pasta. Prices are a little steeper than average but you can find some cheap offers, for instance, a bottle of organic wine ranges from 4 to 15 euros. Some rare products can also be found in Veritas, such as specific varieties of mushrooms and seeds. Although the packaging is often rather elementary (for ecological reasons), it still succeeds in staying appealing through good use of colour and original styles, not to mention that all the ingredients are written in English on every product.  

Tuesday at Teresa Carles, a renowned vegan restaurant

By consistently seeing Teresa Carles ranked as one of the best restaurants in Barcelona, it was a given that we were going to help ourselves to a meal at the famous, if slightly expensive, vegetarian restaurant. Individual dishes were around 12-14 euros each but to our delight, Teresa Carles offers a wide array of options as part of a 13 euro three-course meal and being the food connoisseurs that we are, we had already decided which dishes we were going to devour. The best bit about this place is that the cuisine ranges from Thai to Italian and so there’s something for everyone. It felt great to have a meal without having to worry about whether a piece of chicken could have slipped into the soup or if the dishes were being cooked in the same pan where a piece of fish had just been fried. We left the restaurant with our stomachs stuffed and with a sincere determination to return as soon as they post the set menu options for the month of March online.

Wednesday, the Markets phenomenon

Markets are everywhere in Barcelona. They are a great opportunity, as nothing is better than choosing food on display while getting a sense of the various colours, textures and smells at the same time. Even if these places are far from being 100% vegetarian, you will always be able to find a section dedicated to vegetarian products. It is hard to stay in Barcelona and miss La Boqueria on the main walkway of Les Rambles. This wonderful market is full of appetising products, transcending you into an Eden for the senses, from fresh fruits to pastries, as well as vegetables and spices. Veggies should be careful not to venture into the meat and fish section or you could involuntarily be confronted with some beheaded animals and hanging guts.

Among the most famous markets in the Catalan capital, mention must be made of the Sant Antoni market in Ronda Sant Pau, open every day except Sunday, and which is far bigger than La Boqueria and less crowded by tourists. If you want to hear stallholders chanting prices and offers in Catalan, you can also go to the Santa Caterina Market in the El Born neighbourhood. This is the most recently constructed market in Barcelona, as it was renovated in 2005 by Enric Miralles and Benedetta Tagliabue, and is characterised by multi-colour ceramic roof waves on a wooden structure, covering all the market stalls, which offer a large range of fresh products.

Thursday, time for a beer at Cat Bar

Located in a hidden comer in El Born, Cat Bar is an artisan beer bar and vegan burger joint. This British bar very aptly has a cat theme and an alternative vibe, which puts it in stark contrast to other vegan bars/restaurants. The burgers lived up to the hype and having a beer sampling menu certainly does add to the allure of Cat Bar. It was also a relief that because this place served vegan food we did not have to have long-drawn-out and badly translated conversations with waiters explaining how we do not want our meal to include meat, fish or eggs. A mention of the live music must also be made as there is a piano available for anyone who wishes to give it a try and it is not odd to occasionally find a random guitarist, who was passing by, strumming away.

Let’s experience falafels and tapas on Friday and Saturday!

On Friday we found ourselves excitedly heading to Maoz Vegetarian, a falafel salad bar with a reputation for leaving your clothes bursting at the seams. Although there isn’t much of a seating area, the concept behind this salad bar would please anyone looking for a delicious meal on a budget. The best part is that you can refill your pita bread with toppings or sauces as many times as you want and, as hungry students, I have got to say that we ensured we had more than our fair share of refills. This is an excellent fast food option, without the horrid drawbacks of fast food, since the food is fresh and healthy.

Saturday, walking down the streets of El Born, we were surprised to see how many Tapas bars were hidden away in the nooks of the city. These little samples of food are always amazingly tasty and imaginative, a whole host of savoury foods and various textures. You will almost always be able to find vegetarian options among the numerous propositions offered to you. If you are not sure what the 'tapa' is made of, simply ask the waiters who will be pleased to help you learn more about this traditional food made with love for customers.

On Sunday, in order to bring our enjoyable week as a vegetarian in Barcelona to an end, we decided to cook a meal together not only to have a try at cooking with organic products, but also because we were running short on cash after a week of consistently eating out. Surprisingly enough, even though there would be the occasional piece of ham in your sandwich or the usual ordeal of explaining your situation to waiters who are unfamiliar with English, we found Barcelona to be extremely vegetarian-friendly.