The Cheat has a brush with vegetarianism vicariously through his new intern, learning that Spain isn't the most accommodating place for herbivores.
Recently my new little company had a French student come down for a one month internship (read free slave labour). She turned out to be a fantastic hard worker, talented aspiring designer, and all around good egg. She also turned out to be vegitarian, which I was to discover is a problem in these parts if meals out are to be enjoyed. Being a meat enthusiast of many years, I have never given this any consideration, but after having to organize several working lunches I quickly realized that in Spain, at least here in Catalunya, being a grass eater presents hurdles at most mealtimes.
I asked around for vegetarian dishes, and was shocked to discover that by and large, most menus del dia come up short in that department. “This makes no sense” I thought. After my few years of blissful life in Spain, I have come to think of, brag even, of this country’s abundance of amazingly fresh fruit and vegetables, of its delicious markets, of the sheer quantity and quality of food in general. Then I sat down for lunch in a better restaurant in the village outside of Barcelona where the studio is based with my intern and found out that aside from salads and beans, second course options were all meat and fish.
Hmm. The always amicable staff offered tortilla as a substitute, which was readily accepted, but I couldn’t help but feel that one of the nicest bits of living in Spain was being missed here. Surely there must be more to meat and fishless dinning on the Iberian Peninsula. Some research turned up interesting dishes, like asparagus dowsed in cheeses and boiled artichokes, among many other cooked vegetables, but I was disappointed to note that these were simple preparations of singular elements, not dishes per se. As a temporary vegetarian once some years ago, I discovered that I was easily satisfied with Thai, Indian and other Asian meals where vegetables were blended into rice or noodles of other surprising things to give me volume as well as multitudes of diverse flavours. Of course the salads, vegetarian Paella and many bean dishes here are awesome, its just that most places don’t set up the menu del dia in a way to offer a complete vegetarian package. They will in most cases split and dice up whatever they have on offer to suit, but certainly you are not spoiled for choice.
In a country famous for pork, pork bits, legs of pig, pig cheeks, pig skin, etc., to say nothing of fish and seafood, this is a land that invites fans of open gastronomy. To the vegetarian, or ecological minded eater (please don’t eat Cod, the fisheries are completely wrecked and no amount of “its essential to the cultural/fishermen establishment” is going to matter when they are all extinct in ten years and we are eating some McCod, synthesized shit) there is still a lot to enjoy, but it requires making some decisions and working a little for it when eating out. In the big cities of Spain, the international cuisine scene is thriving making this less problematic, but next time your vegetarian friend or intern accompanies you on a luncheon in a village or on a Sunday evening with limited choices for open establishments, be prepared to make some compromises, and think fast.
Otherwise, shop in the marvelous open markets and thrill in the orgy of fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts and grains that Spain offers and cook feasts at home. The picnic is a lost art, so make that great meal and head for the beach, park, mountain or rooftop terrace and take advantage of the other thing Spain is peerless at : peerless weather with a view.