In this guide to ordering vegetarian Spanish food in the province of Malaga, we’ll look at which traditional Spanish dishes are vegetarian and vegan friendly. Spain’s known for its delicious food, but what about for vegetarians and vegans? And what about if you’re also gluten free…?
So without further ado, let’s get started!
Getting by in Andalusia as a Vegetarian
One important word you’ll need to learn is SIN. Sin means without. Sin carne, sin jamón, sin pescado, sin gluten... Without meat, without ham, without fish, without gluten.
Watch out! In Spain, ham (jamón) isn’t classed as meat (carne). Instead it’s part of the group called embutidos, along with sausage, blood sausage etc. So if you’ve been assured that something something is sin carne, don’t be surprised if it then comes plastered in ham.
It’s best to get the habit of asking if it’s, sin carne, sin jamón y sin pescado.
As you can see, SIN is a pretty essential word. Which leads me to the next point…how to tell the waiter what your diet is.
Describing Your Diet Requirements
- Soy vegetariana – I’m vegetarian (female)
- Soy vegetariano – I’m vegetarian (male)
- Soy vegana – I’m vegan (female)
- Soy vegano – I’m vegan (male)
- Soy celiaca – I’m a celiac (female)
- Soy celiaco – I’m celiac (male)
Saying what you want
- Quiero… (la ensalada) sin (atun) y sin (huevo) – I’d like the (salad) without (tuna and egg)
Asking questions about a dish
- ¿(La pasta) lleva carne? Lleva pescado or atún? Lleva jamón? – Does it have meat – fish or tuna – ham?
- ¿Tiene gluten? – Does it have gluten in it?
- ¿Se puede pedir sin…? – Can it be ordered without….?
- ¿Es sin gluten? – Is it gluten free?
- ¿Es vegano/vegetariano? Is it vegan/vegetarian?
Recognising Spanish Vegetarian Tapas on the Menu
Tapas tend to be largely made up of meat and fish options but there are some you can find that are vegetarian, vegan or gluten free, and others you can ask for which you may not know about. Here is quick a guide so you know what to look for when you’re out and about in the province of Malaga.
- Aceitunas – olives, not really a tapa but always available and naturally vegan and gluten free as long as they’re the home-grown looking type which are split open. If they’re the more uniform whole ones, they probably come from a tin or container and could be anchovy flavoured (sabor a anchoa). The ones pictured below are the safe variety.
- Ensalada de pimientos asados– roasted pepper salad. Made from pepper, onion and tomato, this is usually naturally vegan and gluten free but look carefully that it hasn’t had tuna added to it, and ask whether it’s ‘casero’ to check that it’s homemade which is always much tastier than the shop bought version.
- Tapa de porra (Antequerana) – cold tomato & garlic thick creamy dip/soup, usually served with ham, egg and tuna but request it sin jamón, sin huevo y sin atún to make it vegetarian. In most places the ham egg and tuna is just sprinkled on top so they have the pure porra in the kitchen. Just make sure that the ham isn’t mixed into the porra and has only been added on top in the tapas display. This tapa can’t be adapted for gluten free because it’s full of bread.
- Coliflor – made from plain cauliflower, fried garlic, olive oil and seasoning so it’s naturally vegan and gluten free.
- Champiñones a la plancha – mushrooms from the grill. This tapa is vegan and gluten free – but the grill should be clean so that the food doesn’t get contaminated by the meat or fish. Personally I only order this in places if I can see there’s a separate grill for vegetables or if I know the cook.
- Setas a la plancha – Funghi from the grill. Naturally vegan and gluten free, but the same warnings as the mushrooms regarding the cleanliness of the grill.
- Patatas bravas – these potatoes can be any variant on a chip or fried potato, served with what is called a spicy tomato ketchup but isn’t actually normally very spicy. If you’re gluten free watch out for this one – you’ll have to check that the potatoes are from fresh potatoes and fried in a separate fryer. Frozen chips often contain gluten. Same with the sauce. Ask to be sure.
- Pimientos del cabrón – mini green peppers deep fried and eaten whole. Again, this one depends on the fryers being clean or the vegetables being fried in a separate frying pan from the fish and croquettes.
- Alcachofas – artichokes from the tin served cold with olive oil and fried garlic and a slice of lemon. Some places may serve with mayonnaise but not normally. Naturally vegan and gluten free if served sin mayonesa y sin pan.
- Tortilla Española – Spanish omelette by the slice. Normally contains egg and potato, or egg, potato and onion. Other varieties are also possible, like asparagus omelette (tortilla de esparragos) or broad bean omelette (tortilla de habas). Ask for it sin pan (without bread) if you’re gluten free.
- Patatas alioli – Cold potato salad in garlic mayonnaise dressing. It quite often has tuna added so watch out.
- Tapa de queso – cheese tapas, usually served with bread sticks or bread so request it sin piquitos/sin pan if you’re gluten free.
Menu del Día in Spain
In most traditional places you can order the ‘menu del día‘, which means a 3 course meal with 1 drink all for a very cheap price (currently 9€ per head in my town and 10-12€ on the coast).
Menu del día can be ordered during lunch hours of weekdays. It’s supposed to be for workers so that they can afford their meals and that’s why it’s not available on weekends – except when you’re in a tourist area.
The price will vary depending where you are of course, but it’s always great value. And remember they really don’t mind if you order 2 starters instead of a main, or 2 mains instead of a starter.
You can also explain that you’re vegetarian and order something that isn’t even on the menu del día – I’ve never had anywhere object to that but you do have to keep it to something basic like salads or chips or cheese or eggs.
Some Vegan and Vegetarian First Courses on a Menu del Día
- Ensalada mixta – ask for sin atún or without tuna and sin huevo – without egg if you’re vegan. The salad is normally served with olive oil and vinegar so it’s usually gluten free.
- Porra Antequerana – the cold tomato and garlic soup/dip, not gluten free but very tasty (see the tapas). Ask for it sin jamón (without ham), sin atún (without tuna) and sin huevo for vegans and make sure they don’t just remove the ham & tuna but instead serve you a fresh plate without contamination.
- Tomate picado – this basically means chopped tomato. Some places serve it with onion and other places just the tomato.
- Ensalada de tomate y ajo – this is a delicious salad of tomato and chopped garlic, which you can ask for almost anywhere. It’s a well recognised dish that’s almost never on the menu. Ask for it con perejil to add fresh parsley to it. Naturally vegan and gluten free.
- Gazpacho – famous cold tomato soup. This often has bread in it so I’d be very careful ordering this if you’re gluten free in a restaurant but in the shops you can get gazpacho sin gluten no problem.
- Pisto – the Spanish version of Ratatouille, pisto is made of fried onion, pepper, aubergine or courgette, garlic and tomatoes and is served with a fried egg. Ask for it sin huevo to make it vegan and check that it’s sin gluten before ordering – it usually is but better to be safe. Some places put chips/potatoes into their pisto and the chips could be a source of gluten contamination.
- Crema de Calabacín – thick courgette soup. This can have chicken stock and/or cheese in it so it’s best to ask, but it’s often vegan, with just courgettes, onions, potato and water making up the ingredients.
- Arroz a la Cubana – not very often, but occasionally you’ll see this cooked rice dish (usually cooked with garlic), topped with tomato frito and served with a fried egg on top. Ask for it sin huevo to make it vegan and check that it’s sin gluten – it usually is.
- Revuelto de setas or revuelto de asparagus – Eggs scrambled Spanish style with wild mushrooms or asparagus. Be wary of wild asparagus which is delicious if you like it but definitely an acquired taste and nothing like the asparagus sold in supermarkets. Often the revuelto will be with some form of meat, but you can always ask if they can make a vegetarian revuelto.
Vegetarian Main Courses for Menu del Día:
- Patatas con huevo – fried egg and chips. Check that the chips are fried in a separate fryer to avoid gluten, meat or fish contamination.
- Tortilla Francesa – French omelette, usually served with chips so the same as above.
I’ve often ordered patatas con ensalada mixta o tomate picado for my main dish. That is, chips with salad or tomato salad but only if the chips are cooked in their own fryer or especially done in a frying pan for me.
Other Vegetarian Spanish Food
For cooking at home there are quite a few traditional recipes that can be adapted to vegetarian but here we’re looking at vegetarian Spanish food that is naturally vegetarian, vegan and/or gluten free. Apart from the things I’ve mentions for menu del día there are several more.
- Patatas a lo pobre – potatoes slow cooked in deep olive oil with garlic and red pepper. The resulting potatoes are soft and tasty. Naturally vegan and gluten free (but always ask).
- Berenjenas con miel – a favourite of many people in summer time, this dish is made of thinly sliced aubergines in a light batter and deep fried. No good if you’re gluten free. This dish could be vegan as long as it was fried in a separate fryer from all the other foods like battered chicken, fish, which is unlikely. Served with sugar-cane syrup on top.
- Tostada con queso de cabra – Toast with goats cheese on top.
- Verduras a la parrilla – vegetables cooked on the grill. Check the cleanliness of the grill to avoid meat contamination.
- Patatas con huevo – standard egg and chips, available almost everywhere even when not on the menu. But again, check how they’re cooked.
- Pipi-rana – a mix of finely chopped onion, green pepper, tomato and cucumber dressed with olive oil and vinegar. Watch out for added tuna.
- Garbanzos con espinacas – Chick peas with spinach. Often cooked with bread so watch out for that if you’re gluten free.
- Ajo blanco – No good if you’re gluten free, this white, cold soup is based on bread, garlic and almonds.
- Paella vegetal – Although you can find vegetable paella, I don’t order it because of the tradition of adding a gravy cube to the water when cooking rice. So unless I know the chef, this isn’t one I’d be ordering. But you can always ask.
I hope you found this guide to vegetarian Spanish food in Andalusia useful. Do you have any more typical Spanish vegetarian dishes to add to this list? If so, let us know in the comments section.