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Kitchen equipment of an old churchThe experience for a vegan eating out in restaurants in Spain can range from being daunting (not knowing what the dishes and especially the sauces contain) to verging on the rather monotonous, for reasons explained below. (See my blog here about what I packed for the Camino di Santiago – clothes and food.)

The country is completely self-sufficient by growing every imaginable crop (tropical fruit may come from the Canary Islands), and the markets are brimming with the bounty of the land. Depending on the area, a 3 – 4 page menu will mostly offer meat, fish (if it’s near the coast) and cheese dishes. In our experience after travelling around Spain for 3 months and visiting hundreds of villages for morning snacks, lunches, afternoon snacks, tapas and dinners, you may expect a few truly vegan dishes at some establishments, for example: grilled, plain red bell peppers in garlic and olive oil; pan-fried “Pimientos de Padron” (small, sweet green bell peppers in olive oil and salt; “Escalivada” (grilled mixed vegetables); “Gazpacho” (raw tomato soup) and salads: some would be downright soulless consisting of a plate of iceberg lettuce, tomato quarters, olives (if you ask for them), corn (if you’re lucky, bottled), asparagus (bottled, even when in season); while others are wonderfully satisfying with up to 12 different vegetables in them.

Grilled vegetables - a standard menu item

Grilled vegetables – a standard menu item

RESTAURANTS

Fried broad beans, baked chickpeas and fried giant corn kernels

Fried broad beans, baked chickpeas and fried giant corn kernels

So, to make one’s dishes more interesting, and to take the stress away when you eat out with visiting family or friends, COME PREPARED. Bring your own protein source, for example hotel room-sprouted quinoa or mung beans), plastic container of cooked lentils; little bag of lightly salted almonds and toasted cashews; huge maze kernels found at the markets; small tin or jar of chickpeas/peas/beans, opened and rinsed out in your room; vegan cheese or spread; packet of marinated tofu; slices of tempeh; slices of vegan cold ‘meats’, etc. At the Paradors, there is a separate vegetarian menu with at least 3 or 4 vegan choices with each course. These dishes are outstanding, varies according to the season and the region, are balanced and delicious (they’ve been drawn up by the Vegetarian Society of Spain).

Interestingly, where I have been disappointed (outraged!) a number of times with the food and service was not at the regular restaurants, but at the Vegetarian ones. They will insist on adding cheese or eggs to your dish, even after asking expressively to omit these (we spoke English and Spanish). My advice is to either go to purely vegan eateries (they are doing a fantastic job), or go to the regular restaurants. I found the waiters extremely knowledgable about vegan food, they were helpful steering me around the menu or suggesting how they will be able to veganize a meal.

THE CAMINO

Baskets of dried pulses - a vegan's delight

Baskets of dried pulses – a vegan’s delight

If you stay in accommodation that has a kitchen, it is very easy to eat vegan. Dried pulses are light to carry and provide an easy protein. On the Camino are various shops: some selling only fresh vegetables and fruit; others stock produce, dried pulses and nuts apart from the usual cheese and meat. There are also tiny supermarket-style delis offering jars of preserved vegetables (such as asparagus, beans, chickpeas etc), chocolates (lots of dark, vegan options), dried mushrooms and olive oil. Dried beans take too long to cook, and you will be too tired! Couscous, millet, buckwheat and quinoa are quick to prepare, add a tin of cooked pulses and vegetables. Bake your own vegan biscuits before you go on the Camino to take with you.

In my experience, it’s actually easier to be raw vegan on the Camino. Then there’s no expectation of finding vegetable patties or tofu anywhere! Take your nut milk bag with you, soak mung beans, chickpeas or lentils (available all along the way) overnight in a mug or bowl, then sprout. Supplement further with bliss balls (roughly grind together dates, raw cashews and cinnamon – all available along the Camino – to make your own bliss balls along the way), nuts, fresh vegetables, fruit and dried fruit; buy glass jars or ring-pulled tins with asparagus, mushrooms, chestnuts etc.; take with you little bags of spirulina powder and raw protein powder for your protein needs. There are lovely picnic spots in the towns’ parks or at the entrances of villages. Recycling bins are usually close-by.

Bliss balls: raw cashews, dates, cacao and cinnamon

Bliss balls: raw cashews, dates, cacao and cinnamon

Santiago- on old doorKeep in mind that for siesta, the shops all close at either 12 or 1pm, to open again only at 4:30 or 5pm.

BRING WITH FROM ORGANIC SHOPS IN BIGGER TOWNS:

High protein grains, such as quinoa (which cooks quickly and can be sprouted), millet or amaranth are not readily available in the smaller towns, so bring your own in a small bag. White rice is available but sometimes not brown. I brought along savoury and sweet vegan biscuits; vegan spreads made from sunflower seed; few tablespoons of nut butter spooned into a tiny plastic jar; TVP which is super light in weight and cooks in minutes; vegan chorizo and tofu sausages; sugar-free protein powder (even better if it contains probiotics).

SUPPLEMENTS TO TAKE ON THE CAMINO
Vitamins: CoQ10 (for energy); B12 and iron; probiotics that don’t need refrigeration (with these you can also ferment your nut milks overnight to make yoghurt).

SNACKS

Bottled hazelnuts and spelt savoury biscuits

Bottled hazelnuts and spelt savoury biscuits

I baked my own rusks beforehand when I had an oven (with lots of dried fruit, nuts and protein powder for a solid snack); dried fruit (especially figs for calcium, raisins (not sultanas) for iron, goji berries (for calcium and iron), apricots and dates (for magnesium and energy); nuts and seeds for energy and some protein. Buy these at the produce shops in the towns you’ll be passing through. Vegan chocolate is available everywhere (the higher percentage the less likely to melt easily in the heat) – I buy 85%. Vegan, sugar-free protein energy bars: in my experience sugar depletes your energy levels very fast. Look for items sweetened with date paste or raisins.

LIQUIDS

There are water fountains all along the route, but it’s best to consult a good map to see where they are indicated. We carried a filter water bottle to fill at the many fountains to cut down on buying plastic water bottles. I brought along a couple of small boxes of rice/soy/oat milk to vary my diet. I’d open these in the evenings, add probiotic powder and leave at room temperature to ferment, making my own yoghurt for the morning. I took a small one cup plastic bottle of Kombucha fermented tea with me: these are very high in Vitamin B (which gets depleted with excessive exercise), probiotics (a good protection should you encounter a stomach bug) and it gives loads of energy.

OTHER SMALL ITEMS

I took along small bags of salt; herbs; blend of cumin and coriander; ground black pepper; dried mushrooms and a zip-lock bag with interesting herbal teas. I also brought my own muesli which is sugar-free and one small half-cup plastic container of soy sugar-free dessert with added probiotics as a treat for one of the days.

Dry mushrooms, licorice sticks and dried fruits

Dry mushrooms, licorice sticks and dried fruits

Some VEGAN menu items you may encounter in cafés and restaurants:

You may want to get out of the midday sun or pelting rain by going inside an eatery for a spot of lunch. For vegan options, it’s best to order side dishes and starters. Supplement with the items listed above. These are traditionally always vegan:

VEGETABLES:

“Escalivada” – grilled eggplant, onion, and bell pepper

“Aceitunas” – olives 

“Champiñones al ajillo” – garlic-sauteed mushrooms 

“Alcachofas al ajillo” – garlic-sauteed artichokes

“Pimientos asados” – roasted bell peppers

“Pan con tomate” or “Pa amb tomaquet” – bread rubbed with ripe tomato, olive oil, salt, garlic, ASK IF IT COMES WITH MEAT (HAM, BACON)

“Berenjena con miel” – fried eggplant strips drizzled with honey
, ASK TO OMIT HONEY “Zarangollo” – zucchini and onion stew

SALADS

“Amanida catalana” – mixed salad : ASK NO tuna / egg / mayo / bacon
“Espinacs a la catalana” – spinach (or sometimes chard “bledes”) with pine nuts, raisins and ham – ASK NO HAM

SOUPS
” Gazpachio” or “Gaspatxo” – cold soup of blended raw tomato, breadcrumbs, oil, garlic, onions, cucumber and bell pepper
“Ajo blanco” or “Sopa de almendras” – cold soup of blended skinned almonds, olive oil, garlic, vinegar, salt and breadcrumbs), served with grapes and sliced apple – ASK NO CHICKEN STOCK and NO EGG
“Sopa de col” – cabbage soup – ASK NO CHICKEN STOCK

SAUCES

“Sofregit” – reduction of caramelised onions, fresh tomatoes and herbs
“Samfaina” – the above sauce plus roast eggplant, courgette, peppers
“Picada” – spicy, usually breadcrumbs, garlic, almonds, saffron and pine nuts
“All i oli” – garlicky, mayo-like, but egg-less

DESSERT

“Postre de músic” – bowl of mixed nuts and dried fruit

Spain - a country that blends the ancient with the modern effortlessly

Spain – a country that blends the ancient with the modern effortlessly

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