How to Be a Vegetarian in Spain’s Foodie Capital

It’s not easy being a vegetarian foodie in Spain. Or at least, it’s not all that fun. In terms of veg options, most restaurants feature the same players: Tortilla, pimientos padrones, salmorejo (minus the ham), salad with goat cheese, a grilled veggie plate. These dishes are all perfectly yummy, but after the twentieth time eating them, I get bored.

So a recent trip to Spain’s gastronomic mecca, San Sebastían, promised a change of pace. San Sebastían, a coastal city on the Atlantic in the Basque region of Northern Spain, is known for its cuisine, which includes fresh fish, lots of octopus, and pinxtos (the Basque version of tapas, almost always served on a small piece of bread). Since I don’t eat fish, I was focused on the pinxtos.  Pinxtos dining works like this: You help yourself to as many pinxtos as you’d like from trays displayed on the bar and you get charged at the end. I scanned many pinxto displays in the bars and restaurants in San Sebastían’s old town. Some had no vegetarian options; some only offered dry Spanish tortilla atop bread; some had a piece of cheese atop bread. Boring. So I’ll just say it, while San Sebastían may very well be the gastro spot of Spain for the animal-consuming majority, it doesn’t hold the same prestige for vegetarians.

But still, a vegetarian can be happy in San Sebastían eating at the following places:

1. Borda Beri (Fermin Calbeton Kalea, 12): Hands-down the best, most creative, and freshest pinxtos in the old town, perhaps because everything is made-to-order; nothing is sitting out on the counter. The risotto made with Spain’s lovely and slightly smokey idiazabal sheep’s milk cheese was a creamy delight; the salmorejo (cold tomato soup) hit the spot and was beautifully presented; and a grilled slab of goat cheese atop a puree of plums was an interesting deviation from the more common goat-cheese-and-caramelized-onion combo.

2. Alameda (Minasoroeta Kalea, 1, Hondarribia): The Basque region holds the distinction of having more Michelin-starred restaurants per square meter than any other region in the world. Most are ridiculously expensive, but the one-star Alameda in nearby Hondarribia, is an amazing value (lunchtime five-course tasting menu for about 30 euros, an extra 18 euros with wine pairings). The town itself is charming and worth a stroll around, but the real reason for a visit to Hondarribia (a 20 minute bus ride from San Sebastían) is Alameda. I explained to the waitress that I’m a vegetarian and she talked to the chef and came back with a handwritten plan for five courses of veggie freshness. This is practically unheard of in Spain. I was delighted. And then delighted all over again when I ate the innovative plates, especially the creamy potato puree topped with the best spring peas I’ve ever tasted. A course of white asparagus didn’t seem exciting, but the albino spears were perfectly grilled, beautifully presented, and quite yummy. Dessert was a very good milk-soaked bread pudding of sorts with a fresh lemon sorbet. And all the wine was excellent especially the 2011 Cantos de Valpiedra from Rioja.

3. Koh Toa (Bengoetxea Kalea, 1). The food at this cool coffee shop is nothing to write home about, but the foamy cafe con leche, communal vibe, and readily available Internet made this a great spot to get some work done in a pleasant and non-touristy environment. The pan con tomate (grated tomato and olive oil on bread) for breakfast was particularly good.


And truth be told, even if the vegetarian food in San Sebastían isn’t super plentiful, with these views, I (almost) didn’t care.

To vegetarian foodies,

The Dame in Spain


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