Trans-Iberian

Trans-Iberian

Covering everything from the major news of the week and burning social issues, to expat living and la vida local, EL PAÍS’ team of English-language bloggers offers its opinions, observations and analysis on Spain and beyond.

No pigs, no pulpo, no problem: a vegetarian in Barcelona

Por: | 04 de mayo de 2012

Pigs

“And jamón ibérico?” A bemused look, a shake of the head and the discussion changes tack. Such has been the outcome of many a conversation I’ve had since moving to Barcelona last summer.

The Catalans, I have to conclude, don’t really get vegetarianism. They’re not against it, as such; rather the subject tends not to trouble their thoughts, until faced with an odd foreigner who’s not tucking into the fuet they’ve so diligently chopped for the table.

They may then feel a certain sad bewilderment at the whole state of affairs, as if they personally feel sorry for the pig whose tastiest cuts are being ignored. But it’s unlikely to overly trouble them as they tuck into their own meaty dinner later that night.

It’s not that the UK, where I come from, is overrun by vegetarians: a 2009 survey found that just 3% of the British population is “completely vegetarian”, with an additional 5% describing themselves as “partly vegetarian”.

That’s not a particularly high percentage but vegetarianism undoubtedly has more of a high profile in the UK than over here. For example, in Britain you generally wouldn’t invite someone to dinner without asking if they eat meat, while almost all restaurants will have a vegetarian option on their menu. The same cannot be said for Barcelona.

Why this might be is less clear. People have mentioned the influence of the hardships and hunger of the post-War years, when meat was a privilege to be eaten rarely, as a key factor in Catalan thinking. But then Britain had its own period of rationing during and after the Second World War which, while almost certainly not as extreme as the hunger suffered in Catalonia and Spain, clearly marked the nation’s psyche.

Possibly the most likely explanation I’ve heard for the lack of vegetarianism is cultural: food is indelibly linked to the local culture, the argument goes, while meat is eternally linked to food.

In this way meat dishes – and in particular local specialities like pollastre amb escamarlans, ànec amb peres and peus de porc – are an important part of the Catalan cultural legacy. To eschew them, then, is to turn your back on the heritage of which Catalans are so justifiably proud.

Britain, of course, has its own culinary traditions, many of which involve meat. But these are nowhere near as ingrained in British culture as Catalan dishes are here. It’s hard to imagine, for example, the Catalans embracing chicken tikka masala as a national dish as the British have done so enthusiastically over the past 30 years.

Meat being so closely linked with food in the Catalan mind also means that many locals feel a “proper” meal just isn’t complete without some element of meat to set it off. And, with food invariably related to feelings of parental love in households throughout the world, a lack of meat at the table may trigger feelings of neglect and pity in the average Catalan.

As a result, I’ve seen some truly heart-breaking looks as Catalan friends and family set down a vegetarian dish, which clearly doesn’t constitute a proper meal for them, for me to eat. It’s as if they’ve failed in the particularly Catalan game of feeding a foreigner to make them feel at home, no matter what I might say to persuade them.

The irony is that the vegetarian dishes they serve are inevitably excellent. In my nine months in Catalonia I’ve enjoyed fluffy potatoes from people’s gardens twinned with eggs from their hens; I’ve had clever and brilliantly executed salads; I’ve had variations on tortilla to make you cry with pleasure; and I’ve had smoky escalivada straight from the fire.

The same is true in restaurants and even the local bars. Of course, cutting out meat and fish does mean a rather limited choice sometimes – menús del día are often a casualty – but it’s hard to argue with a good plate of patatas bravas, a tapa of pimientos de Padrón or the ever popular aubergine chips with cheese and honey.

Naturally, there is a skill in cooking these dishes. But their success is also down to the excellence of the local ingredients. Catalonia is full of superb – and relatively cheap – fruit and vegetables, often sold in local markets. And this makes vegetarianism very easy to follow here, so long as you pay attention in restaurants.

You won’t be able to partake in jamón ibérico. But when you’ve tried a plate full of delicious, burly rovellon mushrooms, cooked with garlic and parsley, you may be a little less inclined to miss it.

Hay 17 Comentarios

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You could have a chat with Antonio Lorca, he needs to know what etic and human values are. Unfortunately spanish media still like "Spain is different" which means "Spain still a barbaric country".

Muchas gracias por tus artículos.

Barcelona is, actually, the most veggie-friendly city in Spain. In the rest of the country not eating meat is considered almost a crime!

Romesco sauce consists of toasted almonds and hazelnuts, roasted tomatoes and garlic, olive oil, vinegar, parsley, salt and small nyora red peppers – all blended together with a mortar and pestle. The salvitxada differs from Romesco sauce in that it is thickened with toast that’s been rubbed with roasted garlic and dipped in vinegar.

Como paso final antes de publicar el comentario, introduce las letras y números que se ven en la imagen de abajo. Esto es necesario para impedir comentarios de programas automáticos.

¿No puedes leer bien esta imagen? Ver una alternativa.

instead of worrying about the health of animals, how about your fellow man on the street, starving? most vegans and vegetarians i know are elitist and insensitive, using their diet as another distancer or "way to prove superiority" over others in a cultural way. Most vegans make double the salary of their meat eating bretheren. it is rarely about animals except for guilt ridden sorority girls looking for a cause.

Bueno, "darlins" who crossed the Pyrenees". Os dejo con vuestras "iberian ideas", siempre las mismas.

Os recuerdo que aunque hayáis comprado un "one-way ticket" podéis volver a casita cuando queráis... ¡por tierra, mar y aire!

I love you!

http://www.edreams.es/ofertas/vuelos/aerolinea/U2/easyjet/?mktportal=google&gclid=CNfo9onj8K8CFUUhtAodoBYCYQ

I believe through good communication, vegetarian food can be found anywhere. As long as the serving restaurants, cafes and eateries know what you want I have found most places that I've been to in Spain and UK to adjust their menu recipes rather than lose the customer.

There are many good restaurants in places like Barcelona and Madrid and in other parts of Spain, that offer good vegetarian alternatives and veggy friendly meals-

You can also access a directory of restaurants at my website http://vegetarian-restaurants-spain.eu.pn.

Do visit.

Hi Pandora and Caipirinha,
you can check how pigs lives and die in Spain: http://vimeo.com/11862518
I´m spanish and vegetarian, i know what are we talking about.

Hi Pandora,

I so much wish that the idilical idea about how an animal lives and die in Spain were true.. Even though it is true that Iberican pigs have a good quality of life, there are thousands of other pigs, cows, hens and other animals who live in the very same conditions in Spain as they do in the US, and i am talking because I have seen them. I used to live near a pig farm in Valencia. Sadly, Oscar Mayer sausages and most of the chorizos and meat you can find in Spain come from animals who suffered as well that very same "suffering, stuffing, slaughtering, feeding with transgenics and massive breeding ".

As for the homage paid to the animal, well, I will just ask a question: would anybody be able to pay that homage to their beloved dog or cat and eat them for dinner? I don´t think so.. Studies have found that pigs are smarter than dogs, having the same IQ as a 3 years old child.
And honestly, I doubt that if we could communicate with pigs, including the Iberican ones, they would say that they are glad to be killed just for our delight and are feeling honored for that. I wouldn´t feel that way at least if I were a pig...

Personally, I don´t have any "political claim" as a vegetarian, and I think that most of us respect others who eat meat. It is a personal choice, and I do respect everybody. I have a lot of friends and family who are not vegetarians, and still love and respect them, and they feel the same for me.

Even though, it is true that animals have no choice whatsover....

As a Spaniard abroad (this time in Switzerland, where the vegetarian community is by and large present and well taken into account, which I very much appreciate too), I perfectly understand the comment of Caipirinha. Spanish values and customs call for profound gratitude, both towards the host as for the animal. It is quite unlikely that the traditional recipes of a Spanish region are to be modified just for the political claims of a vegetarian guest, yet Spanish cuisine is so wonderfully varied that choosing should not be an issue. However, it is indeed a pity not trying many of our ibérico cold meat and sausages. Ibérico pigs live as kings in the meadows, eating acorns their entire life long. They are not confined in feedlots and treated like cows in the US or chicken sold by KFC. As for myself, I eat little meat and am well aware of the reasons why one would wish to be a vegetarian, yet I do share the need to pay individual homage to each product, to the "raw material" that was sacrificed for us as well as the need to be thankful that we can eat. To me, that makes a huge difference compared to the endless suffering, stuffing, slaughtering, feeding with transgenics and massive breeding of a country like, say, the United States.

Well, I don´t quite agree with the previous comment. I am also a spaniard abroad, and I am a vegan ( means that I don´t eat any animal product whatsover, not even milk or eggs) and we never ask anyone to cook differently for us when we are invited somewhere. In such situation, we usually say: "But don´t worry for our food, we will bring it over" . If the host offers to cook vegan for us (which usually does, since a good host likes to treat his/her guests) , then we appreciate it, of course, but we never demand them to cook something different for us... We rather bring extra food for them to try a different way of eating :)

And, being vegan or vegetarian is not about being snobish, selfish or ungrateful, it is about respecting animals and nature, and ourselves. There is no need to kill any being and contaminate the whole planet just for us to eat, when there are lots of delicious healthy cheap dishes based on plants!

Not only in Cataluña, I might add, but everywhere else in Spain. As a spaniard abroad my biggest shock came when we invited Indian vegetarians for the first time for dinner (without giving much thought to the menu) and of course, we offered them our beautiful ibérico products...imported specially for our dinner parties. Needless to say I had to run back to the kitchen to rework the menu while they were enjoying some olives I managed to pull out! Haha!!
Since then, I have to ask: "do you have any dietary considerations I should be aware of?" when hosting at home... something I would never ever have thought of doing back home.
No disrespect for medical diets, allergies, religions, etc, but at home, we ate what was given to us. If you didn't like it, you still ate it.
And so, as adults, we just appreciate what is served by our host, it's our sign of gratitude.

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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of Andalucia.com and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at korenhelbig.com.

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area perelloplus.com. @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Spain-Holiday.com. Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check: www.lookingfordrama.com.

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