Being a foodie and being a vegetarian are not mutually exclusive. In fact, stepping away from meat can open your eyes to a whole load of interesting ingredients you might not have thought about before. This can especially be the case when travelling, as new flavours are found everywhere.

One thing to bear in mind, however, is that if you do intend to go abroad with specific dietary requirements, it’s a good idea to do a bit of planning in advance. This will mean you can have fantastic food, as opposed to simply settling for the one vegetarian option on the menu.

In Spain, this is specifically important, as the Spanish are fairly carnivorous as a culture. Fear not, help is at hand. Here you will find out everything you need to know for a fantastic vegetarian holiday in Madrid.

Being a veggie on Madrid’s food scene

Photo credit: iStock/leskasWhile there is a lot of meat in Spanish cuisine, there are also plenty of options that are vegetarian. For starters, tapas is your friend, as you can pick and choose the items that suit you. There is always a selection of vegetable-based dishes that meat eaters have as accompaniments to their other choices and they are packed with flavour.

It used to be the case that Spaniards found vegetarianism a strange concept, but in this day and age most restaurants will be more than adept at coping with it. The waiting staff might still give you a playful look of incredulity when you say you’re vegetarian, though.

Dishes to look out for on the menu

Photo credit: iStock/martinturzak/Barbara Dudzinska/elena_hramowaIt’s all well and good there being veggie options, but it’s less helpful if you can’t identify them. If you can spot any of these then you know you’re on safe ground:

Aceitunas – olives are a great place to start enjoying the flavours of Madrid yet stick to a veggie diet.

Pimientos de padron – a sizzling plate of slightly picante green peppers, charred at the edges and scattered with salt is hard to beat.

Huevos rotos – fried potatoes with eggs on top, which are often ceremoniously broken open at the table, allowing the yolk to dribble down.

Patatas bravas – think the best roast potatoes you’ve ever had topped off with a generous helping of spicy homemade tomato sauce.

Patatas ali oli – this time the potatoes are drenched in a garlic mayonnaise sauce.

Berenjenas con miel – delicious slices of fried aubergine drizzled with honey may sound like a strange choice, but it’s a hit with many vegetarians in Madrid.

Tempura de verdura – vegetables dipped in batter and fried until they’re crispy will go down a treat.

Salmorejo – a cold tomato-based vegetable soup made with cucumbers, peppers, onions and garlic, as well as bread, which gives it a smooth yet thick consistency.

Croquetas de queso – potato or béchamel croquettes coated in breadcrumbs and fried, with a cheesy surprise inside.

Croquetas de espinacas – croquettes containing spinach.

Tortilla de patata – omelettes have long been a failsafe option for vegetarians, but the Spanish know how to do them with style. Deep and packed full of potatoes, this tapa can be served hot or cold and even in a piece of crusty bread for a great lunch.

Know the lingo

Photo credit: iStock/Jacob Ammentorp Lund

As well as knowing what to look for, it’s a good idea to know how to communicate with your waiter or waitress that you want a meat-free meal. Not only will this help them to recommend dishes for you, but should ensure that something that is usually veggie isn’t given a house twist with chorizo or jamon added in.

These phrases should help:

Soy vegetariano/vegetariana – I am vegetarian. The ‘o’ ending is male and the ‘a’ denotes female.

Yo no como carne/pescado – I don’t eat meat/fish.

¿Hay platos de verduras? – Are there any vegetable dishes?

Best veggie joints in Madrid

Photo credit: iStock/lavendertime

While you can usually find something on the menu in most restaurants that is vegetarian, sometimes it’s nice to have a bigger selection. Check out some of these spots that specialise in meat-free cuisine:

Yerbebuena – Large portions of imaginative veggie food, served up in a modern setting, this centrally located restaurant is a hit with most vegetarians. Be sure to check the specials before you order, although the aubergine moussaka never fails to impress. Find it on Calle Bordadores, near Puerta del Sol.

El Estragon – For a traditionally Spanish vibe, you can’t beat this establishment in Plaza de la Paja. Enjoy paella or gazpacho, soups or salads that are really flavoursome, either in the main dining room or out on the terrace.

Rayen Vegano – A small vegan café located close to many of Madrid’s most well-known museums on Calle Lope de Vega, Rayen Vegano is a perfect lunch spot mid-sightseeing. Enjoy fresh soup, homemade bread and tempting cakes – all created without animal products.

Top tips for a vegetarian holiday in Madrid

· Falafels are a great veggie way to refuel on the go. They’re healthy, filling and available to take away, as well as being for sale all over the city to give you the energy boost you need to get on with the sightseeing.

· Do check that dishes are meat-free, as it’s amazing how often some diced ham or little bits of chorizo can be added to usually vegetarian dishes.

· Don’t be afraid to eat in restaurants that aren’t strictly vegetarian, as you should be able to find something to suit you.

Having started her travelling career at the age of five on a trip to Africa with her family, Emma has gone on to visit more than 45 countries across the globe. Highlights have included taking part in a tango lesson in Argentina, seeing Victoria Falls from both sides and getting lost among the streets of the Albaicin in Granada.

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