While eating out in Spain can seem difficult for a vegetarian, it's not impossible. If you think you'll be relegated to salads, think again—you can get vegetarian food in Spain. The nine dishes below are the most popular truly vegetarian dishes in Spain, but you're sure to uncover regional variations of other dishes that might be vegetarian-friendly. Wherever you are, make sure to ask before you take a bite of that croqueta or other nibbles; many dishes might include meat that isn't obvious at first glance.
While it's often described as a cold soup, that image sometimes conjures up the idea of a bowl of chowder that has been left out all day. Instead, think of it instead as a "liquid salad."
In Spain, gazpacho consists of fresh tomatoes, fresh cucumber, fresh peppers, olive oil, vinegar, garlic, and salt, with optional onion for kick and sometimes bread to act as a thickener and nothing else. Just these ingredients and nothing from a tin—contrary to what many American recipe websites might tell you.
Patatas bravas is another popular Spanish vegetarian dish. Coarsely chopped potatoes covered with a spicy sauce are usually the order of the day, though sometimes you'll see potato wedges or halved new potatoes pass for "bravas."
Alas, unfortunately sometimes the sauce is replaced for any pink sauce, as many Spaniards can't handle even a touch of heat. If you'd like it spicy, the bar might have a bottle of tabasco gathering dust somewhere.
Tortilla de Patata
If a tapas bar in Spain doesn't have a tortilla on the bar top, it's not a tapas bar. Are you sure you're in Spain? This is an omelet with potatoes and often onion, but you can put almost anything in a tortilla. Zucchini is a popular addition. On some occasions, this often-vegetarian dish may contain ham. A simple "tortilla de patatas" on the menu won't have meat, but if you're just pointing to a tortilla on the bar top and can't be sure, you should ask.
Berenjenas con Miel
Berenjenas con miel are slices or pieces of aubergine or eggplant, fried and covered in a dark, slightly bitter honey or molasses. These are especially popular in Malaga.
There is little difference between salmorejo and gazpacho. Salmorejo, occasionally referred to as "porra antequerana," is a thicker version of gazpacho, achieved by adding quite a lot of bread. This one does resemble a tin of tomato soup that has gone cold, but it tastes much better than that. Salmorejo is usually garnished with ham and egg. Ask for it "sin jamon" if you are vegetarian or "sin jamon o huevo" if you are vegan.
Garbanzos con Espinacas
These are garbanzos or chickpeas, served with spinach. The proportions can vary widely: Sometimes it is a spinach stew dotted with garbanzos, other times it is a plate of garbanzos decorated with spinach. Sometimes it is served as a soup.
Pimientos del Padron
"Algunos pican, otros no" (some are spicy, others are not") is the phrase invariably used to describe pimientos del padron—it's even sold on T-shirts. These are especially popular in Galicia and Galician restaurants throughout Spain, where the little green peppers are cooked with olive oil and big chunks of salt.
Pan con Tomate
This dish is essentially tomato on toast. It doesn't sound like culinary genius, but it is pretty amazing. Traditionally, a piece of garlic is scrubbed on some lightly toasted bread, after which half a tomato is rubbed over on it, and then some olive oil is drizzled on top. Nowadays, many bars just put the whole lot in a blender and then spread the paste on top.
Despite the myth that paella is a seafood dish, you can put anything you want on paella, a traditional Valencian dish of saffron-colored rice studded with meat and vegetables. Most restaurants will do a vegetarian paella.