By Emma Clarkson
Hey plant lovers! I’m Emma and I’m going to be your guide to surviving (and enjoying it!) on a plant based diet around the globe. I left the UK almost a decade ago and have lived, worked and travelled around Central America, Asia, the Caribbean and, as of very recently, I’m back on European soil. Having been meat-free for around 25 years, firstly as a vegetarian for over 2 decades and in recent years as a committed vegan, I have lots of tips and stories to share about the meat-free life on the road. Hopefully some of which may come in handy to those of you who may be travelling abroad, visiting friends or family in different locations, or simply planning a well-needed holiday.
I’m starting with Spain’s stunning capital, for several reasons. Partly because I was there very recently and completely blown away not only by the city itself but by the vast array of veggie options. The Spanish are traditionally a highly carnivorous people, and there are several brutally cruel animal “sports” and traditions which unfortunately still take place. However, over the past few years there has been a sharp uptake in the rise of veganism, especially in Madrid. As reported by this Guardian article from 2014, Happy Cow had listed 353 veggie restaurants in Spain in 2011 and by 2014 the figure had grown to 686; a rise of 94%. At time of writing, the number of veggie / vegan restaurants in Spain according to Happy Cow is 1685! Seems like this is the place to be as a herbivore right now, and you can certainly feel this vibe when in Madrid.
There are tons of excellent Airbnb options around the city for relatively reasonable prices. I stayed in a fabulous apartment close to the beautiful Retiro park (if you are travelling with your dog there is a fantastic dog zone here where your pooch can run free and make lots of new amigos) and my host, although a meat-eater, was a bit of a hippy type and so had plenty of suggestions for me to check out. He pointed me in the direction of the area known as Lavapiés, centred around Plaza de Lavapiés which translates as “wash feet” – possibly due to the fountain which used to exist here. Lavapiés is extremely dog friendly and is full of bohemian types, with a very laid back atmosphere. People hang out on the terraces all day in the sunshine, sipping beers or coffees and enjoying tapas with friends. This area is where you will find the vast majority of plant-based options. There are several omni cafes and restaurants which happily cater for a vegan diet, as well as many specifically vegan shops and restaurants.
Close to Lavapiés you can find an amazing shop called Planeta Vegano for all your delicious plant-based needs. I also stumbled upon wonderful little place named Foody which is close to Retiro park, and was bowled over by the selection of vegan cheese, eggs (yes eggs!), proteins and all kinds of organic delights.
I was only in Madrid for four nights although I could seriously spend my whole life there. One little restaurant impressed me so much that I went there twice – check out Distrito Vegano … I highly recommend the American hot dog which is totally to die for. The prices are great too.
Veganism is still new here in Spain, so when you are sitting down for a beer they will most likely bring out some tapas containing meat or fish unless you specify otherwise. If you are strictly vegan I would advise you to make a point of explaining the difference between vegan and vegetarian, as most traditional joints won’t know the difference. If you say “no como carne” (I don’t eat meat) or “estoy vegetariana” (or vegetariano for a guy) they could still confuse this and you might end up with some tuna in your tomato salad like I did. The term for vegan is vegana or vegano depending on your gender, but again this is a relatively new concept here so be prepared to explain. Most waiters in Madrid understand English and if you carefully explain that you don’t eat any animal ingredients, or “no como algo de los animales” you will be fine. Better still, check out one of the 81 vegan restaurants in this fascinating, and fast becoming plant-based city.
Enjoy! Buen provecho 😊
Visit Emma’s website at www.thefreerlancer.com