I confess. I’m not a vegetarian or a vegan. Although, if it helps my credibility, I did sample these selected tapas with a vegan friend.
You’re probably wondering why I am writing about meatless and dairy-free tapas. Well, I love food. And, it just so happens that tailor-made meat and dairy-free food in Barcelona can be pretty damn tasty.
Surprisingly, some of the most traditional Catalan and Spanish starters happen to be free of animal produce by default. Protein-packed pulses such as chickpeas, lentils, white and red beans and peas are popular in Spanish and Catalan dishes, along with artichokes, mushrooms, eggplant, potato, and tomato.
Here’s just a few of the most lip-smacking, stomach-satisfying vegan and vegetarian tapas in town. Aprovechar!
The Traditional Favorites
1. Pan Con Tomate/Pa Amb Tomaquet (Vegan)
Bread with tomato. Dash of olive oil. Sprinkle of salt. Simple. Fresh. Tasty. Need I say more?
Even if you want to, you can’t avoid this delicious, fuss-free snack. It is important, however, to choose the right ingredients. Crusty yet fluffy ciabatta bread slightly toasted and halved lengthways is the perfect base. Tomato pulp is then spread on top.
If you’re not from the Mediterranean region, you can be forgiven for not realizing there are hundreds of different varieties of tomatoes. The ones used for Pan Con Tomate need to have the right flavor as well as texture. Vine-ripened tomatoes need to be smushy enough to be smeared straight onto the bread, but not too soft or full of water.
Every single bar will serve Pan Con Tomate in Barcelona. Locals eat it for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. All the time, really.
2. Patatas Bravas (Vegan)
This dish of bite-sized pieces of hot, crispy, and golden-brown potato has often been my go-to for an after work snack with friends. It can be your best friend – comforting and familiar, always there when you need it. It can also be your worst enemy. Too many times a week meeting up with this carbohydrate-laden starter equals twice as much time at the gym.
What makes it Bravas is the unique aioli or spicy salsa that flavors the potato. Some like to smother it all over; others prefer to dip discreetly. Vegans can ask for the aioli on the side since it has cream or natural yogurt, and relish the texture of the potatoes with salt and pepper.
Patatas Bravas is also the perfect partner for a cerveza or vino. Again, it’s impossible to say who has the best Patatas Bravas in town. There are several innovative versions for the adventurous of appetite too. But, I can’t pass by the classic fried potato chunks and the light, tangy aioli of Cuines Santa Caterina at the Santa Caterina Market.
3. Pimientos de Padron (vegan)
Now, you may not think that a plate of green peppers is the most tantalizing tapa. That’s exactly what I thought before I tried them. But I was wrong. So wrong.
Lightly roasted in olive oil whole until they’re tender, the pimientos are served warm. These char-grilled green veggies are soft and easy to pick off the stem. You can add a pinch of salt, but that slightly smoky flavor is the magic of the dish. And, like Patatas Bravas, they are on almost every tapas bar menu for around 3 euros. Don’t you love a bargain?
The Contemporary Favorites
4. Artichokes with Walnut Salsa (Vegetarian)
You’ve probably never tried artichokes this way before. Jerusalem artichokes are separated from their leaves and the hearts are extracted. The remainder is cooked and served with toasty walnut salsa. The artichoke hearts are then sauteed until tender with butter and salt. The walnut salsa is a creamy mix of blended walnuts and yogurt, with a dash of sugar. And that’s it. What more could you want? Savory and sweet. Warm and cold. All the good things in life on one plate.
Enjoy this tapa at Bar Resoli in El Raval. It may not look like much of a place to eat, since it’s mainly a drinking place, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the creative and delicious tapas menu. They also do Hummus Rosa (beetroot added to the chickpea mix), and Aubergines with salsa. Be warned that this establishment does not specifically cater for vegetarians and vegans.
5. Crispy Aubergine or Eggplant with Honey (Vegetarian)
Finely sliced aubergine pieces are cut lengthways, then lightly fried in olive oil and glazed with honey. The skin is left on the aubergine, securing a final crispy texture. Served with a salsa on the side (vegans should ask for it without or on the side if sharing), these are an alternative to the heavier tapas like Patatas Bravas or Croquettes.
Cuines Santa Caterina does one of best versions in town. Again, it’s not a vegan-vegetarian restaurant per se, but the vegetarian-friendly options are fantastic. Take a seat at the classy bar and relish the sweet, crispy aubergine pieces with a glass of vermut or red wine.
6. Mushroom, Kale, Cauliflower Mash (Vegetarian)
Perfect for a colder evening in Barcelona – on that rare occasion – this tapa is a mixture of textures and flavors that will satisfy both your palate and stomach. This sophisticated tapa is a smooth and light puree of cauliflower, combined with olive oil, minced garlic and onion, salt and pepper. Kale and mushrooms are added to the cauliflower after being pan-cooked separately. Almond or rice milk is then added to make the creamy mash.
I discovered this tapa at Rasoterra. This gem of a place in Gotico is sure to delight even the those who aren’t searching for non-meat or non-dairy options. The unique combination of flavors resembling works of art.
7. Croquettes – Spinach, Pine Nuts and Sultanas (Vegetarian)
Usually made with jamon and queso (ham and cheese), this take on the traditional favorite is heavily influenced by Middle Eastern cuisine. You can also find variations of mushrooms, potato, tuna, and chicken for the filling. For a vegan/vegetarian spin, try the meatless croquettes from Rasoterra.
The combination of pine nuts with the slightly bitter but soft spinach and chewy, sweet sultanas is a winning recipe. Though delicious, it’s the beautiful exterior of the tapa that draws you in. Lightly battered to produce a golden casing, each croquette is a perfect mix of crunchy and creamy.
8. Grilled Greens (Vegan)
Craving something simple, healthy, and energy-boosting? Try Flax and Kale’s Grilled Greens, a mix of green asparagus, broad beans, peas flavored with blanched onion and garlic, and a dash of mint and garlic dressing. The mint gives a refreshing tang, and the garlic and onion draw out the flavors of the greens. The vitamins and minerals you’ll get from digesting this dish will rejuvenate you.
Mix up this dish with one of the salads, soups or other mouth-watering offerings at the popular restaurant in Raval, Teresa Carles.
9. Hummus with Crunchy Breadsticks (Vegetarian)
There are dozens of places to get excellent hummus in Barcelona. Any one of the Middle Eastern restaurants will be sure to have the tangy, tahini-based chickpea starter served with fresh, fluffy flat bread. Ugarit, a Syrian restaurant with several branches in Gracia, or Veggie Garden in Raval are popular places to try.
Quinoa has created a slightly different version. Their traditional hummus is garnished with polenta and mushrooms and comes served with crunchy fingers of toasted bread and a rainbow-colored side dish of raw carrots, pieces of cucumber, apple, and beetroot. This charming little hole-in-the-wall spot in Travessera de Gracia now has a sister branch in Carrer Arago. They also serve hamburgers, salads, quiches, and a soup of the day.
10. Tacos with Red Chili Beans and Guacamole (Vegan)
For something warm and more filling, you can’t go past the soft tacos with chili with red beans and guacamole. It’s another popular menu item at Quinoa, where you can get a taste of the typical Mexican snack without the typical meat.
Red beans full of protein are flavored with onion, chili powder, salt and garlic. The beans are first soaked in water to make them tender. Meanwhile, fresh avocado is blended with lime, onion, salt and garlic to create a classic guacamole.
Take your time to dollop just the right amount of beans in the center of the homemade flour tortillas. Roll up the tortilla and dip the end into the guacamole, then take a bite to experience an explosion of flavor in your mouth.
While these are the 10 best vegetarian tapas in Barcelona in my eyes, they are just the beginning. There are dozens more to try, and I’m sure you’ll find at least a few of them.