Maven or Masochist: Vegetarian in the land of Jamón
Some people refer to me as a masochist. I, however, like to think I’m a boss who tries to make a way out of no way. As the legend goes, I didn’t eat meat until I was seven years old. This very fact baffled my Southern Creole grandmother who offered me her best dishes that were returned to the kitchen untouched. The only reason I wasn’t disowned completely is because I inhaled fried calamari and shrimp, especially from Red Lobster. Classy, I know.
To be honest, I only lasted 5 years dabbling in the omnivorous world before making a conscientious decision to become a vegetarian when I was 12 years old. (As conscientious as a 12 year old can be, that is.) It’s a cliché story that involves a free PETA dvd, a forced dissection of a pig and a few essays by Henry David Thoreau. Luckily, my mother is a pescatarian, so the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree. To set the record straight, I didn’t set foot in Spain and decide: yes, I want to condemn myself to a life of only eggs and potatoes.
I’m so grateful to live in Madrid where every variety of restaurant imaginable is within 30 minutes: Turkish, Ethiopian, Tex-Mex, Japanese, Fusion, French, Mexican, Ghanian, Thai, Chinese, Spanish, Argentine, Chilean, Ecuadorian, you name it! Since starving is not on my list of things to do, I quickly set out to find the best and most delicious vegan and vegetarian restaurants in the city. My standards were high considering I come from one of the food capitals of the United States, Chicago.
My Top 5 Vegetarian Experiences in Madrid
La Biotika: Calle del Amor de Dios, 3, 28014 Madrid
- For when you’re feeling adventurous or just want a delicious, creative, vegan meal.
Viva Chapata: Calle Ave María, 43, 28012 Madrid
- For when you crave a hearty veggie burger with a side of vegetarian croquetas.
Al Natural: Calle de Zorrilla, 11, 28014 Madrid
- Home-grown, down to earth food such as cheesy lasagna done right.
El Buo: Calle Gravina, 4, 28004 Madrid
- For when you do actually want to overload on artesian tortilla de patata and fried Brie.
- I’ve genuinely started to love cooking, and have found that if you’re willing to search a bit, you can find what you need to make the perfect dish. Check out stores like La Biotika and Planeta Vegano ( Calle Ave María, 34, 28012 Madrid) and let your imagination soar.
So, am I a masochist? I don’t think so. My friends who know me personally can attest to the fact that I’m still the girl who occasionally goes weak in the knees for fried calamari. Beach + lemon + fried calamari is an extremely deadly combination. I would say that as someone who has traveled most of their adult life, food is an integral part of any culture and shutting yourself off from things out of principle or even fear, will ultimately limit the adventure. I’m proud to say that, yes, one time I ate too much bread and salted butter in Southern France and got sick. I also tried Portuguese sausage in Lisbon at a table with strangers that eventually became friends. To my defense, the sausage was on fire and I genuinely couldn’t resist. Food is magical and through it both history and culture reveal itself to us. My advice to all my fellow vegetarians looking to live in Madrid is that you can most definitely make it work, but like any good traveler, keep an open mind.
Danni is a Chicago native by birth, resident of Madrid by choice. She likes her avocados big, and her hair even bigger.