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Eats Without Meats in the Heart of the City: A mini walking guide of vegetarian eateries in Barcelona

So you’re a vegetarian looking for a restaurant where you won’t be forced to perform an autopsy on your food as you eat, removing chunks of chorizo from the lentils or tuna fish from the ensaladilla rusa. Or maybe you’re a meat eater wanting to impress a vegetarian date, or simply a curious carnivore in search of new thrills. Either way, Barcelona, being the trendy place it is, now offers a decent selection of establishments in which the only meats to be found are either staff or clients. Such places do not abound, but let us not forget that twenty short years ago there was only one real vegetarian restaurant in this city, the Govinda in Plaza Villa de Madrid off the Ramblas. Still up and running, the Govinda (letter B in the map below) is a must stop in this walk for its historic value and spicy Hindu eats. Keep the naan and the lassi close at hand!

Despite increased public awareness, most Catalans are still rather confused by people who simply do not eat meat, fish, or anything within the beast category. Especially ham. Here they believe that all vegetarians eat ham on the sly, mainly because most Catalan vegetarians do. Ham lies above the mundane meat-vegetable dichotomy; but that’s a story for another post. For now, suffice it to say that Barcelona is an oasis in a country that believes vegetarians live on rabbit feed, when not raiding the refrigerator at midnight to scarf the jabugo.

Before we begin, allow me to explain that this tour is far from being a complete guide of Barcelona’s full veg offer, covering only those places I personally have tried and enjoyed in the Ramblas area. That said, aside from honorable exceptions in other neighborhoods, this is the part of town which enjoys the highest concentration of veg eateries, mostly because they depend on foreign veg lovers to compensate local pork worship.

Now, finally, we begin at the Restaurant Self Naturista (A), a self-service with two large dining rooms, all very simple and utilitarian. The food selection is huge, diverse and appetizing, and includes traditional dishes in faux-meat version: macarrons, canelons, escalopa de seitan a la milanesa, paella; as well as various other types of hot and cold dishes, desserts and juices. If you pass by the Naturista between 1 and 2 PM, you may wonder what all those people are lining up for, as the place is sort of hidden in plain sight. Eats for between 6-12 euros, depending on how high you pile your tray. Generous servings; guaranteed will not leave hungry if you eat two dishes. Also good to impress dates with your savvy command of local resources.

The next stop is on the other side of the Ramblas, on the corner of Pintor Fortuny with Xuclà, where Mon Organic (C) has a vegan counter (no tables) with a decent selection of main dishes that are served in a plastic container with a bunch of tasty sides. The standard plastic container costs 7 euros and does not leave one hungry, although the food can be a bit greasy sometimes. In fact, the Organic is a bit of a greasy spoon, cheap and fast eats for the modern vegan. Only good for dates if you go to eat it in front of the CCCB and talk about modern art, but beware sesame seeds between teeth.

Now we walk back to the Ramblas and head down a short way to the Boquería, where the Maoz Vegetarian (D) falafel sits on the upper market entrance. This is a miniscule stand-only corner stand, but it is backpacker cheap, doesn’t stink of roast shwarma, and the falafel is surprisingly tasty. For 5 euros you get falafel in a pita wrapped in paper, and you proceed to fill ‘er up at the fixings stand as much as the pita will hold, and return to fill as required. French fries also available if by chance the chickpeas don’t get the job done. Not the best for taking a first date unless you can eat a fixing-laden falafel without looking like the slob you are… and your date can too.

Our last stop in this mini walking tour is another Barcelona institution: Juicy Jones (E, pictured at top), Barcelona’s first bona-fide vegan restaurant when it opened in the 90s. No eggs or dairy in a kitchen that refuses all forms of animal exploitation, with dining room murals so groovy you’ll think someone spiked your soya smoothie. Not the best place if you’re in a hurry, but worth the wait if you’re willing to discover the pleasures of creative vegan cooking for less than 10 euros at lunch time. The day’s menu is served all day long to attend vegan tourists starved after walking the entire city and finding nowhere to eat.

With these five suggestions, vegetarians of all affiliations should be able to avoid starvation –or worse, undercover meat filtrations– while enjoying our fair, pork-laden city. Outside designated tourist areas, however, beware: the ham lies with bated breath.

Jordi is a professional writer and contributor to EatCatalunya who also blogs over at 99 Percent Space.

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Image of Juicy Jones by alephnaught via Flickr (Creative Commons). Thanks for sharing!

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7 Comments »

  • [...] you need further incentive, Eat Catalunya has put up a small piece of mine on vegetarian eateries in Barcelona, the beginning of a hopefully fruitful collaboration of great taste. Now go and love [...]

  • [...] Note: This is Part II of an on-going series of culinary walking guides for Barcelona neighborhoods by EatCatalunya’s resident walking food expert, Jordi, who [...]

  • [...] Gràcia Submitted by EatCatalunya on January 5, 2010 – 1:48 pm4213 Commentshttp://www.eatcatalunya.com/2010/01/05/gracia/Gr%C3%A0cia2010-01-05+21%3A48%3A45EatCatalunya Grácia started out as a faraway outlying town back when Barcelona was much smaller. Now it’s considered quite central, as the city has expanded over the past few hundred years. Once a working-class neighborhood, it’s now considered Barcelona’s most bohemian section, with decadent bars and restaurants filled with history. It’s also the place to go if you ever tire of Catalan cuisine, as international dining options abound. In its narrow streets, one can easily find countless Lebanese, Turkish and Greek restaurants, and there are also quite a few Japanese restaurants in the neighborhood as well. Cultural activities are plentiful here, and along Carrer Verdi, the most important street in Grácia, you’ll find theatres, movies (Cine Verdi is where you’ll want to go if you are looking to see a movie in its “versió original” — in its original language with subtitles, without dubbing) shops and casual dining. Grácia takes pride in its lively plazas, of which it has several (since this once was a town, after all) and which are flanked by restaurants with terrazas, stores and bars. In the summer is when these plazas come alive, and you’ll see locals out on the terrazas eating and drinking the night away until the wee hours of the morning. La Plaça del Sol (map, and pictured above) is Grácia’s largest plaza, and is considered by many to be the heart of the neighborhood. We prefer the nearby Plaça de la Vila de Grácia (also known Plaça de as Rius i Taulet, map), which is a bit smaller and more tranquil. While it’s not Catalan, Grácia’s most reknowned restaurant has to be El Botafumeiro, located on another of Grácia’s main streets, Gran de Grácia. Surprisingly, this is considered one of the best Galician restaurants in Spain, even though it’s clear on the other side of the country from Galicia. The speciality here is mariscada, but we can also recommend the cured hams and the artichoke. El Botafumeiro isn’t cheap (expect to pay about $70 per person), but the quality of the food (and the experience of meeting its eccentric owner, Moncho Neira) is worth it. For a more economical — and more Catalan — meal, try Restaurante Teatreneu (Terol 28), which specializes in cuina de mercat (old classic meals). In fact, there are quite a few affordable options for Catalan cuisine in the neighborhood. For strictly Catalan fare, check out La Llavor dels Orígens on Ramón i Cajal street (map). The menu is huge and very, very traditional — and cheap!  La Llavor makes an effort to source all its food from inside Catalunya, and also has other locations around the city if you get hooked. They also have an excellent selection of Catalan wines, and provide food to go if you are looking to eat outdoors in one the neighborhood’s many plazas. For modern yet traditional Catalan cuisine at an affordable price, our absolute favorite is La Singular at Francisco Giner 50 (review, map). The small restaurant is cozy and inviting, and is staffed by some of the friendliest ladies you’ll ever meet. Highly recommended. Or, if you are feeling a little homesick and want something ethnic, you’ll definitely want to check out our Gracia ethnic eateries walking tour. [...]

  • [...] importantly, gelato is now your chance to patch things up with your date after the vegetarian and ethnic eats fiascos. The Italians are masters in the art of amore, and gelato is one of their [...]

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