When English people find out I’m vegan their response is always ‘protein?’, and then ‘what’s that like living in Spain because don’t they eat a lot of ham and things?’ Though reliably irksome, this is not an unjustified response, as I’ve spent lots of time listening politely while Spanish cafe waiters list ingredients:
Me: Hi, I’m a hungry, hungry vegan, what can I have?
Waiter: You don’t eat meat then.
Me: That’s right, only plants.
Waiter: What about fish?
Me: No fish.
Waiter: What about ham?
Me: FFS, no ham.
Waiter: Ok, tortilla then.
Me: (balls up napkin, stuffs in mouth and screams)
Waiter: Potatoes and mayonnaise?
Most Spanish bars and cafes aren’t often worth the trouble. Usually, it’s best to fill up at home, and just go to the cafe for a beer.
Venture beyond the nearest available bar, however, and things improve drastically. In Valencia veganism is growing fast, with about 10 (?) exclusively vegan joints spread through the city, and a few more in the region. If you want a comprehensive list look at lauve.info, a map-based directory which lists the vegan/veggie/veg-friendly places in town.
Friendly disclaimer, I’m not a health conscious vegan – I don’t believe spelt will make me happy or that millet will make me age backwards, I just don’t want to eat death or suffering. There are plenty of health-focused eateries in the city, but in vol. 1 of BVIV (Being Vegan in Valencia) I’m going to take you on a fully subjective tour of a few of my favourite places in the main city area. I haven’t been to some others yet because they’re in other bits of town and I don’t live there, but maybe I’ll be allowed to do a vol. 2, so don’t fret.
Starting in the knotty-narrow-street-maze of El Carmen, you can find la Mandrágora, about 5 minutes from the cathedral and Serrano Towers, where it has been for 22 (?) years. It’s technically not a restaurant but an association, so the first time you go you leave your ID number and name on a list by the bar in order to become a member and get fed. Payment for food (not drinks though) is voluntary; when you’re finished you’re given a little wooden box, and you put whatever you want to pay in there. The idea is to make it accessible to less advantaged folks, though there’s usually a mix of more adventurous tourists thrown in given its location. The food is done on a menu del día basis, so it’s always different and always good. Last time I went there was pea and mint paté and orange infused seitan, and I dream of it still. The music selection is also entirely on the whim of whoever is working there, which can mean anything, from ‘reggaeton vegano’ to Boney M.
Wander southward about 20 minutes and we’re at the buffet where I spent all my time and money last summer. ‘All you can eat buffet’ is my favourite phrase in the English language, and ‘Loving Hut tonight ok?’ is a close second. The food here is dependably great, with little burgers, little wraps, little pizzas, fried stuff, Chinese stuff, and they’re liberal with the plant protein, so you can fill up on tempeh, tofu, seitan etc… and desserts are included. I’m told the salads are good, but they’re next to the little crème caramels and chocolate cakes so I wouldn’t know. The price includes a soft drink: the whole place is alcohol-free, but it’s surrounded by bars if you want a pre or post buffet tipple. It can get busy Sunday lunchtime, and check their Facebook before you go, sometimes they shut for a weekend, but with fair warning. Also, if you go at lunchtime and ask nicely they’ll do you a burger or wrap or similar for less than the full buffet price, which is pretty sound.
Gander on westwards now into Ruzafa and you’re in what Easyjet’s inflight magazine would call a ‘hip barrio’. I’m going to confess that I walked straight past La Tavernaire many times without realising it was even vegan, and perhaps this is deliberate. From the outside it looks like a decent, popular neighbourhood tavern, almost invisible among the instagram-friendly vintage gastro-hangouts people come to the area for. The food, however, is spectacular: at lunchtime I’ve had seitan and falafel wraps covered in garlicky sauces and crunchy salad. I also don’t know what ‘mojo’ is, but it’s very good with potatoes. It often looks busier than it is for food, because lots of people hang around outside leaving tables free in the back.
If you’ve found this helpful please go check these places out asap. If you’re already vegan (or leaning that way) you’ll be supporting rad places run by super nice people, and if you’re not, you’ll enjoy a lush, tasty, satisfying meal that nothing died for. No cold-pressed, raw quinoa sprouted spelt grain nonsense guaranteed.
By Alex Minshall