Friday, February 2, 2018

Vegetarian in Madrid

Madrid is a beautiful and grand city, full of art, life and food! I spent five days there visiting sites, museums and art galleries, and eating well with my vegetarian family. Naturally every day started with breakfast, and breakfast sets (generally at special prices in most cafes) include coffee (some places have soy milk), freshly squeezed orange juice, and then a choice of a pastry, or a croissant with butter and jam, or tostada, toasted bread (like baguette) with a tomato salsa, olive oil and salt. For an Italian it may seem strange to start the day with something that reminds me of bruschetta, but it is great if you like a savoury breakfast, or if you are vegan. Anyway, I tried and I liked it! 

Another discovery for me was that with hot chocolate you can have not just churros but also porras (the difference is that porras are bigger, straighter and more chewy). Also, both churros and porras are not sweet like the churros I had in South America, in fact they are quite bland and really need to be dunked in chocolate (in my opinion). Do not try to get them with coffee, it doesn't work, they need chocolate!!

We stayed at the Hotel Mediodia, conveniently located next to the Reina Sofia Art Museum, which we visited twice (second time in the evening, when is free entry), plus the annexe in the Parque del Retiro (alway free). It was quite amazing to know that we were sleeping only about 200 m aways from Guernica.

Although it is not possible to take photos of Guernica, all other exhibits can be photographed and there is some amazing art!

Josep de Togores, Formes, Reina Sofia Art Museum

Joan Miró, Femme et chien devant la lune, Reina Sofia Art Museum

Back to food now! Fish and meat abound, of course, but many restaurants that serve paella will also make a vegetable one, suitable for vegans, very nice and filling and a must try, sadly the cost is the same as all the other paellas with animal bits in it, and I don't understand why, but I was glad to have the choice and did not raise the questions with the restaurants involved - they make money out of tourists after all.

Again for Vegans: if it is hard to find food in restaurants just stock up in stores and supermarkets and take back your bounty to the hotel: bread is yummy, and in supermarkets you can choose among a large variety of gazpachos, plus there are nuts and seeds and fruit to die for, and fantastic guacamole. For those with a sweet tooth there are several almond paste sweet breads made with a variety of fruit (I tried the almond and apricot one and it was amazing, a calorie bomb, but surely full of proteins!).

If dairy and eggs are ok, then the pastry selection is huge, and so are the torrons and all the traditional sweets which also make beautiful souvenirs to take home. I especially liked the xocolada a la pedlar d'Agramunt, artisanal dark chocolate flavoured with vanilla or cinnamon (or plain) to use to make hot chocolate.

A must visit for gourmands is the Mercado de San Miguel, where you can buy food or eat tapas all day long!

Banderillas are skewered pickles and olives, delicious, but make sure you ask for those without anchovies.

Tapas can be meaty and fishy too, but there are vegetarian options. In fact we basically just had Tapas for lunch everyday, and that was enough! Tapas bars are the best, but one day, while we were visiting the city centre we ended up in Tapa Tapa, a cheap and cheerful 'fast food' tapa chain, where we had Pimientos del Padron Fritos (best vegan tapa, fried peppers, mostly mild with some surprise hot ones in the mix), Patatas Bravas (everyone knows these), Brie Frito con dos sesamos y marmalade de tomatoes (fried brie coated with sesame seeds and sweet tomato jam), Alcachofas Fritas (fried artichokes) and more... after all that fried food we could not possibly had lunch as well!

Tapas bars and restaurants may have less choices than Tapa Tapa, (especially if small) but you can always find a potato tortilla, cheese (manchego is the best!) and olives.

We also had to try sangria, even if it was winter! This was at La Taperia, which felt a bit like a 'family restaurant' but was choosen because they had veggie burgers (and a few other veggie dishes - which you can find in the English menu under 'starters'!). Nothing special but easy and filling after spending a few hour in the Museo del Prado (near by, and AMAZING). 

More city tips: although several museums and the Parque del Ritiro were at walking distance from our hotel, for two days we also used the bus city tour, very convenient to reach places like the Royal Palace or to get to the modern northern part of the city (especially since it was winter and quite cold). On the last day we also did a walking tour of the old city centre (one of those free walking tours where you leave a tip at the end). It was cool as, and good for practicing our Spanish (although there are also tours in English). We also managed quite a bit of shopping in the city centre (including in the department store El Corte Inglés, which has a lovely food court). 

To end out trip on the last evening we went to a cute Vegan restaurant. Distrito Vegano is not only cute but also tiny, so it pays to book. Luckily we ate earlier than the locals, so usually there is no problem in finding a table at 7pm, as most diners don't show up until after 9pm or much later.

No traditional Spanish food though: Quinoa (vegan) cheese burger, Chilean hot dog, Nachos, Red velvet cake (this was nice and creamy!), panna cotta, chai latte... basically it felt like any other Vegan menu you could find in Auckland or New York... I would have preferred a Vegan version of Tortilla, or some traditional Vegan Spanish dishes, but this is not a place for tourists, and the locals probably prefer vegan burgers and other 'international' vegan treats. Still, the food was good and we liked the place, plus we could order anything from the menu without having to ask the usual questions about ingredients.

Bye bye Madrid, we had a great time!

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini ©

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