With the Iberian ham as its flagship product, Extremadura is a pork lover paradise. Meat eaters will be spoilt for choice, with countless pork cuts and high quality beef, lamb and goat meat dishes.
But what about vegetarians?
While it’s true that vegetarian mains are hard to find in local restaurants’ menus, don’t be put off. In this article I share some tips, lists of dishes and useful sentences to help you get by in restaurants and enjoy your trip to Extremadura.
Things you should be aware of as a vegetarian in Extremadura
The concept of ‘vegetarian’ is still not understood in rural areas
It’s still hard to find vegetarians in Extremadura – I don’t know any. The closest to being vegetarian are two friends that don’t eat meat (they eat fish, though). Another friend tried to become a vegetarian a year ago, only to give up after a few months. It was too hard, life is too short, and ham is too tasty.
Bear in mind that, apart from kebab shops and the occasional Chinese or (fake) Italian restaurant, Extremadura tends to have only traditional local restaurants. It’s true that in cities like Cáceres or Mérida there is a greater range of restaurants with international influences or an innovative cuisine. However, those are only exceptions. The thing is, as most people are not vegetarians, most restaurants aren’t either.
Fake alert! Things that look vegetarian, but aren’t
If your command of the Spanish language is not particularly strong, keep your eyes peeled and don’t fall into the ‘fake vegetarian’ traps. Never order a bocadillo vegetal because the word vegetal looks like ‘vegetables’. This type of sandwich usually contains tuna, and sometimes even crab sticks. Don’t ask me why the name doesn’t reflect the ingredients.
Another easy trap can be found in traditional sweets and biscuits. Many of them contain pork fat, such as mantecados and perrunillas. If you find yourself in a local products shop, make sure you check the ingredients and stay away from anything containing manteca or grasa de cerdo.
Pork fat is not only found in sweets, but also in some stews and soups. Before ordering at a restaurant, ask whether something has pork fat.
Useful sentence: ¿Lleva grasa de cerdo?/manteca de cerdo? (Does it contain pork fat?)
Tips for travelling to Extremadura as a vegetarian
Before the trip
- If your accommodation includes breakfast, make sure you inform them in advance that you are vegetarian. Many hotels offer traditional biscuits for breakfast that contain pork fat, as well as other meat-derivate spreads, such as cachuela.
During the trip
- Make sure you send the message across. Don’t just say ‘I am a vegetarian’, but say you cannot eat any meat or fish.
Useful sentences: No puedo comer carne ni pescado. (I cannot eat meat or fish)
¿Lleva carne? (Does it contain meat?)
¿Lleva pescado? (Does it contain fish?)
- If all vegetarian options in the menu are starters, ask if you can have a bigger portion as a main.
Useful sentence: ¿Puedo pedir [dish] como plato principal, por favor? (May I order [dish] as a main, please?)
- If there are no vegetarian options in the menu, ask if they can prepare one of the dishes mentioned in the lists below.
Useful sentence: ¿Le importaría preparar [dish], por favor? (Would you mind preparing [dish], please?)
List of vegetarian dishes you can order
To help you a bit when deciding what to eat in restaurants and what to buy in local shops, I have compiled several lists with dishes and products suitable for vegetarians. While some of them are not specific from Extremadura, others are classic regional and local dishes.
Classic Extremadura local products you shouldn’t miss:
Traditional dishes from Extremadura you can order:
Ensalada de invierno (winter salad)
Ensalada rin-ran (tomato, pepper, onion and paprika salad)
Criadillas (a type of truffle)
Sopa de tomate (tomato and bread soup)
Sopas canas (bread and milk soup)
Migas trujillanas (Trujillo-style fried breadcrumbs)
Zorongollo (roasted peppers salad)
Ajo de calabaza (pumpkin soup)
Patatas en escabeche (potato escabeche)
Torrijas (slices of Spanish-style bread pudding)
Repápalos (sweet croquettes in milk)
Traditional desserts you can buy in local shops:
Floretas (flower-shaped sweets made of flour, eggs, honey and olive oil)
Muégado (a classic sweet from Guadalupe made of flour and tons of honey)
Galletas rizadas (some recipes contain pork fat, so make sure there is no manteca or grasa de cerdo in the ingredient list).
Pestiños (Easter dessert made of flour, honey and aniseeds)
Rosquillas fritas (fried Spanish-style doughnuts)
Other Spanish vegetarian dishes:
Parrillada de verduras (grilled mixed vegetables)
Ensalada mixta (sin atún) (mixed salad without tuna)
Tortilla (Spanish omelette)
Gazpacho (tomato soup)
Pisto (Spanish-style ratatouille)
Crema de verduras (espinaca, calabacín, zanahoria) (vegetable soup – spinach, courgette, carrot)
Menestra de verduras (mixed vegetables soup)
Croquetas de verdura (vegetable croquettes)
Berenjenas a la miel (fried aubergine with honey)
Pimientos de padrón (Padron peppers)
Garbanzos con espinacas (chickpeas and spinach stew)
Garbanzos con acelgas (chickpeas and Swiss chard stew)