Monday, 2 November 2009

Food for thought

I had been warned it was difficult being a vegetarian when travelling. And yep Madrid sort of proved that.

Well technically I’m not a vegetarian; I do eat meat. But I have a phobia of chicken (I blame 5th form food technology), British beef is, well, not the same as New Zealand beef (insert “chewy” here), the price of lamb in London is a little too exorbitant for my monthly wage, and pork really doesn’t do it for me. On the plus side, I do eat seafood – as long as it’s not raw, isn’t slimy, and doesn’t come in a shell.

Yes some would say I’m a fussy eater (and mum I know what you’re thinking). But I will eat pretty much any vegetable. That’s got to balance it all out, surely. Plus vegetables are so versatile and when cooked properly they are anything but boring.

However, the Spanish capital Madrid is not what I would call a vegetarian Mecca.

Ok yes they do eat a lot of vegetables – but only when mixed into meat dishes. Madrid doesn’t really have a meat and three veg sort of cuisine, while salads are pretty much non-existent. And according to our tapas guide, if you’re a meat eater but don’t eat pork then you are considered a vegetarian in Spain, and in his words “you’re screwed” food-wise.

Great, so there I am starting out on the wrong foot in a country where eating is practically a national institution.

Not only am I not allowed to eat dinner before 9pm, I’m being forced to eat meat.

Actually the first two nights in Madrid weren’t too bad – aubergine and pasta dishes – and then we realised we were eating in an Italian restaurant. Go figure.

Of course I stayed away from paella – rice and meat (and some veggies) – but only because I was told Madrid is not a coastal city. Enough said.

But tapas, surely you can’t go wrong with tapas. Tasty bite-size morsels of food, which, funnily enough, you always think is good for a diet but then you end up eating more than you bargained for.

So, what have we got here? Pork, pork, chicken, cured ham, pork, anchovies, weird black-pudding-type salami, pungent-smelling God-knows-what. Right, so that tapas I had in Mayfair is a little different then to the traditional Spanish stuff. Diet anyone?

Actually that diet is looking pretty attractive when the one vegetarian tapas dish I find – grilled aubergine – turns out to be nine euros on closer inspection. Nine euros? For one slice of grilled aubergine? Is someone taking the mickey?

And lunch – I’m still not 100% sure what Spaniards eat for lunch. All I wanted was a sandwich shop. Though according to the travel books it is often a three course meal. Which makes sense when you think siesta.

Of course the food wasn’t all as bad as I’ve made it out to be. I can’t complain about the drinks. Sangria – now we’re talking…