My trip to Spain involved a few days in Málaga followed by a stay down the coast, visiting Torrox, the lovely seaside town of Nerja (pictured), and Frigiliana: a beautiful white-washed town a few miles inland.
My first impression of Spain was that it would not be particularly vegan-friendly: meat and fish are the focus of meals and menus are often divided into "meat" and "fish" sections with no room for anything else. According to my phrase book, there is no set Spanish word for vegan apart from vegetariano estricto, which perhaps is understood to mean vegan but to me “strict vegetarian” doesn’t have the same connotations and somehow didn't instill me with confidence. On making an inquiry in advance about the availability of vegan food in the local area, the reply I received was: "so, you only eat vegetables and fruit??" (Two question marks being the universal sign of incredibility).
For these reasons, when choosing where to eat out, I decided to do some research in advance on Trip Advisor by selecting "vegan options" in the restaurant search criteria. This worked well: vegan-friendly dishes featuring hummus or lentils are reasonably common tapas but it is helpful to know in advance where these are available to avoid spending time studying menus outside restaurants. Like in the UK, some restaurants also helpfully mark allergens on their menus which are useful for determining what is suitable.
One of my favourite discoveries was a little tapas bar in Málaga called El Gastronauta (Calle Echegaray): a trendy place with an astronaut theme and space helmets as their logo. The staff were friendly and knowledgeable about the various vegan options to choose from: unfortunately, the delicious sounding quinoa kofta was sold out so I opted for hummus, Japanese gyoza (dumplings) and a delicious Japanese wakame salad from their many options along with patatas bravas which I shared with my partner who had meat dishes.
Another favourite place was The Garden Restaurant at the very top of Frigiliana (Calle Santo Cristo, keep heading uphill and you can’t miss it). Apart from the delicious food, the best thing about this place is the incredible views of the town and the valley beyond all the way down to the coast. I chose a couple of starters and a salad as tapas but there were numerous options available and the staff were again very knowledgeable and spoke excellent English.
English wasn't widely spoken however and learning a few simple phrases can go a long way to ensuring your dietary requirements will be understood. For example, sin productos animales ("without animal produce") or no como carne, huevos, productos lácteos ("I don’t eat meat, eggs, dairy produce").
A couple of times my Trip Advisor research failed me due to restaurants being closed for the day but I still managed to find something nice to eat. My fall back option was generally salad and fries: menus generally have lots of salads on offer and given how delicious the fresh produce is in Spain, something like a simple tomato and avocado salad makes a very tasty lunch option. Vegetable paella is also an option in many places, although note it only works if you are with someone who wants the same since it can only be ordered for a minimum of two people.
Our accommodation comprised of a hotel in Málaga and a self-catering apartment near Torrox / Nerja and I had no issues in either place. I generally had muesli and fruit for breakfast and soya milk (leche de soja) was readily available in the hotel and local supermarkets. The one time we stayed in the hotel for lunch, I ordered a vegetable wrap which the server assured me contained no animal products.
I quickly discovered that veganism isn't completely unheard of in Spain and was delighted to accidentally stumble across a shop in Málaga called Veganized Non-Toxic Fashion (Calle Fernán González) which sells some lovely clothes and shoes of various brands, all of which contain no animal products, are made from environmentally-friendly materials such as organic cotton or hemp and are not made in sweat shops. If you are visiting, you can stop for lunch afterward at the organic café, Atrid Tapiera, a few doors along which clearly marks vegan options on its menu (I recommend the grilled aubergines dish).
A trip to Málaga is not complete without a visit to the Picasso Museum. I hadn't appreciated previously that Picasso was known to be an animal lover: he treasured animal companions throughout his life and they were the subjects of many pieces of art, some of which are featured in the museum, including Three Birds which I particularly liked. Vegans should be warned that some of the works displayed depict images of violence towards animals, such as Still Life with Rooster and Knife. I am not much of an art critic but could relate to the summary in my museum leaflet that described themes of sorrow, rage, and violence in the piece. This left me wondering if perhaps Picasso was amongst the early vegetarians or even part of the original vegan movement and if, given his compassion towards animals, the works depicting violence had a political message. I excitedly googled "Picasso vegetarian" and "Picasso vegan" later from the hotel but nothing came up, although I did learn that Antonio Gaudi was famously a "strict vegetarian" for “health reasons” and a Picasso Café in Oklahoma has good vegan options, might be handy information one day!