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This is a little story about my first trip to Spain, following my heart, finding/not finding vegan food, and at the bottom of the page, a recipe for pan con tomate!
POV, You are Vegan and Traveling to Spain
I took my first trip to Spain December 2022. I'm in a long distance relationship, and I hadn't seen my partner, Jose, for 10 months since he visited me in Canada. I had almost missed my overseas flight due to snow in Montreal, landing ten minutes before my next flight was due to leave. I sprinted through the airport wearing far too many layers, carrying my heavy camera gear and definitely wearing the wrong shoes. Finally, I arrived at my gate, a sweaty hot mess, my name being called over the speakers, and every employee from the check in spot until I got to my seat knowing my name. Last one on the plane, but I made it.
Seeing Jose was obviously the main point of my trip to Spain, but as a Chef & blogger I of course was excited to explore the food and culture as much as possible while I was there. I am also vegan, and knew that this would add some layer of interest to me navigating the food scene there. How easy was it to be vegan in Spain? I was about to find out.
When I arrived, I was sleep deprived and exhausted. We had time for one weekend away from Valencia, where Jose lives. To pull off our weekend trip meant leaving directly to our accommodations upon me landing at the airport in Valencia. We had settled on spending a night in Morella, about a three hour drive away.
Where is Morella?
Morella is a municipality in the province of Castellon, in the Valencian Community, Spain. It is located in the Maestrat comarca, in the north of the province, and is known for its castle, which dates back to the 12th century and is considered one of the best preserved medieval castles in Spain.
The town of Morella is situated on a hill at an altitude of 740 meters, and is surrounded by mountains and forests and has a population of around 4,500 people. In addition to its castle, Morella is also known for its historical center, which has been declared an Asset of Cultural Interest, and its annual medieval festival, which takes place in August.
This Road Trip Required ALL of my Grit
En route to Morella, I did my best to keep my eyes open for the scenic drive, I was dead, dehydrated, fighting a massive headache, but the happiest I had been in months. (As you might be able to tell from the above photo.) Our apartment ended up being 15 kilometers away in a lower lying village called Chiva de Morella, which was a surprise to both of us as it wasn't evident in the booking details, but we didn't mind. We arrived around 4:30 pm to realize we couldn't check into the apartment. The door was locked, and check in, according to a local man whom with Jose had a conversation with in Catalan language, was actually at the "pub" across the street. It only opened at 6. I was a barely functioning human at this point and I just wanted a shower and a rest before trying to find food. We ended up driving up to Morella for better cell signal to see what we could figure out, and so Jose and I could check in with our families to say we had arrived. Jose was also able to make a phone call to the pub even though they weren't open yet, and they gave us a pin number so we could get into the apartment lobby before checking in, though they said they weren't sure if our actual room was unlocked yet. I was praying. We drove back down to Chiva de Morella. Pin code worked to get into the lobby, perfect...up a flight of stairs and halleluiah the door to our room was open. We showered and had a rest and decided to go to the pub for food. Jose was preparing me for the lack of vegan options (he is vegetarian so a bit easier), but I said maybe they will have french fries, those are always vegan..I didn't care at this point about being healthy...I literally just needed calories in my body.
When we walked into the pub, I quickly realized that calling it a pub was a massive exaggeration. It was a tiny one room bar with 3 tables. There were milk crates stacked all along the entry way. Four older men sat having beers and playing cards at one table, 4 older ladies chatting with drinks at another. We did our check in, and Jose asked about food. The woman working told him they only prepare food when people call ahead of time to order. Otherwise they don't pick up groceries. It's a small village, and now my understanding of where I was, was becoming crystal clear. I glanced to a wire shelf to the left of the cash, I spotted 4 bags of potato chips. I told Jose I absolutely couldn't go up to Morella again this night to find food, I could barely walk. We were eating potato chips for dinner. Jose ordered 2 beers, we sat at the one other long table which had another couple sitting at it. We ended up making friends, eating potato chips and drinking beer. Perhaps I didn't have high expectations about dining in a small village, but I certainly couldn't have predicted this outcome. The best part of my first night in Spain was, I couldn't have been happier, and it will remain one of my all time favourite memories. Chips, Beer, new friends, a foreign country, but most of all being with the man I love. No word of a lie, when I reflect back on the past 39 years of my life, these first couple of days with Jose, and the subsequent 2 weeks, were the happiest of my entire life.
The next morning
The next morning I was ravenous and desperate for coffee. Our room was beautiful, but while they had a nespresso machine, we would have had to bring our own coffee. We packed up and drove to Morella to find caffeine and sustenance.
Finding Breakfast in Morella
The center of the town was full market stalls with lots of fruits and vegetables. Jose and I grabbed a few oranges at one of the stalls while we strolled to look for somewhere to sit down and eat. If you are staying somewhere where you can prepare food, then you would have no problem as a vegan as whole foods are widely available. However meat, fish and dairy are also a large part of the food culture here, and we found that while vegetarian options were available to a degree at local restaurants and cafes, vegan options not so much. We didn't scour the entire village, but I don't think there would have been a point in doing so. We stopped in at Restaurante Pere, which was in the main center of the village. We wanted to sit outside but went in to check things out. They had a display case full of typical Spanish pinxtos. Anchovies skewered with olives for example. I noticed Spanish Tortilla de Patatas, and lots of other fish and meat dishes. Vegetarian things, yes, vegan. no.
They had espresso (I didn't even ask about plant based milk for a cappuccino because I knew it wouldn't be a thing), but Jose asked them if they could prepare "Pan Con Tomate, or in the Catalan language "Pa Amb Tomaquet") Our request thankfully was granted. We sat outside, sipped our espressos, and waited.
Out came a large piece of toasty bread with tomato, and did it ever hit the spot. After only having potato chips and beer and not much else while I was flying to Spain, this simple, humble breakfast was exquisite. Pan Con Tomate is a staple dish in Spanish cuisine, and making it at home couldn't be easier. See below for the recipe!
My First Spanish Pan Con Tomate. Delish!
Tips for traveling as a vegan in rural parts of Spain.
In the future (since our hope is for me to eventually move to Spain) and we definitely plan on touring around, I think he and I would probably bring food with us depending where we were headed. If it were a day trip I would consider packing a picnic with some snacks or sandwiches just in case. Definitely prepare yourself for being able to say "I am vegan" in Spanish. "Soy vegana" but don't assume everyone will know what that actually means. (I had a young man ask if I could eat tomato in Valencia at one restaurant lol). If you don't speak Spanish I would definitely prepare using my translator a few sentences to describe what I don't eat to clarify if necessary.
Recipe: Pan Con Tomate
Quantity: Make as much as you want. 2 tomatoes is enough for 6 slices of bread.
There are a couple ways to make pan con tomate, some recipes simply rub the cut tomato onto the toasted bread, others grate the tomato and then spoon on the pulp. Both are great, the one we had in Morella seemed like maybe it was rubbed with the tomato, whereas I had it in Valencia with a lot more pulp on top, so was probably grated tomato.
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