Walking the Camino Francés in 2009, I very soon decided to include fish in my diet, because I thought I couldn’t cope with eating just ensalada (only) every night. So I ate ensalada mixta (salad with a small amount of tuna on top), or some other fish dish. Generally the salad was a preliminary serving given before the fish arrived. Most salads were well prepared–with a variety of ingredients, including asparagus and green olives, but the occasional hopeless salad consisted of only colourless lettuce with about three slices of tomato.
Speaking of salads, I remember going to a restaurant in Astorga where. There was only one vegetarian dish that the owner could offer: tomato salad. He brought it to me on a very large dinner plate. And there was… a double layer of sliced, rich, red tomato! Tomato only! Nothing else! Good heavens! But I tell a lie; there was also olive oil drizzled over the tomato. It turned out to be a surprisingly enjoyable meal–the biggest and best tomatoes I’ve ever tasted!
Opportunities to extend my ensalada and fish-eating diet did occur. Sometimes it was possible to have a tasty lentil soup for the evening meal, and occasionally paella. And there were other unexpected surprises. When passing through San Miguel, a señor beckoned to me, from his fruit and vegetable garden, and handed me plums. As I thanked him, he blew me a happy kiss. My husband, Kevin, was also called aside one day, and offered a huge water melon. But it was so heavy he had to decline it.
Kevin and I, like most pilgrims, followed an evening ritual. After washing our clothes, we’d go out shopping. We’d buy pan (bread), un tomate to share, dos plátanos (bananas) and dos manzanas (apples) for the next day’s picnic lunch. We also kept, in our backpacks, a supply of long-lasting soft cheese triangles that come in those protective circular cardboard cheese boxes, and a small supply of biscuits, nuts or dried fruit, and the essential ration of chocolate. What more would one need? It’s usually possible, along the Camino, to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, and pan (bread), providing it isn’t domingo, fiesta or siesta (Sunday,
a festival or nap time)!
At Ruitelán, we stayed at the Buddhist-run albergue which offered both vegetarian and nonvegetarian food. I enjoyed basil pesto spaghetti. And further along the Camino, in a new private hostal, Paloma y Leña, at San Mamed, a vegetarian meal is the standard food served. So it wasn’t difficult living on a vegetarian(with-fish) diet on the Camino Francés.
Walking the Vía de la Plata in 2011 also involved a return to fish–eating, along with ensalada mixta and occasional paella. Oh, and yes, of course, bocadillos and tortillas were usually readily available (again providing it wasn’t domingo, fiesta or siesta. The popular hot chocolate drink, Cola Cao, (like Quik) was a favourite for me. But it needs to be pronounced correctly to avoid receiving a blank stare, or being handed a bottle of Coca Cola. Having food (as well as water) in our backpacks was a very good thing, because there were occasions, in smaller towns, when we couldn’t find an open bar or café.
Eating on the Camino del Norte, in 2013, was more difficult because, by then, I was vegan (no fish or dairy, and no eggs), and often there was no vegan food on the menus in the pubs or restaurants. But there were plenty of opportunities to buy fruit, vegetables, nuts and soy milk in the shops. And I was pleasantly surprised by the number of cafes and restaurants in the larger towns that were able to make my much-desired Cola Cao using soy milk. Cafés in the smaller towns were less likely to have soy milk so, in rural areas, I carried a carton of soy milk in my back pack, to hand over, in a pub or café, for making my Cola Cao.
As I just mentioned, on the C del Norte it was difficult to find vegan food on the menus. So, at Comillas, Kevin decided that he would have a chat with the cook at the Hostal Esmeralda restaurant, well before serving time, about what could be cooked for his vegan wife. His negotiations brought good results (on that occasion). The cook accepted the challenge and proudly brought out a procession of different tapas. Most eating places were not so accommodating. They would either insist on sticking firmly to their fixed menu, or, if I was lucky, agree to leaving out some animal-based ingredient. Usually there was an ensalada, and always pan, to get by on, and I would finish the meal with the ‘blessed’ Cola cao, or a glass of red wine.
At Ribadesella, approximately halfway on our Camino, I was tired of being patient about food negotiations. Kevin had become increasingly concerned that I wasn’t eating a balanced diet, and had fallen into the habit of having long (language-difficult) discussions with waiters as to whether there was anything I could (and would) eat. That particular evening, tired of having my dietary needs being lengthily discussed by two men, and tired of growing hungrier by the minute, I decided to be sufficiently rude to end their discussion. Taking a deep breath, I loudly shouted, “I-JUST-WANT-CHIPS!!! I-JUST-WANT-CHIPS!!! Results were instant. The waiter quickly ushered us into the eating area with the promise of the much-desired chips. Hooray! Sitting in the dining room I noticed some of the staff peering around the doorway to catch a glimpse of the difficult old woman, but I just felt happy because, at last, my chips were being cooked.
Before leaving the north coast, we enjoyed a delicious meal at a vegetarian restaurant, Twist Cafe, in Gijón. Kevin had found the restaurant, on the internet, before we left home, and we had planned, all along, to have a special dinner there. It was a great restaurant in every way; friendly, lots of choice, and great taste… Less successful was a dinner somewhere in Galicia. We were having difficulty ordering our meal in Spanish, so I pointed to a picture of noodles, and the waiter nodded agreeably. Noodles would be a welcome change from ensalada. Unfortunately, after two spoonsfull I decided I didn’t like the taste of those noodles. So we looked up the meaning of angulas, in our Spanish dictionary. Horror of horrors! I had just eaten two spoonfuls of baby eels!
In summary, it’s possible for vegetarian and vegan pilgrims to find tasty, nutritious food along the Camino routes. But it’s quite likely that vegetarian pilgrims might decide to eat fish to keep up energy levels, and it could happen that vegan pilgrims might need to find a way to let off some steam, like I did, when I shouted, “I JUST WANT CHIPS!!” Having been through the experience of vegan-eating along the Camino del Norte, I’d like to recommend that vegans do what we didn’t do. I recommend that vegans stay mostly in albergues where it’s possible to do your own cooking. It’s possible to purchase most of the ingredients that you would need to make simple vegan dishes. We stayed in hostals, rather than albergues, because I’m a poor sleeper and often have nights when I don’t sleep at all. We only slept in albergues when there was no other reasonably priced accommodation. (Also, we’re getting on in years, now, and appreciate a certain level of privacy). But I would certainly recommend cooking your own evening meals, for younger vegans who enjoy albergue ‘togetherness’.
Anyway, to all you vegetarian and vegan pilgrims, (and all pilgrims), I wish you good walking, fun, and good eating on your Caminos.
Vegetarian Restaurant in Santiago
AFotC has received notification of a restaurant in Santiago that caters for vegetarians (but has other menu styles as well).
27 Rúa das Orlas
Santiago de Compostela