Study abroad reflections – Artichokes and Arpeggios: “Notes” on Southern Spain’s Vegan Cuisine

By: Brittany B., Student Services Assistant, API Texas
(former API Peer Mentor & API Granada, Spain: Hispanic Studies Semester Program)

If you have ever travelled to Spain, I can guess what you may be thinking. The words “Spain” and “vegan” hardly ever appear in the same sentence—let alone the same menu. I had never seen a café with a ceiling covered entirely in dried hams until I arrived in Madrid. Granada proved no different. As a salad-loving student who decided to study in Spain for a semester, I braced myself for the transition from leafy greens to Spanish Tortilla (a gigantic fried omelet made of scrambled eggs and potatoes). I prayed for vegetables.

To my surprise, I discovered that some Spaniards do understand the vegetarian diet and design some fantastic dishes. (I was fortunate enough to have a host mother who was one such Spanish chef.) Furthermore, I found out about a restaurant that actually specializes in vegan cuisine—it even offers cooking classes! Once El Piano made it onto my radar, it nearly became a weekly staple in my meal plan. All you vegans, vegetarians, and health food lovers, read on! If you decide to study abroad in Granada, this restaurant may become a staple for you, too.

I found it on the street Gran Capitán between Centrovisión Ópticas and a farmacia. (Perhaps a more obvious landmark is the ancient and grandiose Monasterio de San Jerónimo across the street.) Greeted by the colorful and refreshing atmosphere of the restaurant, I walked up to a row of glass-encased prepared foods, artfully displayed with small name tags. A large chalkboard hung above the counter, explaining the ordering process. Now, I should note that El Piano’s dishes are not for the faint of palate. Though delicious to be sure, they showcase recipes that may seem unfamiliar to the average diner—a reality even more overwhelming for those who blew off memorizing their Spanish vocabulary in high school. The restaurant staff, however, was kind and friendly, happy to explain the dishes and ingredients to people like me who have no idea what to make of things like “Pate de Boniatos” and “eneldo” (which I discovered are their Sweet Potato Mousse and the herb we know as dill). El Piano made learning new foods and flavors easy, inexpensive and fun. Allow me to explain.

Customers have the option of choosing four items or simply two—the half-sized portion—from the dishes on display. Staff members suggest you try some foods hot and others cold. I took my time strolling back and forth in front of the row of glass coolers, reading the descriptions and trying to decide what to choose—something far easier said than done! When I finally settled on a combination, the server behind the counter translated my order into four helpings of food loaded into a little wooden boat. (Yes, I have a large appetite.) She popped it in the microwave for a few minutes and then presented it to me with a wooden fork. (I forgot to mention that El Piano prides itself in using biodegradable materials—another plus!) Upon paying for my food, I was surprised to find that the whole meal only cost around five euro. Naturally, I took my cue and ordered dessert. Vegan carrot cake…yummm…wholesome and delicious!

If I had to offer criticism, the only less pleasant part of the experience was the lack of seating in the restaurant. I had to take my wooden boat of food on the road or else find a nearby plaza where I could sit and enjoy it. Hopefully, El Piano will upgrade with a few bistro tables in the future, especially since there appeared to be plenty of floor space. Still, whether sitting or standing, I was thrilled to take a break from the usual—albeit delicious—white bread, fried eggs, and ham that seem to accompany most Spanish dishes with somewhat regrettable regularity.

So my fellow vegans and vegetarians, I have a confession to make: I am actually neither. I love fish and cheese, and will always enjoy a good burger. However, if even a meat eater can salivate for a satisfying meal served at a restaurant devoted entirely to vegan cuisine, I bet just about anyone can. Here’s to artichokes, arpeggios, and El Piano!

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Comments

  1. Interesting post. Well done on finding vegan cuisine in Spain. They do love their ham and pig there. Hope to have the free time to visit Granada soon.

  2. Thanks for this article! I am living in Sevilla, Spain and am soon to be hosting a vegetarian friend here in the land of jamón. It’s both an adventure and a challenge to find the non-meat alternatives here in the south – I lived in Granada as a student & never saw El Piano .. but I’d love some of that sweet potato mousse 🙂

    For more info on what I’ve discovered here in Sevilla, check out my latest blog: http://thisblonde.wordpress.com/2011/02/17/vegetarians-in-the-land-of-ham/

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