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Oct 14, 2012 08:20 PM

Eating Restrictions in Barcelona / San Sebastian


My boyfriend and I are traveling to Barcelona and San Sebastian next month and I'm in charge of the food itinerary. First, thanks for all the great info about these two cities already on the boards here -- unbelievably helpful.

We both deal with some limited eating restrictions, and I'm trying to figure out how big a deal that will be (both in terms of patience and communication). We'll want to try one or two of the top level tasting menus (i.e. Etxebarri, Akelarre), plus some other great restos and the pinxos of course.

To be specific, he can't eat dairy (negligible amounts ok), and I can't have shellfish or pork products (will often just go vegetarian), and I guess are main questions are:
- What are the best ways to communicate this?
- When to communicate? (When making the reservation or at the restaurant?)
- Do you know of specific places that will be more accommodating than others?

I had a wonderful time at the French Laundry because I got their vegetarian menu (which is no mere consolation prize), and I got the sense that they would have made it work for me even if that hadn't been an option. But that's Northern California... I've never been to Spain, and don't want to spend one of our meals refusing half of the courses or insisting on alterations that would result in something third-rate. But, also really want to be as adventurous as possible -- we're much more likely to try and find something that works at a great restaurant rather than fall back on a vegetarian or other specialty restaurant.

Thanks in advance!!

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  1. The problem for you in Spain will be that saying you are vegetarian may not help, as they do not see chicken, fish, seafood or pork as being meat! The word for meat in Spain really only means lamb or beef. So vegetarians often find pieces of jamon in their "vegetarian" soup or rabbit in their "vegetarian" paella.

    The simplest way to deal with it will be to just tell them the specifics - that you don't eat pork or anything from a pig (including jamon, chorizo etc). I guess specifying shellfish as opposed to fish is also clear enough for them to know what you mean.

    As for when to tell them, it depends on the type of place you are going to. Top end places should know in advance, especially if you are having the tasting menu (and they should know what vegetarian means too). But at tapas places I imagine that you will have to go with the flow and ask them which ones you can eat at the time. It's the inbetween places which may be more difficult - but so long as you are not going for a tasting menu, then I reckon the kitchen in most mid level restaurants should be able to advise you or make small adaptations to dishes.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Theresa

      Thanks! I am especially concerned about the tasting menus. I have reservations at Etxebarri and Akelarre so far and haven't conveyed anything to them, but will probably do so this week.

      1. re: adamr

        don't wait up, contact them as soon as possible.

    2. I would be less concerned with the higher end tasting menus than I would the more casual places as pork and shellfish are extremely common in both cities. If small amounts of dairy are ok, you may be ok in San Sebastian but be aware that lots of Basque tapas use a bechemel base.

      Don't miss the tapas! We've been many times to San Sebastian and did the tasting at Mugaritz. Amazing, but the past few times we've been, we've preferred to do tapas. Some of the higher end places are doing truly amazing food.


      1 Reply