Michelle Van Haften - Segovia, Spain
For almost my whole life I have been a vegetarian; going abroad was not going to change that. Before I left for Spain, I had talked to many people who had experienced traditional Spanish cuisine, like traditional fish dishes and a variety of tapas, or Spanish appetizers. All of them made so many comments on how delicious the food was and how in being a vegetarian I would be missing out on such a great part of Spain's culture. As the time came to write my first letter to my host family, I wrote in my letter about how I was a vegetarian and hoped that AHA had placed me in a home that would help me in that request. This took a little of my worry off, but I was still sad that I may not be able to enjoy all of the culture that Spain had to offer. Before I left, I decided that I would try really hard not to let being a vegetarian get in the way of my cultural experience. I decided that if there were really something that was particularly special or unique that I would attempt to try it.
After my plane landed and I had the opportunity to get some well needed rest, my host mom greeted me from my nap with a dish called "ensalada rusa", or Russian salad. It is kind of like Spain's version of potato salad, but with tuna added to it. Once she handed it to me, I immediately sensed dread in my stomach knowing that it contained tuna. I did not want to be rude though, especially on my first day there. I ate a few bites, and told her I was full. The next day she served it to me again for lunch, and again, I ate a few bites and told her I was full. That night my host mom and I had a long talk about the food; she knew I was a vegetarian, but had assumed that I still ate fish. She explained to me that if there is ever a night where I do not like the food, I just need to tell her and be more honest. She explained that she would rather help me have a positive experience with the food than to suffer through it and waste it.
From that evening on, my host mom made sure that I ate so healthy. She always reminded me of how not eating meat limited my nutrition and she would pour me a glass of gazpacho with every meal to make sure that I got my daily vitamins. She loved fresh vegetables too, so every night we would eat an amazing salad filled with so many delicious things that I never thought I would add to a traditional salad. They were amazing! She also made me Patatas Bravas which are spicy potatoes and this stew type soup called Pisto that she would serve with an egg on top. All of the food was so delicious! I couldn't believe that there were so many wonderful dishes that were vegetarian.
Outside of my home stay, it was sometimes a little more difficult to find vegetarian options, but by the end of my time there I had found many great options to enjoy when I wanted to go grab some dinner with friends. On one of the first nights of the program, everyone went out as a group for dinner for an array of tapas. Although almost every dish was not made for vegetarians, there were still some options. My favorites were tortilla española, potatoes and eggs; huevos fritos, fried eggs; croquetas, which sometimes contained ham but often could be vegetarian as well; and the traditional loaves of bread that were served with pretty much every meal. After this, I often found myself at a place called Pans and Co. (in Spanish, Pan means bread) or out at a place called Döner Kebab. At Pans and Co. they had such a great selection of sandwiches where the bread was so delicious! At Döner Kebab they are known for the meat, since Döner Kebab means "rotating roast", but nonetheless they had many vegetarian options, like falafel, pita, French fries, salads, etc.
These were just a few of the experiences I had while being a vegetarian in Spain. Going to Spain was such a wonderful and eye opening experience. I was so thrilled when I left and could tell everyone that Spain has just as much wonderful vegetarian food.