To begin, a vegan confession: in their first two weeks of travelling Spain and France, Mrs Lomez has broken several times, mostly with full knowledge of doing so but sometimes just hopeful ignorance. The culprits were: a mushroom tart pintxos in San Sebastián (knowingly but hopefully), a bite of home-made chocolate torte containing eggs from the free-roaming chooks next door (knowingly), a bite of pintxos with goat’s cheese in Burgos (knowingly), a taste of a cream cheese ball in Burgos (knowingly), half a tortilla slice in Burgos (knowingly), and a wild mushroom risotto that just may have been cooked with milk or cream (but hopefully not). True, it should be easy enough to check the ingredients of a dish when ordering and it is not because her Spanish is lacking, though it is much to Mrs Lomez’s shame that she is not fluent in her supposedly native tongue.
These lapses are neither reckless submissions nor sneaky deviations; however, a confession seems apt. Mrs Lomez breaks her own rules when on holiday but having permitted herself so, she has learned that she has no urge to go back to the dark side. It may be because the rich dairy flavours overwhelm all other taste sensations. Or it may be the mental irk at tasting again something that is so long unfamiliar. Dairy is often the last to go when transitioning to a totally plant-based diet – could it also be the first to be reinstated when sliding back along the dietary continuum? Or is it simply the vociferous influence of the omnivorous Dr Sin, without whom it is likely we would not have uncovered vegan surprises where we least expected to find them, but also, let it be said, who goads the herbivore into eating something in all other circumstances she would not.
Dr Sin and Mrs Lomez took to the pintxos of the north with mucho gusto, even finding a couple of veg surprises which required little handling to be made vegan: the onion marmalade with sundried tomato and slice of cheese (remove the cheese before eating), the champignon tart with flaky shortbread (best not to think about the possibility of butter), battered courgette slices with a sliver of jamon (siphon off to Dr Sin before consuming). And then olives are freely available, and many times even free.
Before heading off, Mrs Lomez was told by Spaniards and non-Spaniards alike that eating out would be difficult and she was prepared for patatas bravas and ensalata at every meal. Ensalata mixta comes with eggs and tuna but they are ordered only one or two times before remembering to order sin étun y sin huevos. The ever reliable salad companion, fried potatoes, is found everywhere and, again, after a couple of errors in our trials, we remember to order sin mayonesa. But there are other vegetables making surprise guest appearances: champinones in a garlic sauce, pimientos del padron, and parrillada de verduras – all totally vegan delights.
In France, heading east with a stop in Carcassone, Dr Sin reportedly had the best baked mussels ever while Mrs Lomez had a very generous serving of salad (again). No problems ordering pizza without cheese, though the results are far from appetising in Anduze but all good in Aigues-Mortes. They were driving in asparagus season — a hefty handful of green spears and strawberries galore at any of the many roadside veg stalls.
Without any cooking utensils, their campsite meals were thrown together salads with olive or tomato tapenade on pane, with baguette and spread again in the mornings. The vegetables this side of the channel are gorgeous (as are the cured meats and cheeses, Dr Sin will tell you): avocado, spinach, tomato, lettuce, spring onion and artichoke at markets in San Sebastián and in Carcassone.
Heading west back into Spain, they stopped at St Jean de Luz and had galettes at a tiny little place called Xabi, filled with a chatty and friendly crowd. They weren’t quite sure what they were ordering but the maitre’d understood the vegan requirements and adapted the veg dish to suit. Out came a huge tortilla wrap full of lettuce and sundried tomatoes for Mrs Lomez and a warm mince wrap for Dr Sin, unexpectedly just what was needed after a long day of driving.
Accompanying all of this is delicious local vino rouge y vino tinto (no vino rosso till we start speaking italiano!). In Burgos everybody drinks wine from Ribera del Douro, south of La Rioja. Either/or, at €1.50 a glass, which is, it must be pointed out, cheaper than mineral water, Dr Sin and Mrs Lomez were easily persuaded to try a few from all regions.
Their last stop before heading into Madrid was El Burgo de Osma. Skipping breakfast the two were ready for an early lunch by 1400 hours and here they tried their first menú del dia at the Capitol restaurant on the plaza. The primero menu had a lot of vegetables and beans — asparagus, cauliflower — though most with a little jamon and cheese for good measure. It was here that the risotto con setas (wild mushrooms) was had; perhaps a little on the creamy side but who can really say? In the evening they returned for hongos guisados, a delicious dish solely of mushrooms. El Burgo turned out to be a bit of a local foodie’s haven, with locally brewed beer (Arevaka) going down a treat.