Malaga has come a long way in the last decade when it comes to restaurants and eateries catering for vegetarians and vegans.
There were few vegetarians in Malaga when El Calafate first opened its doors in 2010. It became one of the first eateries in Malaga to have no meat on the menu. In fact, this gap in the market was the primary reason they began their business.
“In principle, we make vegetarian versions of traditional Spanish food,” says Javier Fiestas Botella, one of three associates who came together to launch the project, “though we have dishes from other countries as well, such as falafel and moussaka.”
Although much of the clientele is local, the restaurant is also popular with the international community and tourists who have just arrived at Malaga port. “Normally there are many English people and Germans,” explains Javier, “though it depends on where the boat comes from.”
Antonio Israel, co-owner of La Vegana, a vegan tapas bar that opened in 2019 near Plaza de la Merced, also sees many foreigners pass through his door each day. Overall, he estimates that 35 per cent of his clients are foreign, though these figures fluctuate with every change in the Covid situation.
“We’ve received a very warm welcome,” says Antonio. “We have lots of clients who are not vegan but come because they like the food.”
Much like El Calafate, La Vegana mostly offers Spanish cuisine, but with a vegan twist. Among its most popular dishes are pil-pil prawns, which are made using soya protein, and tortilla de patatas, the recipe for which is a “house secret”. But despite being somewhat niche, La Vegana is not the only vegan establishment in Malaga.
Run by Raquel Cervantes and her husband, El Cambio is a vegan supermarket in Calle Carretería that stocks ecologically sourced groceries, supplements and more. It even sells ethically produced cosmetics.
“At the beginning, mostly older people came here,” said Raquel, “but a few years ago our clientele changed. We now have a lot of young people and also many foreigners, but increasingly more people from here.”
Raquel reckons this is because the number of local associations that encourage meat-free diets is increasing and because there is a growing global trend towards veganism. However, she emphasises that “veganism must not be a trend, but a belief”.
With its traditionally meaty cuisine, it is unsurprising that Spain does not have a strong culture of vegetarianism, unlike other European countries such as the United Kingdom or Germany. However, Patrick Peckham, co-owner of the Recyclo Café in Plaza Enrique García-Herrera, thinks this is not the only reason why there are still relatively few meat-free establishments in Malaga.
“The need for healthy, fresh vegetables is not massive in Spain,” he explained. “In England or Germany, obviously, the quality of fruit or veg is not always great, especially if you don’t buy it in an organic shop, so the average meal will be less tasty. No one will be eating tomato soup like they do here everyday with gazpacho.”
Born in Spain to an English-Irish father and an English-Spanish mother, Patrick has been based in Malaga since the 2000s. He modelled the Recyclo café on the trendy, environmentally conscious cafés that he frequented while living in Krakow and Berlin. True to their style, his establishment is eclectically decorated, with a large wooden statue suspended above the bar and bicycles suspended from the ceiling as it is partnered with the neighbouring bike shop.
“Having a lot of vegetarian options is a must if you want to get young, alternative-thinking people in,” said Patrick, who has been pleasantly surprised with how business has gone since the café opened in 2014.
“I thought it was just going to be a bar for me and my mates and it ended up turning into a really, really popular space.
“The kitchen obviously evolved very quickly because we had such high demand. We had to change everything and make it more efficient.”
“This sort of alternative, forward-thinking concept didn’t sink in that well there,” he says. “People there are more used to traditional Spanish cafeterias – dirt cheap, fast service, white bread with ham and cheese. […] No one was coming to order eggs and toast or milkshakes.”
Although Patrick estimates that over two-thirds of his clients are Spaniards, he is a little disappointed with how the environmentalism movement has developed locally.
“If you had asked me six years ago, I would have expected more,” he said. “It’s not got as big as I expected. There is definitely still a taste for tradition in Malaga.”