That doesn't mean you won't. I'm sure you will have better luck and/or do better research and/or speak more coherent Spanish. But you know, I'm not even upset. I eat a lot of bread in my normal life so missing out on bread topped with this or that while pushing through people drinking alcohol isn't that big a deal to me. The only thing is, if you aren't eating pintxos in Bilbao, you are eating a set menu. Even for lunch! Even if you just wanted a light lunch somewhere, you will be greeted with a three course set menu. Sure you could probably order a la carte but who knows what that would bring you. Whereas, with a set menu in Bilbao, you know you are getting green salad (lettuce and onions, oh my!), grilled vegetables, and fruit. Now, I'm not knocking salad, veggies, and fruit. That's pretty much my favorite stuff. It's just that for the most part, their efforts to serve a vegan resulted in very uninspired food, and at various restaurants I was given nearly identical meals. Oh, and there will always be a basket of bread on the table, and you will eat too much of it because it's bread on the table.
When we first set out in Bilbao, it was super late at night, like past normal bedtime, which means that all the restaurants were just starting to open. We struggled to pass through the streets overflowing with drunk yoots and went into several bars and restaurants trying to find a menu to decipher. But most of the places we entered were serving pintxos, not regular menus, and all of their little breads were topped with meat and cheese. After a few blocks of this, I started to get really anxious and nervous. And hungry. (There was a Subway, though, as there always is, so I found comfort knowing that if all else failed I would be able to get shredded lettuce and green peppers on their stanky bread.)
Finally, one bar serving pintxos said that they were serving their regular menu in the dining room, and that they could accommodate a vegetarian. (Advice: Always start by saying vegetarian. Most people don't know the word vegan (even in English speaking countries, don't assume that's a household word) so figure out with the front of house staff if they can serve vegetarians and then make sure with your waitron that stuff doesn't contain dairy and hipsters' souls. That's been the route to success for me.) This oasis of a restaurant, called Busterri, had a pretty fancy white tablecloth dining room that was empty when we entered but pretty full by the time we left (like after midnight, oh Europeans).
The food isn't very pretty, but hot damn it was yummy. This was my first of the 'hot oily veggies' meals, so I really enjoyed it. These sauteed mushrooms were possibly the most delicious mushrooms I've ever eaten! No joke! Even better than at the fancy pants Michelin restaurant this whole trip was based around (separate post on that wondrousness tomorrow).
The wait staff was really nice and helpful, and the food was good, if on the expensive side. Also, there was bread. Always bread.
The next day (a Saturday), we tried to hit up some HappyCow recs for lunch, but they were closed! Whaaat are these schedules?! We ended up at a cider hall (or sidreria) in the casco viejo (old town!) called Arriaga, which was full of big parties of Spanish families having their weekend meal together as well as an assumed stag do (bachelor party) full of superlatively wasted young men (of course seated at the table next to us). Being a sidreria, the set menu on offer was called a cider menu, meaning you got your meat, other meat, and cheese for dessert along with unlimited cider that you pour yourself from the enormous barrels in the walls. That was pretty cool. I didn't take pictures but I had a decent green salad (lettuce and onion only, naturally) that was quite enormous (I think I was supposed to share with Husband but I love lettuce) and a grilled vegetable plate with really good asparagus, artichokes, leeks, and more. It was nothing out of the ordinary, but nothing to sneeze at. Also, when the risk of not finding any vegetables while traveling is so high, I'd take veggie overload any day. Oh and of course there was never-ending table bread.
So Arriaga was a pretty nice restaurant, but again it was crazy expensive for the set menu and convinced us that Bilbao is just on the pricey side. Oh the best part was what came with dessert (fruit for me):
One of the vegetarian-friendly places we couldn't get into on Saturday we went back to on Sunday, and it was kind of disappointing. It's probably my own fault for ordering the wrong thing, though. The super hip, super popular restaurant in the casco viejo called Kasko is a restaurant recommendation in several mainstream guides. We had to make a reservation because it's always really busy. Everything I read said they were vegan friendly, but several staff members had to come talk to me to figure out what I was after. Finally someone came over and told me, in Spanish, what their 4-5 vegan options were and that I was to pick two. I didn't really understand most of what was said or that the first two weren't necessarily appetizers and the second two weren't necessarily entrees and that I could pick any two, so I kind of failed. I did pick a fantastic first course, the stuffed peppers with corn, beans, lettuce, and pine nuts in a wonderful red sauce that felt like a true Italian gravy.
My dessert was pretty hilarious.
So, if you are heading to Bilbao and you aren't going to be eating the many, many hunks of meat served all over the city (it's pretty jarring and gross), be prepared for a lot of grilled oily veggies. Try to figure out what the heck kind of schedule the (supposedly existing) vegan pintxos places have. Prepare some Spanish in advance, but if you get tripped up, don't get so nervous that you rush into bad decisions like I did. Just take a deep breath and remember, no, I will probably not be happy with a big bowl of noodle to go alongside my table bread. Relax and be grateful that there are so many vegetables, even if they aren't served in super interesting ways. And, most importantly, if you can swing it, plan a meal at Asador Extebarri, the fancypants restaurant that will be the subject of tomorrow's Very Important Post.