But does this really happen?
See also: Vegetarian Dishes in Spain
Vegetarianism is catching on fast in Spain. Even if most Spaniards see vegetarianism as a rare disease, they'll be aware that it often afflicts a particular species: the foreigner (foreigniticus socksinsandalsis).
As a result, I think this is a bit of a myth. Most Spanish waiters, especially in touristy areas know that you really want no meat.
But it happened to me! Why?!
There are two explanations as to why you received ham in your vegetarian dish.
Ham in Your Vegetarian Dish in Spain: The Usual ExplanationHam is a way of life in Spain. You are not allowed to dislike ham. The quality isn't important. Even if it's a dry slither of poor quality jamon, it's still good.
Because of this obsession with ham, the Spanish cannot imagine you wouldn't eat ham, even if you are vegetarian. So they don't think its inclusion wouldn't prevent a dish being vegetarian.
But I doubt it. It is true that the Spanish cannot comprehend someone not eating ham. "Pull the other one", they might say. A friend of mine discretely knocked the ham off her bread and ate the hamless bread, and all her friends stopped eating and stared at her. "¡Pero es muy rico!" ("But it's delicious!") she was told, as if this was a fact, not an opinion.
Still, the idea doesn't wash with me.
Ham in Your Vegetarian Dish in Spain: An Alternative ExplanationMost vegetarians in Spain know the word "carne" means "meat". So they point to a dish and say "¿Carne? ¿Si? ¿No?" The waiter says no, and yet the dish arrives with ham in it.
The confusion comes from the fact that "carne" does mean "meat", but it is also used to mean "beef". Therefore, some may interpret the question as "Does this dish contain beef?" Indeed, it doesn't. But you never asked about ham!
So how do I avoid getting ham in my vegetarian dish?Say the following phrase (or write it down and show it to them):
"Soy vegetariano. No como ningun tipo de carne (o pescado). ¿Este plato lleva carne?"
("I'm vegetarian. I don't eat any type of meat (or fish). Does this dish contain meat?")