Food. Where can I even begin? I love food; I am legitimately passionate about food. Eating is one of life’s greatest joys. I know that for a fact. Therefore, one of the most enjoyable parts of being in Spain has been partaking in the local cuisine. And I probably won’t even be able to portray the deliciousness through this blog post, but I will try my best. Here we go!
I would like to start with the bread. Bread is my weakness. I love it, and I could talk about it all day. Ask Blake Peterson, the other intern from Jamestown Community College. He will tell you that I talk about bread way too much. So it is only right that I begin here. Anyway, Spain has some great bread. As they would say here, bread is “muy rico!” There are lots of different kinds, as we have in the United States. You’ve got your sliced bread that comes in a bag (pretty basic), baguettes, loaves, rolls, wheat, white… you name it. In my Spanish family, we go through a loaf a day. I love when my abuela (grandmother) comes to make lunch for my host sisters and me and brings some fresh bread. My favorite kind of bread (pictured) is a kind that is pretty dense, and has a crunchy outside. It comes in many shapes and sizes. There are also ridges in the bread so that it is easy to break off pieces. Even though knives are used sometimes to cut the bread, usually the Spanish people just break off chunks with their hands. And we ALWAYS have bread for lunch and dinner. And breakfast too, if you’d like. But I have not had a lunch or dinner here without bread. Actually, I retract that statement. When Blake, Jamie, and I went to Salamanca, we went out for lunch and they didn’t give us bread. Needless to say I was a little upset. But anyway, bread. You’ve gotta love it.
Next let’s talk about some basic table manners, because bread is actually a part of that. There is not really a strict set of table manners, but there are rules that you should follow. One should always sit with both hands above the table, not in your lap. And although the bread is always out first, you don’t want to eat up all of your helping before you finish the meal (but it is ok to break off some more!). This is because you are supposed to push the food that isn’t as easy to pick up with your fork alone with your bread. Not another utensil or your fingers. Push with the bread. The bread also always is set on the table next to your plate, not on your plate. It is perfectly ok if you get crumbs on the table. Another thing is that, unlike Americans who usually pile up a bunch of food on one plate (think of your Thanksgiving dinner, or a typical summer picnic), the Spanish usually eat one thing at a time. You will see this in a home as well as when you are out to eat, where it is very common to have a first plate, then a second plate, then your desert and coffee. No one (at least that I have encountered) has been really concerned about being really proper when eating. Fingers are ok with certain foods, I’ve been around some slurping, and I usually make a mess of the table. But “no pasa nada!” (literally “nothing happens”), “it doesn’t matter,” as long as you enjoyed the meal.
The meal schedule is pretty different here too. In my house, breakfast is like it is in the US. You eat when you get up, and you eat what you want. I usually have a yogurt and some fruit, and sometimes some toast. Lunch is the biggest meal of the day, and it is usually sometime between 1 and 4 p.m. This took some time getting used to, since the typical American lunch is around noon! Dinner is also different. It is not as big, and it is eaten quite late. I am usually eating dinner around 10 to 11 p.m. You can snack too; people like to have their café con leche (coffee with milk). Whenever we have meetings with Heather Espeso, we enjoy some coffees and cookies.
One of the very typical Spanish dishes that I have had is sopa de cocido, which just means cooked or stewed soup. This is a broth with noodles, garbanzo beans, and a variety of different meats. This was a very interesting cultural experience for me. When my host dad Pepe made this soup, we all went to the fruit and vegetable market and the meat and fish market. It was a lovely day, and because I live in a great place right in the middle of the city, we are able to walk to these places. These are like the farmers’ markets that we have in our area on a grander scale. The fruit and vegetable market is in a plaza, outside. There are many vendors of different goods, and lots of people waiting their turn to buy what they need for the day or the week. Next we went to the meat and fish market, which is not for the faint of heart. You can smell it before you get inside, and even I was a little grossed out at first. It is just so different from what I have experienced in the US. There is every kind of meat and fish that you can imagine. Walking around you may see huge whole fish, crabs, shrimp, cow tongues, baby pigs, rabbits, the traditional leg of ham, and other things that may or may not be known to you. All this, along with more usual (to us Americans) ribs and pork loins and chicken, et cetera. And again, there are a lot of people waiting in line to get their meat and fish, and the workers are just chopping and slicing away. Like I said, it is strange at first, but it is really neat. Also, each vendor there has a sign with their name and company. People know where their food is coming from. There is no “mystery meat” here. I am sure you could find some, but people mostly buy from people they know. This is one very important part of the Spanish cuisine, one reason why it is so delicious and nutritious! Also, as you can probably imagine, it is next to impossible to be a vegetarian here!
So, back to the sopa. When it is ready, you first get the broth with the little noodles. It is sort of like chicken soup, but with a somewhat different flavor. It is really good. When you finish your soup, you get the garbanzo beans, which are usually mixed with other vegetables as well. For example, we had an onion mixed in as well as pickles (sounds weird, but I promise you it was really good). After that, there is a tray of all of that meat! You can eat is separately, but my family prepared it for me by cutting it up and mixing all of it together. As an avid meat lover, this was heavenly. I was really full at this point, but our lunch was not over yet. Next was fruit, which is almost always eaten after lunch and dinner as the dessert. So I had an orange and a mandarin orange, and also strawberries in milk. But, because this was a special family lunch, we also had actual dessert, so I had cake and a chocolate truffle. Oh yeah, and then there was the café, of course! This was one of my favorite and most memorable meals yet!
Another really memorable and unique meal was when I had Sunday lunch with Heather and her family. She has relatives who live in Barcelona, another city in Spain. For us they prepared a vegetable called a “calçot.” calçots are a type of onion that are native to Barcelona, and are actually a unique and important part of the culture there. Typically they are prepared outside like a barbecue (see photo), but because it was cold and rainy, we prepared them in the fireplace. Rather than fully cleaning the onions, it’s best to leave some soil on their surface, which protects their outer skin. The calçots are grilled directly over the flames until they become black on the outside. They are typically served wrapped in newspaper to keep them warm and set on curved terra cotta roof tiles. Calçots are eaten with your hands, and are a bit tricky! You need to hold them by the green leaves at the top with one hand and pull off the burned outer layer of skin with the other hand. The tender and juicy inner bulb is then dipped in a special salsa. It was really messy, but sooo good!! And being able to have that cultural experience was something very unique!!
We also had white asparagus wrapped in salmon at lunch with Heather’s family. I usually love all food, but when I first ordered this asparagus at a restaurant, I was unpleasantly surprised. This asparagus is fat and white, and served chilled, usually with mayonnaise. I thought that it was interesting and it wasn’t horrible, but I probably would not have ordered them again. But the way Heather’s mother-in-law Marisa served it with the salmon was actually really good. Even though I was hesitant at first to try it because I did not like it the first time, I am really glad I did. That is why you need to give everything a chance (or two!), especially when you have such a unique cultural opportunity!
And then there were tapas…. Tapas are the bomb. A traditional Spanish thing to do is to go out and eat tapas with friends. You can do this for lunch or dinner, or in-between. This is probably my favorite thing to do here. Tapas are like little appetizers. There are so many different kinds, and each bar has different varieties to choose from. The bar scene is different here than the United States. When I say that I am going to a bunch of bars, I am not talking about the kind that you go to and sit and drink away your sorrows. The Spanish ones are basically restaurants. Last time I went out for tapas, there was a group of people with kids, including a baby in a stroller, at the bar. So no one should be alarmed!
Here in Valladolid there are many, many places to eat tapas, and they are all clustered close together so it is easy to go from one to another. With your friends, you go to one bar and you get one tapa and one drink (per person). You get to choose from the selection at the bar, which consists of delicious combinations of breads, meats, seafood, vegetables, fruits, et cetera. My favorite tapa so far is bread with salmon, octopus, pineapple, and three different kinds of cheese. Sepia, which is cuttlefish, is also really good. There is actually a tapas bar called “La Sepia” here! You can also get other typical Spanish tapas like morcilla, which, if you’re squeamish, you should eat before you ask what it is, because I promise that it is yummy. Typically you drink a glass of wine, beer, or cerveza con limon (beer with lemonade). Castilla y Leon (the region that Valladolid is in) is one of the world’s largest and best wine regions. You can also get non-alcoholic drinks and just water. Once you finish your tapas, you go to the next bar and repeat until you are full! It is a fun way to spend time with friends and family, as well as eat a variety of delicious foods!
I could honestly go on for days, but I don’t want to make you too jealous. So I will finish off this food blog with churros. I have come to know and love churros. These scrumptious fried dough sticks that you dip in chocolate or coffee (preferably chocolate) have a special place in my heart (and my stomach!). the other interns and I have declared that Tuesday is churro day, so we have been making our way around Valladolid to visit the various churrerias. Even on a terribly rainy and cold day, we got up and went out for churros. It was well worth it.
Well, now you have a better understanding of the food culture here in Spain. It has been such a treat to experience all of the Spanish foods and the cultural aspects that go along with it. And even though I may not love everything, it adds to the adventure to try something new. That is what this experience is all about. I have this great opportunity to teach English in Spain, and in return the people here are sharing their culture with me. Trying new things and being immersed in the culture are life changing, and I am so happy that I can be here in Valladolid! Until next time, Buen Provecho!!