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TRAVEL : QUIXO Spain : Culture

Spanish Food: Meals &

Your Guide: M.S.G. Quixo
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My favorite part of Spain has to be the food! Many Yankees expect Spanish food to be spicy, like Mexican or South American food. But it is much more Mediterranean, relying on olive oil and garlic.On just about ever block in Spanish cities are small café/bars that can take care of all of your eating needs. These neighborhood bars serve up cheap delicious food that is dime-a-dozen in Spain but is costly or impossible to get in the United States. While you can get gourmet cuisine, I find I’m usually happier with the casual everyday fare.

Breakfast: Desayuno, breakfast, is usually pretty small in Spain. In the mornings bar/cafes are open serving delicious café con leche (a nice strong latte). You can grab some kind of bready thing like a chocolate croissant (napolitana de chocolate) or other bollos. Or pan tostada (toast). You’ll often see an old timer getting a nice shot of something alcoholic with it. Mmmm. If you are really hungry you might just grab a pincho of tortilla. When I lived there my Spanish roommate and I ate just Maria cookies and coffee. Everyday. Many people return to the cafes for a mid morning snack.

Just before lunch time it might be hard to find a bite as cafes prepare for the comida, the big meal of the day. Practically every little café offers a Menú del Día, a many coursed meal. It generally includes bread, wine, two courses and dessert. The two courses often consist of soup or beans, a hot meat or fish dish or paella.  Wine is often served, usually red, and you can ask for sweet bubbly casera to water it down, make a little wine cooler and avoid a getting drunk. Often they’ll just drop of a bottle at your table and you can go for it. Dessert choices usually include fruit, flan, natillas (a sort of creamy flan), yogurt, helados (ice cream) or arroz con leche. With a little searching it is possible to find quite affordable menus del dia under 10 euros. They are (almost) always great and usually are plenty to eat.

If you aren’t up for the Menú del Día, there are other great possibilities. A fresh baguette (barra) of bread can be found at any market or panaderia – households buy fresh bread daily. Get some delicious Spanish cheese and a tomato and you’re set. I’d suggest a nice Manchego Semi Curado. The most delicious cheeses combine sheep and cow cheese. I had one American friend recommend a kind of cheese that is always good and always cheap – “oferta.” (Oferta means “On sale”). You can ask for lonchas (slices) and they’ll slice it. Canned mejillones en escabeche (mussels) are mighty tastey. And though I don’t much like green olives or anchovies, aceitunas rellenas anchoa are delicious. When purchasing food at a market you can always start by requesting a quarto kilo (quarter kilo or half a pound) and move up from there. And never bag your own fruit and vegetables! The helpful attendant will do it for you. Though it is changing, just the packaging in Spain can be a joy as strawberries are packed up in giant paper cones and many items are boxed up with string. Oh, and while you may not find peanut butter, nocilla (Nutella) is an indulgent alternative.

You can also order get yummy individual items at bars (but you may not be able to sit at a table when they are serving the Menú del Día). See food suggestions under Dinner below.

Dinner in Spain tends to be much lighter than the main lunch meal. Often people will just have snacks over some drinks. There are also some very fine expensive restaurants that are open late – but I’ve seldom messed with them since the daily fare is so good.

Far and wide people have heard of Tapas and have different expectations. It is true that you can usually get a little free item whenever you order a drink, but usually it is nothing special—peanuts, olives or an old piece of cheese. Best to just buy what you like. You can generally order raciones or pinchos (smaller items or half raciones). If you don’t specify you might get a racion which is larger and more expensive than you wanted.

Here’s a little rundown of the best in Spanish cuisine:

Tortilla Espanola is thee quintessential Spanish food. It is often called a potato omelet but maybe not what you expect in an omelet. It is more of a frittata. It is a big yellow/brown Frisbee shaped pie that sits under glass at the counter til they cut off a triangle for you.

Bocadillos: A tortilla sandwich (bocadillo de tortilla) is really nice. Also available in or out of a bocadillo is a fried calamari. When ordering bocadillos, don’t expect mayo and lettuce and other toppings. You might get a thin slice of ham on hard bread. But good ham. And good bread. And sometimes you’ll find ‘sandwiches’ that are called ‘sahndweeches’  that are more of what you might expect.

Seafood: Beware that much seafood is served whole so you might find yourself ripping apart shrimp (first yank out the feet, then the shell comes off) or dissecting fish (eat one side then gently lift out the skeleton or flip it over). And if you want fried calamares, make sure you don’t order them them en su tinta (stewed in their own ink) – it is definitely an acquired taste. Almejas (clams) and mejillones (mussels) are also popular. Order a paella which tend to require some extra cooking time and you may get to sample a little of each.

Other Raciones and Pinchos: Also yummy are camarrones (shrimp), champiniones (mushrooms), setas (wild mushrooms) and many cheeses including Manchego (usually sheep cheese) and cabrales (a blue cheese). Al ajillo (garlicky) is always a good way to order things. Croquetas,croquettes, are served filled with ham, cheese and more.

Sopa de fideos (noodle soup) can be a nice retreat from the rich options. Judias (beans) are generally quite delicious and are usually served with chunks of chorizo and sausage. And delicious sausage options abound. Again, you may want to beware if you are a finicky eater, but I suggest that you try to be adventurous. At first glance you might reject morcilla, (blood sausage), but it is absolutely delicious.

Arroz a la cubana – is a simple tasty dish of white rice and tomato sauce topped with an egg.

Pisto – is a wonderful blend of tomato and vegetables (zucchini, sweet pepers and more) cooked together in a rich sauce.

Gazpacho – is cold soup and is served in traditional tomato and other styles. It often has a crisp garlic taste but is not spicy like Latin American gazpachos.

Sopa de ajo – garlic soup is generally served very hot with an egg dropped into it, left to cook under the heat of soup.

As a vegetarian who lapses when visiting other countries (and on a few other occasions) I appreciate Spain’s upfront approach to meat. You see the whole animal (for instance the hoof is kept on the giant hams that hang in bars and delis). No one tries to pretend it comes magically from the supermarket. And the whole animal is used (in markets you’ll find stalls dedicated to selling the organs and stuff). So I suggest having an open mind and trying to appreciate this realistic way of viewing your food. If you are picky, you may want to try (or beware of) unusual items on the menu..

With that in mind, Spain isn’t a mecca for vegetarians and vegans. Most dishes have some meat in them and when you request no meat, you will often be offered other meat, like chicken, or other dishes like rice or beans that also have meat in them. With a little searching there are some very good vegetarian and vegan restaurants.

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