If we look for a nation – the champion in the number of stereotypes, jokes and sarcastic passages about the characteristics of its representatives, the Spaniards will be surpassed only by the French. Passionate, unrestrained lovers of life, women and wine, they know how and when to eat, work and relax.
In this country, the topic of food occupies a special place (in the language of social networks, “the topic of food is revealed here a little more than completely”). Here, food is a separate kind of pleasure. They do not eat to satisfy hunger, but for good company, heart-to-heart conversation, this is where the saying appeared: “Dame pan y llámame tonto”, literal translation: “Give me bread and you can call me a fool.”
Immersion in the gastronomic world of Spain should begin with a discussion of the famous “tapas” (tapas). No one will ever let you drink alcohol or almost any other drink in Spain without a snack. Tapas is about a quarter to a third (depending on the generosity of the institution that treats you) of our usual portion, which is served with beer-wine-juice, etc.. It can be a plate of divine olives, tortilla (pie: potatoes with egg), a bowl of chips, a bunch of small bocadillos (kind of like mini-sandwiches), or even battered cheese balls. All this is brought to you free of charge and is considered an integral part of the Spanish gastronomic culture. Sometimes a plate of free tapas is so large that it doubles our usual portion served in a coffee shop for the nth amount of rubles.
Breakfast in Spain is a strange thing, one might even say almost non-existent. In the morning they eat everything that comes to hand, everything that is left after yesterday’s plentiful dinner, everything that needs to be cooked for no more than five minutes: warm up and spread on top with tomato marmalade (another Spanish phenomenon) or fruit jam.
Looking for cottage cheese-buckwheat and oatmeal so dear to the Russian heart in Spain is an exciting, but thankless task. The farther you are from the tourist capitals, where you usually have everything, the less likely you are to stumble upon dishes familiar to Russian breakfast. But I’ll give you a hint: if you are still carried away to some distant place in Spain (Andalusia, for example), and oatmeal is your passion, I recommend trying your luck in pharmacies and health food stores, buckwheat can be found in pet food stores, and cottage cheese in large city supermarkets like our Auchan.
The taste of cottage cheese will still be different, buckwheat, most likely, you will find only green, but oatmeal will not disappoint you, its variations are usually huge. As, by the way, health food stores filled with shelves with tofu of all kinds and stripes, soybeans in all its appearances, almond milk, spices, sauces, sweets without sugar and fructose, tropical fruits and oils of all plants capable of excreting liquid. Usually such wonderful shops are called Parafarmacia (parafarmacia) and the prices in them exceed the supermarket prices by two or three times.
If the Spaniard has time early in the morning, then he goes to the “churrerria” to eat churros: something like our “brushwood” – soft sticks of dough fried in oil, which still warm need to be dipped into cups with viscous hot chocolate. Such “heavy” sweets are eaten from early morning until noon, then only from 18.00 until late at night. Why this particular time was chosen remains a mystery.
At the beginning of the afternoon siesta, which starts at one or two and lasts until five or six in the evening, I advise you to go to dinner at … the Spanish market.
Don’t be put off by the choice of such a strange place to eat: Spanish markets have nothing to do with our dirty and meager ones. It is clean, beautiful, and most importantly, it has its own atmosphere. In general, the market in Spain is a sacred place, usually the oldest in the city. People come here not only to buy fresh herbs and vegetables for a week (freshly from the garden), they come here every day to talk with cheerful sellers, buy a little bit of this, a little bit of that, not too little, but also not too much, just enough to last until tomorrow’s trip to the market.
In view of the fact that fruits, vegetables and fish are equally fresh on all counters, and this is no surprise to anyone, each seller here tries to attract the attention of a potential buyer with a creative approach to window dressing and a wide smile. For the egg department, vendors build straw nests around the egg trays and plant toy hens; fruit and vegetable sellers build perfect pyramids of their goods on palm leaves, so that their stalls usually look like mini variations of Mayan cities. The most pleasant part of the Spanish market is the part with ready meals. That is, everything that you just saw on the shelves is already prepared for you and served at the table. You can take food with you, you can eat right at the market tables. Pleasantly surprised by the presence in the Barcelona market of a department with ready-made vegetarian and vegan food: tasty, inexpensive, varied.
The only negative of the Spanish market is its opening hours. In large tourist cities, markets are open from 08.00 to 23.00, but in small ones – from 08.00 to 14.00.
If you don’t have a heart for going to the market today, you can try your luck at a local restaurant, but be prepared: “york ham» (ham) will be present in almost every vegetarian dish offered to you. When asked what the meat does in a Vegetal sandwich, the Spaniards round their eyes and say in the voice of an offended nation: “Well, this is jamon!”. Also in the restaurant to the question “What do you have for a vegetarian?” you will first be offered a salad with chicken, then something with fish, and finally they will try to feed you shrimp or squid. Realizing that the word “vegetarian” means something more than a rejection of the sweet Spanish heart of jamon, the waiter will already more thoughtfully begin to offer you salads, sandwiches, cheese balls. If you refuse dairy products too, then the poor Spanish chef will most likely fall into a stupor and go invent you a salad that is not on the menu, because they really usually have nothing without meat, fish, cheese or eggs. Is that the aforementioned olives and incomparable gazpacho – cold tomato soup.
They prefer to dine in this country in bars, and the dinner time starts at 9 pm and can last until the morning. Perhaps the fault is the habit of the local population to wander from bar to bar and thus change from two to five establishments in one night. You should always be prepared for the fact that the dishes in Spanish bars are prepared in advance and will be warmed up for you along with the plate.
For reference: I don’t advise the especially faint of heart to come to Spanish bars, smoked legs hanging everywhere, from which a translucent layer of “delicacy meat” is cut right in front of you, and a heady smell that breaks through any runny nose, an unforgettable experience.
In bars where traditions are especially honored (and there are a huge number of such in Madrid and a little less in Barcelona), at the entrance you will find the head of a bull killed in a bullfight by some famous hidalgo. If the hidalgo had a mistress, the bull’s head is likely to be earless, for there is nothing more pleasant and honorable than to receive the ear of a freshly killed bull from a beloved. In general, the topic of bullfighting in Spain is very controversial. Catalonia has abandoned it, but in all other parts of Spain during the season (from early March to late October) you will still see queues that are thirsty for spectacle winding around the arenas.
Let’s try for sure:
The most exotic Spanish fruit, cheremoya, is an incomprehensible thing for a Russian person and, at first glance, some nondescript. Only later, after cutting this “green cone” in half and eating the first spoonful of miracle pulp, do you realize that you made no mistake either in choosing a country or in choosing a fruit.
Olives are a must-try in this country. Before my first visit to the Spanish market, I would never have thought that one olive could fit cheese-tomatoes-asparagus, for a non-vegetarian and seafood at once (imagine the size of an olive that should contain it all!). You can also “stuff” the core of the artichoke with this filling. In the central market of the capital of Spain, such a miracle olive costs from one to two euros apiece. The pleasure is not cheap, but it’s worth it.
In conclusion, I want to say that it is necessary to go to Spain for the sake of its atmosphere, cuisine and culture, not a single Spanish restaurant on the territory of any other country will ever convey to you this energy of celebration and love for life that only the Spaniards can radiate.
Traveled and enjoyed delicious food: Ekaterina SHAKHOVA.
Photo: and Ekaterina Shakhova.