Is Spanish food really all that?
- Author Olivier F
- Published January 26, 2023
- Word count 598
Everyone has heard of the Mediterranean diet, we know it’s famously healthy, and the people there live to like 100, don’t they? We also know all about Spanish cuisine. Everyone has heard of tapas and paella, and the way some people talk about it- it’s not surprising that some people move to Barcelona just for the food. I didn’t move to Barcelona for the food, but I am a bit of a foodie, and was keen to know if the food here is everything that people say it is.
Honestly, they weren’t great. This happens for a couple of reasons. Firstly, you tend to stay in the most touristy spots when you first arrive. This is not necessarily the best idea gastronomically. Restaurants know that if they have a restaurant right in the middle of Las Ramblas, then they won’t have any problems filling up, so they don’t need to work too hard on their meals.
Secondly, Spanish food is very simple compared to the food I was brought up with. Back in the UK, certainly in middle class families, meals normally have quite a few ingredients in, and come with sides, maybe a salad. Think how many ingredients you get in a lasagne for example (I know that isn’t from the UK, but we do eat them there). By contrast, here the food is normally really simple, and it’s not uncommon to eat a meal with just two or three ingredients in. Paella is the exception that proves the rule, but patatas bravas is just potatoes with sauce, a lot of their meat and fish will come cooked with just one thing on the side. Tapas in general is great for lots of people, but with one or two you end up eating a lot of the same thing.
Learning the culture
The key, as with any new culture, is to embrace the new rather than mourn what you’ve lost. Pretty soon after arriving most people rent an apartment that isn’t quite as central, and this way you find better quality restaurants. You also quickly learn here that appearances can be deceiving. Some of the places that look a bit shoddy do so because their food is so good that they fill up with regulars every day, and don’t need to spend money on anything else.
You learn that the reason they often use so few ingredients is because they are such good quality, and they believe that other herbs and vegetables might mask the flavor of what you’re eating. The Spanish use meat, bones, and marrow for flavor, like the British use herbs and spices. Admittedly, traditional Spanish food is not ideal for vegetarians, but thanks to globalization you can get anything you want now.
The biggest difference is fun though. There is a reason that Spain’s most famous food, tapas, is only great when there are lots of you, picking at different dishes all over the table. It’s the same reason they have massive lunches with the whole family, and dinner once they’ve already gone out for a few drinks. The Spanish make eating fun. In Barcelona there is the tradition of the calçotada, where you eat barbecued calçots (a kind of leek/onion hybrid), followed by more regular barbecue fare, all whilst pouring wine into your mouth through a porrón (a jug with a fine spout). You make such a mess that they give you gloves and an apron beforehand. It’s absolutely great.
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