When I first arrived in Spain, one thing became clear to me. Spanish people are fiercely proud of their food. And while flamenco and sunshine seem to bear most significance to the region of Andalucia, you can never underestimate the pride of place that food takes in this region’s culture.
Personally, it took me a while to get over how much of the diet here is fried and battered and, particularly after living gluten free for over two years, just how much bread is consumed here on a daily basis. But somehow, I got over it, found plenty of hearty options and embracing it all has made my experience here in Spain, for a food-lover like myself, all the more enjoyable.
My gluten-free story is one for another day but I’ve noticed that it is so much easier to find fresh ingredients here. Fish is fresh. Fruit is local. Bread is baked daily… and goes stale daily. In my opinion this is fantastic! It therefore lacks the spoonfuls of nasty preservatives that have turned out to be the thing that has been wreaking havoc with my digestive system all these years.
The thing is, eating is a key part of life here. Food forms part of the Spanish social routine.
Breakfast is taken late in the day, around 11.30am, if at all. It consists primarily of a couple of biscuits and some milk. Perhaps, you’ll branch out and have a croissant or a Magdalena (a sponge cake-like muffin).
Of the more traditional variety however, is the tostada, or toast – either with one or all of the following toppings: olive oil, crushed tomato and Iberian ham. Accompanied with a freshly-squeezed orange juice and a café con leche (coffee), this is my kind of meal.
Lunch is the largest meal of the day, eaten usually around 2.30pm, children and parents leave work and school to enjoy this meal together. It is normally at least two courses and will consist of a soup for starters – in summertime, this is usually the famed salmorejo, the cold, thick, tomato and garlic soup that hails from Cordoba and that I have come to adore – meat and vegetables for a main and perhaps, a flan or rice pudding for dessert.
At about 5pm, the Andalucians take merienda, or a mid-afternoon snack. This is usually a sandwich or something sweet. And it’s not until about 10.30pm or later that they eat dinner.
Everyone knows Spain is famous for tapas. Small plates of food with the purpose of being shared amongst friends while you are out for a drink. For many Spanish, this is the preferred way to spend an evening, hopping from one bar to the next, mingling, drinking beer and nibbling on tasty food.
In some parts of Andalucia, like Granada, you will even get a free tapa with your drink, it is that much a part of the culture. I say they’re on to something here.
You may find the tardiness of this initially quite shocking, particularly if you grew-up in English-speaking culture, where our latest meal is probably no later than about 8pm. But you must understand that everything in Spain is done later. This is the land of fiestas and summers that soar into the forties. The only way to make the most of your day is to escape from the heat, retreat inside and spend time with your friends and family. Why not do so over a nice meal?
I’ve grown-up in what I now realise as a particularly health-conscious society. And although I’d never consider myself overly versed on the matter, I know that trans-saturated fats are bad and breakfast has been and I am sure will always be the most important part of my day. However, there are a number of Spanish eating habits that I have acquired since I moved here and certainly some food I just absolutely LOVE.
I have already told you about my obsession for salmorejo and cured ham. Need I say more? It’s a staple starter for me now.
Another treat is espinacas con garbanzos, or spinach and chickpea stew. The word stew often makes me want to gag – I am not normally a fan. But the emphasis here is on the fact that this meal is slow-cooked and flavoured with delicious spices that make dipping fresh bread into it an absolute delight. It’s hearty and smoky and cannot go amiss on your wintertime dinner plate.
Carne con tomate, is exactly what it sounds like – meat with tomato. The meat is almost always beef in this neck of the woods and again, it is slow-cooked and tender and doused in a rich, tomatoey sauce. Delicious.
Albóndigas, Spanish meatballs are spellbinding. Once you try them, you’ll rush straight to your kitchen to try to emulate them. They’re different to the Italian meatball most of us know and love. I wonder if once you try these, you might be converted like I’ve been? Less garlicky, more savoury and cooked in a gravy more than tomato. I like them. A lot.
Tortilla, bacalao, huevos revueltos, flamenquín… you name it, the list goes on. I haven’t even scratched the surface. There is so much to Andalucian cuisine it can’t possibly be all listed here and now. I guess I’d just like to make a point clear from this blog and that is, I don’t believe it gets the attention it derserves.
Over the course of my stay here, I want to shed a little light on the matter. For now, I will leave you with your mouths watering over the remaining pictures of the lunch that my friend Goldilocks and I ate today at a new favourite bar, Fénix (Plaza de las Tendillas):