About the food of Spain

Altea's old town, Costa Blanca, Spain. Photo by Astronautilus.

Altea’s old town, Costa Blanca, Spain. Photo by Astronautilus.

Here we are. Spain. No pressure.

(bonkers pressure!)

When I started this lil’ ol’ Global Table Adventure, I honestly wasn’t sure we’d make it this far. That was more than three years ago. I had a six month-old cooing in my arms. And cooking 162 countries (let alone 195 – now 196 with the addition of South Sudan) seemed all but a fairy tale.

But I plugged on.

One dish per week.

And so, here we are. We made it to the 163rd country! Spain. A rocky land, with a giant dry plateau called Meseta, and scrubby plains.

Català: Puentedey, Burgos by Joan

Català: Puentedey, Burgos by Joan

Life is quite different from when we started all those years ago. Now, I have a three and a half year old who only rushes into my arms for brief, sweet respite. The rest of the time, she’s in this world, fully and completely.

So, it’s not much of a stretch to imagine her in Spain.

I can see her loving it as much as I did.

SASHA IN SPAIN

I was there in December of 1998. I swam in my friend Marianne’s pool on Christmas Day. It was 79F. Chilly, but not too cold for a 15 second, full body cannonball.

While I was there, I also got sick (possibly related to swimming in cold water?), and I remember a local buying me a glass of lemon/honey/whiskey to help kill the germs. I was not feeling up to drinking it, so I thanked him profusely and, when he wasn’t looking, I poured sips out into a full ashtray (there was no potted plant nearby).

I didn’t want to offend.

I don’t remember much else, except the orange and grapefruit groves seemed to go on for eternity in the valley behind the villa. Marianne and I buzzed through them for hours, with no particular purpose and happy as can be.

Valley. Baranco Hilgaro. Photo by javiersanp.

Baranco Hilgaro. Photo by javiersanp.

The food of Spain is quite the fiesta (a.k.a. festival). It’s intensely spiced (much like the Moorish foods of North Africa…)

Fun Fact: Did you know Spain is only 8 miles from the northern coast of Africa?

The food also boasts a tremendous assortment of fruits and vegetables, many of which were brought over from the new world during colonial days.

Fruit stall in a market in Barcelona, Spain. Photo by Daderot.

Fruit stall in a market in Barcelona, Spain. Photo by Daderot.

Perhaps Spain’s most well-known dish is paella, a saffron-infused rice dish [Recipe]. It can be made simply, with just shrimp, or with a handful of proteins, like chorizo sausage, chicken, lobster, prawn, scallop, and more. Vegetables get tossed in the mix, too – like green beans, peas, or even asparagus.

You’ll need a siesta after chowing down on paella (this is the long afternoon nap in Spain. Shops used to close for three hours mid-afternoon to accommodate it… though I read this practice is falling away).

A couple of guys sleeping near the Kiosko Alfonso in A Coruña (Galicia, Spain). Photo by Julio Rojas.

A couple of guys sleeping near the Kiosko Alfonso in A Coruña (Galicia, Spain). Photo by Julio Rojas.

Potatoes are another favorite carb, and make their way into Spanish tortilla (think potato-loaded frittata) or even patatas bravas (cooked in a chili pepper sauce). Tortilla is a kind of tapas, or “small dishes” which make for animated and fun dinners (the style of many small plates reminds me a lot of north African cooking, and even on into western Asia (think Mongolia)… though they tend to have one giant dish in the center of all the fun.

 

Maps and flag courtesy of CIA World Factbook.

Maps and flag courtesy of CIA World Factbook.

Thinking on all the recipes I saw, I noticed two spices  pop up time and time again. I’m not sure Spanish food would be the same without smoked paprika or saffron. Both infuse the most tantalizing, earthy flavors into everything from rice to soups and stews (a.k.a. cazuela, escudela, olla, or even puchero).

At the end of the day, there’s possibly nothing quite so expected as a glass of Sangria [Recipe]… and perhaps a creamy bit flan… or maybe some churros [Recipe].

Or, maybe, just maybe… you’ll want to end the day with a human tower?

Castellers in Spain. Photo by alfonsomll.

Castellers in Spain. Photo by alfonsomll.

Ok, ok, ok… I can see that’s a little intimidating. Perhaps the single one would be more appealing?

Castellers of Solsona. Photo by Solde.

Castellers of Solsona. Photo by Solde.

Whoa.

Spain means business.

P.S. What’s your favorite Spanish food? Have you ever been there? I’d love to hear your experiences!

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Comments

  1. Looking forward to finding out what you plan on cooking :) we have lots of smoked Paprika in the cupboard I’m sure your next few posts will inspire me to use.

    Congrats on your 162 country milestone (and quite a milestone it is!)

    • Sasha Martin says:

      Now that I have smoked paprika, I don’t think I’ll ever stop using it. So delicious. What do you use yours for? (BTW thanks for the congrats, Marie-Claude!)

  2. Hi Sasha!

    I love your website a lot!!! Since I discovered it about 1 1/2 years ago I love to check it every week and fantasising with your beautiful dishes and sometimes put them in practise, too. Congratulations!

    But this time is my country and I have a few points to make. I hope you don’t mind Sasha! If you’re planning to do paella, please do not put chorizo on it. We never cook paella with chorizo. It can be chicken, prawns, shrimp, crab, mussels, rabbit, even snails but never chorizo. And we do love churros but for us is more as a treat for a delicious Sunday breakfast than an afternoon thing, and always accompanied with a hot thick chocolate cup.
    By the way, you forgot to mention Spanish Ham Croquetas, they’re deliciousssssssssss. This is one of my favourites! I wish you could try mine. My husband says they’re better than my mom’s :)
    If I can help you in your mission this week, please do not hesitate to ask. I’ll be more than pleased. Congratulations again!

    • Sasha Martin says:

      Nooooooooooooooooo….. I wish I had known this a week ago! I already cooked the food and I’m loathe to admit that there is chorizo in my paella. I will definitely note in the recipe that this is an Americanization though. Thanks for the heads up. I really appreciate it, Gema!

  3. Your persevernce is so inspirational! Congratulations on making it so far! I spent a couple of days in Barcelona a few years ago, and while I remember falling in live with the country, I honestly can’t remember what we ate! I’m interested in seeing what Spanish dishes you prepare.

    • Sasha Martin says:

      I was never in the big cities, just the countryside. It was dreamy and relaxing but I’d love to see what city life is all about there :)

  4. Let’s hear it for Spain! Spain has done more for the world’s cuisine and eating than any 10 other nations combined. I remember walking in the rain forest with New Guinea men who were barely aware that there was a world 10 miles outside their valley and they were singing about sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are not native to New Guinea. What country brought sweet potatoes to them? Oh yes. (I’m including Portugal in this, lumping it together with Spain.)

    From prehistoric times until 1600, Spain was bombarded with culinary influences from all over the world. What Spanish city is 3000 years old? Cadiz, founded by people from Lebanon around 1000 BC. And yes they brought their recipes and food. Romans came later and of course Moslems. Pilgrims from all over Europe trekked to Compostela in Galicia, and on their way they shared the recipes of their homeland. Perhaps this is why the Basques, through whose lands they passed, became the best cooks in the region. And talking about Basques, their search for food (cod fish) led them to discover America years before Columbus. But they kept it a secret so they could reap the entire fish harvest.

    By 1520 an accident of fate (their king also becoming Emperor of what is now Germany) made Spain the most powerful country on earth. They explored and conquered much of the globe. Their gift to the world was what they found in America: potatoes, tomatoes, corn, chocolate and more. And they brought recipes all over the world. Go to the Phillippines and savor Spanish stew (adobo). Go to Louisiana and savor Spanish stew (made with “holy trinity” sauteed vegetables). In some old-school Chinese restaurants in New York, if you order “Portuguese seafood” you will get a seafood curry! That’s because Portuguese sailors brought Indian curry spice mix to southern China and to Japan.

    • Sasha Martin says:

      Yes, yes, yes! Loved the adobo… love this comment. Thanks Brian for bringing a bit of the history of Spain to life for us.

  5. Stephanie says:

    I love Spain! I’ve only been there once, but it was quite the culinary adventure. I had “pinchos” in San Sebastian – they’re like Tapas but use toothpicks – the bartender would count the number of toothpicks you have in order to calculate the bill. I also had suckling pig at this castle (it’s been 10 years – I can’t remember where), but it was so delicious and tender that the waiters cut it with a plate! Finally, in Madrid I had delicious tapas, sangria, and paella. Yum. It was such a great trip. I’d love to go back and visit Barcelona.

    • Sasha Martin says:

      Toothpicks for the bill – wonderful… I’d love to try this. I wonder if anyone does pinchos in the USA.

  6. I go to Barcelona once a year for work, and always look forward to the tapas and the seafood. I sometimes bring home a whole leg of Serrano ham – it’s crazy expensive but oh so delicious!

  7. elisa waller says:

    fantastic, I would love to live on Aleta’s Old town street ….so warm and inviting….but then again I always defined spain as ‘indulgent’..food and spirit…..ya..almost like too much of a good thing..yay! <3

  8. I lived in Spain for a bit more than a year for grad school, and while I got tired of the traditional tapas during that year, I would LOVE to have them right now! Croquetas, tortilla española, grilled squid, patatas bravas, wine that´s cheaper than water at restaurants and refreshing light beer. Spain even convinced me to stop being a vegetarian — I wanted to try the serrano ham! What I did miss out on was home-cooked Spanish food, and maybe a few vegetables?

  9. Jessica Bennett says:

    I need to catch up on your site. I see you have a new look- it’s nice. When I was in Spain, I enjoyed tapas bars- tortillas, olives, sardines… I didn’t eat many big meals when I was there. One vivid memory I have is stumbling upon a street festival in Seville. It was so vibrant and chaotic without feeling claustrophobic, which I can sometimes feel in crowds. People from age 5-95 were out enjoying the atmosphere until very late (siestas help with that, I suppose). And yes, Spain is very close to Morocco. I took the ferry over, which I think took about an hour.

  10. Stephanie Miller says:

    Oh, I love your website, and I am so in love with the fact that you are in Spain right now. I was in Spain for a May Term in May 1998. We spent about 3 weeks in Bilbao in the Basque region, and then the final week in Madrid. I loved every minute of it immensely, especially the Basque region with its unique culture, history, language, and food. I lived with a Spanish/Basque family, so I really experienced so much of the food and culture beyond the tapas bars and restaurants. Vivid memories of enjoying a paper cone full of fresh, hot calamari on the beaches of northern Spain, squid in its own ink, local hams, everything fried in olive oil, fresh baguettes every day from the bakery around the corner for meals and bocadillos (sandwiches) if we were travelling and not able to make it back for lunch and siesta. Oh, also blood sausage and cow’s tongue at the family farm in the foot hills of the Pyranees. And the cod, of course! I have to smile, because as a university student there, I experienced the drink kalimotxo instead of sangria :-) Half cheap red wine, half Coca-Cola, mixed in the liter or 2 liter bottle that the Coke comes in. Thanks for bringing back the memories!

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