Thursday, October 24, 2013

Cold Soup and Hot Chocolate: The Ins and Outs of Spanish Cuisine

One thing you should know about living Spain is that their mealtime schedule is fairly different from ours.  For the most part, Spaniards eat a very small breakfast in the morning; mine usually consists of toast and coffee.  In my house, lunch is usually between 2:30 and 3:00.  Waiting that long for a full meal took some getting used to at the beginning of the semester.  Dinner is usually ready around 9:30, but I know some of my classmates don't eat dinner until almost 11:00 at night!  I explained to my host mom that in the States, I usually eat lunch around noon and dinner around 5:30 or 6:00.  She just looked at me with a surprised expression on her face and said, "How do you not die of starvation before bed?!"

Lucky for me, my host mom is a great chef.  I'm sure everyone is familiar with the stereotypical Italian mom/grandma who perpetually overfeeds her family.  Well, I'm here to tell you that Spanish moms are no different.  Sometimes I'll find myself sitting at the table with 5 or 6 plates that are all for me!  Everything I've tried so far has been delicious, but if I ate it all I wouldn't fit in my seat on the plane to come home. 

As someone who loves to cook, one of the things I was most looking forward to in Spain was all the new food.  So, this post is dedicated to some Spanish culinary staples.

First, paella.  I'm sure most people who have taken any Spanish classes or have had any exposure to the culture whatsoever have heard of this dish.  Paella recipes vary from family to family, but the basic ingredients are saffron rice, vegetables, and some sort of meat.  Standard paella is made with seafood, but it can be made with chicken as well.  If I had to compare it to an American dish, I would say it's like the Spanish version of jumbalaya.  The hard-core traditional señoras make it from scratch, but you can also buy a boxed mix at the supermarket with the rice and all the spices.  When cooking for large crowds, paella is usually made in a giant pan like the one on the left.  It's pretty impressive watching people lift these things.  In the picture, you can see the little window that they had to put in the kitchen because the pan wouldn't fit through the doorway.

Next, tortillas.  And no, I'm not talking about the ones you use to make tacos.  Mexican tortillas are the flat ones made of corn or flour.  Spanish tortillas, on the other hand, are more like omelets.  But you can't call them omelets either because that's a "French tortilla."  It's all really mixed-up.  (This became a cause for confusion between my host sister and I when we tried to make Mexican food together, because we were talking about two different kinds of tortillas.)  Anyway, a tortilla española (usually referred to as a tortilla de patatas--"potatoes") is basically just beaten eggs and potatoes pan-fried in oil.  It has a pretty bland taste, so sometimes people add different sauces.  My señora has even given me a tortilla de patatas on a sandwich--talk about carbs!

Alright, this one might be new for some of you--gazpacho.  In a nutshell--cold tomato soup.  It sounds weird, but it has become one of my favorite foods since arriving here.  Again, the recipe varies by region and from family to family.  My señora usually puts ham and hard-boiled egg in her gazpacho, and she even has cute little bowls to serve it in. It's a popular summer dish, because who wants to eat hot soup when it's over 100 degrees outside?

Okay, here's my last one.  Churros and chocolate.  These are nothing like the churros you get at street fairs.  There's really not much to them; they're just fried dough.  The important part is the chocolate.  It's super thick and rich and delicious, and it's served piping hot.  Some restaurants advertise that they have "Chocolate with churros" instead of the other way around.  Let's be honest, they know the churros are just a delivery system.  Once the churros are gone, most people just drink what's left of the chocolate, because by then it has cooled off enough.  Buyer beware: once you taste this, you will never want to go back to powdered hot chocolate...

Despite my new culinary experiences, I still find myself craving one thing.  SPICY FOOD! It honestly does not exist in Spain.  Someone asked the professor about it in our Culture & Cuisine class, and her response was "spicy things would kill us."  She claims that as a general rule, Spaniards' digestive systems are not equipped to handle spicy food.  My friends and I like to daydream every so often about coming home and getting Buffalo Wild Wings.

I can't wait to come home and test out some recipes!

Stay tuned for a later post where I explore the culture of Tapas...  

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