After spending some time in Spain, I have to say that I am challenged by their food, their eating hours and their eating habits. Let me explain. My husband and I have just returned from a month in Seville. It was wonderful to spend February in warmer temperatures, surrounded by amazing architecture and equally amazing events!! However, I could easily have skipped the restaurants, in favour of eating in.
I think that I may be some sort of travel freak, because I hate Tapas. These are those little appetizer portions of deep fried ungutted, complete with heads and tails, anchovies. (My husband ate them with relish - enthusiasm, that is, not the bright green kind.) Or they disguised themselves as little meatballs in tomato sauce, which in some restaurants tasted like a tin of tomato soup warmed up with a dash of Cumin, sigh! I didn't mind the french fried potatoes in the same sauce with a squirt of mayonnaise. However, I balked at the deep fried croquettes often made with yesterday's potato salad!!
I know that you could order small plates of Paella, but I make a better one at home. I did have an artichoke dish, which I loved, however, I also had one, I couldn't eat. And then there was the Alubias con Sacramentos, an appetizer so large, I couldn't even look at the main course - so much for the sacraments! I should also mention an unfortunate incident my husband had with a dish of oxtail stew. We were three weeks into our holiday before we realized we should really order just one meal and share it between us.
Sharing is obviously the way to go in Spain. In Madrid, we ordered a plate of something, which came with two sets of knives and forks. Clearly you ate from each side of the same plate. Fortunately no one had some horrible virus. Tapas are also more fun in a group. When my sister-in-law visited with her daughter, we could double our order of these snacks and lunch became a little more interesting. I wasn't prepared, however, for something that I will call "street sharing."
One day, we were sitting outside at a table, close to the curb, for a late afternoon nosh. I ordered the regional speciality, spinach with chick peas a.k.a. garbanzo beans - unfortunately changing the name doesn't improve the flavour. That being said, I managed to eat half of the small plate. While we were finishing our wine and waiting for the table to be cleared, a small, polite man approached me from the road. In sign language, he asked if I were going to finish my plate. I answered, also in sign language, no and offered it to him. He took it, produced his own spoon, stepped a little away from the table, devoured it, smiled, placed the plate back on the table and left. I was stunned - happy to be of service, but still stunned!!
I kept thinking that there was all this wonderful food at the market, why did so little of it appear on the menus or when it did, it was cooked so poorly that all the flavour was lost. Needless to say, I had trouble waiting until 8:00 or 9:00pm to go out to eat. Partly because of the food and partly because I hadn't trained my stomach to expect lunch around 3:00 or 4:00pm. I often wondered how everyone else managed to get from 8:00am to 4:00pm on churros (deep fried pastry) dipped in hot chocolate?
My secret to survival was cooking at home and a wonderful Italian pasta stall we found at the market. Though, I try to eat the food of the country, when I'm there, you can see, I needed a little respite from potatoes cooked in eggs on a bun. Several evenings during our stay we ate freshly prepared ravioli stuffed with either, walnuts, mushrooms, spinach and ricotta or almonds and blue cheese. Our choice of sauces was simple as well - a lush pesto, a tasty bolognese or a curious mixture of pesto, almonds and tomatoes, which was delicious!!
Cooking in other areas of Spain is different, I know. Barcelona had more fresh fruit and vegetables with their tapas and less of the heavy sauces. Madrid offered more grilled meat and fish done plainly in butter. I skipped an opportunity to eat goat there, but would have loved the roast suckling pig, which was gone, by the time we arrived. I did order Hake in batter one evening, which arrived as Hake in butter. It was lovely and why after all my complaining, was I ordering deep fried anyway?
Have a great day!!