¡Buen provecho! The food of SpainSalamanca, Spring 2012
I’ve decided to dedicate an entire post to one of my favorite parts of Spanish culture: the food!
I’ve learned that Spanish cuisine is a lot more than tortilla española and paella, but these famous dishes still continue to be two of my favorites. Spanish food usually does not have a lot of strong spices or extra seasonings – usually the flavor comes from the fundamentals of olive oil, garlic, or salt. Olive oil, a staple to the Mediterranean diet, seems to be used in almost every Spanish dish (whether to prepare it or to give it flavor). Fortunately it is a much healthier alternative to other types of oil, and has numerous digestive and cardiovascular health benefits – it also has been shown to reduce the risk of certain types of cancer!
Seafood is also quite common here. It was never my favorite back in the States, but after coming here I have come to enjoy it a lot! Perhaps this is because it always tastes very fresh, or maybe because I have just become accustomed to it. Mussels, clams, and shrimp can be found in many dishes, as well as squid and even octopus. They also serve a lot of grilled and fried fish here – one of my favorites is a white fish called Merluza.
And of course, another topic I can’t neglect is the meat. Salamanca is famous for its cured pork meats and hams, along with a type of spicy sausage called chorizo. The finest type of ham, Jamón ibérico de bellota, is cured for up to three years and comes from free-range pigs that roam oak forests in the province of Salamanca and eat only acorns. This ham can cost upwards of $100 /lb (about $1500 for an average sized leg)!
Other than seafood and meat, there are also many dishes based on beans (garbanzos & lentils) and vegetables, with distinct varieties in each region. Bread is typically served with every meal – usually barra de pan (Spanish version of a french baguette) or Pan de Pueblo (village bread). For dessert, I have had flan, custard, tarta de queso (cheesecake), arroz con leche (rice pudding), torreja (typical during Semana Santa), and several types of pastries. Another Spanish favorite is churros con chocolate, strips of fried dough that are dipped into the richest, most delicious hot chocolate you can imagine!
Some other Spanish dishes that I have tried are empanaditas de atún (tuna empanadas), cocido (chickpea stew with meat and vegetables), arroz a la cubana (cuban style rice, fried egg, tomato sauce, and fried plantain), lasaña de calabacín (zucchini lasagna), and pimientos rojos rellenos (stuffed red peppers). Soup is served as the first course to most meals, including seafood, vegetable, lentil, or pasta soup, and gazpacho in the summer (a chilled vegetable soup from Andalucia). And of course, the two most well known Spanish dishes: tortilla española (a spanish potato omlette), and paella (Spain’s traditional rice dish with seafood, meat or vegetables, and saffron).
Tapas are another important part of the Spanish cuisine – Spain’s appetizers which are eaten anytime during the day or night. Most bars and cafes in Salamanca will display their tapas under a glass case, where you can point to make your selection. In Salamanca these tapas are often called pinchos – individual size portions frequently served on a small piece of bread.
And now some of the strangest things I have tried so far: chipirones en su tinta (squid in its own ink), morcilla (sausage stuffed with pigs blood, rice, onions, & spices), and callos madrileños (beef tripe stew with a calf’s foot for flavor).
Although I wasn’t crazy about those last three, I have really enjoyed trying so many new foods and have loved most of them. Thanks to my señora here, I have been learning to cook some of my favorite Spanish dishes and will definitely be bringing them back to the United States with me!
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