Month: April 2013

My Favorite Spanish Foods

A lot of people, mainly foreigners, try to make lists of Spain’s “best” foods. These lists are inevitably commented on by Spaniards who just have to tell them how wrong they are. I’m not into that. Why? I don’t think there’s any way to say certain foods are better than others, unless we’re comparing jamón serrano and jamón ibérico. Then’s there’s no contest.

Over my years in Spain, I’ve tried a lot of Spanish dishes, typical and atypical, homemade and in restaurants, in four different weddings … and I’ve come to realize that I’m very loyal to my favorites. Given the choice, there are certain foods I would eat day in and day out, every day for the rest of my life. If I could, you know, and money weren’t an option. What are these foods, you ask? Of course you want to know, because my favorite foods should be everyone’s! (Just kidding. The less people like them, the more for me!)

In no particular order, they are:

lentejas[Source: Recetas de Rechupete]

1. Lentejas. You could translate this as lentil stew, but lentejas literally means “lentils.” It’s a stew of sorts, made with lentils, but not just any lentils—Spanish pardina lentils. My mother-in-law makes lentejas. Her recipe includes chorizo, leeks, carrot, bay leaf, and garlic.

Jamon Iberico[Source: Wikipedia]

2. Jamón. Oh of course, another guiri likes ham, how original. But guys, it’s just that good, especially if we’re talking jamón ibérico de bellota, Iberian ham, here. Which of course we are. What is Iberlian ham? Also called pata negra (black hoof), this ham is cured, and not what you think of when you think about a traditional Christmas ham. No, this ham is beyond. It is made only from black Iberian pigs, which mainly live in the south and southwest parts of Spain. The pigs are free range, and they roam around eating mainly acorns during a certain period of their lives. This results in one of the tastiest things I’ve ever eaten.Salchichon[Source: Wikipedia]

3. Salchichón. Salchichón is a thick, dry cured sausage made of pork. I’ve gotta admit something. I’m a salchichón snob. My in-laws make homemade salchichón and chorizo, and once you’ve eaten theirs, there’s no going back to the storebought stuff. It’s that good. I’ve been converted to the religion of salchichón casero, and I’m nothing if not devout.

Salchichón, similarly to other cured meats (jamón, chorizo, etc.) was a way to preserve meat after slaughter, la matanza, before refrigerators. It was a handy (and tasty!) way to eat pork.


[Source: Wikipedia]

4. Tortilla de patata. This tortilla has nothing to do with the Mexican one. This is a potato and egg omelette. Oh yeah, and onion. Some people make tortilla without onion, but for me it isn’t the same! Most of the time, you can just refer to it as a tortilla, but if you want to clarify, it’s tortilla de patata, to distinguish it from a typical omelette, called a tortilla francesa, or French omelette. It’s a dish that you can find in most any bar, anywhere you go in Spain.

The great thing about this dish is that it’s easy and you likely already have all the ingredients: potatoes, eggs, onions, salt, and olive oil. It’s also cheap, but satisfying.

Pan con Tomate

[Source: Toast]

5. Pa amb tomàquet. Meaning “bread with tomato,” this dish is a breakfast staple in much of Spain, but especially in Cataluña and Andalucía. In my mind, there’s no better breakfast. Some like to add a bit of jamón, but I’m a purist.

This dish isn’t one you prepare, exactly, but here’s how you make it: rub a clove of garlic on toasted (or untoasted, but toasted is easier) bread, followed by a ripe, raw tomato. Season to taste with salt and good olive oil. In some places, the tomato and garlic mixture is premade, and you just have to spoon it on.


[Source: Spanish Sabores]

6. Salmorejo. I do love tomatoes, why do you ask? Salmorejo is another dish typical of Andalucía, originating from Córdoba. Its ingredients include tomatoes, bread, garlic, oil, and vinegar, with eggs and ham for garnish (and for taste, of course). Lauren from Spanish Sabores also loves salmorejo, and you can read her mother-in-law’s recipe here.

Huevos Rotos

[Source: Wikipedia]

7. Huevos rotos / huevos estrellados. Meaning “broken eggs,” this dish is great to have with a few drinks. It’s hearty and contains lots of protein and carbohydrates. Unlike Americans or Brits, Spaniards don’t generally eat eggs for breakfast, so this is a lunch- or dinnertime-type meal. There are variations on this dish: some people scramble the eggs while others fry them in olive oil, leaving the yolks runny. I prefer the latter preparation, especially with eggs from the pueblo, meaning a richer flavor and bright orangeish yolk. It can be accompanied by smoked ham, bacon, or chorizo, my favorite being ham. (Recipe)

8. Arroz con leche. What we call rice pudding, arroz con leche is Mario’s signature dessert, and one of the only things he thinks he’s better at than his mother. Every year on his birthday, he spends a good hour to hour and a half tediously stirring the pot on the stove so as not to burn the milk and ruin the whole thing. The main ingredients in our version of this rice pudding are milk, rice, sugar, cinnamon sticks, and lemon.


9. Chichas. (Also referred to as picadillo de chorizo, zorza, jijas.) After reading this post, you might think I’m a carnivore, but the truth is I rarely eat meat. Not for any moral reasons, though, it’s just that meat is rather expensive, and I don’t mind getting my protein elsewhere. Nonetheless, I cannot resist the allure of chichas. What are they? They’re made from chorizo meat, fried up in a skillet, and served with warm with bread and preferably some good red wine.

Queso Zamorano

[Source: Carnicería Ibañez]

10. Queso de oveja zamorano. Similar to queso manchego, this sheep’s milk cheese is prepared and cured in the province of Zamora, from the sheep milk produced by a specific breed particular to the province. It is the most delicious cheese I’ve ever had—buttery, creamy, nutty, pungent. It goes great with red wine. As the Spaniards say, “Vino y queso … ¡sabe  a beso!” (Wine and cheese taste like a kiss!)

What are your favorite Spanish foods?

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Why Are You in Spain?

Ah, the question. The question. I ask it a lot of others; they in turn ask it of me. I love and hate this question, because I love knowing other people’s stories, but I have no idea how to answer it without starting off on some ten-minute-long storytelling session, leaving my questioner with his/her mouth agape and mind reeling by it all.

So, let me just ask you, readers:

Why are you here?

Now that I’ve asked that, I can tell you why I’m here. As it says on my about page, I came to learn Spanish. I stayed for a boy. Mainly.

Would it shock you to know I kinda sorta hated study abroad? I was old enough not to get homesick, but I still did. I did not like living in a teeny-tiny room in an old nunnery with walls so thin you could hear your roommate typing late at night. I didn’t like having to wash my clothes in the shower because the laundry room charged upwards of $10 a load. (This was back when the one euro equaled something like $1.50.) I didn’t like feeling as if it were impossible to make friends except for drinking buddies and intercambios who weren’t really interested in hanging out with me after hours. I didn’t like seeing my bank account drain slowly down to almost nothing.

But I did like learning Spanish. I did like that, and so I dove in headfirst, as much as I could. I got another intercambio because one just wasn’t enough. I spoke to all the waiters in Spanish, even if they insisted on speaking to me in English (the bastards). I studied vigorously, even when all of my classmates were basically taking a semester off. I traveled as much as my budget would allow. I learned to love red wine, olives, and tortilla de patata.

But there was so much I didn’t know at the end of my stay! I didn’t know how to tapear, I hadn’t mastered the subjunctive, I had never had a real Spanish friend that I could text and ask to hang out with. This bothered me. I went back for my senior year unsure of the future and what would happen after May 2009.


As senior year wore on, I had a decision to make—find a job or go back to Spain? I chose Spain, specifically Salamanca. I was excited to experience a new side of Spain, to live in my own apartment, and meet Spaniards. Oh yeah, and improve my Spanish.

I got back to Spain in September 2009, a year and three months after I’d left Toledo. A few days later, I met Mario. He came to the door of the place I was interning, and I was unintentionally rude to his friend and him, but he still went out to dinner with us. The next day, I pretty much asked him out, and the rest was history. My mother waited patiently by the computer to hear updates about this guy I talked about all the time, even though she’d warned me not to fall in love with any Spaniard (only because that could keep me far away from her). Oops! I was head over heels after a few weeks. After a month, I met the family. After three, I was ready to stay indefinitely, if it meant we could be together.


Staying in Spain is not an easy task for many reasons. There’s bureaucracy. There’s homesickness. There’s cultural differences that drive me crazy at times. There’s times when I get so sick of Spanish, of struggling to find the word that I just want to scream, pack my suitcase, and get on the next plane to Chicago. Get me outta here! Mario knows this more than anyone. Luckily, although he wouldn’t feel the same way, he sympathizes as best he can.


There are some expats that love Spain much more than I do (although, don’t get me wrong, I do love it), and they’d stay forever if it were up to them, boyfriend / girlfriend / husband / wife / lover or not. I wouldn’t, though. If not for this husband of mine, I’d be in the States, where my family is, where my friends are, where my history is. Living in another country wears on me, and I’d love to be able to just hop in my car and drive to my parents’, but right now it’s just not possible.

Right now we’re here; right now this is our home. It may not be for forever. That’s okay. When I married a Spaniard, I gave up that right to certainty about where home is. Home is here. Home is there. Home is Zamora, it’s Crawfordsville, it’s Bloomington, it’s Salamanca. It’s Spain and it’s the US. That’s why I’m here.


What about you?

When 1 Word in English = 3+ in Spanish

When you first start learning a language, it’s all fun and games! Hey, today I learned 20 new words! And they’re words I’ll use more than once a month! Now, though, I learn words like surco and resarcir and resquebrajar. Those words, believe it or not, don’t come out of my mouth that often.

Sometimes I find there are two words in English for one word in Spanish. For example, dove and pigeon. Are those two birds really different? (Wikipedia says not really.) But a lot of times there’s one word in English for a few in Spanish. This is what trips me up. Let’s talk examples.


Definition: a piece of thick absorbent cloth or paper used for drying oneself or wiping things dry.

But in Spanish:ToallaToalla


Trapo de CocinaTrapo (de cocina)


Definition: a piece of old cloth, esp. one torn from a larger piece, used typically for cleaning things.

But in Spanish:




Definition: a round, deep dish or basin used for food or liquid.

But in Spanish:


Tazón Tazón



Plato Hondo

Plato hondo


Definition: a length or square of fabric worn around the neck or head.

But in Spanish:





To Be

This is the biggest. To be or not to be? ¿Ser o no ser? ¿Estar o no estar? I’ve finally mastered this, but sometimes I still wonder why a person cannot ser loco, he must estar loco.

Okay, what about you? Tell me some other examples of this phenomenon, either from Spanish to English or vice versa.

Doomed/Destined to Teach English

Or the life of a native English speaker in Spain.

Auxiliares de Conversacion

When you move to Spain, you might have high hopes of finding a job, a job that will satisfy you, hone your skills, perhaps even assist in your professional formation and networking. If you moved here with such aspirations, I salute you—for your optimism and your naïveté.

If you are here, you most likely teach English in some form or another. To quote my parents, you don’t have to like it; you just have to do it. Suck it up and do it: speak slowly and deliberately at all times, learn to deal with ridiculously low pay expectations, and search for endless Youtube videos to entertain your six-year-old students with amazingly short attention spans. Lauren from Spanish Sabores writes eloquently about this dilemma in her post, The Quarter Life Expat Crisis.

If someone had told me five years ago that I’d be an English teacher, I would have laughed. Hard. You see, I got my degree in Spanish (surprise, surprise!), and teaching wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. So to find myself here is rather ironic. Disheartening is a word I’d like to avoid.

Colegios Bilingües

Bilingual elementary schools … where many end up

It seems that many of us (by us, I mean fellow native English speakers) want something more than private classes, language academics, and applying to the Conversation and Language Assistant program for the third year running. But we’re stuck. Spain’s rampant unemployment (56.5% for youth!) isn’t exactly helping. So we stay here, we schedule classes with reluctant sixth graders, and we learn to refer to tennis shoes as “trainers” in order not to confuse anyone. We get used to being paid under the table, to being part of Spain’s undercover economy that doesn’t show up in the jobs’ numbers.

Five years from now, I may still be here in Madrid. Perhaps I’ll still be trying to get students to remember to add an “s” on the third-person singular present verb forms: “She runs” and not “She run,” please and thank you. But here’s to hoping—hoping that, as many expats before me, I might break out of the English-speaker mold and find that, somewhere out there, Spain has a place for the Spanish major in me, too.