food

Anniversary Dinner at Madrid’s Teatro Real

Madrid’s Teatro Real Restaurant was the perfect place for Mario and me to celebrate our first wedding anniversary. Elegant, glamorous, and ethereally silent, this restaurant is located on the second floor of the royal theater and is itself decidedly royal.

The Teatro Real, or Royal Theater, was originally built in 1850 in front of the royal palace. It served as the city’s opera house and housed the Madrid Royal Conservatory until 1925. There were several periods of reconstruction, but the theater opened for good again 1997. It hosts opera, concerts, and ballet and is home to the Madrid Symphony Orchestra and Choir. Its many halls are decorated with works of art from the Prado and Reina Sofia museums.

Teatro Real Salón Naranja

The Salón Naranja is decorated with the portraits of Juan Carlos and Sofía

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Fusión Cultural: An American’s Journey through a Spanish Kitchen and Back

What is about food that can make one so homesick? Tomato soup and grilled cheese will always make me think of cold winter nights in Indiana. Corn on the cob elicits feelings of nostalgia for backyard barbecues and Fourth-of-July celebrations. And a tomato brings back memories of the family garden: eating it whole, warm and juicy from the earth. Food is family, food is culture, food is home.

Melanie Glover knows this quite well, having married a Spaniard, moved to the US, and subsequently learned to cook her husband’s favorite foods from home. He missed home, and thus she brought a little bit of his childhood to their new home by learning to make paella and ensaladilla rusa and beef soup. In her new ebook, Fusión Cultural: An American’s Journey through a Spanish Kitchen and Back (only $3.99 on Amazon!), she details this process—and provides a few recipes along the way.

FUSION CULTURAL

Having also married a Spaniard, I identified quite well with her journey: from not knowing much about Spanish food all the way to being quite enthusiastic about it! I came to Spain loving cooking and tomatoes, unlike Melanie, but I too had to learn to like new things. And I did! I now love olives, merluza (hake), and hearty red wine.

Melanie was gracious enough to answer a few questions for me about her book. Take a look!

Barcelona Cooking School

Melanie at the Barcelona Cooking School in Barcelona, Spain

Why did you first visit Spain?

I first visited Spain in 2005 as part of a study-abroad program through my university. I stayed for three months and knew I had to return. I left at a point that summer in which I felt I was at the peak of learning, and I desired that learning to continue. I returned to Spain for a month after I graduated from college in May–June 2006, at which time I met my Spanish husband, Álvaro!

Kaley: Sounds like we had a similar experience!

What were you first impressions of Spanish food (likes, dislikes, curiosities)?

When I first visited Spain, the food really didn’t catch my attention. I remember having a hard time getting adjusted to the differences in food, actually. My señora (the woman to whose home I was assigned to live for three months) promised that manzanilla [chamomile] tea would help my restless stomach, and it did for a time. But when I started dating Álvaro, he and his family opened my eyes to the wonderful Spanish gastronomy. Being from Extremadura, they taught me all about embutidos. I’m not sure how I lived without cured Spanish ham and cheese before then!

As for curiosities, I had always wondered about octopus before I tried it in 2009. But I didn’t like it because of the texture. [K: Me neither.] I have liked rabo de toro [oxtail] but disliked pigs feet—too chewy!

How did you meet your husband and what was your first meal together?

I met my husband in 2006 on a bus traveling from Madrid to Cáceres, his birth city. We were seated next to each other. He offered me a mint, we struck up conversation, and we spoke the entire four-hour bus ride! We kept in touch, and we started dating when I went back to Madrid in 2006–2007 to study. We married in 2009, and we’ve been living in Dallas, Texas, since 2010.

As I describe in the book, our first real meal together was at his apartment in Madrid in 2006 when he prepared baked fish and canapés de salmón. It was so delicious that it completely changed my mind about fish.

What are his favorite Spanish foods? What are his favorite American foods?

Álvaro’s favorite Spanish foods:

  1. Jamón ibérico de bellota [Iberian ham made from pigs that only eat acorns during the last months of their lives] 
  2. Lomo ibérico [Iberian cured pork loin]
  3. Queso de oveja curado [Cured sheep’s-milk cheese]
  4. Mejillones en escabeche [Pickled mussels]
  5. Langostinos a la plancha [Grilled prawns]
  6. Tortilla de patata [Spanish potato omelet]

Álvaro’s favorite American foods:

  1. Hamburgers
  2. Barbeque anything (ribs, brisket, smoked turkey, sausage, etc.)
  3. Tex-Mex and Mexican

What foods do you miss most when you are in the US?

I miss los ibéricos like crazy!

Besides your mother-in-law, how else did you learn to cook Spanish foods?

Green beans with ham and potatoes

A recipe in the book, green beans with ham and potatoes

Since meeting my husband and learning about the important of food to him, I have made it a point to learn more about cooking—but especially Spanish foods. I have felt an obligation to keep him well and healthy since he’s left Spain for me. I knew the immigration process was going to be a difficult one because of the cultural differences between the US and Spain, but I didn’t realize just how difficult it would be in the realm of food. I have purchased numerous recipe books (send me an email for recommendations!); I’ve asked my Spanish-language teachers to focus on culinary topics during classes; and I’ve taken numerous cooking courses both in Spain and the US to learn more about Spanish cuisine. I’m not an expert, but they’ve all helped tremendously.

What kitchen tools are necessary for cooking Spanish food?

  1. Chef’s knife for chopping (garlic, onion, etc.)
  2. Large, shallow pan for making sauces
  3. Peeler

Lemon peeler

Why do you think food helps your husband feel connected to home?

Almond chicken

Another recipe, almond chicken

Food is everything to Álvaro. It makes him nostalgic for a place, time, location, people, etc. Food brings back memories that allow him to recall the good times he has had in various places with people he loves. These memories are important for coping with living so far away from family and friends with whom he’s shared wonderful meals all of his life.

If you had to live in Spain, which foods would help you feel connected to the US?

I think I would miss pork or beef roasts with vegetables and potatoes because we ate a lot of these growing up. So I think I’d need to invest in some type of crockpot to replicate these dishes in Spain because that’s what my mother used here. I would also probably eat a lot more hamburgers and steaks to remind me of all of the grilling my family did while growing up in Michigan.

Thank you, Melanie, for giving me the chance to interview you. I love your book, and I’m sure I’ll be replicating some recipes soon!

Does food have the ability to make you homesick or nostalgic? Which foods would when you are away?

Surprise: Spain’s Most Popular Dish Isn’t Paella

And while we’re at it, the most popular drink certainly isn’t sangría.

Paella Sign

Source: No Hurries, No Worries

Go to any touristy town in Spain, and you’ll inevitably see them—the signs outside restaurants offering different types of paella. Yellow, black, with seafood, without seafood, authentic, decidedly inauthentic—you’ll see it all. After all, all Spaniards love paella and it eat it all the time, right? It could even be called Spain’s national dish, no? And if you have it alongside a pitcher of sangría, all the better.

Source: The Food Network

Uh, not exactly.

Let’s not even get into what an “authentic” paella is, because the last thing I want are some angry Valencianos (or adopted Valencianos) leaving comments about how ignorant I am about paella. The truth is, though, they’d be right. Even after having lived in Spain on and off since 2008, I can count the number of times I’ve eaten paella on one hand.

Eating Paella

Photographic evidence

But people do eat paella in Spain, there’s no denying that. Obviously the idea came from somewhere. According to Saveur Magazine, the original paella “probably dates to the early 1800s and consists of saffron-scented rice cooked with rabbit, chicken, local snails called vaquetes, and three types of beans.” Rice itself has a long history in Valencia, as the Moors planted it there more than 1,300 years ago! And it thus became a ritual there, cooking rice-based dishes in the countryside over an open fire. It took a while for it to become the popular tourist dish it is today.

But I heartily believe that paella, as good as it has the potential to be, is not the dish Spaniards eat the most often, nor is it the most-consumed dish. What is? you ask. Good question. I have a theory:

IMG_1501

Tortilla española. This egg-and-potato omelet (with or without onions) is, in my experience, the most commonly-served dish in Spain. It’s ubiquitous in bars and on tapas menus, and the truth is that it has the potential to be truly delightful, although it’s easy to screw up. It’s also—and this is key!—easy to transport, and Spaniards often make a bocadillo with it, something I at first found strange but now find genius.

There could be other contenders for the crown (jamón, cocido, gazpacho, chorizo), but I think that they are not eaten quite as often. Good jamón is expensive, cocido requires a lot of prep, gazpacho is more of a summer dish, etc. The thing about tortilla is that it’s inexpensive (potatoes, eggs, onion, olive oil, and salt are not pricey ingredients), filling, and—if made right—delicious. It meets all the requirements. (Okay, my requirements.)

But what about sangría? Do I mean to tell you that most Spaniards don’t order it when they go out to dinner with friends?

They might. I’m not saying it never happens, because I too have partaken in a jarra with friends. But honestly, I think cañas are the most popular drink to order at bars. (Or as those Sevillanos would say, cervecitas.) Wine is popular too, and gin and tonics are the thing to order at a bar de copas, but the most popular by far is the caña, a small glass of beer from the tap, generally around 200 centiliters.

Caña   tortilla

Tortilla + una caña + croquetas

So the next time you visit that tapas bar in the US, think twice about what is, as they say, “typical Spanish.”

What do you think Spain’s national food is? Drink?

La Comida—Spain’s Most Important Meal

Spanish food, American food. Spanish meals, American meals. Spanish life, American life. How are they similar? How are they different?

Okay, I’m going to stop sounding like a blue-book exam right about now.

In Spain, you may hear people say the following:

  • Salimos después de comer.
  • ¿Cuándo vais a comer?
  • Paramos para comer.
  • Te dieron de comer, ¿no?

I’ve figured it out—the Spanish day isn’t structured around the clock (not really). It’s all about la comida, lunch. (In high school we learned the word almuerzo, which isn’t the same thing in Spain. Almuerzo tends to be a mid-morning snack, whereas la comida is lunch around 2 or 3 p.m.) This led me to tell Mario that people are fixated on eating lunch! It plays such a central role.

In the states, we have morning until 11:59 a.m., afternoon after 12 p.m., evening after about 6 p.m., and night after about 9 p.m.

In Spain, morning is until you eat. After that it’s la tarde (literally “the afternoon”) until you have dinner. After dinner, it’s nighttime. For me, it’s still weird to hear 7 p.m. being referred to as 7 in the afternoon, but I’m getting used to it.

Spanish food

Photo from Hayley Comments

Eating must be pretty important for Spaniards! Of course, you know it is. Most Spaniards I know would not want to spend their lunch hour in front of the computer with a sandwich in their hand. Indeed, this is the antithesis of the traditional Spanish lunch.

IMG_6232

Dad and I eating in San Sebastián, Spain

What is the (traditional) Spanish lunch about, then? It’s about …

taking a real break. Don’t give me any 30-minute lunches, I’m talking at least an hour and maybe two. Of course, if you have a job, it’s shorter. Mario has a full two hours to eat, but since we live in Madrid, going home for lunch would just be silly. In small towns it is much easier to do this. Nonetheless, most Spaniards take a break, even if it is just to sit down with work colleagues in the office.

… first plate, second plate, fruit, dessert, coffee. At least in la casa de mis suegros, this is how it goes, almost always. You can shake things up a bit by having small appetizers for the first course or making the fruit the dessert. My father-in-law has fruit, dessert, and then sometimes a small cookie with coffee. Sweet tooth? Nah.

… the three o’clock news. Unless it’s a special meal, the news tends to be on while we’re eating. This doesn’t mean we always pay attention to it. Before the news comes on, we watch The Simpsons. Because of the timing, a lot of Spaniards end up watching the Simpsons, a fact I attribute to its immense success here in Spain.

la sobremesa. A word with no real English equivalent, sobremesa is the chat after the meal, as people linger over coffee, sweets, and liqueurs. As people are generally content with their bellies full and the wine flowing through their veins, there can be some really intriguing and enlightening conversations that occur.

la siesta. This is not as true as it once was, but many do pause to take a short nap, whether it be on the couch or in a bed! I find that the more I eat, the more I want a siesta! Of course, when we’re having dinner at my in-laws’ house, we generally don’t eat lightly.

La comida, besides meaning lunch, literally means “food,” emphasizing the meal’s importance for many Spaniards. As I live here longer and longer, I am beginning to love the concept and embrace the (outdated?) concept of sitting down with loved ones and pressing pause for a moment.

What do you love about the Spanish idea of la comida?