If you’re like many people from Middle America, you might be a bit confused about what, exactly, Spanish food is. My friend asked me the other day, “Is guacamole Spanish? Or Mexican?” She was about to prepare guacamole from a packet, you see, and thought I might be offended by this. As it is, I don’t get offended by such things. I mean, the guacamole was pretty damn good. Plus, guacamole is pretty labor intensive and she was throwing a bridal shower. There are more important things to think about in such situations.
Well, friends, I’m here to help you. I will now introduce you to my favorite Spanish foods, or at least the foods that made a big impression on me during my time in Spain. Keep in mind, I was usually in Castilla and the food there is, of course, different than the food in Galicia, Basque country, or Cataluña. So, without further ado:
Iberian Ham (Jamón Ibérico)
Would you believe me if I said that many families keep a leg of ham in their homes? Would you believe that they value this pata, or leg, of ham more than a juicy steak. But it’s true. And they won’t accept that you think otherwise. This type of ham is sold by the leg in many butcher shops. In fact, in Salamanca, on a major street there is a shop for this type of meat. My brother said it smelled like leather. I tend to agree, but it tastes good. To each his/her own.
Spanish Omelet (Tortilla Española)
This is a crowd pleaser. You see, it’s not weird—just potato, eggs, onions, salt, and olive oil. When I say olive oil, I mean LOTS of it. My mother and I attempted this, using what we considered to be an adequate amount. Mario, our resident Spanish expert, poured about, oh, half a bottle in the pan to fry the potatoes until soft. I saw our mistake then, although ours didn’t turn out so bad, really.
Bread is the life of Spain. It is utterly common, unremarkable, to see almost every old man and woman carrying a loaf under their arm around 1 PM, carrying it home for la comida, lunch, at 2:30. (Yes, they eat late.) When you eat soup, what do you need? Why, bread of course, to sop up all the remains. When you’re eating something that tends to scurry around the plate, what helps? A piece of bread to help scoop the little rascals onto your fork. Without bread, eating is not the same, not as enjoyable, and definitely not as tasty. It is so enjoyable to enter the store and feel the bread is warm, recently taken out of the oven. Nothing better.
Aceite de Oliva (Olive Oil)
In America, we have an aisle devoted to cereal, an aisle of ice cream. We do not, however, have an aisle of just olive oil. Light, dark, intense, with garlic, with lemon…you name it, you got it. There’s artisan varieties, store brand, etc. It’s astounding, really, until you realize that literally almost every dish contains it. If you’re cooking some pork, you’ll likely cook it on a pan with olive oil. (There aren’t that many grills in third floor apartments.) If you’re making soup, salad, even some desserts, what do you need? Olive oil! It’s versatile and delicious. It’s especially good with some Iberic ham and tomatoes …!
There’s more, really, but I’ll stop here for today. But here’s one final tip—Spanish food is most definitely NOT spicy! That’s Mexican. They don’t generally enjoy spicy food too much.