Our Trip To Spain: Part 2. Food

May 17th, 2001, 07:58 AM
  #1  
eddiemars
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Our Trip To Spain: Part 2. Food

Part 2: Food

General Comments

I’m a fairly critical restaurant eater, so I wasn’t expecting much before going to Spain. I had generally heard so-so reports about the food. I also had a hard time understanding what made food Spanish. There seemed no “flavor-principle” (see Rozin's book) for Spanish cooking like there is for most others. You know, China is garlic, ginger root, soya; Italy is tomato, garlic, olive oil, oregano/thyme, etc. What is Spanish cooking?

After two weeks, I still don’t know, but the food was a very pleasant surprise. Every dish was cooked well, and I only found a few not to my taste. I can live without “Castillian Soup,” and those plates of ham bits and weird lima-like beans. The Spanish also love croquettes, which are generally filled with tasteless mashed potatoes (I think).

Most dishes were very heavy on salt, garlic and olive oil. The one general criticism hat I would have is that many dishes were too salty. This must be intentional because most restaurants/taps places don’t put salt on the table. As far as garlic is concerned, when was the last time anyone complained about too much garlic?

The big surprise was the olive oil. I have a strong distaste for greasy food and was hesitant the first night to try my wife’s sliced salmon with olive oil on it. Like, salmon isn’t oily enough on it’s own? To my surprise, it was excellent. I subsequently discovered that Spanish olive oil is exceptionally fine and not at all “oily” or greasy. No dish ever had that strong olive oil smell and no restaurant ever had that fried food smell. In fact, the only time I ever really smelled olives was when we drove through the olive groves around Jaen.

The Spaniards are ham crazy. Many places simply slice it off of a giant pork leg right in front of you. They like it as bocadillos (sandwiches) on thick crusty rolls or laid out in plates. The good stuff can be very expensive. Seafood was uniformly excellent. I was dubious about the Andlusian love of fried seafood, but found it more like tempura than the usual fried seafood back home and never greasy. (OK, I admit to being a little grossed out by eating a fried fish with it’s head still on.) We also ate lots of great shellfish, always very fresh. I avoided the popular chorizo, because I didn’t want to take chances on stomach problems.

A few other Spanish specialties are not to be missed. Everyone knows about gazpacho which was excellent everywhere. The tortilla espana was a real surprise and a real treat. This is usually described as potato omelet, but has much more in common with a potato latke. We also became addicted to the morning chocolate and churros. It was very skeptical about the custom of drinking thick hot chocolate instead of coffee in the morning. It works. There is just enough sweetness of match the chocolate’s bitterness. (We brought back a can of instant Spanish chocolate mix). Dipping the fried churros (which are never greasy) into the chocolate makes it all the better. Some places give you a sugar-cinnamon mixture to sprinkle on the dipped churros. The coffee is very strong and usually mixed 50-50 with hot milk. You can get a nice buzz off of the stuff.

We never did get Paella. It's primarily a lunch dish and we didn't want to eat that big a meal in he afternoon. We were warned to avoid the many paella places that serve it up McDonald's style. If you don't have to wait at least 45 minutes for it after ording, you are getting some crummy instant version.

Wine, beer and even hard liquor are very cheap. We didn't have to motgage the house to a have a decent bottle with dinner, like we do back home. The general qualiy of beer and wine is good, but not exceptional. We drank Sangria a lot. They make it simply, using only lemons.

Next: Restaurants and Tapas Bar High- and Low-lights
 
May 17th, 2001, 08:09 AM
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m
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We're thinking of a family vacation there. do you know if you get 'plain' food (chicken, rice, noodles, etc). My kids are not all that adventurous when it comes to food.
 
May 17th, 2001, 08:30 AM
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Lizzie
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What a great trip report! Thanks.
 
May 17th, 2001, 03:03 PM
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eddiemars
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To m (@b.c

McDonald's is everywhere, so that might solve part of your problem. Grilled food is popular, and I think that kids would be OK with it. We never saw beans, pasta or rice, except in paellas. Fried potatoes and bread is what they serve for starch. Most cities have some Chinese restaurants and pizzerias.

 
May 18th, 2001, 09:47 AM
  #5  
Oaktown Traveler
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Eddiemars:
Enjoyed your food report and your perspectives. The fish with the head was a bit much for me and my husband too. We took photos to show when we got home.
Where I live Tapas Bars are popping up "everywhere" so we get to re-live our time in Spain on a much smaller scale.
Keep writing, share more!

Oaktown
 
May 18th, 2001, 10:35 AM
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Eva
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Great post! I really enjoyed reading it - except I think to say that the spanish are 'ham crazy' is misleading - it is jamon - the only way to describe it in english may be to call it a 'cured ham' but that congurs up images of the pink stuff they sell in North America which isn't what it is at all. It is, hmmm, the spanish answer to Italian prociutto?
 
May 18th, 2001, 10:50 AM
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Judy
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For good paella, you will have to go to Valancia,where the dish originated. Some of the tiny bristos along the port still offer the most tasty,fresh paella.
For meat-lover, Basque-style roasted kid is something shouldn't be missed.
 
May 18th, 2001, 10:50 AM
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Henry
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Enjoyed your post.I was unaware of Spainish cooking until vacationing there.I think its a very underrated cusine and wish it was more avalible in the USA.
 
May 18th, 2001, 11:51 AM
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Ess
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Where's Part 1? I'd like to read more.
 
May 22nd, 2001, 11:26 AM
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JW
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A brief note about paella ....

Many restaurants have pre-cooked paella in the kitchen ready to be served to the next customer. It's a lot of work to prepare pealla, and it ties up a lot of the kitchen resources so the chefs usually get there early and prepare the paella before the restaurant opens. (Keeping the rice separated so it doesn't get too soggy.) But don't expect quick service. Some of the "better" restaurants have it ready, but delay serving it so the customers think that it is cooked fresh to order. (Almost no one can tell the difference. Many people claim that they can, but they really can't. Madrid tested a bunch of food critics and chefs a couple of years ago proving this. It was written up in the newspaper.)
 
May 22nd, 2001, 01:57 PM
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m
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Eddiemars, Thanks for all the info (both in your original post and answer to my question). I'd like to avoid McDs if possible but I know my son will be pleased to know it's there. In late-March, we are thinking of going to southern spain (Seville/Cordoba/Grenada) for 6 nights and either madrid or barcelona for 3. Any thoughts or comments you or anyone else may have on that itinerary or hotel recommendations would be welcome. Neither I nor my husband have been to Spain. We have been to Europe twice before with our kids and they are great travelers, just not always great eaters (except in Italy where they were both!).
Thanks
 
May 22nd, 2001, 02:27 PM
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John
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Saaay...are you the same Eddie Mars that caused all the trouble for Philip Marlowe? Bad boy.

Great comments on Spanish food, Eddie. Let me add that if one doesn't eat pork, Spain can be a tough visit. We once had an amusing evening at the Toledo Parador when the all the kitchen had to offer was what my wife called the "Disney Dinner" - roast wild boar, venison, or rabbit, fixed beautifully, I'm sure, but, we kept thinking of poor Bambi and Thumper and big bad wolves...
(One must recall that Spain expelled the Muslims and Jews at the same time, so pork on the menu hasn't been an issue for a few hundred years...)

A table of Israelis behind us asked politely (well, politely for Israelis) if the kitchen could offer up something they could eat, and after a lot of harrumphing and unnecessary cross-examination (typical of Paradors IMO), the waiter departed and returned presently with 3 or 4 wonderful beef steaks. We took their lead and said, "We'll have what they're having," and truly enjoyed our meal. Also we found that chicken is virtually not to be found on restaurant menus, must be a cultural thing, too...

 
May 23rd, 2001, 03:03 AM
  #13  
eddiemars
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John

Congratulations, you win the prise! (if there were one) Yes, I am that Eddie Mars, Soldier. I'll give your regards to Vivian Sternwood.

Anyway, you're right about the absence of chicken and paradors seem big on game. If you don't want pork or seafood, spain will be a tough place to eat.
 
May 23rd, 2001, 04:15 AM
  #14  
Kavey
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Wonderful report, I am salivating and i have just had lunch!

Kavey
 
May 23rd, 2001, 01:16 PM
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jenny
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Had the best roasted suckling pig in Segovia. Meltingly tender meat with flaky crispy crackling. Better than the best chinese roasted pork. ( I'm of Chinese origins from Singapore.)
 
May 23rd, 2001, 02:46 PM
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Maira
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Eddie-- good report, highly enjoyable.

Judy--- Basque-style roasted kid? (huh?)Please elaborate.

John--- Philllip Marlowe? this is a private joke, right?

Eva---- agree, Spaniards take ham very seriously. I remembered reading Cervantes's "El Quijote de la Mancha" (first published around 1605) and him going on and on about the pigs dining exclusively on the acorns of a special cork tree. Turns out that, to this day, this feed (and the curing method) is what makes Jamon Serrano such a special ham (yeah, kind of your Italian prociutto).

m---- good plan. Three days may not be enough to get to and enjoy Barcelona, but it may be enough for Madrid. In Madrid, there are a lot of snack bars, cafeterias, and lighter fare around Plaza Callao, by Gran Via and El Corte Ingles (I think your kids will enjoy shopping at FNAC, Calle Preciados, across from El Corte).
 
Jan 24th, 2010, 04:44 AM
  #17  
 
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I thought my old trip report might be worth reactivating. It’s probably a bit outdated, especially prices, but it still has a lot of useful, realistic, information.
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