What says more about a culture and people than food? I can think of a few things, but most of us who travel know that food certainly says a lot. While in Spain, I thoroughly enjoyed myself with the foods of Spain and with it came its people.
In the rural area of Extremadura, I was staying with my mother and her boyfriend. So the majority of my two-week trip featured breakfast and a good amount of lunches and dinner at home. Mmmmm…home-cooked food is always so comforting and so good! At least when my mother cooks. Breakfast was the simplest meal, consisting of strong coffee made in the greca (a stove-top coffee percolator of sorts, common in Caribbean and Latin countries) and Polvorones (Spanish almond cookies). Occasionally, we would have pan tostado (toasted bread) and jam and maybe some fresh nectarines from the citrus trees in the house courtyard. Now I rarely eat sweets, much less for breakfast. However I’m learning that sweet for breakfast seems to be a European thing. I realized this thinking back to time spent with my Italian friend Marilena. Even when she was in Denver she ordered a huge slice of strawberry cheesecake for breakfast one morning – “Sweet is for breakfast”, she said in her beautiful Italian accent. Well now I know…I can definitely be into that. Might mean more working out, but I do tend to walk more in Europe as well. Perfecto!
Then comes lunch. Have you ever heard of how Spanish culture has their meals at later times? As much as this sounds wonderfully like a fairy tale, I can confirm for you that its reality. To put it simply, all the meals are pushed back later. Even if a person has to get up early for work, lunch is still traditionally enjoyed at around 2pm. Shops close and people go home from work and eat with their families or even on their own. This can tend to be the larger and heavier meal of the day and dinner tends to be lighter, which is where tapas (small plates) come into play. The particular lunch featured in the picture here consists of some linguine pasta, fresh salad with beats, carrots and homemade olive oil dressing, slices of fresh bread from the local panaderia (bakery), jamon (thinly sliced ham) served at room temperature, cheese, and last but not least, either local red wine or beer. Just looking at it brings back great memories of how delicious the meal was in the middle of that afternoon in rural Spain. No wonder they have siestas (naps in the afternoon) before they continue on with their day. How can one not be sleepy with all that delicious food in their stomach? And when a siesta cannot be had…there is more cafe. There you have it! Spanish lunch.
So if every meal is typically pushed back later in the day, what does that mean for dinner? La cena (dinner) is traditionally served as early as 9pm and as late as 11pm or even later. Typically I ate dinner anywhere between 9:30pm and 11pm. This encompassed eating dinner at home and eating out. Since the meal is later at night it consists of lighter foods and smaller portions, for the most part. Some kind of meat is the main course, usually more jamon or perhaps fish, and some type of salad or vegetable. When eating out, small plates that are shared among your group (called tapas) may be albondigas (meatballs), cheeses, olives, and a variety of other foods. I hesitate to name off too many things and must put in here an absolute disclaimer that this is not an exhaustive or comprehensive list of foods in Spanish meals. It would be a pity to limit all that is enjoyed in Spanish meals and it does change and depend on the people themselves and the region of the country.
Even though that wraps up the day, it doesn’t capture all the other foods that one can enjoy in Spain in a day. After all, who doesn’t like to snack? Stay tuned for part 2 of Spanish Food, featuring traditional snacks enjoyed in Spain. In the meantime, buen provecho!