Why the Spanish have the RIGHT focus on food
If you follow me on social media, you likely know that we just returned from a vacation to Europe…and we had an incredible time….we were especially intrigued with Barcelona….the food, the culture, the people were all enchanting.
I left with a profound appreciation of how differently the Spanish view food and the ritual of eating, preparing and savoring their meals and the social norms.
We invested in a cooking class with a local chef and also a tapas tour with Devour Barcelona, both of which were enlightening and delicious!
So, why do the Spanish have the right focus on food? Here are my best observations:
The quality of food is imperative. Most locals shop in markets close to their homes, in fact, there are 42 in the city alone and we shopped at one of the oldest (Santa Caterina Market) that opened in 1848! Incredible. Most of the vendors in the markets have had their businesses there for multiple generations and they take enormous pride in whatever they sell (e.g.-ham, fish, produce, cheese, etc). They all seem genuinely happy to be working and receptive to questions and offering input on subtle differences between types of products sold. This was evident when we met with the ham vendor and he described how he can easily identify the diet of the pork that he is working with…for example, Serrano ham, which is not inexpensive here in the States is considered to be “cheap” ham in Spain, often used in sandwiches. Serrano ham is kept in close living quarters with little exercise and is given a grain based diet, whereas Iberian ham is given more room to exercise and a diet largely ingesting acorns and grass, so the meat not only looks different, but tastes different (both fat content and flavor). Fascinating.
They focus on seasonal produce. During our 4-course meal prep with the local chef, we incorporated seasonal fruits and vegetables into our cooking, including a gazpacho made with tomato and strawberries…when I asked our chef about the addition of strawberries (it was an unfamiliar gazpacho ingredient to me), he indicated that he really enjoys adding seasonal variations to this traditional soup. Clearly, their strawberry season starts earlier than ours!
They savor meal time…they do not rush their meals or snacks at all! They often have two breakfasts, followed by a large mid-day meal and then an afternoon snack and then a late dinner (which is very light). IN each instance, they are cultivating relationships with their peers and business associates as well. There is tremendous rituals around socializing and food there!
Additionally, if you follow me, you know that I LOVE savoring time over a meal…it gives more opportunities to engage the “rest and repose” part of our brain, which is SO vital to help support digestion. Remember, if your brain is NOT engaged….you cannot properly digest your food..and that leads to a whole host of issues….
They recognize that real food takes time to prepare. There is no skimping on the process of making a meal. There is no “fast” service in restaurants..and I enjoyed that tremendously as it gave us more time to talk about what we enjoyed most during our exploring of the city and sights! Our experiences in restaurants was that a meal could last 2 hours or longer…and the waitstaff was not rushing us out like our experiences in most American restaurants. And during our cooking class, our meal took 3+ hours to prepare and it was incredible. Well worth the effort!
What were some of our favorite local specialities? These are a few of the iconic staples that we loved:
- Paella, we definitely preferred the seafood version for sure!
- Pa amb Tomaquet ( bread with tomato) that is simply rustic bread, garlic, tomatoes
- Esquelxada (salted cod romesco)
- La Bomba, which was created in the WWII era in response to the bombings of Barcelona by Mussolini and Hitler. This dish is incredible and it’s basically a tennis ball-sized potato croquette served with two different sauces: a white garlic aioli that represents the string fuse that the anarchists would light before launching their grenades, and a rich and spicy red sauce that represents the bombs’ explosive qualities.
Have you been to Barcelona? If so, what was your favorite experience, food or custom? We will absolutely return to Spain soon!