The Secret to Spanish Food

Julia Chernicky is a student at the University of Pittsburgh and an ISA Featured Blogger. Julia is currently studying abroad with ISA in Málaga, Spain.

rest edit Jamon
Jamon at a restaurant in Granada. These can be seen hanging in many shops in any Spanish city!

My two favorite hobbies are sleeping and eating, and Spain certainly satisfies both. Locals do not take a siesta every day, and neither do I, but there is a “quiet time” during the afternoon when shops close down. It is an appreciated rest from the hustle and bustle. In reality, it is difficult to find time to sleep because there is always something new to discover. ISA has been awesome; they have activities planned for us weekly and inform us of local fairs and unique pueblos on the outskirts of town that are fun to explore on weekends. I have been so impressed with how well they introduced us to the city of Málaga!

Now let’s talk about the best part of all — the food! Tapas, of course, are everywhere. I could live on potatoes with “spicy” sauce, AKA patatas bravas (they are named so because you have to be “brave to eat them”). The best patatas bravas I had were in Toledo, but I will continue my search and alert you if I find better. There are several meat based tapas, somewhat like meatballs (albóndigas) with various kinds of sauce on top. Also common are potato salads like Ensalada Rusa, which has tuna (atún) in it. Almonds are a specialty of Málaga and you will see street vendors selling them on every corner. Potatoes are eaten in numerous dishes here — tortilla (an omlette with potato and sometimes vegetables), salads, french fries and homestyle potatoes, soup, etc. This is wonderful for me, being gluten intolerant, because it is rather easy to avoid bread! Do not get me wrong; there are bread and carbohydrates aplenty. But it is certainly possible to eat around them if you have a food allergy.

So that is a taste (pun intended) of what you will find in the average cafe here. At my homestay, my compañera de piso (roommate) and I eat even better! Our host mother cooks lunch and dinner for us every day, and every morning before school we help ourselves to Nutella and homemade peanut butter with a banana. For lunch she makes pork or chicken, fish, paella, pasta (gluten-free for me), or soup. My favorite food we have at home is persimmon. It is tragic that I did not try persimmons until this point in my life. They taste almost like melon but look like a coral-orange colored tomato and do not have any seeds. The fruit here is mostly tropical, which is a lot different than what we grow locally in Pennsylvania. Eating a sweet kiwi, savory tomatoes and juicy oranges in the middle of November is more confusing than anything; it is apple and pumpkin season at home!

My favorite dish my host mother makes: Calamari and chicken paella!

The food here is wonderful and wholesome. I adore the fact that everything is made with rich olive oil and quality ingredients. However, a common theme in our group is the desire for spicy food. We are all craving Mexican food by this point and seasonal favorites sprinkled with cinnamon and nutmeg. Restaurants  may attempt to recreate cultural specialty dishes, but there is nothing like the real thing. This goes both ways; in Spain I miss the comfort of my native cuisine, and I know at home I will miss the hearty meals guaranteed anywhere in Spain. Wherever you travel in the world, be open-minded and try new things! Every culture has their specialties and it is important to appreciate the differences from your home country!

A cook boiling octopus at La Feria de Naciones in Sevilla

One thing I can say for sure — the Spanish know how to cook. And would you like to know the secret I discovered about why the food is so delicious? It is because they know how to enjoy food. They do not eat on the go or in class, they sit down, usually with a glass of wine, and savor meals as a social experience. Food is not about calories and diets, it is a part of life that brings families and friends together. People in the U.S. love to eat; Spaniards love to dine.

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” -J.R.R. Tolkien 

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