Over the last few months we’ve learned a lot about Spanish cuisine and have grown to really enjoy it. One of the best parts of living with a host family is that we get to eat healthy, home-cooked meals and not just pig out on tapas and menús del día at local bars and restaurants. We can honestly say that we like a lot of the foods we’ve experienced here and are eager to try cooking them back home!
One of the most important things we learned pretty quickly in Spain is that food isn’t very structured or pressured. All of our host parents were kind of like chefs, creatively throwing together a meal with fresh ingredients and no major recipes. This doesn’t necessarily mean it always works out well… I’ve had a few friends who’ve been given cold, uncooked hot dogs on a piece of a bread as their “sandwich” for lunch. Also, they seem to be much more laid back about expiration dates and refrigeration: it’s not uncommon to see milk sitting out in the grocery store un-refrigerated. Even still, our time here has helped break our beliefs that meals need to be perfect, which is especially good considering most of us are at the age where we’re going to start cooking for ourselves more and more. We know now that throwing together a meal could be as simple as putting a bunch of vegetables together and pouring olive oil over it. 🙂 (Consistent with the Mediterranean stereotype, they really use olive oil all the time and for everything here! We’ve grown to love it.)
The Spanish also have different food times than we do in the United States. Breakfast is usually something small if it’s eaten at all, lunch doesn’t happen until 2:00pm, and dinner doesn’t usually happen until around 10:00pm. Between those main meals, people usually take coffee breaks or snacks to keep away their hunger, and somehow they survive with such far spread apart meals! I think one of the main reasons they’re able to do this is, even though the snacks they eat are small, they seem to use a ton of sugar. Whenever you get coffee, they give you a huge packet of sugar and people tend to pour in the whole thing. They also have fewer empty calories. When they eat something sweet for dessert or a snack, they don’t seem to hold back… like the napolitana croissants that are amazing and filled with chocolate. 🙂
Our meals at home all generally follow the same structure. We have a soup or salad to start with, and then have a main course, which our parents try to vary up. It could be beans, chicken or pork, dumplings, pizza, pasta, vegetables, etc. We’ve had a ton, though garbanzo beans are usually a staple like they are throughout Madrid and Spain. For lunch, we almost always get bocadillos, which are sandwiches made on baguettes and usually filled with butter or spread cheese and some type of deli meat like chorizo. I’m not always sure what the deli meats we find in Spain are and sometimes they’re neon colors, but they’re usually good. 🙂 Between the bocadillos and the bread we get with our soup at dinner, we typically end up eating close to a whole baguette a day… that’s something we’ll definitely miss.
Though we don’t eat out that often, a lot of the restaurants in Madrid are very good. One of the strange things that we still haven’t totally gotten used to is that you have to specify what kind of meal you’d like. They end up setting your table differently (i.e., either no table cloth, paper, or linen) depending on whether you get a full course meal, a combined plate, or just small food or drinks to pick at. I assume this is to reduce confusion because a lot of stuff is include if you get the full menú del día, though it can sometimes be awkward if they get it wrong or you change your mind and they have to change the table setting. This has happened to us a few times when were just trying to get some of our favorite tapas, like patatas bravas, tortilla de patatas, or croquetas.
We’ll definitely be incorporating some of Spanish foods into our own cooking in the future. It’ll be a little more challenging to get such fresh ingredients though, given the fact that we don’t all have a corner grocery store in the United States and our radii are much larger.