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Spring 2011


Haute Tapa

Mercat de Mercats Barcelona, Spain


Comida|Spring 2011

Table of Contents



Letter from the Editor


La Champagneria


Tortilla de Patatas: A Foodoir


Epicurean Regions of Spain


Spainsh Kitchen Essentials


Spanish Gastronomy


4 Foods to Eat in Spain


Spanish Meal Schedule


Olive Oil: A Guide


Ir de Tapas



Dine local in the heart of Barcelona.

Spanish cuisine didn’t always include tomatoes. Take a journey through the development of Spain’s food culture.

How to select the perfect olive oil, and why it matters.

Tea Market

Granada, Spain

La Boqueria

Barcelona, Spain

Letter from the

r o t i ed a course in cleaning Sardines with my bare hands, meals at many of the quintessential Barcelona restaurants and discovering a true love for my Señora’s tortilla española, I decided it was time to venture outside of the city. My gastronomic trek took me north to the Basque region for world-renowned tapas, to a dairy farm in the volcanic region of Garroxta, south to Andalucía for the best churros I’ve ever eaten, and everywhere in between. I quickly learned that my interest in food was fortunate because Spaniards love to talk about their food. My mission to taste Spain brought me into contact with people and places I would have never discovered otherwise. From this journey, I have created Comida. Comida is a mix of academic, journalistic, and sometimes humorous reflections on Spanish culture through food. It is also an album of memories, a souvenir from my life in Spain. ¡Buen provecho! Comida|Spring 2011

As an American student in Barcelona, Spain, I was searching for something to enrich my time abroad, a way to truly understand Spanish culture and an approach to bonding with my host mother. I tried reading literature about Spain. This helped me on two fronts, but talking with my Señora about The Sun Also Rises proved to be ineffective for any real bonding. I began learning how to take stunning pictures to capture my time in Spain, but as I sat in my bedroom, reading blog posts about aperture, I realized that this wasn’t enriching my time abroad by any means. So finally, as I sat night after night devouring every last grain of rice, drop of olive oil, and crumb of bread, and laughing with Antonia about our daily mishaps, I realized that food should be my focus during my time in Spain. A tasty decision turned into countless conversations, culinary expeditions, blog posts, and cooking lessons. I not only began to understand Spanish culture, I began to love it. So as I narrowed down the topics for my honors thesis, it only made sense that my passion for Spanish gastronomy was at the top of the list. After exploring the culinary landscape of Barcelona through


La Champagneria Foodie Chat

nish Food

pa Describing S

Charged with flavor. Mediterranean, fresh and simple. Appetizer-sized portions. Thomas Wilson Valencia, Spain

Salty ham, starch, crunchy bread and olives.

Claire Schilperoort Barcelona, Spain

Comida|Spring 2011

La Champangeria, where all you can order is cava rosado and surprisingly enough, a bizarre mix of grilled sandwiches. Once you’ve finally made your way up to the bar—after pushing through locals who seem to be chatting as if the bar were empty, being pressed up against strangers as huge loaded carts of cava are endlessly wheeled in and out of the store, and realizing that cava really is the only drink to order, it is such a relief when you are handed the small margaritashaped glass of pink bubbly. Don’t be turned off if you wouldn’t normally drink anything pink (macho men I am talking to you) because in La Champagneria, no one cares. Men and women from all walks of life stop in for an afternoon drink and snack. There is no seating, so if you 7 are looking for a restaurant for

a large group, or a secluded spot for a private conversation, this is not the place. However, if you’re looking to start up a conversation with local Catalans, then your close proximity to nearly everyone in the bar makes this an easy feat. Don’t skip the sandwiches. In fact, you may want to order two, because if the freshly grilled meat and peppers slathered in melted cheese, all layered between a toasty roll alone doesn’t leave you wanting more, then their small size definitely will. Grab a bottle of cava, the Catalan version of champagne, on your way out, and with two sandwiches, your bill will come out to about ten euros. For a cheap and authentically corky experience, La Champagneria is more than anyone could ask for. La Champagneria is located near the beach, off the L4 Barceloneta Metro stop.


Bianca Castro Seville, Spain

I expected horchata to be thick, the consistency of a milkshake, but it wasn’t. The mixture of nuts, rice, and seeds make a delicious and refreshing treat. Brianna Goddard Barcelona, Spain

Internacional. Antonia Garcia Barcelona, Spain

Ham, lots of ham. Jacqueline Falcon Barcelona, Spain


Valencia, Spain

La Tortilla Española

Comida|Spring 2011

The table was set in groups of three: three plates, napkins, cups and forks. It was the only thing on the table that wasn’t grouped in a set; it sat secluded in the center of the table: two plates stacked on top of each other, the top plate turned upside down to create a lid for the bottom. A faded blue and white floral napkin lay across the plates, just crooked enough so that a small bit of the aligned rims could be seen. I sat anxiously, waiting for Antonia’s signal that I could open the plates to reveal the mysterious tortilla she had been talking about and busily cooking for the whole afternoon. I pictured a stack of large flat flour tortillas, white with brown spots and a soft buttery taste. Maybe, they were corn tortillas, small and perfectly round like the ones I ate daily 9 in Guatemala. I could imagine their

deep blue color in perfect contrast with the stark white plates that hid them. Although these were the images that the word tortilla conjured in my head, I thought it strange that Antonia would cook these kinds of tortillas for the main course of my first meal in Spain. So I sat patiently and curiously, with thoughts of burritos and quesadillas dancing in my Texas born and-raised head. Antonia carried a clear salad bowl to the table along with a plate of bread drenched in olive oil and smeared with tomatoes. She was talking rapidly but because of my jet lag, or maybe because I hadn’t spoken Spanish all summer, the language sounded no more or less foreign than Swahili. My mouth was quite literally salivating as tried to control my urge to rip the cloth napkin off the plates and finally uncover the mystifying

meal underneath. Antonia’s cheeks and forehead wrinkled pleasantly as she explained (very slowly so that I would understand) that this tortilla is her specialty, and that it is the best tortilla in Barcelona. Her thinning brown hair stayed perfectly positioned in round curls around her face as she leaned over the table, removed the cloth napkin, and picked up the top plate to reveal her prized course. A mix between a pie, a quiche, and an omelet sat unassumingly on the plate below. It was nearly as large as the plate it sat on, so I could only see a glimpse of the plate’s rim here and there. It was circular, with round edges like a small hill that led to a flat top. The color varied in patches from a warm olive oil yellow to off-white to light golden brown. Antonia used a long serrated bread

I thought to myself, if this is any indication as to how my time in Spain will be, I’m ready. A month into my stay in Spain, the tortilla didn’t seem so mystical anymore. It had become a staple in my diet; tortilla on Fridays was regular in my house. It had become just as regular as uncomfortably short showers, inescapable heat, and the constant smell of cigarette smoke. It was

we ordered upon sitting down at our table—a fatal mistake, meaning that it might be hours before she came to check on our table again. I shared a menu with the girl to my left, and we both struggled to decipher the names of the dishes, which were written in Catalan. I finally found tortilla on the menu and assumed that I couldn’t go wrong, since every tortilla Antonia had served was delightful. We waited

La tortilla española is the staple dish of Spain. It can be served for breakfast, as a tapa, between two pieces of bread, or even for dinner. Although its specific roots are unknown, it could not have appeared in Spain prior to the early sixteenth century when potatoes, the main ingredient in la tortilla española, were brought from the Americas. The ease with which it can be made and variety of additional ingredients that can be added (including cheese, vegetables and even chorizo) make la tortilla an extremely versatile and beloved dish.

simply a meal I knew I would enjoy, nothing more or less. I sat down at a café for a bite to eat with a few girls I had met at my school. While they chatted gleefully about the joys of living in Barcelona, I watched as the man at the next table pulled a cigarette out of his pocket and lit it with a small silver lighter. Instantly the tiny restaurant filled with smoke; my water even held the pungent odor and scratched my throat as I swallowed. Two waitresses stood behind the bar chatting loudly, while numerous tables of people waited for the waitresses to come take their orders. We had told the waitress we needed a minute before

hungry and annoyed as I tried multiple times to catch the attention of our waitress. After about twenty attempts, she made eye contact with me, proceeded to finish her conversation, and finally made her way casually over to our table. Using my best Spanish, I confidently ordered a tortilla. “Do you want anything else?” Even with my best Spanish I was constantly spoken to in English; how would I ever become fluent if no one would speak Spanish to me? After about a half hour of waiting, my tortilla arrived. It wasn’t the beautiful luke-warm, golden brown, triangular slice I was used to. In 10

Comida|Spring 2011

knife to cut a pielike wedge and move it, cautiously balanced on the skinny knife to my plate. My fork easily cut the first bite, and the second it touched my tongue, I understood Antonia’s confidence in her masterpiece. It’s pure comfort food, a perfectly cooked hash brown, held together by eggs (that somehow don’t give the tortilla an overtly egg-y taste), with hints of caramelized onions and the fresh, but slightly buttery taste of olive oil. In the U.S. it would be degraded to the status of breakfast food, simply because of its ingredients, but Spaniards place it in the standing it deserves, as a main course. I don’t even remember eating the rest of my slice; I must have devoured it quickly though, because my stomach didn’t have time to register it was full until my third oversized wedge. As I leaned back in my chair, pleased with the damage I had done,

fact, I couldn’t even see the tortilla because it was hidden inside a stale baguette. I lifted the top piece of bread to examine my meal. Underneath were bright yellow chucks of potato that looked as if they had been smeared and smashed between the bread days ago. Giving the restaurant the benefit of the doubt, I placed the top piece of bread back on the sandwich and tore a stale bite off. The tortilla was cold and chunky, it tasted like old mashed potatoes after they’ve been reheated in the microwave and put back in the refrigerator. I couldn’t even take another bite. The check came, and I scornfully paid six Euros for a cold, smoke-filled dinner. After the incident, I swore off ordering tortillas in restaurants; nothing could compare to the tortilla my Señora made at home. From the first tortilla she cooked, I had begged her to teach me how to cook a tortilla. She always happily agreed, and yet I came home weekly to find a tortilla prepared and waiting on the table. One Friday, about two

months into my stay, I decided that it was my day to learn how to cook a tortilla. Fridays we always had tortilla for dinner, so I knew that Antonia would have to cook one at some point during the day. I hurried home after class, using the metro timetables which I had subconsciously memorized, and arrived just in time to watch Antonia pour olive oil in to her large pan. “Puedo ayudarte?” “Sí,” Antonia smiled and gestured me over to the pan. The bottom of the pan was filled with at least an inch and a half of olive oil, and as the pan heated, the smell of olives began to permeate the kitchen. Antonia skillfully peeled and sliced potatoes by the sink, placing each sliced piece into the warm oil. She spoke as she worked, explaining the importance of slicing potatoes thinly and not letting the potatoes turn brown in the oil. Her eyes widened when I asked questions; she was excited to give each answer. The seasons were beginning to

change, so the warmth from the stove felt nice in contrast to the chilly breeze that occasionally blew through the kitchen from the open window. I listened intently, afraid that any missed detail could lead to a disastrous tortilla, as bad as the one from the restaurant. Antonia grated an onion in to the potatoes. That’s why I can never find onion slices, I thought. I enjoyed watching Antonia work; she didn’t even need to pay attention to her tasks. They were second nature, as easy to her as washing her hands. Each step that she showed me brought me closer and closer to understanding the idiosyncrasies of this beloved Spanish dish. I felt like an insider, like I was finally uncovering secrets to the mysterious culture of Spain. That night, as I ate my slice of tortilla, for the umpteenth time, something was different. It wasn’t just a satisfying mixture of potatoes and eggs; it was a small victory, the satisfaction of being an insider in the world of Spanish tortillas.

La Tortilla Española

Comida|Spring 2011

Potatoes, any variety 1 large onion 3-6 egg whites


2-4 egg yolks Salt to taste Extra virgin olive oil

1. Pour about 1-1.5 inches of olive oil in the bottom of a round-bottomed frying pan over medium heat. 2. Peel and slice potatoes in to approximately 1/2 inch thick rounds. Place potato slices in warm oil until pan is 2/3 full of potatoes. 3. Continue to turn potatoes for about 10-15 minutes, or until all slices are soft, but not browned. Add salt to taste. 5. Grate onion into potato mixture and continue to turn for about two more minutes. 6. Strain potato mixture, removing all excess oil (the easiest way is to allow the mixture to sit in a strainer for about three minutes). 7. While mixture is straining, beat all eggs together until well combined. 8. Pour potato mixture back into pan, and pour eggs over the top. Turn mixture so that the eggs are evenly dispersed. Add salt to taste. 9. Allow Tortilla to cook for approximately three minutes, without turning, or until tortilla holds together when pan is shaken. 10. Place a plate onto the frying pan. With one hand holding the plate securely onto the pan, use the other hand to flip the pan over, so that the tortilla falls onto the plate. Slide it back into the pan, allowing the other side to cook. 11. Cook for about three more minutes, and carefully slide on to serving plate. 12. Allow the tortilla to sit for at least 30 minutes before serving so that it holds its domed shape.

La Boqueria

Barcelona, Spain


Galicia is located in the northwest corner of Spain. It is a small region with fewer inhabitants than the other regions, which many travelers believe makes it a more rustic and quaint region. The Galician population largely centers around Santiago de Compostela, the capital of Galicia and the destination for the Camino de Santiago (Way of Saint James) pilgrimage route. Because of its lengthy coastline, Galicia is believed to provide Spain with the freshest and most flavorful fish. However, two foods are associated with Galicia even more strongly than fish: pulpo (octopus), and pimientos de Padrón. Each year Galicia has a festival for pulpo (although pulpo is also eaten at all other festivals) and for pimientos de Padrón. Pimientos de Padrón, small peppers sautéed and topped with coarse salt, are a common tapa throughout Spain. However, remember the rhyme “Pimientos de Padrón, algunos pican y otros no,” which means some peppers are spicy and others are not. Statistically, growers say that one in ten peppers is spicy, however it is hard to find someone who has tasted a spicy Pimiento de Padrón.

Comida|Spring 2011



Located in the southwest of Spain, the three main cities of Andalucía are Seville, Granada and Cordoba. Andalucía was the area most heavily influenced by the Moors, which you can see in architectural treasures such as Alhambra and the Great Mosque of Cordoba. The Moors also influenced Spanish cuisine with the introduction of rice, a Spanish staple, as well as saffron. Regionally, Andalucía is known for frying food and for their love of tapas. Other regions snack on tapas, but none so fervently or throughout the entire day as Andalusians do. Andalucía is the place to visit to experience the Roman custom of siesta, a three to four hour break in the afternoon, in which stores and restaurants close for a rest. In Andalucía you can’t miss chocolate con churros; stop at one of the churrerías dotting the streets of Seville, and you won’t be disappointed.

País Vasco

ou gh Fou r

gio ns

The Basque region (País Vasco), located in northwest Spain, holds a high concentration of restaurants boasting Michelin stars. It is renowned for New Basque Cuisine, which focuses on updating classic Basque dishes. Food plays a large role in Basque culture; the Basque people believe that good food is their birthright, and show this by treating local dishes and ingredients with the highest respect. In many cities throughout the Basque region gastronomic societies exist as places for men to cook and eat together. Bacalao, or salt cod, is common throughout the region and especially common in pintxos or Basque tapas.

A To

r h t ur

Re h s ani p S

Cataluña Cataluña, bordered on the north by France, is often known for its mixture of sweet and savory flavors in one dish. This might be reminiscent of Moorish influence, or simply another side effect of the quirky culture that produced artists Joan Miró, Salvador Dalí and Antoni Gaudí, all known for pushing the limits on conventional thought. Cataluña is a proud region, which you will quickly learn by mentioning crème brulee at the first sight of crema catalan, a dish Catalans believe the French copied. Tradition is important in Cataluña, certain dishes, such as panellets eaten on All Saints Day, are only eaten on their corresponding holiday. The most iconic and basic food of Cataluña is pan con tomate, which literally translates as bread with tomato.

Epicurean Regions of Spain

Spanish Kitchen


Olive Oil

Immersion blender

Round-edge Pan

Ham in various forms is used in many Spanish dishes. Chorizo often flavors soups, while thinly sliced jamón Iberico is served as a tapa, and sobrasada (soft sausage) is spread on bread slices. No Spanish kitchen is whole without some form of ham.

Immersion blenders are used to combine ingredients for many Spanish sauces and soups. Two common dishes that call for an immersion blender are salsa romesco and gazpacho.

Olive oil is used in nearly every Spanish dish. If the dish isn’t cooked using olive oil, then it is usually sprinkled with oil at the end. Many dieticians attribute the longevity of people throughout the Mediterranean to the heart-healthy benefits of olive oil.

This pan is essential in cooking la tortilla Española. Without the round-edge pan, it would be nearly impossible to flip the tortilla and cook the other side.


Comida|Spring 2011

Comino or cumin is used explicitly in many Spanish dishes, and is often added to recipes that do not specifically call for it.



La Boqueria Barcelona, Spain

Span i



tronomy s a G


n order to understand the gastronomy of a region or nation, one must first explore the circumstances that created this unique food culture. In Spain there are four main themes that have, over centuries, shaped today’s conception of Spanish gastronomy. These four concepts are geography, history, religion and economy. Geographically Spain rests above the Mediterranean Sea, touching France and Portugal and nearly reaching Morocco. Its location and climate have formed culinary culture since the Phoenicians brought the first olive trees to Spain 6000 years ago. However, if it weren’t for the Mediterranean climate of the Iberian Peninsula, olive trees would not have grown to their modern prominence throughout Spain. The Mediterranean climate

is characterized by dry, mild seasons. These characteristics are ideal for both olive trees and grapevines, two of the main and oldest crops in Spain. Both of these crops were first widely cultivated by the Romans. In the past many historians believed that Italy provided the majority of olive oil to the Roman empire; however, in recent years, vessels have been uncovered in Roman ruins indicating a large Spanish presence. This presence still exists today with Spain projected to produce 40-45 percent of global olive oil for the 20102011 harvest. Spain’s proximity to the Mediterranean Sea also allows Spain to harvest fresh seafood, which is common in many Spanish dishes. Salsa Garum, the most important Spanish export under Roman rule used Spain’s proximity to the Mediterranean to produce large quantities of this fish-based sauce. The mild Mediterranean climate also lends itself well to rice production, which explains the prevalence of rice based dishes, the most well-known being paella. Although the Mediterranean climate supports a wide variety of crops, many of these staple Spanish ingredients are not native to Spain and were introduced relatively recently. Three historical waves brought major changes to the Spanish diet. The first wave is Roman rule. Roman rulers saw Hispania as a land of wealth with rich gold and silver mines; however, the possibilities for large-scale agricultural production were most valuable to the Roman empire. The Romans introduced large-scale olive oil, wine and wheat production. They viewed Spain as a new market for their own agricultural products, and by the first century A.D., wine and olive Remnants of Moorish rule are visible in oil production had grown to architecture as well as Spanish food. satisfy markets at home as This image (above) was taken at The well as throughout the RoAlhambra in Granada, Spain.

man empire. Under Roman rule, Salsa Garum also became an important export for Spain. Salsa Garum, often considered the “supreme condiment” by the Romans, was common in many Roman dishes and exported throughout the Roman empire. The fermented fish sauce was so popular in fact, that the southern area of Spain where the sauce was manufactured boasted of fame throughout the empire. However, the unsavory smell produced during the process of creating the sauce forced Garum factories to locate on the city outskirts. Arguably the most influential wave in Spanish gastronomic history is the nearly 800-year rule of the Moors. The Moors moved to the Iberian Peninsula in the early eighth century, bringing with them a plethora of new crops, spices, and cooking techniques. The most visible contribution of the Moors is the cultivation of rice. Before Moorish rule, rice was not a common crop in Spain, however, today many of the most notable Spanish dishes, such as paella, are rice-based. The Moors also brought foreign spices to Spain. Cinnamon, nutmeg, and paella’s key spice of saffron were all unfamiliar before Moorish rule. A key cooking technique introduced by the Moors is the combination of nuts, fruit and meat, which so often characterizes Spanish dishes. The progression of Spanish meals from appetizer to entrée to dessert is also often attributed to the famous Moorish musician Ziryab. However, the Moors brought much more than food products to Spain; they are considered agricultural scientists. Through improvements to Roman irrigation systems, development of high-yield fertilizers, and introduction of food preservation technology, the Moors improved traditional Spanish food production through technology as well as the cultivation of new crops. By the fall of the Moorish empire, which was reduced in stages until 1492, a new wave of products began to flow into Spain. With Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the Americas came a variety of strange crops that

were soon adopted in to Spanish gastronomy. The tomato, potato, peppers and even chocolate did not exist in the Iberian Peninsula until the early 16th century. The tomato and potato alone are required for some of most recognizable Spanish dishes. Tortilla española, a staple within the Spanish diet is made from potatoes, eggs, olive oil and onions. It is amazing to think that one of the main ingredients is not native to Spain and yet have been cultivated to such an extent that a Spanish staple is impossible without it. Gazpacho, a cold, tomato-based soup, is another traditional Spanish dish made possible by exploration. One marker of the true acculturation of new world products into Spanish culture is eighteenth century painter Luis Melendez’s inclusion of tomatoes and chocolate in some of his famous still life depictions of Spanish food. History has shaped Spanish gastronomy through exploration, trade and cultivation. However there is another influential aspect that shapes Spanish cuisine today: religion. Throughout early history, religion did not play a large role in shaping the Spanish national diet because, in general, Jews, Christians and Muslims, the three main religions in Spain, lived harmoniously. However, this conflict was accelerated under the rule of Ferdinand and Isabella. In the 1300s, a wave of anti-Semitism spread from the northern Navarre region of Spain, south, inciting looting sprees and massacres of Jews throughout the country. It is

Sample Spanish Cuisine at

Cafe Madrid


tomatoes, each group that touched the Iberian Peninsula has shaped Spanish gastronomy. Spain’s geography, history, religion and economy have all played important roles in forming today’s Spanish cuisine.

Solo en España Perhaps the most significant distinguishing theme in Spanish food and cooking is the Spanish belief that good, high quality food is a birthright. Spaniards value raw materials and traditional techniques. This belief is expressed throughout Spain by the prevalence of specialized markets, as opposed to the American conception of superstores. Stalls within these specialized markets are often passed down through generations of family members with specialties ranging from seafood to dried fruit. Stall owners take pride in their products, and shoppers learn from a young age how to judge quality materials. While living in Spain, a Spanish woman was astonished to learn that I had never selected a whole fish before. She then proceeded to teach me how to choose the freshest fish by searching for cloudless eyes and red gills. The rushed training that I received in a few minutes of looking at fish is passed down from mothers to their children from infancy. Selecting food is not only a daily task, but also an important skill that all Spaniards must learn. In the Basque region, cooking is not just a duty for women. Txokos are private Basque societies where men gather to shop, cook, and eat together outside of the house. Most of these gastronomic societies do not allow women, even though it is often admitted by members that they learned to cook from the matriarch of their house. These highly sought-after societies are unique because they include men from

Comida|Spring 2011

estimated that by 1415, 65 years before the Inquisition began, nearly half of all Spanish Jews had converted to Catholicism out of fear and harassment. Under the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella anti Semitic tones were put in to action, with the official beginning of the Span-

ish Inquisition in 1480. The inquisition forced all Jews, Muslims and Protestants to either convert through baptism or leave Spain. Through public rituals and ceremonies Jews and Muslims were forced to read their sins against the church and either convert or face death. Legend says that in order to prove their adherence to Ctholicism, Conversos (new converts) would eat pork, a meat that is forbidden in both Islam and Judaism. Many historians believe that this explains why pork is such a prevalent food throughout Spain. Its popularity has penetrated all regions of Spain, and preparations differ from those of common dishes such as chorizo to the highly sought-after jamón ibérico de bellota, expensive pork from a small herd of swine fed only acorns. The final determining factor that helped shape Spain’s distinctive cuisine is the Spanish economy. Although Spain has seen periods throughout history of great power and wealth, for most of Spanish history, Spaniards have mainly been peasant workers. From the Garum factories under Roman rule to fishing towns today, the most common Spanish dishes are those made by workers. Paella, for example, had humble beginnings as a dish comprised of the week’s leftovers. It is a mix of seafood, vegetables, and meat all stretched to make larger, more filling portions with rice, a readily available and cheap grain. Pan con Tomate, a staple in Catalan meals, is believed to have been created to make stale bread more palatable. The meal accompaniment is simply bread smeared with tomato and sprinkled with olive oil. And finally, the staple dish of Spain, tortilla española is a simple dish made of potatoes, onions, and eggs; all of these ingredients are not only easy and cheap to cultivate in Spain, but they are also hardy components meant to fill the stomach. From Roman olive oil to American


Comida|Spring 2011


all social classes. For members of txokos, a meal is more than shared food: it is a uniting time to enjoy the company of others and traditional Basque cuisine. Another occurrence that shows the integral part food plays in Spanish society is the frequency of large-scale festivals honoring specific foods. The region of Galicia is most famous for its various food-themed festivals. A traveler to Galicia commented on the prevalence of pulpo (octopus) in all Galician celebrations; he then found out that there is specifically a pulpo festival. This indicates the reverence shown toward food; Spainards believe it to be so important that they dedicate an entire event in adoration to the given food. One of the most specialized festivals is held each August in Padrón, a small town in Galicia. The festival celebrates the beloved pimientos de Padrón, which are grown exclusively in Padrón. Placed in a pepper patch, locals gobble down plates of the local delicacy, peppers sautéed in olive oil and sprinkled with salt. Pimientos de Padrón are difficult to buy outside of Galicia and nearly impossible outside of Spain. This is one of the facets of Spanish gastronomy that provides insight in to Spaniards respect for freshness. The existence of great differences among regional and seasonal cuisine in Spain helps to explain Spaniards’ infatuation with fresh ingredients. Although global commerce has made it possible to eat Chinese food in Barcelona and a traditional Basque dish in Andalusia, the prevalence, and adherence to regional traditions is an effect of the necessity for fresh local ingredients in Spanish cooking. For example, the Basque region is known for fresh and simple seafood dishes. Spaniards would say that it is impossible to create these dishes outside of the Basque region because it is impossible to find fresh Basque fish in other areas. This belief is not common in

the United States. Large supermarkets allow American consumers to choose from a global variety of products, and American consumers oblige by purchasing produce out of season and fish even though there is no water within 400 miles of their home. Spaniards live differently, following seasonal and regional guidelines when selecting food products. Another illustration of the importance of seasonality is the Catalan tradition Calçotada. Calçotada is similar to an American barbeque, except the centerpiece of the meal are calçots, sweet white onions. Calçotadas occur between January and March, based upon when the calçots are ready to be harvested. The thing that makes calçots so special is that they are impossible to buy any other time of the year. As an American, while I was in Spain, I assumed I would be able to at least buy out-of-season calçots at the local supermarket. After searching unsuccessfully throughout Barcelona from August through December and asking many Spanish locals to no avail, I can confidently say calçots are simply harvested once a year, and that is it. From local markets and peppers so unique they garner their own festival to gastronomic societies and Calçotadas, Spaniards value and respect food as an important part of their cultural lives. The uniqueness of Spanish cooking lies in the reverence for which Spaniards give to the foods they eat and the way they are cooked. It is no longer common throughout the industrialized world to buy local ingredients daily to ensure freshness; however in Spain, this is a cornerstone of the Spanish lifestyle.

the place, time, and way in which meals are eaten in Spain reflect the Spanish value system that cherishes personal relationships (as opposed to the American value system, which places importance on time). The length of meals, lack of “fast-food,” and daily meal schedule demonstrate Spaniards’ relationship-based values. A typical Spanish meal schedule has four main meal times. The first meal, which is eaten early in the morning, before work, is small, usually consisting of coffee and a small snack such as a croissant. Although the meal is congruent to many American breakfasts, it is not eaten on-the-go. It is valued as a time to allow the body to wake up and prepare for the day. This meal is often eaten at a café, allowing Spaniards to converse with friends and colleagues. The second meal, eaten late in the morning, consists of heartier food, such as a bocadillo with meat and cheese, and often beer. This meal allows Spaniards to break from work and enjoy filling food that is meant to tide them over until the largest meal of the day. In Barcelona, men and women who work in the city center often enjoy this “brunch” with a cigarette and co-workers while people-watching on city benches. The third and largest meal of the day, almuerzo, is a social affair. Almuerzo often consists of three or more courses and can last from two to four hours. Men and women either return home for this meal to spend time with their families, or congregate with friends in local restaurants. This long meal in the middle of the day, which allows Spaniards to catch up with friends and share daily happenings, is a far stretch from

Food and Culture Just as Spaniards place value on high quality ingredients and traditional cooking techniques, they also view meals as culturally significant daily rituals. The rituals that surround

the American office lunch. It is very uncommon for Americans to have take time in the middle of the day to go home, cook a large meal, and slowly enjoy the fruits of their labor

A chef prepares gourmet tapas at Mercat de Mercat, a festival celebrating fine dining in Barcelona, Spain.

major difference between Spain and the U.S. is the menu, which in Spain includes a large assortment of breakfast pastries, a small variation of coffee choices, and beer. However, the largest differences can be seen in the way people treat McDonalds. By venturing upstairs, I passed a group of young upper-class teenagers, an older married couple, and three businessmen in suits. I sat down at a table and observed the people for thirty minutes. In that time the tables around me filled with other upper-middle class people, and no one who was in the restaurant when I arrived had left. I actually finished my observation before any of the people who I was observing had left McDonalds. This would not occur in the United States. McDonalds is viewed as fast food; food that you can pick up on your way home from work, it is not a place where people go to sit down and have a meal. My first hypothesis for explaining why people would sit and eat at McDonalds was that it’s a novelty, because it’s from the U.S., but upon talking to Spanish teachers and students I realized that they don’t view McDonalds as a novelty. The behavior I viewed at McDonalds is simply a reflection of the way Spaniards eat. Spaniards value food and meal time too much to eat on-the-go. The American conception of fast food does not exist in Spain, because to Spaniards being fast is not a priority. This McDonalds experience once again illustrates the significance of meal time in Spanish culture. From the adaptations of American fast food restaurants to long relationship-building almuerzos, Spaniards value meals as a time to connect with loved ones and share their passion for high-quality food. Eating in Spain is more than simply fueling the body for more work; it represents a time of relaxation and sharing that, like cooking techniques, is passed down from generation to generation. The next time you visit Spain, slow down and enjoy Spanish cooking traditions during a long almuerzo and maybe if you’re lucky, a few locals will join you.

Comida|Spring 2011

with the entire family. This is the most obvious difference between Spanish and American culture. The American mantra, “work first, play later,” is so ingrained in American tradition, that breaking from work for hours to fraternize with loved ones seems irresponsible at best. Spaniards, on the other hand, could not imagine a day without catching up with friends and family, and they do not identify themselves by the work that they do, but rather by the relationships they find most important. This is why almuerzo is such an important part of the Spanish day, because the relationships that are nourished during almuerzo are representative of the person’s character. The fourth and final meal in a Spanish day is la cena, a small meal eaten between 9:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. that fills the stomach so that one is not awakened by hunger during the night, as my Señora said. Spaniards place great significance on meal times, not only because of their passion for food itself, but also because of

the relationships that are cultivated while around the table. Another indication of the importance of meal time is the nonexistence of the western conception of fast food. Yes, globalization has filled Spain with McDonalds, Burger Kings, and Starbucks; however upon entering one of these American mega-chains, it is easy to quickly see that these chains have been adapted to whichever culture they enter. While observing people in a Starbucks in the city center of Barcelona, I watched as a Spanish woman in her eighties stood at the small oval bar where the Starbucks barista had placed her coffee for pickup and spent 20 minutes drinking her coffee. Americans in the store gave annoyed glances at the woman as they struggled to reach their coffee, as it was also placed on the oval stand. The barista ushered the woman to a seat many times, but she happily stood and sipped her coffee. I didn’t understand the cultural significance of this until observing Spaniards in other coffee shops who often stood at the bar to drink their coffee. Standing and drinking one’s coffee in the café is normal in Spain; the woman in Starbucks was simply following the Spanish cultural norms, which are not the same as the American norm to take a coffee to-go. Upon returning to the Starbucks and observing more, I realized that no Spaniards ordered coffee to-go. They all sat, for at least twenty minutes, talked with friends, and drank from ceramic cups. Coffee for them signifies a time for relaxation, while coffee for Americans is simply a pit-stop for energy on-the-go. This once again highlights the difference in value systems between Americans and Spaniards. Another example that stresses the lack of adaptation to fast-food by Spaniards is an observance I made in McDonalds. By simply entering a Spanish McDonalds, differences can be quickly observed. The first


4 Fanta Lim贸n

Tarragona, Spain


Foods to Eat in


Pimientos de Padrónes

These small, sweet green peppers are served sautéed and sprinkled with sea salt. Be careful with the first bite, when you’ll test the Spanish saying “Pimientos de Padrónes, some are hot, while others are not.”

Tortilla Española

Pan con Tomate

Churros con Chocolate

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Usually served as a tapa, pan con tomate is best when you are served bread, olive oil and tomatoes sliced in half. Rub the tomatoes on each bread slice and sprinkle with oil. Be wary of premade pan con tomate, which is often soggy and stale.

This egg, potato and onion frittata is best served at room temperature. Don’t buy prepackaged tortillas from the market, they will always be disappointing. In cafés, steer clear of overly yellow tortillas, they’re usually not homemade.

These rings of fried, fluffy dough are a far stretch from the carnival churros that many Americans are accustomed to. The best churros are served piping hot, fresh from the fryer, with a cup of hot chocolate as thick as syrup. Use the sugar shaker to sweeten the churros to your taste. 24

Pair of Tapas

Mercat Santa Caterina Barcelona, Spain

La Cena

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Like most days, dinner preparations began early in the morning. Today, it was simply a pot of mixed vegetables soaked in spices, olive oil and vinegar. These early morning preparations are the first sign of the importance placed on food and meals in Spain. Dinner is not an afterthought of carelessly thrown together leftovers; it is rather a well planned and carefully prepared meal. The importance of high quality, fresh ingredients is also apparent from early morning preparations as my Señora buys fresh bread for our nightly pan con tomate each morning from “the best” bakery in Barcelona. The rest of the day my Señora worked, preparing various dishes for our dinner as well as dishes for her two adult sons and her daughter’s family. The food preparation (at least in this family) is clearly a matriarchal system. My Señora prepares the food for her entire family even though they no longer live with her. This also gives insight into family relations. My Señora preparing food everyday for her entire family shows that cooking, at least in the house, is mainly a job for women and often, the matriarch of the family. Although it is the matriarch who prepares the family’s meals, it is likely this way because of a patriarchal society, which believes that women should tend to household chores, while men work outside of the home. Once 9:30 p.m. came, it was time for dinner. My roommates and I sat in the kitchen, as we did every night, rather than in the living room where a table for entertaining was located. After we were seated, my Señora spooned heaping portions of rice with mixed vegetables and chicken onto each of our plates. We all three said “that’s enough” long before she finished serving us. After our plates 27 were full, she began to cut the bread

she had purchased that morning for fresh pan con tomate. After coating each piece of bread in tomato and olive oil, she placed the full plate on the table (we were allowed to it serve ourselves). Once my Señora checked, for the third time, to make sure we all were pleased, she grabbed a saucer out of the cabinet and spooned a few bites of rice on to it. She didn’t sit with us, but rather stood and slowly ate her small portion of rice while talking to each of us individually about our classes and our plans for the upcoming weekends. Once she finished her rice, which didn’t take long, she began searching through the cabinets to show us some of the ingredients she had used in our meal. We were still eating the large portions she served us, when she pulled out a bottle of olive oil. El mejor she said, while pointing out the label which read “100% Extra-Virgin Olive Oil.” She was always trying to teach us which ingredients to use and the importance of using these top-quality products. She then got our apples out of the refrigerator, all the while explaining why these apples are the best in Spain, washed them, and set the three apples on the table for our dessert. We were almost finished with our apples, when she brought one more thing out of the cabinet, chocolate. She broke three small pieces of 70% cacao chocolate onto a saucer and brought them to us. It was a wonderfully typical, but large, meal in Spain. From this meal, I made two discoveries about my Señora, which I believe can be somewhat generalized to the habits of people in Cataluña. The first is the importance placed on using high-quality materials in cooking. My Señora not only used high-quality ingredients in our dinner, but she also made a point of teaching us how to select these ingredients. She believes in using these products to such an extent, that she is compelled to teach us, young

women, what to use when we cook. I think it is also important to note that she was interested in teaching us and mentioned on many occasions that her mother had showed her that this olive oil was best, or these apples were the sweetest. This shows that the women in the family pass down the delicate knowledge of preparing food from generation to generation. The second discovery I made during this meal is the importance and rituals of hospitality. It was very important to my Señora that she served each of us, rather than allowing us to serve ourselves. She also continued to give us food, once we had told her that our plates were full enough. These hospitality rituals might be as much associated with my Señora’s generation, as with her Spanish heritage. These habits resemble the way in which my grandmother, who is very close to the same age as my Señora, serves guests. The rituals seemed practiced, as her mother had taught her the appropriateness of serving guests first and making sure that each guest was comfortable before eating anything herself. These generational habits were also apparent in the way in which she ate her meal, standing, and off of a small saucer. Her main goal was to please us, rather than herself, which I do not see as vividly in people of younger generations. These habits may also have been caused by conformation to a patriarchal society, in which men eat first and are served by women. The habits show submission to guests, which may have been derived from a learned submission to men. This meal showed me the importance placed on food in Spain. From the ritualistic habits of hospitality to the use of fresh and high-quality ingredients, everything about the meal was thoughtfully planned and executed in a way that allowed us to enjoy our meal as a time for discussion and good food, rather than an afterthought only necessary for basic sustenance.


Find a local café to enjoy coffee with milk and something small like a croissant or a piece of fruit. If you truly want to experience a Spanish breakfast, desayuno, don’t take your coffee para llevar or “to-go.” Food to-go is an American concept that Spanish locals rarely participate in.

2:30pm Many Spaniards bridge the time between their small breakfast and large lunch with a bocadillo, a hearty sandwich usually consisting of ham and cheese. The bocadillo is sometimes accompanied with beer, or by coffee, this time without milk.

Almuerzo, lunch, is the largest meal of the day. It is usually served in at least three courses: appetizer, entrée and dessert. Many restaurants serve set menus during this time allowing you to choose an appetizer, entree and dessert from a list for a fixed, and usually cheaper price than ordering your dishes separately. To avoid confusion, menú signifies the set price menu for the day, while la carta is the word for the American conception of a menu, which lists all food and drinks the restaurant offers.




La cena, dinner, is usually a small meal eaten late at night to simply tide you over until the morning. Although restaurants often serve full meals for tourists, local Spaniards do not eat large multi-course meals.

Comida|Spring 2011

Throughout Spain, but especially in Andalucía and the Basque region, ir de tapas, or to go for tapas, is a common evening activity. In most bars you simply eat whichever tapas you please, save the toothpicks that hold each tapa together, or saucer the tapa sits on, and at the end the charges are based on how many toothpicks or saucers you’ve accumulated.


Homer called it “liquid gold.” It is mentioned over 200 times in the Bible, ancient athletes rubbed it into their skin for strength and health, and today the woman who holds the world record for the longest lifespan, attributes her longevity to it.

$$$ Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Regarded as the highest quality oil, EVOO must be produced by purely mechanical means (no chemical processes may be used), it must have an oleic acidity level of .8% or less, and it must have a “superior” taste (as judged by olive oil experts). Extra Virgin olive oil is best for salads, marinades, serving with bread, and for other uncooked uses. It is not good for medium or high temperature cooking.

$$ Virgin Olive Oil

Virgin olive oil has a slightly higher acidity level than EVOO and is made with riper olives. It is produced by mechanical means, but is considered to be lower quality oil than extra virgin. Virgin olive oil is best used for low to medium heat cooking, although its flavors are good enough to enjoy uncooked as well.

Comida|Spring 2011

$ Pure Olive Oil (or just “olive oil”)


Often a combination between virgin oil and refined oil (reprocessed, tasteless virgin oil), this grade has a high smoking point, and does well at high temperature cooking and frying because approximately 85 percent of the mixture is refined oil.

Aceite de Oliva

Fossilized remains of the Olive oil has held an olive tree’s ancestors were recently found near honored place in food, Livorno, Italy dating from medicine and mysticism 20 million years ago. Vessels bearing olive oil for millions of years, and trademarks have been discovered in Roman ruins, it is still revered today. throughout the vast extent of the Roman Empire. Two characteristics make olive oil so prevalent and highly regarded throughout the Mediterranean. The first is the resilience of olive trees. They are able to withstand both freezing winters and smoldering summers. According to Italian folk traditions, there are five ideal conditions for olive trees: sun, stone, drought, silence and solitude, each of which is prevalent in the Mediterranean climate. Another characteristic of olive oil that makes it especially desirable today is its health benefits. Olive oil is rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. These “good” fats have been shown to help control LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels while increasing HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels. In doing so, olive oil is believed to offer some protection against heart disease. Under Roman rule, Sample Spanish olive oil at: Spain, not Grapevine Italy, Olive Oil Company provided the majority of olive oil to the Roman Empire. Today, Spain produces about 40 percent of the world’s olive oil and is home to 262 distinct varieties of olives. 30


Ir de Tapas Tapas, small appetizer-like dishes that are often eaten in the evening at cafés and bars, represent a fundamental social aspect of Spanish dining. Usually eaten standing up, these finger foods are much more than appetite suppressants. They allow Spaniards a time to socialize and relax after a long day, and the very act of ir de tapas going out for tapas, is a time-honored activity among Spaniards, young and old. The unique thing about ir de tapas is that Spaniards often move from bar

to bar, analyzing the smorgasbord of small dishes, cured meats, cheeses, seafood and any combination of food stacked on bread slices in order to pick the one or two at each bar that meets their current craving. Going out for tapas is not a stationary activity, but rather a weaving in and out of bars while chatting, eating and drinking. Although tapas are an integral part of today’s Spanish schedule, it was not always so. There are many histories that explain the origin of tapas, but two seem to be repeated often throughout Spain and among historians. It is believed that tapas began their

rise to popularity in the thirteenth century during the reign of King Alfonso X of Castile. During his reign, the king became ill, and to recover ate small amounts of food with his wine. After recovery, Alfonso ordered all bars and taverns to serve small amounts of food with their drinks, thus creating the tapa. Another common belief explains that tapas were originally just pieces of bread used to tapar or cover a person’s drink to block the flies that accompany Spain’s mild climate from entering the glass. These pieces of bread are believed to have grown more elaborate throughout the years to slowly become the tapas of today.

A very common tapa that can be found throughout Spain, but is especially prevalent in the Catalan diet, is pan con tomate (bread with tomato). Pan con tomate is believed to have been created out of necessity to soften day-old bread. However, its history isn’t old because the tomato wasn’t introduced to Spain until the sixteenth century.

Pan con Tomate

Comida|Spring 2011

1 loaf of bread (preferably pan gallego or a baguette) Tomatoes Extra virgin olive oil Sea salt


1. Cut the loaf of bread into small rounds approximately ½ to 1 inch thick. 2. Cut one tomato in half, and rub the cut side of the tomato on one side of a bread slice. Squeeze the tomato while you rub to extract as much juice as possible. 3. Do the same with the rest of the bread and tomatoes (one half of a large tomato will usually be enough for 3-4 bread slices). 4. Drizzle all bread with olive oil, and sprinkle with sea salt. 5. Serve immediately.

Acknowledgements “A Sultan’s View of Andalucía.” Spain On the Road Again. PBSTV. 2 Nov. 2010. Television. Andrews, Coleman. Catalan Cuisine, Harvard Common Press, 2005. Appadurai, Arjun. “How to Make a National Cuisine” in Counihan, Carole (Ed), Food and Culture. A Reader, Routledge, 2007, pp.290-306. Batali, Mario. Spain A Culinary Roadtrip. Ecco, 2008. Bourdain, Anthony. “Where the Boys Are/Where the Girls Are” in A Cook’s Tour. London: Bloombsbury, 2001, pp. 65-78. Butler, Julie. “Council Predicts Increase in World Olive Oil Demand.” Olive Oil Times, News, Reviews and Discussion. 13 Dec. 2010.

Web. 7 Jan. 2011. <>.

Casas, Penelope. Introduction. Tapas, the Little Dishes of Spain. New York: Knopf, 1985. Print. Delucia, Andrea. “Tomato Bread Is a Passion in Barcelona.” 9 Apr. 2009. Web. 17 Feb. 2011. <>. Erwin, Tommy Genoris, “The Moorish Influence on Spanish Language, Civilization, and Culture” (2002). IPP Collection. Paper 394. <> Garcia, Antonia. “Tortilla De Patatas.” Personal interview. 15 Oct. 2010. Keay, S. J. “Industry, Trade and Traders.” Roman Spain. [Berkeley, Calif.]: University of California, 1988. Print. LaBranche, Vanessa. “History of Spanish Food A Cuisine Influenced by Many Cultures.” Spicy Food Recipes. 2008. Web. 11 Jan. 2011. <>. Lemieux, Simon. “The Spanish Inquisition.” History Review 44 (2002). Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 10 Mar. 2011. Loew, Camila. “Introduction to Spanish Food.” Food as an Expression of Culture. Spain, Barcelona. 16 Sept. 2010. Lecture. Loew, Camila. “What Is the Mediterranean Diet?” Food as an Expression of Culture. Spain, Barcelona. 7 Oct. 2010. Lecture. Medina, F. Xavier. Food Culture in Spain. Greenwood Press, 2005. Montanari, Massimo. “Taste is a Cultural Product”; “The Paradox of Globalization”; “Identity, Exchange, Traditions, and ‘Origins’” in Food is

Culture New York: Columbia University Press, 2006, pp. 61- 66; 83-89; 133-137.

Sevilla, María. Life and Food in the Basque Country. New Amsterdam Books, 1998 (excerpt). Trichopoulou, Antonia, and Pagona Lagiou. “Healthy Traditional Mediterranean Diet: An Expression of Culture, History, and Lifestyle.”

Nutrition Reviews 55.11 (1997): 383-89.Wiley Online Library. Web. 10 Mar. 2011.

Watson, James (ed). The Cultural Politics of Food and Eating. Wiley-Blackwell, 2005, Introduction.

Artwork Boonsat, Suppakrit. Sweet Pepper. <>

(Back cover).

Grandy, Samantha. Cinnamon Sticks. <>

(page 32).

Igorr. Olive Oil. <> (page 29-30). Kilian, Zsuzsanna. Dried Spices. <>

(page 15).

Melendez, Luis. <>

(page 17-18).

Skene, Elizabeth. Cava Glasses. <>

(page 7).

Zidar, Dušan. Tomato. <>

(Front cover).

comida Written, Designed and Edited by Taylor Chatfield Special Thanks to: Dr. Arturo C. Flores Dr. Bonnie Frederick Broc Sears


Comida is a mix of academic, journalistic, and sometimes humorous reflections on Spanish culture through food. It is also an album of memor...