My last month in Europe was a whirlwind of adventure and reflection. Four cities in 2 weeks and then a road trip in my favorite region in Spain is a lot before saying good-bye to a country you’ve called home for two years. I thought about what I was going to miss about the diverse Iberian peninsula. A lot.
The lifestyle. Clearly a no brainer. How could I go wrong on a scheduled 9hours a week + 10 hours of private classes and have enough to pintxo hop frequently? I was going to trade a 15-20 hour workweek for the (when the job lands) likely 40 hour workweek.
I’d miss my friends.
And the FOOD. Oh the food.
Interestingly, I never got all caught up in “Spanish food is amazing,” “Spanish food is top-notch,” Spanish food is the cream- of- the- crop- type of talk. I liked it. It’s tasty. There is a lot of history, tradition and culture within the food that often is not considered when thinking about American food or California cuisine, simply because we don’t have a thousand years of history before us to influence the foods we eat. But we have plenty of variety in the States. Certainly, there are plenty of incredible chefs in Spain and where I was residing, in the Basque Country known to be the Gastronomic capital of the world. Truth is, a few of the foods I miss, were things that grew on me over time. Some things I hadn’t cared for much before my time in Spain.
Oh how Iove thy. But I was bias. I only liked black pitted olives. Green ones be gone. ick. Was my mantra. Until one day in Spring when I only had a few months left in sunny Andalucia, I decided to sample and buy some olives from the market vendor on Thursdays. I associated green to be sour. I was pleasantly surprised at the array of flavors and taste an olive can have, from the variety to how it’s marinated. Who knew? From that day on, I bought at least 2 varieties of olives and devoured them each week. When I returned to a new city in my beloved Basque Country, I quickly found the local market, which was open 6 days a week and 5 minutes walking from my house. Olives held a new importance in my life. Yum
Tortilla de Patata
Tortilla de Patata or Spanish omelette is ubiquitous in Spain. You’ll found Tortilla in every bar and almost every menu as a tapa/pintxo. My first year I rarely ordered it because I always wanted to sample the more interesting of (free) tapas. Why settle for potatoes and eggs? Until Basque Country, where they take Tortilla de Patata to another level. Every bar has the standard Tortilla de Patata, usually accompanied by 2-5 stuffed Tortillas. Tortillas stuffed with ham and cheese, bacon, sometimes with meat sauce, others with veggies or mushrooms. They were tasty. One of my favorites was tortilla de Patata con gambas, espinaca y ali-oli (with shrimps, spinach and garlic sauce)
Cheese is something I have loved long before stepping foot on the Iberian peninsula. I love tasting new cheeses. I love stuffing my face with cheese. I realized I never knew what typical Spanish favorites were, Manchego and Queso Iberico, until browsing grocery store aisles. But grocery store chains only offer a sampling of what a region has to offer and in Basque Country I was enjoying artisan Idiazábal cheese, made from sheep’s milk, every week. Some are stronger than others, some creamier. I was in cheese heaven. On a road trip to Asturias, I soon learned how each region has it’s unique offerings with this region alone boasting 50 unique varieties, including the well known blue cheese of Cabrales . Man. I think I could move here. Almost.
Pan con tomate (Bread with tomato)
I had no idea how amazingly delicious bread, tomato and olive oil could be until living in the South. It became my staple breakfast when I had the pleasure of eating at a cafeteria. Most places in Andalucia served this goodness but I noticed differences for example in Sevilla instead of pureed tomato they serve sliced tomatoes. Still delicious but not quite the same. It took me awhile to realize that Pan con tomate is actually from the region of Catalonia and not every spot on the Iberian peninsula offers this delectable duo. It was in the Gastronomic capital of San Sebastian when my friend and I were both craving Pan con tomate for breakfast and after asking at several bars, we were excited when a bar said, “Si, Claro, Tenemos.” Yeah, of course we have it. Only to realize it was sliced bread with tomato version jam packets. How hard is it to puree some tomatoes. Ah. Not the same.
Despite this being such a simple and yet delicious breakfast, I have yet to make this now that I’m home in the States. In fact, I have to prepare anything Spanish or Basque… So much for culinary souvenirs.