“Don’t ask, just eat” is my motto when trying new foods. As an extremely picky eater, I don’t want to let that hinder me from trying something I may like. In Spain, I’ve used this motto a couple times. Spain, for being close to Morocco, doesn’t use a lot of spices in their food like I assumed when I first came here. Most of it is very plain. The closest thing to a spice they put on their food is salt, no pepper. Salt is found in mass quantities at ever bar, restaurant, and home. Typical food include tortilla de patatas, a dish made of egg and potatoes and pig.
The Spanish eat an insane amount of pig meat. And they eat it all. Historically, as I learned on a trip to Madrid, in order to prove you weren’t Jewish during the Catholic reign, people would eat pork in public. The tradition stuck. In the supermercado’s, the most common meat you’ll find is cerdo, or pig. When going out for tapas (free food with purchase of drink), you can be served oreja o morro del cerdo, which is the ears and snout of a pig, usually fried. The first time I had this, I though it was a strange, triangular shape chip until I bit into it, and someone then told me what it actually was. This dish is very popular among Spanish people, and a favorite to make at home.
When I lived with my host family, I followed the “don’t ask, just eat” rule a lot. These times included cow kidney for dinner, veal (which I never eat at home but is very popular in Spain, called tenera), and a dish called morcilla. My host family and I went out for tapas and my host mom ordered morcilla for me to try. It was a purple looking sausage type thing, served with potatoes. I took a bite before my host family told me what it was. Morcilla is pig’s blood sausage. While I didn’t enjoy the taste, I’m still glad I tried it.
Each region of Spain is known for a different dish. Recently I went to Valencia and tried their most famous food, paella, a dish with rice and seafood/meat. It’s true that you can find paella all over Spain, but I didn’t have good paella until I went to Valencia. On the last night of our stay, my friends and I went to the city center in search of paella. I heard that the best paella is served along the boardwalk, but we wanted to explore the city center a bit. After going to multiple places, we finally found a place that served what we wanted. We ordered two serving between four people and it was more than enough food. The paella came in a huge pan and was adorned with shrimp and different types of fish. It was absolutely delicious. In the pictures below, you can see the pan sitting in the middle of our table. The drink beside the paella is another specialty from Valencia, called agua de Valencia. It’s basically a mimosa with vodka and gin added. It’s tastes like pure orange juice.
I’ve mentioned tapas, a couple times already, and they are one of my favorite parts of Spain. In Jaén, the tapas are completely free. In other cities, you might have to pay. Tapas are a great way to socialize with Spanish people, and other study abroad students. Jaén, is filled with tapas bars, some are more expensive and some cater to students with cheaper prices and a bigger food portion. The tradition of tapas goes back to when pollution was a huge issue in Spain. People would ask for food to tapear, or cover their drink so flies wouldn’t get in. In addition to the tapa’s I’ve already mentioned, typical tapas include meatballs and bread, mini hamburgers, seafood based dishes, and in Jaén, olives. Jaén is surround by olive trees, called olivos, so most meals include olives of some type. The drink you order can be anything from a beer to a wine to a coke. My personal favorite is vino verano, or red wine with a bit of fuzzy lemon water. This drink is wildly popular during the summer months.
I think having an open mind to new things is key in any study abroad or traveling experience. Especially with the food. Different cultures and countries have different norms about the food they eat. What is normal in one country is totally different in another. You definitely have to keep that in mind when trying food from another country. Next on my “try-it” list is rabia de toro, or bull tail. This plate is split among many people so I have to convince some people to try it with me.