People tell you about the amazing food in Spain. So far, I have found that to be true, but it also depends on what you like to eat. As I have already mentioned, if you are a breakfast lover you are out of luck. The American fare of eggs, pancakes, burritos, etc. cannot be found. However, if you are a fan of big, filling lunches with lots of rice, seafood, and ham, you are in luck. I feel like every meal is like going to a fine
restaurant for cheap. There are no burgers and club sandwiches on the menu. Choices at even the cheap restaurants include a variety of fishes, rices, rabbit, pork, and octopus, all in fairly large portions. If you are counting on one meal each day to provide the majority of your calories (well, healthy calories - the beer and chocolate croissants for breakfast are another matter) you can bet it will be hearty. These offerings don't even include the lobster, roasted suckling pig, and squid.
One thing we have enjoyed is ordering the set menu. Every restaurant for lunch, and some for tapas dinner, has a set menu of the day. Almost everyone orders it. It is cheaper, includes a choice of the days' bests dishes, and also includes beer, wine, coffee, and desert. None of the menus have an English explanation, and if they did we wouldn't understand it anyway. By ordering the set menu, we have been able to sample Spanish specialties. The fun part is that we don't know what they are and usually have to take a picture of the menu to figure it out later. We have limited ourselves to one big meal out a week. We have had an amazing traditional paella at Restaurante Levante in Benisano, a seafood rice dish at Navarro in Valencia, and barbecoa jamon y papas at Restaurante Puzol. These, have included preliminary courses of squid, vegetable and cheese croquettes, apple caramellas, cheeses, and raw fish, plus a plate of deserts so big that it looked like the presentation plate they bring out to choose from in America.
Obviously, living somewhere precludes the option of eating out every meal like you would on a vacation. So, the struggle is to feel like you are in Spain in your own home during meals. We have enthusiastically embraced the coffee and chocolate croissant for breakfast, as well as the jamon and cheese baguette for the mid morning snack. Tapas at 11:00 pm are only for special occasions on the town when you have kids, so we've been having melon, bread, olives and cheeses for tapas around 8:00. This leaves the main mid-day meal. We have eliminated beef, fallen in love with a specialty jamon pizza, and tried to incorporate rice dishes and seafood. The big obstacle to cooking like a Spaniard is getting foods from the market to your table. You really need to grow up cooking in Spain or have a strong affinity to learn (luckily, Mike, my husband does). Ham, the meat of choice here, is bought in large slabs, all shrimp have their heads, muscles have their beards, and fish (as you can see by the picture above) are presented with their tongues hanging out. Legumes must be soaked, broths must be made for rices, and rubbery squids must be chopped and marinated. The mid-day meal doesn't just take a long time to eat, it takes a long time to prepare.
To embrace living in a new country requires letting go of old cravings and habits. Spain makes this easy by not even offering familiar options. It's actually nice not to be catered to as Americans. You either figure it out, go broke, or go hungry.
Sally and her family have moved to Spain for a year starting July 2017. They are living in a little town called Puzol, which is about 12km north of Valencia. Her kids, Carson and Celia, are attending the American School of Valencia, an International School located in Puzol. The goal for the whole family is to experience another way of life, and learn Spanish. This blog tracks their travels and experiences.