Latvian in Madrid: [not] eating the Spanish way

Hola amigos!

foodspain.jpg
Traditional Spanish food

Today I decided to talk a little about one of my favourite things in the world. You guessed right, today we are going to look into the magical world of food.

As a person who loves to eat, talk about eating and think about eating, I was quite excited to come to Spain since as I got to know it as a tourist and as it’s widely known Spain is supposed to be more or less a paradise for all foodies. However, turns out that one thing is coming here for a visit but a completely another is settling here for a waaaay longer time.

I thought I’d “expose” everyday meals and eating habits in Spain nowadays. I’ll list my own observations, expectations, joys and disappointments about food and eating in Spain. Vamos!

  • Spain absolutely has a great coffee drinking culture which is great news if you love coffee. You can get a good shot of cafe con leche for around 1 – 1,50 euros and I don’t know how I’ll ever buy coffee when I come back to Latvia since the price is at least two times bigger.

However, if you want to buy coffee at a supermarket, here we have a problem. You can mostly buy cheap but crappy coffee, usually consisting of 50% ground coffee and 50% torrefacto (you can read more about that “secret ingredient” here: http://www.madridchow.com/the-curious-case-of-spanish-coffee-or-how-i-learned-to-stop-drinking-cafe-torrefacto/) . I even didn’t spare the space in my luggage and brought my own mocha cup when I came here but with this supermarket coffee it’s just sort of useless.

What’s even worse… my Spanish flatmate said he loves coffee and cannot live without it… his idea of coffee is: full cup of milk > microwave > instant coffee. *brrr*

  • Spain has no tea drinking culture. Mostly you can buy only tea in bags, it is relatively expensive and tastes pretty much terrible. Once when I tried to buy green tea in the cafeteria the waiter brought me beer. I think this explains it, so you see this is a no-no. However, you can get herbal infusions for most health issues (in tea bags, of course).
  • I’ve noticed machines for making cacao in very many bars. They usually have this Cola Cao cacao drink which is like why the hell would you even buy that crap, it has more sugar and preservatives in it than Coca Cola?? And adults? Do adults usually really go to bars to drink cacao?
  • Continuing with drinks… Wine culture. Wine is great. Wine is cheap. Wine, wine, wine. I don’t drink their sangrias or tinto de verano if I can enjoy the real thing. And I love the fact that it’s absolutely normal to have a glass of wine in the middle of the day, in a week day, and no one’s going to think you’re an alcoholic or a tourist.
  • Since I’m a Latvian and Latvians love their beer – there’s a big no-no also to Spanish beer.
  • Another great thing with ordering alcohol (or even soft drinks) in decent places is the fact that you get served tapas with it. For free. Food for free, that’s just amazing, even if it’s just some crisps, olives or a little piece of bread. Ok, it’s not as great as Italy where you can get a pizza for free but anyways, it’s great as long as it’s free, isn’t it? And yes, you can very well survive just having several tapas (tapas is a very wide term; basically these are just little servings of food, even a spoonful of paella or something counts as tapas).
  • I was quite excited to come to Spain because I thought there should be a huuuge variety of cheap vegetables and fruits that aren’t even imported. Meaning Mediterranean diet, fresh veggies and fruit, what else do you need, right? Well, if you go to a restaurant or cafeteria and don’t specifically order salad, you will get like 10-20 grams of lettuce, half tomato or something similar on the side of your dish.  Spain is definitely not the best place for vegetarians. I won’t even say anything about vegans. However, what I love is that there are veggie and fruit stores all around the city! Some of them even work all nights like Chinese stores. I don’t know where all of that is imported from (because no, most of it is not from Spain, tadadadadaam) and I don’t even want to know as long as I can get everything I want there.
  • I’ve never seen a country where watermelon is considered a decent dessert.
  • Pork everywhere! Pig legs everywhere! I’m so sad. Poultry is the only meat I eat.
  • Fish is so expensive!!! I’m so sad again.
  • Most of the food you can get in cafes or restaurants is deep-fried.
  • So after a great meal in a restaurant where you got stuffed with tons of deep-fried fish or meat, French fries and a little piece of a “vegetable” you go to the supermarket and have whole shelves full of fibre supplements, digestive infusions and weight-loss pills in front of you. And you understand why.
  • I think I can say that at least if not the entire Spain but Madrid has definitely taken over the pre-packaged meal culture. My Spanish flatmate survives from frozen pizzas, canned soups and packaged ramen/ pasta, etc. only. There is no real food. Nothing.
  • Supermarkets are full with extra-mega-super-large packs of everything, with expiration date until year bazillion. People around here usually shop once in a week and buy all this shh* to live through their weeks. Ecological food is very rare and super expensive. It’s just terrifying to look at the lists of ingredients.
  • After having lived in Spain for 4 months I’ve lost my fear of white bread – because it’s usually considered one of the biggest threats if you try to keep yourself fit.

Well, honestly speaking white bread from bakeries is the only relatively “clean” bread around here. And I come from Latvia which is not only a beer but also a bread country so this makes me sad. I miss real rye bread. I miss good bread. When I check the ingredients in store bread I always get a bit desperate, give up and buy fresh bread in a bakery.

  • Spain is a nice place if you are lactose-intolerant. Lactose-free products are very easily accessible and for a really good price. Hooray!
  • There is hidden sugar in most products. If you buy a loaf of bread in a supermarket you can see that normally one piece of bread contains about 2-4 grams of sugar. Really? Why???
  • If you read travel guides before coming to Spain, you’ll definitely read that Spaniards have this 2 hour long lunch tradition with a 3 course meal, siesta afterwards, etc. Well, sorry. Not anymore. Not in Madrid. However, the fact that lunch is usually around 2PM is true.
  • Spaniards have itsy bitsy tiny breakfasts. I mean, I have oatmeal, bread, eggs and more at one seating while they’ll only have a piece of toast or croissant. How can you not get hungry until that late lunch? I know I can’t even after eating all of the things I mentioned.
  • Restaurants and cafes, unless they are really touristic or international, have these crazy working hours that I seriously cannot understand.
  • Super-late dinners. I don’t get it. I don’t want to get it as well.
  • They say Spaniards have this family meal culture, etc. My flatmates (a lady and her child) share their McDonald’s meals in the evenings and the little girl has a donut or something as terrible for breakfast. Once she ate only chocolate when her mom was out the whole day… she then didn’t go to school for a week because of diarrhoea. Nothing in her diet has changed ever since; they still have package soups, frozen pizzas and Cola Cao’s, McDonald’s meals, etc.
  • Not that much of food but closely related to it = Spaniards, at least in Madrid, are all about running. I guess you just have to get your digestive system moving and burn some of the deep-fried and pre-packaged calories. Thumbs up for that!
  • Spanish cuisine in its traditional sense doesn’t have that many ingredients and is quite easy to cook. Say, for instance, Spanish tortilla – Potato omelette. It’s delicious, it takes minutes to make, it’s so cheap and it’s filling! And there are bazillion such examples I could make!
  • Last but definitely not least = Spanish cuisine is not the best if you have a sweet tooth. They sure have their traditional pastries like napolitanas, cookies or little cakes but they are soooooo sweet, really. In cafeterias your usual dessert choice will be between ice cream and some sort of a cake, crepes or gofres (waffles) with or without ice cream. Oh, and chocolate con churros if you’re lucky. Sure, stores are full of sweets, chocolates and cookies but 1. You cannot simply just get like 100 grams of candy or cookies, you have to take the big pack; 2. I won’t even start complaining about the ingredients 3. Shutting up about amount of sugar and calories. And yes, this isn’t only in Spain, I know, but generally, desserts are not so popular around here. I just can’t explain, it’s not like any other country I’ve ever visited.

Woah, so these were my most sensitive questions about Spanish food and eating habits these days. Spain is not Spain as it was some years ago. The culture is changing a lot and I think it’s such a shame, especially in Spain, because all the fresh, healthy, natural produce is so easily available but now the majority of people choose money-saving and convenience over quality and their own health.

I guess most of the food in traditional Spanish cuisine is almost fast-food, Mediterranean products are so easy and fast to prepare and they are natural, healthy and simply delicious!! I just don’t get how you’d choose to buy a pack of pizza instead of just, e.g. taking a bocadillo (type of sandwich) in a cafe that most probably is max 100 m from your place if you live in Madrid (not the best choice anyways but you can get what I mean).

I suppose these changes have appeared only a few years ago but I really hope that slow culture will return even in Spain, and people will realize what’s going on and that the Spanish cuisine they once had is the recipe to a healthy, long and happy life.

Agree? Do not agree? Noticed something different? Missed something? Have something to add? I’d love to hear from you!

See you next time!

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