Friday, March 21, 2008

Eating Abroad

I have been wanting to write about our food experiences in Spain (neither my husband or I have food allergies and we didn't take the kids) but re-entry into the real world has been rough and has left little time for blogging. My memories of cafe con leche on a sun filled plaza are slipping away. I want to escape back there if only for a moment...

Ordering food in a language you don't know if difficult. With our handful of Spanish and the waiters' handful of English, we did for the most part end up with food we wanted to eat.

The Spanish have an odd eating schedule. Breakfast consists mainly of coffee of which I drank con leche (with milk) and David drank his solo (self-explanatory) with a bollo (pastry) or small sandwich of jamon (ham) or queso y pimienta (cheese and pepper). I love cafe con leche. The drink is smaller than the lattes served in coffee shops here and the taste stronger. And even though breakfast was a no nonsense affair, never was coffee served in a paper cup. It was expected that you were going to sit down at a table right there and enjoy your pastry and coffee, if only for 10 minutes. The result is you don't see people wandering around nursing a double tall skinny latte with extra foam. I also realized I drink way too much caffeine.

The other great thing about Spanish breakfast was the fresh squeezed orange juice or zuma de naranja. The cool thing was the way it is squeezed. Every restaurant seemed to have this machine that the server fed oranges into the top. The oranges dropped down were sliced in half and then squeezed on this turning wheel and out flowed delicious fresh squeezed juice. I told David I want an espresso machine to make my own cafe con leche and an orange juice machine to entertain the kids in the morning.

The hard part about eating in Spain was waiting for lunch which is taken between 2pm and 4pm. My blood sugar levels had a hard time with this. Restaurants didn't even open for lunch until 1pm at the earliest. Seriously, how do people do this? The interesting part was watching things really shut down for this siesta time. In small places we visited like Segovia and Toledo, shops closed and people headed home to have meals with their families. Things reopen around 4 pm or later and I guess people work til like 8pm. And that's okay because dinner isn't served til 9, 10, 11pm!

The food itself was pretty simple. We ate a lot of jamon y queso served with el pan (bread). You can probably find the jamon we ate in Spain at a specialty deli. It might be labeled Serrano Ham. It is thin sliced, chewier and fattier than the ham we know. Kind of like prosciutto but not as salty. The queso was always Manchego, which I already loved.

Toward the middle of the week it became my quest to figure vegetables into my diet. They just seemed kind of scant on menus but I did find them. The language barrier often kept me from knowing exactly what I was getting or how it would be cooked but since I'm not a picky eater, I really didn't mind. I did ask at one restaurant what the deep fried seemingly tasteless vegetable was with my mixed otherwise grilled vegetables. The waitress said she had to check. She came back to our table and said she knew what it was in Spanish but didn't know the English word for it. She wrote it down for me. Acelgas, which translates to chard. Deep fried chard.

The day we visited Segovia it was freezing. We even got snowed on. The wind whipping through the narrow streets had us numb to the bone so we ducked into a little Lonely Planet recommended restaurant. I really wanted soup but couldn't find the soup on our menu listed in my menu reader book. It was called sopa castellana. Did you look at it? Yes, that is a huevo (egg). It was basically broth with breakfast in it. Not vegetable soup but it hit the spot anyway. Good thing I'm not allergic to eggs.

I would love to take my kids to Spain someday or any other foreign country but it occurred to me how difficult it would be to do this if you had food allergies. I don't take them to restaurants here in the states, how would I safely feed them in a country where I didn't speak the language? I guess we'll cross that bridge if and when we come to it. In the meantime, I'll be dreaming of cafe con leche.

1 comment:

emma said...

Thank you for taking me away to spain- at least for 5 minutes ;-) while I read your post. I'm so envious that you guys made this trip happen - sigh - one day we'll leave the kids behind & do italy! FYI - bagel cafe has a OJ machine like that - spain away from spain