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Comfort in Creativity (2/2)

During our first days in Spain, my roommate and I told our host mom that we eat basically everything, but emphasized that we love fruits and vegetables.  She nodded in approval, and has been generous enough to make salads for lunch and keep a fruit supply for breakfast.

But as the weeks passed, she continually remarked on how fast the apples were flying out of the fruit bowl.  She was far from complaining, simply feigning severity to demonstrate our fruit habits were weird.  I’m not sure what kind of fruit hating mongrels must have lived with her over the past five years, but I can assure you that my apple consumption stays at a reasonable one-per-day-keeps-the-doctor-away-minimum.  Maybe two.

Then, about two weeks ago our host mom asked why we eat fruit.  “Because we get hungry in-between breakfast and lunch, and apples are a healthy option.”

“There’s always bread though,” she explained.  “If you are really hungry between meals and worried about gaining weight, you should lay off the fruit snacks and eat a piece of bread instead.”

The ears of every American dietician immediately began to ring.

I love bread as much as the next person…I even admitted that my favorite food is toast.  And fruit does have a high sugar content.  But I hadn’t realized just how completely satiated Granada is with bread until that moment.

Bread isn’t offered to you as something to tide you over until your actual meal—it’s the main event, a basic necessity to life.  When in doubt, bread is the answer to every culinary qualm.  Breakfast?  Toast.  Second breakfast?  More toast.  Lunch?  A never-ending bread- basket.  Snack?  Cut off a slice of bread.  Dinner?  A bocadillo (sandwich).  You can find it in vending machines, convenience stores, and gas stations propped up in windows and advertised gallantly.

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Think about the last restaurant you went to in the US.  What type of cuisine did it have?  Rarely you find a restaurant that specializes in just ONE type of food, let alone two or three of the same type next to each other on the street.  It would be suicide.  Americans have so many options—it’s never just Vietnamese food, it’s their French take on the Vietnamese food they had that one time in Latin America.  We’re spoiled with our options, and we’re spoiled with our mix of cuisines…so much so that after a while it stops being FOOD and starts being a DISH.

If you walk down the main street of Granada, you will see restaurant after restaurant with ham legs hanging from the ceiling and signs outside boasting “The BEST tapas in the world!  Patatas y Paella y Jarra de Sangria!”  There are some Chinese restaurants, some shwarma spots, and some “authentic Italian” pizzerias, but when you are choosing where to go to dinner you’re never deciding WHAT type of food, rather the QUALITY and the QUANTITY.  Simplification.  And although I haven’t found a French inspired Latin- Vietnamese fusion restaurant to excite my taste buds abroad, a lack of variety is oddly stabilizing.

In any given restaurant, I know that there could be some option of shaved dried ham on bread (jamón y tostadas), a porkchop with cheese on a bagel (bocadillo con lomo y queso), calamari (calamari), fried potatoes with a cream sauce (patatas de los pobres), frittata (tortilla española), or potato salad (ensalada rusa).  But the restaurants show their own creativity through variations on theme, like adding a tomato on the sandwich or switching up the type of fried fish.  Each difference seems small, but it is the difference between an onslaught of college- aged patrons or none at all.

I’ve narrowed it down to the five main ingredients that are used most often in Granada (and by most often I mean for the majority of the population every day and every meal):

 

Pan (Bread)

I’ve already gone on a bread rant, so I’ll be brief.

BREAKFAST (1 and 2):

-       Tostadas (toast):  toasted halves of baguettes smeared with crushed tomato and olive oil, tuna and tomato spread, or jam.

-       Postres:  various (and copious) options of flaky goodness.  Chocolate croissants are popular, but you may just have to close your eyes and choose.

LUNCH:

-       Bocadillos (sandwiches): baguettes with butter and either salchichon (salami), chorizo (spiced sausage), or lomo (turkey) with cheese.

-       Trozo de Pan (slice of bread):  “essential” to the meal, bread is always available to “mojar” or soak up the left over salad dressing or soup.

-       Gazpacho:  Although the main ingredient in this cold soup is tomato, most restaurants thicken their gazpacho with bread.  (Gluten-free eaters beware!)

DINNER:

-       Bocadillos Pequeños (small sandwiches):  because tapas come free with your drink in Granada, you will often get a choice of small sandwiches.  Most often they are a small pork chop with some fixings, but it’s also typical to have a slice of dried ham, or tomato/tuna paste.

 

Jamón (Ham)

Typically served for lunch and dinner, ham comes in many different shapes and sizes.  Mostly, it comes in the shape of a dried leg.  This is technically called Jamón Iberico, and is cured ham.  It is very typical for restaurants to shave off pieces of meat during the day (one place we went said they go through one leg in about 3 hours, but it takes normal families around 4 months).  Although there are some specific dishes, Jamón is basically used for everything.  It’s bad country for a pig.

LUNCH:

-       Bocadillos de Jamón (Ham Sandwiches)

-       Caldo (Soup):  soup is a VERY typical lunch in Spain, but no matter what goes into it, some pieces of ham and beef are boiled with the broth to add flavor…and in some cases is taken out at the end.

DINNER:

-       More Bocadillos

-       Lomo (Porkchop):  served on a bun or a kebab, with a side of chips or fries.

 

Tomate (Tomato)

BREAKFAST (1 and 2):

-       Tostada con Tomate (toast with tomato):  grated tomato smeared generously on toast, and covered with olive oil.

LUNCH:

-       Ensalada de Tomate (Tomato Salad):  Slices of tomato with a dressing of olive oil, vinegar, and salt.  Sometimes combined with roasted red peppers or olives.

-       Gazpacho: cold tomato soup made with garlic, salt, pepper, and onions.

-       Salsa de Tomate (Tomato Sauce):  A mix between ketchup and tomato sauce, Spainards put this on pasta, garbanzo beans, and “hamburger” patties.