What's for Dinner?

Julia Ebben headshot
Julia Ebben
March 4, 2020
El Retiro February 2020

Dinner has always been (and probably forever will be) one of my favorite parts of the day. Growing up, I would already be asking my mom in the morning what we’d be eating that evening. I can’t explain why I have such an affinity for the last meal of the day, but I most definitely do. My mom would make meals like quiche or stir-fry or salad; in the winters, smells of minestrone or tofu chili and homemade bread would often waft through the house. Perhaps my love for dinner stems from the fact that my family ate together virtually every night; dinner provided a time to unpack our days, laugh, etc. After dinner, we would often play a board- or card-game (I remember the Monopoly board being splayed out on the dining room table for days on end, my dad and I playing the game for a few minutes each night for weeks on end until someone finally won). The post-dinner time was also filled with batches of homemade stove-popped popcorn and mugs of ice cream – two things that my dad continues to eat almost every night even to this day. Needless to say, dinner and the post-dinner family time were clearly treasured and formative parts of my childhood.

Fast-forward to this semester in Spain. I eat breakfast on my own in the morning before leaving the house, usually mixing plain yogurt, walnuts, banana, and a spoonful of honey in a bowl and sometimes eating a piece of toast as well. My lunch I eat between classes and rugby practice, typically packing a smattering of different foods, like yogurt, rice cakes (but the ones with chocolate, of course), a piece of fruit, some form of vegetable (usually raw red pepper, for which my rugby team loves to make fun of me), and maybe a sandwich or some form of leftovers.

And then comes dinner. Dinner is the meal that my host family and I eat all together, & honestly, it is once again easily one of my favorite parts of the day. Although I try not to wish my day away just so it will once again be dinnertime, I remain a fervent fan of the mealtime. And these Spanish meals! Wow! They are delectable! It helps that my host mom is an amazing cook, who seems to be constantly standing at the stove, making one delicious thing or another. Virtually everything we eat is homemade. Moreover, since I’ve been in the house, everything has been gluten-free as well, because my host mom just rocks like that.

Some typical meals that I’ve been eating over the past couple of months:

  • Pumpkin puree and fried eggs & bread
  • Fresh cod cooked in vegetables
  • Pasta with tuna and tomato sauce
  • Tomato salad, roasted chicken, and rice with garlic
  • Vegetable puree followed by chicken with salad or stove-fried white fish
  • Tortilla de patatas (if you don’t know what this is, I would say it’s similar to maybe an egg and potato scramble but taking more of an omelet-form; I am honestly not doing it justice with this description. My host mom cooks it in a way that the eggs are still a bit liquidy, and it tastes heavenly)
  • Pisto (a dish that slightly resembles ratatouille) accompanied by fried eggs and potato chips
  • Cocido: a typical meal in Madrid consisting of three courses. The first a soup slightly similar to chicken noodle soup (essentially chicken broth with little noodles). The second a plate of cooked garbanzos (amid a smattering of other veggies), and the third a meat course (some of the meat similar to a pot roast, I would say & can be accompanied by some chorizo or other meats) that has been cooked together with the garbanzos but later separated.

Most days, in addition to the [not small] meal, the table is also topped with plates of olives, nuts (peanuts, pistachios, etc.), cuts of meat (often cut freshly from the pig leg the resides on the kitchen counter), shrimp (but the full guys with eyes and everything that you have to take apart yourself), slices of cheese, raw veggies (carrots, peppers, etc.), sardines or anchovies (aside: my mom would probably be astonished to know that I’ve tried both of these salty fish and found both of them decently palatable), etc. Bread is also a permanent resident of the dinner table.

After dinner, we sit around the table for a while longer and eat fruit. The range of fruit can be anything from pears to clementines to strawberries to mangoes. My host dad almost always elects clementines and my host mom an orange. I toggle between just about everything that we have. There have also been occasions where my host mom has brought out a homemade dessert after dinner. Something like tarta de Santiago, pudding, flan, batido (a milkshake), or dulce de leche. All delicious.

Unfortunately, I have no photos to share of any of this scrumptiousness that I’ve just spent so much time describing, because I hardly ever bring my phone to the table. But in my opinion, that’s exactly the way that it should be. My host family and I spend dinnertime chatting, enjoying the food and one another’s company. My host dad usually asks me what I’ve learned that day, which generally leads to a conversation about some grammatical aspect of the Spanish language or the intricacies of a specific phrase (and I really actually thoroughly enjoying discussing these kinds of things). We also discuss our days. Potentially to the chagrin of my host mom, my host dad and I both make some bad (read: not all that funny) jokes in an attempt to get points (we have a competition going; there’s a tally board and everything).

Dinner is simply, consistently the best part of the day. It’s simple but simultaneously delightful. My host family is incredibly kind, funny, & sociable. And, we eat good food together. What more could I ask for?

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Julia Ebben headshot

Julia Ebben

<p>Hi! I'm Julia, and I'm a junior at the University of Michigan, who is currently studying in Madrid! I am really happy to be working on my Spanish again after taking a few years off from the language to learn German. Outside of my language learning endeavors, I spend my time playing rugby and drinking copious tea with my friends.</p>

2020 Spring
Home University:
University of Michigan - Ann Arbor
Lake Orion, MI
International Studies
Political Science
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