This past summer, I was lucky enough to study abroad in Spain and visit many places in Europe and Africa. I became obsessed with authentic Spanish cuisine so I wrote this entry for the blog I kept while I was living and studying in Spain. Hope you fall in love with la comida Española like I did!
I admit it, I’m a foodie. So naturally, I’m always fascinated by the different flavors I taste when I’m abroad. During my time in Spain this summer, this was no different.
I’ve been to Spain before so I knew more or less the type of gastronomy of the country. However, this trip allowed me to dive deeper into the different foods and really get to know the preparation and ingredients that were put into the typical dishes.
The first dish during my trip that left me astonished with it’s delectable taste was a simple, typical dish: patatas alioli. One of my professors had recommended I order the same patatas but with salsa brava (spicy sauce) and while I saw this on the menu, I don’t know why exactly I ordered my patatas alioli instead of with salsa brava. The delicious dish consisted of small, fried chunks of potatoes, or patatas, smothered with the alioli, a greenish sauce made of mayonnaise, olive oil, garlic and parsley. The dish was garnished with lagrimas de pollo, or tiny chunks of chicken breast. While I ordered only a half portion of the patatas alioli, it was a substantial starter.
I vividly remember all the flavors of this dish- the crispy potatoes, the smooth and garlicky sauce and the tender pieces of chicken. I ended up sharing my plate with the rest of my friends at the table because I needed them to experience this greatness. We were all mesmerized by this dish and, every time we were hungry, we would all suggest we grab some patatas alioli.
Being that the south of Spain is generally very warm during the summer months, it’s logical to drink something refreshing to cool off. I remembered drinking a tinto de verano the last time I visited Spain in the summer. So my first meal in Seville consisted of a selection of tapas and a refreshing beverage made of red wine and lemon-flavored soda, otherwise known as tinto de verano. Many young people in Spain drink this, whether they’re just learning how to drink or are low on alcohol that night. We drank many glasses of tinto de verano on our trip and it was a great way to cool down and enjoy a warm afternoon with friends.
The best way I learned about the different dishes in the Andalusian region of Spain was through the cooking show presented by the Seville Board of Tourism. Along with my group of friends, we visited a famed restaurant in Seville and learned how to prepare three typical dishes: paella, tortilla española, salmorejo and tocino de cielo.
Paella is a typical Spanish rice dish that involves vegetables, broth, seafood and meats, depending on the region. In Andalusia, for example, the tradition is to incorporate chicken, fish and seafood in the dish. Paella is made in a very large pan and is usually made for parties and other large occasions. The chef decoratively adorned the paella with large shrimp and slices of red bell pepper. In the center, the chef cut a lemon in the shape of a well and placed a few sprigs of thyme to give the dish an additional pop of color. The taste was out of this world!
The next dish the chef prepared was the famous tortilla española. This is basically a circular-shaped fritatta made of eggs, potatoes and onions. There are different variations throughout Spain, often adding chorizo, red bell peppers and other ingredients to characterize a specific region. The tortilla española we had was an original version with only the eggs, potatoes and onions but it was spectacular. The onions were nice and caramelized while the potatoes were tender and flavorful.
Next up was the salmorejo. This is a cold creamy soup made of tomatoes, garlic, day-old bread, olive oil and sherry vinegar. I’m not particularly fond of cold soups but this was indeed a delicacy. Honestly, I didn’t think I would like it as much as I did. The color was a spectacular orange and the consistency was delightfully creamy, thanks to the day-old bread. Also, the taste was distinctly tart because of the sherry vinegar. Thesalmorejo was probably my favorite dish of the cooking show.
For dessert, we had tocino de cielo, a firm, flan-like dessert made of eggs, sugar and water. It was served with toasted nuts and a dollop of whipped cream which provided the perfect complementary tastes for the sweet tocino de cielo. Its name directly translates into “bacon from heaven,” mainly because it is a delicacy of heavenly distinction.
It’s always been clear to me that one can truly understand and appreciate a new culture through its food and traditions. This is no different to the region of Andalusia and the gastronomy it offers. The mixture of traditional techniques with autochthonous ingredients in the dishes exhibits the true flavor of Seville and its culture.