In case you’re wondering, that’s similar to saying ‘bon appetit’ in French, and it’s common courtesy here, if you chance upon someone eating – strangers walking by in the street are just as likely to say it to you as are members of your family. And yes, I am dedicating an entire blog post to food, because, well, it’s pretty good here.
***Disclaimer: if you’re hungry right now, go eat something before you finish reading this. Seriously.
Where to begin? I suppose with some of the best-known Spanish cuisine. Paella, for starters, is a scrumptious combination of rice, sauce, and most often, seafood. It’s a favorite of just about everyone here (including me). At home, we usually eat it on Sundays (it’s a little more labor-intensive than other dishes). It goes nicely with homemade banana milkshakes.
I’d be mistaken to leave jamón out of the picture – it’s one of (if not the) most famous foods to come out of Spain, and it’s hanging in just about every market or restaurant you go to. It’s basically dry-cured ham. The province of Salamanca produces some particularly famous jamón ibérico, which is sold throughout the country.
Tapas are another ubiquitous Spanish specialty to be found in most restaurants and bars. There are countless types, (some variations are called “pinchos”), each consisting of a small, snack-like portion of food – meat, cheese, bread, meat, tortilla de patatas, peppers, more meat, potatoes…there are a lot of different types of meat. Tapas are said to have originated in 13th-century Spain, when the King mandated that all pubs serve small portions of food alongside beverages, in an attempt to curb the detrimental effects of alcohol. It’s still common for bars to serve tapas with drinks, and they are substantial enough to make a meal, especially if you split your time between a few different places.
If you’re not sure what’s in a tapa, sometimes it’s better to enjoy the flavor and refrain from asking. The dark brown tapas (see right) are called “morcilla”, or blood sausage – sausages filled with congealed blood, and sometimes rice or other cereals – they tasted great, especially because I didn’t know what they were at the time. The tapas towards the bottom were called “lagrimas de pollo”, or chicken tears. They were basically glorified chicken strips, but appropriately named.
Most of the cities we’ve been to (including Salamanca) have a large enclosed market with interesting foods. Seafood is common here, and even more so in coastal towns. The gooseneck barnacles shown below come from small islands off the coast of Galicia, in the Northwest. The fishermen there work under very dangerous conditions, risking life and limb to bring the barnacles home – consequently, they command a high price.
Francesinha (see below) is a Portuguese specialty. It’s a sandwich-like stack of bread, ham, sausage, steak, and other meats, covered in sauce and melted cheese, and topped with a fried egg (better loosen your belt – it may look small, but it was nearly impossible to finish!). To the right is a mixture of baked fish and mashed potatoes. (And don’t worry, those are just olives, I promise!)
If you’re a vegetarian, there are plenty of non-meat options – we eat vegetables at home regularly. If you aren’t a vegetarian, you might be by the end of an extended stay here.
Dessert, at least in the sense of sweets, is generally less common. At home, we’ll often eat fruit at the end of a meal. On the other hand, there is no shortage of bakeries, chocolaterías, and heladerías in Salamanca to satisfy your sweet tooth. The croissants are wicked, and wherever you go, the gelato is superb, as long as you don’t mind waiting in line for it. This devil carved into the side of the new cathedral likes ice cream, too.