16 Spanish Foods: Rico, Dulce, and Asco

Jamon Iberico in Cups
Iberian Ham for sale in paper cups at a market in Triana (across the canal from the old city center).

Jamón Ibérico (Iberian Ham)

Before dinner: “I’m sure I’ll be back to pescatarianism in no time.” After dinner: “You know, I think I’m a pescatarian plus ham, now.”

If you’re ever anywhere near the Iberian Peninsula, jamón ibérico is an absolute MUST. I don’t care if you’re vegetarian, because you only pork once. Ever since my trip to Ecuador, most meat’s been ruined for me. But this magical pig cut is famous for a reason: it’s the stuff that turns vegans into carnivores. I have no idea what makes this meat taste so good, but I do know that the pigs themselves are one of the only breeds that are pasture-raised: instead of being fed scraps in a muddy pen, these pigs roam vast, grassy pastures, grazing on acorns. Jamón ibérico (sadly) is rarely sold on its own like it is above, so you’ll have to pay for some pesky bread on your sandwich, too!

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Flamenquín (Saint Jacob Roll)

Hey, you know that really famous ham we have? Let’s ignore that and put in the bad ham, instead!

Unfortunately, jamón ibérico seems to be unique in its ability to revive my meat taste buds, so I was less impressed with my flamenquín, which is the much-less popular jamón serrano wrapped up in a fried cylinder. It made for some nice pictures and the orange sauce was nice, but I wouldn’t spent another 6 euros on it.


Patatas, Patatas Everywhere

Flashbacks to the Ecuawar

I thought I was done with eating potatoes for every meal after Ecuador. I was sorely equivocada.


Becoming ATÚNed to the Food

If you prefer your puns in English: “Becoming aTUNAed to the Food”

According to my Spanish Culture Professor, Spain is the world’s 7th largest consumer of fish. I believe it. I also believe that 90% of that is probably tuna. And I don’t blame them: tuna added to salad, eggs, sandwiches, and pasta is easily worth the price of a few cans. I’m saving up tuna-related recipes to bring back to the U.S., and Googling how to keep my mercury-intake down for the coming, tuna-filled years…


Pan, Pan Everywhere

“Let them eat pan.”

I found this in Ecuador, as well: there’s just something about bread. Bread is a staple of every meal. In my host mother’s house, it’s even used as a utensil, for scooping up the last bits of food onto your fork, or for sopping up the juices left behind from all that tuna. A bollo de pan (a bread roll) is also part of the prototypical Andalusian breakfast, along with some ham, coffee, and orange juice. If you’ve found yourself with plain pan on your plate, the odds are that you’ve also been given a small package of olive oil (as you would with ketchup or Ranch dressing) for dipping.

Gracias a Diós for Heladerías (Thank God for Ice Cream Shops)

Noon: “How do all of these ice cream shops stay in business?” 4 p.m.: “Yes, I’ll have three extra-large cones, please. Oh, and three for my friend, too. Oh, and three to soothe my sunburns. 50 euro? Worth it.”

Honestly all the ice cream here tastes the same as gelato, meaning IT TASTES ABSOLUTELY AMAZING. Part of that may be the intense heat talking. Typical flavors include dulce de leche, strawberry (fresa), chocolate (chocolate), nougat (turrón), and gum/marshmallow (chicle); but I’ve also come across Oreo and Smurf (pitufo) several times. (What does Smurf taste like? Apparently it doesn’t matter, so long as the ice cream is blue.) If you’re ever out walking for more than fifteen minutes, you’ll be overcome with an unquenchable thirst for something cold, sweet, and partly-liquid. When this happens, you’re never very far from a heladería, where a good-sized cup fetches for 3 euro.


Tomate, Tomate Everywhere

Fun fact: tomatoes are part of the nightshade family, which features psychoactive and/or deadly plants such as scopolamine and tobacco. In Shakespeare’s time, tomatoes were recognized as being in this family (thanks to the nightshade plants’ unique flower pattern) and were thus thought to be poisonous. Supposedly, this is partly the reason why tomatoes are classically thrown at actors when they put on a bad show. However, throwing “bad food” in general at actors dates back to Roman times.

There are only three things you can put on your pan here: olive oil, leftover tuna oil, and tomato sauce. Imagine ketchup, but with a 50% chance of being twice as sweet, and a 50% chance of being half as sweet. Most of the time, I love it. But for some people, it’s better off being thrown.


Croquetas (Croquettes)

Like chicken nuggets, but with ham and cheese for ten times as much fat fun.

If you’re offered croquetas, do not pass them up. They’re generally quite cheap, and they’re essentially the juicier version of chicken nuggets: hand-sized, fried spheres stuffed with ham and cheese. They’re not always to die for, but they’ll certainly remind you of the comforts of home.


Palomitas (Popcorn)

Because the first thing you want to put in your mouth is a baby pigeon.

Of course, even though a paloma is a pigeon or dove, and a polaomita would be a smaller one, this is really just the Spanish word for “popcorn.” I went to the movies the other day and wanted the full experience, so my dinner that night was a medium-sized popcorn. Just as expected, Spanish popcorn is not smothered in that deliciously addictive movie-theater butter. Instead, it’s just heavily salted. Certainly good enough for me to finish the entire bag a quarter of the way into the movie, but nothing will ever compare to that enticing Cinemark excuse for butter.

Chocolate filled croissant platter
A large platter of chocolate-filled croissants on display in a store window along the Calle San Fernando.


Not sure if because of proximity to France…

These are surprisingly common here: you’re more likely to find a chocolate or cream-filled croissant at a local café than you are to find a muffin (mufin). When we were staying in Madrid, we had these for breakfast daily; we now have them occasionally for lunch break at the University of Seville. Another thing to never pass up when in Spain!


Churros with Chocolate

“Someone needs to take this away from me before I eat it all.” “But this is just the chocolate dipping sauce.” “Did I stutter? TAKE IT AWAY FROM ME!”

We’d all being hearing about churrerías (churro shop), curro shops that specialized in everything churro. But all the shops were too far away to just pick up some churros between class. One night, a few brave souls went on an hour-long churro run, and brought back a few packets of the long-awaited churros con chocolate (churros with chocolate dipping sauce). I don’t typically like churros, but I was pleasantly surprised. In the U.S., churros are deep-fried and drowned in a repulsive amount of sugar, but these churros were quite amenable to my taste-buds. And, as shown by the quote above, the dipping sauce wasn’t much to complain about, either. Overall, they were good enough to eat daily…if I didn’t know the nutrition facts.


Mazapán (Marzipan)

“Wait, this is what you eat during the holidays?”

I was disappointed with marzipan. It’s not bad, but I can easily see myself annoyed at having to eat it for the holidays every year. That being said, other students on the program loved it. One boy bought two boxes on the spot when we were given free samples!

Oranges on ground
Fruits of one of many orange trees near the Alcazar

The Wild Fruits: Oranges, Beans, and Prickly Pears

“I think my lips are being digested.”

If you’ve done any research into Seville, you’ll have come across the famous orange trees (naranjos). These things really are everywhere, and yes, they bear oranges. There are certain gardens where you can’t smell anything except for oranges, and you need to watch your step if you don’t want to slip. When I first got here, I wondered to myself, “Why aren’t more people taking all these free oranges?” It doesn’t take long to find out: the oranges are normally of the bitter variety. They smell and look normal, but they taste like stomach acid. At least Seville has automatic air-freshener!

I’ve also seen a few trees growing bean pods, but I once again assumed these weren’t edible. However, the first thing my friend thought upon seeing a fruiting cactus was to eat it. I left him there, perfectly convinced that he was about to start hallucinating like Sokka in ATLA, but lo and behold, he was fine: it was a prickly pear plant (not quite a cactus). Sure, it looked like he was biting into somebody’s bloody liver, but he seemed to really like them.

Freshly-squeezed orange juice is available in every. single. café.

Water, Coffee, and Zumo de Naranja (Orange Juice)

“I’ve drank from this fountain thirteen times and still don’t have a man.”

These aren’t exactly foreign to norteamericanos (North-Americans), but they’re still omnipresent here and worth mentioning. Since Andalusia is obsessed with oranges, it’s understandable that orange juice is a delicious and constant accompaniment to breakfast. The coffee here is rather strong, but cheap and with standardized milk proportions. The water is no different from water in other developed countries, except that all over you’ll find many old, stone fountains labeled Agua Potable: safe to drink! When we visited the Mosque-Cathedral in Cordoba, we heard a legend that if you drank from the fountain in the plaza, you would find love…hence the quote from our tour-guide above.

Sangria y Cruzcampo
Sangria and Cruzcampo are the signature alcoholic drinks of Seville.

Sangría and CruzCampo

Arriba, Abajo, El Centro, Adentro!”

Many Europeans will be quick to tell you that alcohol in Spain is dirt cheap. A glass of sangria here normally fetches for about 3 – 4 euros (slightly over $3 – $4), and a pitcher for about 10 – 15.

Sangria is a wine to which you add generous amounts of fruit and sugar. Between that and its high alcohol content, sangria is a drink to watch out for. It’s called sangría for its blood-red color (the Spanish word for blood being sangre), and it’s omnipresent in Spain for its taste. In essence, it tastes like some mix of soda and sour cranberries. Seeing as how I don’t like soda, nor do I plan on getting drink, I normally pass up on sangria. However, I have tasted enough at different restaurants to know that the taste is pretty constant.

CruzCampo (which seems to literally translate to Cross-Country) is the local beer, and man is it nasty. The company that makes this stuff somehow stays in business enough to pay for countless bulletin boards and a tall headquarters near Triana (the portion of Seville across the canal), and Lord knows how. Only one boy in my program was willing to take more than a few sips of this.


On Dining

The water is free, but the bottle is one euro.

Servers in Spain are equally friendly as servers in the U.S., though they check up on your table a bit less often. My introverted self was annoyed to find it necessary to repeatedly flag down a waiter for each restaurant, but once they show up they’re very courteous. That being said, the pricing of your meal is a bit of a gamble. Most shops in Europe have the surprisingly convenient bonus of giving you the price on merchandise with tax already included. There IS tax, but the store has already done the work for you. No more subconsciously thinking that $3.99 means $3 when it really means $4.59. But when it comes to Spanish restaurants, some places include tax in the pricing while others don’t. On top of that, some restaurants have a silverware-use charge. I was irritated by this until I realized that American restaurants, and any restaurant that uses silverware, technically has this, but just includes it in the price. They DO have to pay for utilities, after all.

The most important thing to remember when ordering food at a Spanish restaurant is how to order your free water, which we’re quite accustomed to in the states. If you simply ask for water, the waiter will bring each person a plastic water-bottle and charge a euro extra for each. However, if you order a vaso de agua (glass of water), it’s totally free. From this, I’ve concluded that water here is so free they put clean drinking water in street-side fountains, but the plastic bottles themselves must be worth the entire one-euro charge.


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