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The Iberian Horseshoe — A Journey

Part III. South East

Food & Nutrition

Steve Porter
Smaller text sizeDefault text sizeBigger text size Add to my bookshelf epub mobi Permalink Ebook MapOporto, Ponte Dom Luis

The school sent me for a medical. The nurse said, “You are underweight. Spanish food is the best in the world, eat more of it.”

But Spanish food, just as in language, politics, weather and landscape, is difficult to generalise about. Admittedly, I am no connoisseur. I eat when I am hungry. But Basque cuisine has a good reputation while Catalan food is excellent, using as it does such a wide variety of sauces, which is no surprise, given its geographical proximity to France. In my experience, southern food is plainer and heavier. Perhaps this is due to a combination of few local crops and the south’s geographical isolation from the rest of Europe. However, there are of course Arabic influences on the cuisine and many North African restaurants can be found in more cosmopolitan cities like Alicante.

Pedro drove me inland towards Albacete. We went to a pleasant restaurant to consume gazpacho manchego. This has nothing in common with gazpacho andaluz; the cold soup which is so refreshing on a hot day. The version from La Mancha is cooked in a large paella-type dish. It’s rather like broth with a bit of rabbit thrown in. It has a pastry base with honey spread on top. Like much of the region’s food, it left me feeling overweight, which isn’t right considering I came in at 1.85 metres tall and less than 65 five kilos at my recent medical. In other words, I’m over six foot tall and weigh about ten stone.

Eating out with me was a great source of amusement to Pedro. He told his mother about one meal we had. She said, “If this inglés doesn’t like snails nor liver, what does he eat?”

“Pedro, I’m not accustomed to these things. I would like to see you eat a Scotch pie or sausage roll,” I replied. Maybe someday he will take up the challenge.

Occasionally, I missed food from home. Like fish and chips, though it rarely lives up to my expectations when I get it. I also found a supermarket in Elche that sold Irn Bru, the fizzy Scottish drink. The excitement of finding it was better than the taste of the drink itself. I was learning to live without British commodities. On later visits home, I saw for the first time that British High streets are rich in food from all over the world: Chinese, Turkish, Greek, Thai, Italian, and Indian. But the rest of the world believes we eat a lot of roast beef. Try finding that at a takeaway. Though maybe there is a business opportunity for somebody there.

In Spain, of course, people really do eat many tapas, which beats a bag of peanuts or a cheese roll in a British pub. The Spaniards I know only eat paella now and again, just as we may only have roast beef for an occasional Sunday dinner. A lot of paella, much of it mediocre, is consumed by tourists on the costas.

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Copyright ©Steve Porter, 2004
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Date of publicationMarch 2007
Collection RSSGlobal Fiction
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