Since in arriving in Spain, I have certainly had to learn to adapt and change my eating patterns, ranging from what I eat to when I eat it. Before coming to Spain, I made sure to look online and ask a few teachers and friends what some of the major differences between here and the US are, food wise. The first thing I quickly learned is that the time of certain is drastically different from the US. I was happy to see that breakfast was at 9:30am with cereal, toast, tea or coffee, maybe some fruit and a croissant. I even recognized a few of the cereals, such as Cookie Crisp, which did remind me of home a bit. Lunch, however, is a little different. The Mediterranean diet, which is what they tend to follow in Spain, is very big on seafood and fish. Typically, for lunch then, we’ll have some kind of seafood or pasta, normally served around 2:30pm, which was a little later than what I was used to. Along with this, lunch is typically a larger meal, consisting of three courses (an appetizer, main course, and dessert). For example, when I came home for lunch yesterday, my host mom surprised me by saying that we were having clams as an appetizer! Clams! I’m normally up to try anything new, but for some reason, I’d never tried clams, and I had no desire to. However, I did not want to be rude, and she insisted that I try one. Reluctantly, I took one, pulled it apart, and sucked out the meat. Surprisingly, I liked it, and ate several more. For the main course, we had fish, and dessert was a banana with pudding. At first, I wasn’t sure why we’d have such a big meal in the middle day. Then, I realized that the Spanish don’t eat dinner until around 9:30pm. According to the Mediterranean diet, it’s unhealthy to eat a big meal at the end of the day, so dinner is usually smaller. Snacking is also ok here, if you want a few chips or a piece of fruit, which helps you get adjusted to the new eating schedule.
There are two other things here that have surprised me since coming here in January. In the US, olive oil is just something used to cook something in; nothing more. Here, it’s like a way of life, food-wise! I never realized how much such a small thing can change the taste of something so dramatically! For example, one day in lunch, the appetizer was just mashed potatoes with green beans and olive oil. It was such a simple dish, but the olive oil sort of accentuated the taste of everything; it turned that simple dish into one with complex and interesting. The same thing has happened with similar dishes, and I definitely think that I will continue to use olive oil in my diet when I return to the US. The second thing, which I learned about the food here, is that everything is so fresh; all the food lacks preservatives. I remember two instances where this apparent to me. My Spanish professor was commenting on ham, and how she’d looked at a package of ham from the US, seen all the ingredients and exclaimed, “Where is the pig!?!” The other time happened to me when I was in a restaurant in Barcelona! The restaurant had just opened and the owner proclaimed that all the food was homemade, and should we not like anything, we would get our money back. The entire meal was delicious, but I think my favorite part was the appetizer– melon (cantaloupe) with ham! Unlike the cantaloupe from the US, this one was white, not orange. I cut into it and put a small piece in my mouth. I had never tasted a sweeter, more juicy or more delightful piece of fruit than I had that night. It was, by far, my favorite thing from Spain (so far!)