Over the past few years we’ve experienced some fantastic meals out in Spain. But there’s nothing like going to the local market or supermarket, and seeing the wonderful colours, and smelling the freshness of the produce on display. And I’m as excited about cooking with all these wonderful ingredients as I am about eating out.
Food from our neighbours
Where we live in el campo, we’re surrounded by olive farms. And most people here have a smallholding with chickens, a couple of pigs, a vegetable patch and some fruit trees. So there’s an abundance of different types of food, and our very generous neighbours have given us lots of things over the past few years. Including some home-made sausages with a particular delicacy, chorizo and morcilla (black pudding). An acquired taste in my view, whichever country it comes from!
We’ve been given vegetables, tomatoes, capers and olive oil – very colourful and utterly delicious! It’s a good thing I like cooking, and I’m trying lots of new recipes (from the web or one of my Spanish cookbooks) to create something that I’ve not cooked before. Most Spanish dishes are not particularly complex or sophisticated, but a delight to eat, especially if accompanied by a glass of wine. Our local supermarket sells excellent riojas and riberas for under €3 euros.
Growing our own
Hilary has started to create an orchard with amazing plans to grow lemons, oranges, figs, capers, almonds and melons. It will take time for these to come through, and in the meantime we don’t have to go far to find some beautiful figs in the countryside. We’ve also realized that the lovely pink balls on our trees are actually akin to peppercorns (a Peruvian pepper tree), and I’m going to dry some and start using them in my cooking. They smell gorgeous! I’ve also picked some olives from our trees and started the curing process – a bit of an experiment as they’re not looking so good at the moment. But there’s plenty more to keep trying if this batch fails!
I love going to the large indoor markets that you can find in most Spanish towns and cities. Incredibly colourful and noisy, and full of interesting aromas. The fish stands in particular are fascinating, though slightly unnerving at the same time. The variety of fish on display is stunning, and I don’t know the names of even half of what’s on offer. I can walk around the market for hours, simply enjoying the beautiful colours, the smell, the banter and the liveliness of the place.
Eating out in Spain can sometimes feel a little uninspiring, because a lot of restaurants have standard menus with food cooked and served in a similar way. But actually, now we’re here a bit longer, we are beginning to discover different places, and have had some excellent meals out. One day, we’d been driving round the mountains and were looking for a lunch place. We were hungry, and finally saw signs pointing up a very steep slope. Some 10 minutes later, we arrived at a place on top of the mountain. The door was closed and it was dark inside.
Venturing in, we called out: ‘hola!’ and from the back of the place the chef appeared. When we asked if he was open for lunch, he threw on the light switches and we found ourselves in a gorgeous very old restaurant, with a very exciting menu, including beef cooked on hot stones at the table and Migas (a recipe based on breadcrumbs – doesn’t sound very appetising, but amazing what they can do with such a simple ingredient). When looking around the place, we found photographs of members of the government who’d come here to stay, making important decisions over splendid dinners. Maybe this is what the Brexit process needs!
Vegan and dietary options
It’s not always easy to find restaurants catering for vegetarians, and it can feel impossible for vegans. But that is changing too, and when we visited Cadiz a while ago, there were plenty of restaurants advertising vegan food. Nowadays too, there’s also much more available for those who are on different diets, and menus increasingly cater for gluten and nut allergies, including our local bar in the village. Although this isn’t always the case in more out of the way places.
I’m pleased to say that we’ve only just started to explore all that’s available around where we live, and there’s a huge amount more to experience. And it wouldn’t surprise me if I put on weight here, despite the healthier lifestyle!