Being in a new land with the history of the people there, their triumphs and challenges, their customs and traditions is an exciting and unique experience. I find that the best story is told through food. To feel the difference of each place I turn to the relationship with food. One of the most interesting aspects of this is the aromas present in each location.
When I returned from Trinidad earlier this year, I was aware that for about a week there was a lingering scent in my nostrils that was uniquely Trini. It was a disconcerting and unfamiliar experience for me. Now, just a week “off the boat” from Spain, I have been having the same thing happen. I couldn’t figure out what the scent was that kept coming to me on the air from Spain. Then, I realized, it is the aroma of jamón (cured ham), the specialty of Spain. The most famous is Jamón Iberico, made from black footed pigs, deep and rich in flavor unlike anything I’d ever had. The primary cheeses are from goat and sheep’s milk – I could taste the essence of the land on my tongue!
As an American, I’ve never had the chance to wander around a city and see the looming and majestic edifices of another era. One day, we went for a journey to visit the Parada Palacio in Madrid. It was a beautiful location with large palaces, gardens, fountains and statuary full of history (right in the middle of town!). When we returned to the train station, I was amazed to realize that the building I had walked out of (without looking back) also had the presence of the palace I had been visiting. It’s all just part of being in Spain!
The hustle and bustle of daily life is lived within the narrow streets. There are shops galore along these streets than in America would be dark, empty alleys. Even the entrances to people’s flats are ornate with ancient beauty! A mercado for fruits and vegetables is next door to the butchery followed by the panadería and café. A common breakfast in Spain is tomato spread on toasted fresh baguette topped with jamón or churros and chocolate! And, of course, serve with café – petite and strong! I preferred mine con leché.
In a place as hot as Spain, I was surprised how hearty the food was. We were served traditional Spanish meals at the place I stayed during most of my trip. They were incredibly delicious! Rabo de Toro (Braised Oxtail) with potatoes (another favorite food in Spain!), Leg of lamb, Eggplant with more tomatoes were my favorites. And, of course, red wine and water with every meal. The food was so satisfying and plentiful it was hard not to keep eating when I was full.
Madrid is a modern city nestled among its vibrant history. Throughout the downtown area there are parks, fountains, staures and palaces looming over the busy city streets. It’s like being in two worlds at the same time. I was distinctly aware of the desire to stop and absorb the ancient architecture and yet, I was distracted by getting around a busy city!
The best salad I had during the trip was at the Tablao Flamenco with my friend, Rita. Topped with creamy toasted goat cheese, full of savory greens and, of course, tomatoes and drizzled with balsamic vinegar. Yum! Rita also treated me to a tapas dinner. I had heard a lot about tapas and it was so fun to enjoy the variety of foods she ordered for us!
The flavors of Spain are apparent in the architecture, dancing, food, people – the very air is filled the vibrancy and pride that is Spain!