Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Comidas a Espana

I’m sitting here writing this from the common room of a hostel in Valencia Spain. Yep, the budget travelling has finally kicked in.

Goodbye iced-coffees of New York and Frappes of Greece, add-ons such as these are no-longer included in the budget. Instead, I’m back to a somewhat more usual diet: muesli and yoghurt for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch and meat and veg for dinner. My digestive system is thanking me after those rich, heavy meals of New York and the potential meat-overload in Greece.

Yet while I may no-longer be dining in restaurants each night, the gastronomic encounters have not ceased to exist – they’ve just changed slightly. And Spain is a great place for this to happen.

It freaked me out the first time I walked into a Supermercado and found a pig trotter reaching for the heavens, its disembodied leg trailing behind it, and several, in fact, dozens of other little pigs' trotters all waving ‘hello’ as I picked up my basket. Yes friends, that would be a whole leg of jamon, live (er, dead?) in the flesh, waiting for Spanish Mamas to take home to their hungry jamon-eating families.

From the Supermercado, to the normal Mercado, and the vibrant colours of fruit stalls, smells of fresh herbs and the general bustling vibe is enough to buoy you along the aisles as if you were there for your weekly shop. La Boqueria is Barcelona’s answer to Melbourne’s Queen Vic Market, although I would say, somewhat more impressive.

Having started as an open-air market in the early 1700s, La Boqueria is “one of the best markets in Europe” according to Chairman of the Vendors Association of the Boqueria Market. Biased somewhat? Perhaps, but I think he may be on the money.

As soon as you enter the market underneath its impressive stained-glass arch, the vibe of the market is evident – it’s a bustling, functioning market that also happens to have dozens of tourists floating through it. Delicatessens, grocers, fruiterers, dried fruits and herbs, fish mongers who will cook their produce right in front of you, it’s all happening in this market. We elbow our way through the crowds who congregate at the front, unaware that by doing so, they’re actually being duped into farewelling an extra euro or two on everything they purchase. It’s in the heart and towards the back of the market where prices are somewhat more affordable.

Having heard tales of amazing juices available in Brasil, I was bowled over by the colour and vibrancy of the fruits and juices on offer at almost every single fruiterer. Packaged mixed fruit each with its own fork, dragon fruit, the juiciest strawberries by the punnet – it really is a fresh-food heaven inside La Boqueria. But back to the juices. For EU1.50, I chose a raspberry and banana juice, while my partner chose a blackberry and coconut. Obviously fresh, I could almost feel the nutrients and vitamins coursing through my veins as I sipped my fruit juice cocktail, while taking in the other sights of the market.

Sheep’s head anyone? Rabbit carcasses? Pig’s head? Oh and yes, all still with their eyes in. A little disconcerting, but the Spanish would probably find it unusual that our butchers keep everything nicely removed from any memory that this meat we have before us on a Sunday afternoon was once baa-ing in a field. Oh, and more legs of jamon, with those little trotters neatly strung from the ceiling.

In addition to the traditional fruit and veg stands, there are also several stalls set-up as food stands, offering the freshest seafood cooked on the spot, baked goods, pizzas, pasta and salads. The seafood stalls are obviously popular, with locals and tourists alike sitting around shelling pipis and mussels while sipping a Spanish white wine.

We choose a fresh baguette with jamon for me, and chorizo for my partner. Everything is fresh, the jamon lovely and salty and stringy. For EU2, it really is a bargain. We top off our meal with a cabello de angel – or angel hair. When chowing down, I likened the little empanada-shaped pastry to a Christmas mince tart; there was obviously some sort of dried fruit in there and the pastry was crumbly, much like a mince tart.

From doing some further reading, I would never have guessed that the ‘fruit’ in the middle of my sugar-coated empanada was actually pumpkin!

The following is an excerpt from the translated Spanish Wikipedia page on cabello de angel:

The pumpkin is made by boiling the pulp of a gourd in a highly concentrated sugar solution until it unravels into a kind of fine threads of golden yellow. In Spain we use the pumpkin cider or musk. A syrup is often used in the same amount of sugar pumpkin. It is sometimes added to the mixture of lemon juice (an acid) and cinnamon for flavouring.”

Since visiting La Boqueria, I’m going to try and go to the market in most places we visit – the vibe is fantastic, and I think a really great insight into the types of food a culture eats.

While currently in Valencia, we have indulged in some seriously amazing paella and sangria – but they shall be a posting unto themselves.

Stay tunes, mi amigos!

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