Spain is known for its jamón, or dry cured ham, many say it’s the best in the world. My travel companions regularly indulged their porcine affection. Claudia eats jamón every morning at breakfast, Mario and Mark both slipped slices onto their pan con tomate. I got a lot of slack for not succumbing to the jamón temptation, but there are a TON of special, particular Spanish foods that I’m thrilled to fill my plate with. After all, the more jamón they eat, the more anchoas (cured anchovies), berberechos (a type of clam), and Manchego (the renowned cheese) for me.
– Gwyneth Paltrow on “Spain: On the Road Again.”
Sorry to board the “Odio a Gwyneth” bandwagon as we conclude the middle of week 3. (God, this feels like being 13 again, it’s all happening so fast.) I probably have severely crippled my intent to maintain a blog of self-reflection and profundity. Instead, I’ve “Gooped” all over it by bringing in the GP factor. Still, food and eating are two topics that follow me around (the waist) like a punished dog waiting for its next meal. And given the great effort I’ve put into losing weight this year, that this beautiful country has ruined my will to stay lean, mean and healthy, I had to say something.
When it comes to being a foodie, I defer the highly developed palates of my mom and younger brother Ernesto. They share recipes and ingredients like they’re part of some secret society, a gastronomic Opus Dei. I don’t speak their kitchen language. I can only understand “somewhat cooked,” “overcooked” and “annihilated to near extinction.” But I have totally moved on from “undercooked,” so there is progress.
I’ve always joked that “if it ain’t moving on the plate, I’ll probably eat it.” And I don’t fear food, especially in other cities or countries. Whether on the road, at a gas station, an airport, night market, cart or stranger’s home, I’ll give most anything a try. I’ve paid the price with the Chorro Syndrome (where everything melts down) to enjoyed the rush of a culinary delight so intense, it makes sex seem positively pedestrian. And next to Italian cuisine, nothing seduces you in such an insidious manner than the ease and availability of Spanish food.
I will never, ever betray my main love, comida de casa mexicana. But, when faced with this list of epic delicias de España: Paella, Tortilla, Jamón Serrano y Ibérico, Carne, Pescado, Pan, Queso manchego, Más pan, Chorizo, y todavia más pan, Bocadillos, Pinchos, Porras, Churros, Cafe con leche, Chocolate Valor. Oh, and the “food on the go” sandwiches from El Corte Inglés? Let’s just say I went down faster than a chubby intern on a U.S. senator.
This is very quotidian fare, not some gastronomic revolution from Paris, Copenhagen or New York City. No, this is what Spaniards will eat on the daily for almuerzo and la cena and they take great pride in their contribution to the world food menu. The minute I arrived here, I knew I was going to have problems because I’ve faced Spanish food before. And, like all overeaters, I knew I was gonna be chasing the queso manchego-covered dragon unless I took steps to enforce my hard earned sobriety.
I joined a gym on the second day. I haven’t gone. Whether it’s because of the jet lag or my inability to gain back any sort of regime, my Spanish carb stand off lasted exactly one week. And it wasn’t because of the street eating that I caved, either. I haven’t really done much of that.
Manoli is a wicked home cooking temptress. She may have to cater to three different eating restrictions of her charges, but she makes a point to take care of us. The lentil soup. The croquetas. The salad with vinegar and oil. The pastas. All of it is cooked by hand. None of it is pre-made or packaged. All of it has enough salt to bloat yourself into oblivion.
Salt. Why did it have to be salt?
I haven’t had much salt since I was told I was hypertensive and had to take medication. Even the lovely greens juice of pepino and ajo I purchase for 2 euros at Carrefour tastes salty. Well, I haven’t had to take said meds in a long while. By some sort of miracle, my right arm hasn’t gone numb like it did earlier this year in Mexico City. But I am deathly afraid of salt and what it can do to me. It can do plenty, so I have taken to drinking gallons of water to flush the sodium away. I could probably piss my way to South Pasadena at this rate. Yet, the real gateway drug has been the bread and that has been my undoing.
Oh, you carb loaded vixen. How I’ve missed you!
Bread is the chosen companion of every meal here. It’s like the basic black of food. It goes with everything. Breakfast alone is an orgy of breadly delights, cookies, pan tostado; all part of a sugary, buttery and bready hell. Fruit is a fixture, but the harvests have been woeful of late. Even Manoli can’t understand why fresh fruit is such a problem. She’s had to throw away plenty because it goes from store to overripe in minutes.
Now that the heat is finally here, the meals are narcotizing us into longer and longer siestas. I’m eating at 2pm and 9pm and sleeping on a full stomach. Portion control is not the problem here. In fact, I don’t see many obese people walking the streets of Salamanca. And everyone walks since the city is so small. It’s like one big La Brea Avenue — everything is 20 minutes away. That has helped a little in staving off the pudge that is making its unwelcome appearance. Of course, it is easier to blame Gwyneth, Manoli and every street corner in Spain. I could blame the ridiculous time schedule of our meals, which has wreaked havoc on my own food regime. I validate this out of respect for Manoli, who is paid to feed us. And we eat gladly, mind you. But, ultimately, the fault lies not in our food, but how much we put in our mouths.
(Don’t even get me started in the grotesque indulgence of eating the Spanish version of “nachos” and “quesadillas” with my Italian chum Antonello at Chido, just off the Plaza Mayor. Oh the shame, the shame! But wouldn’t you know their quesadillas taste just like the ones from Mario’s Tacos in Pico Rivera?!)
In short, put down the fork already! And do a crunch or two. It won’t kill you.
I’ll be home soon. Looking like what, I don’t know, but I’m going to keep giving Spanish food one hell of a putivuelta before I go.
More “In the Kitchen with Manoli” — Victoria Beckham Edition
This food-oriented Confession would not have happened if it were not for an anecdote featuring the great Posh Spice herself, Victoria Beckham.
Victoria Beckham insists she never uttered the now-infamous quote that ‘the Spanish smell of garlic’ — “I would never say anything so disrespectful, and which is completely untrue,” insists the wife of ex-Real Madrid player David Beckham.” — V. Beckham in Vanity Fair España
It seems la Vicky stepped into it with the Spaniards in the 00’s when the great David B. played for Real Madrid. Upon their departure, she allegedly commented that she didn’t care for Spain because it smelled of garlic. Said comment has since become legend, which she felt compelled to address earlier this year in Vanity Fair España. Manoli had very strong thoughts about the comment, stating, “Regresaté a Inglaterra payasa.” Even my favorite academic, Maria Jose Boyer, brought up the quote in lecture one day. So, I can vouch for Spain and for La Vicky. She didn’t say it, get over it. However, I’m glad the smell of garlic I’ve encountered has felt like a warm and friendly embrace from a country that is now starting to feel like home.
Oh and Gwyneth, eat the pig already. It won’t kill you, joder!
Wednesday, July 16 @ Manoli’s house in Salamanca, Spain.