Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Notes on Food in Spain, Part 1

I've been eating a ton of potato chips lately.

After a terrible lunch the other day at a supposedly fancy (albeit casual, albeit expensive) place (spongy skin and fat on a duck leg; salad dressed by pouring to much dressing over the top in the style of Prego spaghetti sauce commercials) I've been reflecting somewhat on the state of food in Spain, or at least in Granada.

It's pretty common for folks (especially in the food world) in the States to think that everyone in Europe has fabulous bread, fantastic cheese and wonderful, cheap wine all the time. Obviously these are available. I've had amazing ham and chorizo and morcilla. Fantastic raw milk goat and sheep's milk cheeses. That just doesn't seem to be what most people are eating. The culinary world almost seems mired in the 1970s.

I must say that it's nice to see middle class, middle aged women decked out in the fur coats they go shopping in enjoying a beer midafternoon. I like (read: love) corn nuts and they are a pretty popular snack here and I am pleased to be able to eat them with no shame. However . . .

It's very common to see pre-boiled potato or beets or corn vacu-sealed in plastic in the super market, even the ultra-fancy El Corte Ingl├ęs, but I have yet to see a fresh beet. Or maybe I saw one bunch, very sad and very old. How much effort does it take to boil a potato? Mayonnaise commands deep devotion, reaching its inexplicable heights in the ubiquitous "ensalada rusa," like american potato salad with three times the mayonnaise and often the addition of canned peas. I have a great fear of this salad, which even at its very best is . . . well, just not very pleasant to eat, IMO. Canned vegetables are very common still, even at nicer restaurants as are bad sauces covering badly cooked fish or coating decently cooked meat. I forgot the last time I ate (or saw) a slowly congealing white sauce with mushrooms. Don't get me started on what passes for Italian food. I've almost never been so revolted as watching a woman feed her child fettucine with graying pesto the other day at a pizzeria.

No one seems to mind bad food going out. The good restaurants are more packed than the bad ones which are still packed, but the nastier schwarma places seem just as busy as the better ones. Maybe it's a lack of knowing those foods? The way Italians feel about their restaurants just seems so different. I think there is still some of the ghost of Franco floating about. Maybe attitudes will change when the generations die off who lived under his rule understood eating as purely a means to feed themselves. You can get used to eating bad food, but it is soul crushing. It makes me very sad, anyway. A restaurant may have access to great products, but why bother when no one seems to know the difference. Or maybe, more correctly, care about the difference.

Cooking in house is going well. I have yet to cook brains.
And the chips are fried in 100% olive oil, at least.


SoirBleu said...

Bleh, brains! What are you a zombie??? I would like to think that my ever-clever, ultra sharp best friend doesn't rely upon a feast of the brains of others to achieve his intelligence! Bwa hahahaha ha. So gross. Todays's blog made me sad, bad food is indeed soul-crushing. It just takes all the life out of a person. And even the heights of despair can be lessened with an amazing meal. So sorry to hear that nastiness is common in "edibles" even in the exotic other realms of the world... le sigh.


Jordan said...

even reading the words 'corn nuts' makes my nose wrinkle in displeasure... Doritos!

I think this issue goes well beyond Spain... the access to delicious, reasonably priced food being ignored in favor(?) of something terrible. Here in Vancouver, our good bread and cheese equivalent are probably steamed dumplings and hand-made noodles (or BiBimBap, kimchi and pickled spicy daikon). However, most food here is simply not that good, particularly as you begin to drift away from the chinese places. I think the state of food and dining out in general may be in a bit of a crisis of indifference.

Even some of Vancouver's 'nicer' restaurants seem to have difficulty transcending the plane of the mundane. Access to good product doesn't always lead to good results. Yet people still flock. But maybe that's just Vancouver's vanity more than anything food specific.

hmmm. Speaking of good food, lobster and egg yolk (or monkfish eyeball) sounds really good right about now. School is kicking my ass, I could use a good dose of inspiring deliciousness.

SoirBleu said...

Yeah, I agree, Jordan. There is too much mundane food in the world... it's too easy to find. I'm not even sure that I have a favorite restaurant anymore. I mean, there are restaurants that I like, but none are reliably, consistently good. Sometimes they are stellar and other times disappointing. Lately I've been dreaming of that place we used to go to in Oly, that sushi place out in Tanglewilde? The best miso soup ever. Yum. But I did go out with my mom and her boyfriend to this Indian restaurant a couple of nights ago. It was pretty spectacular. Not the usual, run-of-the-mill ordinary boring Indian food. Everything was spiced just right. It kind of blew my mind, but also made me realize how irregularly I eat good food when I eat out anymore.