Spain is the Mecca of food lovers. I consider myself really lucky to have spent about a year there and sampled some of the best dishes in the world. Especially in the Basque region (border of Spain and France), food is so sublime, so delicious, it will convert even the craziest, Kashi-cereal eating health nut, into a connoisseur of fine food and drink. I once had spider crab (txangurro al horno) at Rekondo, San Sebastian that I still dream about. But not just fancy restaurants, even the free tapas with a 2 euro beer in a tiny, neighborhood bar, will be fabulous.
I am not unhappy I moved to the United States, and lets be frank, New York is awesome, but I miss many things about Spain, food wise.
- I miss the neighborhood vegetable vendor. I could buy fresh fruits and vegetables everyday, by just walking a few steps from home. There was no need to buy vegetables for a week from a supermarket at stock it in the fridge. I could ask him to get me cilantro and beetroots for tomorrow and he would find them for me. He knew all the customers by name. It was almost like our local “Annachi kadais” back in Tamilnadu. Some how, the larger than life supermarkets with aisles and aisles of refrigerated produce doesn’t cut it.
- I miss the “warm from the oven” bread. Una barra de pan (almost like a French baguette, but more rustic) for 50 centimos in the local panaderia. The nice woman would tell you not to buy bread that was a few hours old, but to come back in 20 minutes for fresh bread. And I would dutifully return. And the warm bread will be impossible to resist, you have to tear a corner off right there in the shop and nibble it on the way home. The nice thaatha next to you will smile indulgently, he’ll be nibbling on his barra too. In the US, I am forced to buy factory made, pre-sliced loaves, or shell out more than 5 dollars for a day old artisan loaf. I find this aweful. May be I have to start baking my own bread again.
- I miss the salt. Salt, yes. Chef Jose Andres (@chefjoseandres) said to Mark Bittman (from Bittman’s book Bittman Takes On America’s Chefs) that he finds salt in America less saltier than in Spain. I have laughed at this before, because Spanish make such outrageous statements all the time.
Jamón tastes much better in Spain than anywhere else in the world (even if the jamón has been imported from Spain). Because jamón needs the Spanish sun to melt the fat in it, so it tastes just right.
Paella can be made only in Spain, and nowhere else, because the the rice needs to cook evenly in the paellera (pan in which paella is made), and only in Spain the earth is perfectly flat.
They are crazy like that. But the salt thing, I find is absolutely true. I am now using 25% more salt than I did in Spain. For the same recipes, just more salt. Salt isn’t saltier enough here.
- I miss the olive oil. Even the 1 euro per liter olive oil you bought at a local store, was much more flavorful, much more smooth than the 10 dollar olive oil I buy here. And I have to shell out 30 dollars for some good extra virgin olive oil. Bah!
And with that in mind, I give you the recipe for an everyday breakfast in Spain. Tostada con aceite, sal y tomate. Toast with oil, salt and tomato. Everything I miss about Spain in this simple, healthy and flavorful breakfast. This, and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, you are ready to take on the world.
And so, here is a recipe (somewhat) for you.
Tostada con aceite, sal, y tomate
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt (preferably sea-salt)
Ripe tomatoes (about one medium sized tomato per toast)
1. Cut the tomatoes in half, and grate them. If you grate them right, you can grate just the flesh and leave the peel.
2. Toast the bread (no butter).
3. Spread the grated tomato on the bread, and drizzle olive oil on top. Sprinkle a pinch of salt, and eat.