Last month, my husband and I took a trip to Spain. On our flight over, we shared a row with a gentleman (originally from the UK, but now living in the US) who was planning to spend 2 weeks in Barcelona as a “gastronomical vacation”…just to enjoy the restaurants. That’s what he said…that he had no intentions of visiting the museums, or traveling outside of Barcelona…he and his sister were there just to eat out! I found that very strange. I may be a dietitian, but my travels are never all about the food. I love to walk and explore.
1. They love yogurt! I’ve never seen so much yogurt! Plain yogurt, yogurt with fruit, Greek yogurt, and even a number of drinkable yogurts. The shelf space in Aldi’s (a small grocery store) was at least twice as big as my local grocery store…while the large grocery store in Pamplona had 4-5 times more space!
2. Tapas are for the tourists! Recently, Lonely Planet listed Barcelona as one of the top ten places to enjoy a Foodie Vacation – and remarked on their fabulous tapas (small plates of food or snacks). Their list included: patatas bravas (potatoes in a spicy tomato sauce), calamares fritos (fried squid), boquerones (anchovies), croquetas de jamón (ham croquettes), chorizo (pork sausage), pimientos asados (roasted peppers), albóndigas (meatballs) and berenjenas gratinadas (cheese-baked aubergine). From talking with the natives, though, we found out that in Barcelona, tapas are not popular with the locals. They told us that both sangria and tapas are just for the tourists!! This is a picture of a small plate that was fairly common – “Tortilla de patata”. It wasn’t a tortilla as we know it, but rather a potato-filled omelet. And, this tomato bread was common, too. The bread was spread with a bit of olive oil and tomato sauce. Not my favorite.
3. Coke is plentiful! I remember, on my first trip to Europe more than 20 years ago, that it was difficult to find a diet soda. Now coke and Coca Cola Light (there was NO Diet Coke to be found) was everywhere! I’m sure it’s an acquired taste, but I prefer the sweetners in Diet Coke over Coca Cola Light. The Europeans still mostly serve their sodas without ice…but I did find a few places that offered 2-3 ice cubes :).
4. Ham is a staple. So is cheese and crusty white bread. I can’t count how many very salty ham & cheese on crusty bread sandwiches we had – for breakfast and lunch! Sometimes it was like…do you want a ham & cheese sandwich – or a ham & cheese sandwich? Though one time we found a chicken salad sandwich (on crusty white bread) at breakfast, too. That’s different!
5. Breakfast is not American-style. Granted, there were some hotel buffet breakfasts that included eggs (fried or boiled) but the emphasis was more on the very salty ham, salami, and other meats…and crusty white bread. Since I appreciate a quick meal (so I have more time to explore), I was disappointed that McDonald’s didn’t offer the Egg McMuffin (or any other breakfast sandwich for that matter…just coffee and danish). And, Starbucks Spain had never heard of oatmeal (again, just danish and coffee). Since I want some protein at breakfast, that’s probably why we ate so many ham & cheese sandwiches.
6. And, eggs are not just for breakfast. Then, on the other hand, we stopped at a restaurant along our drive to Pamplona where the meat and veggie plate was served with two fried eggs! (check out the picture).
7. Dinner is late – and protein-based! While tapas restaurants are open all times of the day and evening (remember, these are just for the tourists), the “real” restaurants don’t open till 8:30pm for dinner. I don’t know about you…but that’s very late for me. Lunch was served closer to 2pm, too. I expected a more healthy eating style of larger lunches, and smaller dinners. The dinners, like here in the states, was focused around the protein – with very little veggies (not what I expected from this Mediterranean area). My husband and I shared a whole fish (check out the picture to see how many vegetables were served…there was more tartar sauce that veggies!). We could, of course, ask for extra veggies, but even then the portion-size was tiny.
8. Iceberg lettuce is popular! I expected some healthier salad greens but often we found only iceberg lettuce (with a bit of romaine or endive) – even at the more upscale restaurants. Never saw spring mix!
9. No one drinks the tap water. We were told that tap water was safe to drink, but no one seems to drink it. We were served bottle water everywhere! I prefer “aqua con gas”…the bubbly type.
10. Food is expensive. We found this to be true in grocery stores, fast food restaurants, and more upscale restaurants. We paid $75 for just Paella (rice & seafood) for two – not counting the drinks, etc. Fast food was about 50% more expensive than in the US. A glass (8oz) of soda costs $2.50 euros (more than $3US) – and no free refills. I was once served a FIVE ounce can for $2 euros). I’ve never seen such a tiny can. Most restaurants didn’t offer bread as a standard…but it was available for an extra fee. While olive oil was on the table, if you wanted butter, that was extra, too! At one place we were charged over $10US for one piece of bread each and butter.
11. There’s lots of helado shops. That’s Spanish for ice cream! Were they selling ice cream cones on every corner for the locals or the tourists, I wondered. But, I was sure of one thing, the cones were way smaller than those in the US…but bigger, if I remember correctly, than those that I remembered from my last trip to Spain 15 years ago. Hmmm..