In my ignorance of global cuisine, I’ve always assumed that Spanish food was similar to Mexican or South American food: rice and bean based with lots of hot spices. I was ashamed to find out how wrong I was, and even more embarrassed that my Spanish cuisine education came in the form of Gwyneth Paltrow. Recently I had the privilege of watching her documentary, “Spain…On the Road Again,” which is essentially a home movie made about her culinary road trip across the country.
I never thought that I would say that this academy award winning actress has taught me anything (except how to cry profusely when accepting and award), however I now stand corrected. Ms. Paltrow has taught me an appreciation for Spanish cuisine.
Far removed from its new world cousins, Spanish cuisine is a descendant of the decadent dishes found in ancient Rome. And while rice is certainly a key component to the authentic Spanish diet, it is eclipsed in importance by a variety of meats and seafood staples that are the foundation of most meals. Fried squid is not uncommon in several traditional dishes, as is roasted lamb. But not just any lamb, milk-fed lamb. Potatoes are also highlighted in most meals, as well as any form of egg. I was shocked to learn that hot tamales and tortillas were not considered to be a part of Spanish cuisine. Instead, more subtle flavorings like saffron and vinegar are utilized.
In addition to introducing me to the basics of Spanish food, Paltrow’s little road trip also indicated that one of the greatest charms of Spanish cuisine is its diversity among the different regions. While Catalonia has a tradition of more rice and seafood dishes, La Rioja is known more for its vegetable soups and potato platters.
Now I want to go – I want to go there and taste it all! I want to savor the sweet peaches with red wine famous in Aragon and travel to Madrid to eat their particular recipe for tripe. Yet before I go I want to learn how to pronounce everything I eat properly. I want to understand how to correctly say “Samfaina” so that when I do I understand that it means a type of savory Ratatouille, or that Ensaimada tastes like the pastry it represents. And while I may not have known that Mexican food and Spanish food are two separate entities, I do know that Mexican Spanish and Spain Spanish are two different things. So I’ll need to make sure I take a Spain Spanish course.
So Gwyneth Paltrow, I would like to extend my greatest thanks for encouraging me not only to learn about a new food, but also a new language.
It is now a life goal of mine to learn Spanish, so that when I am enjoying an afternoon at a street café in Seville I can confidently ask for a Tortas de Aceite and be sure they will understand my desire for a sweet olive oil pastry. Ole!