Alissa G. is an ESL teacher and freelance writer from Boston, MA who has spent the last three years living in Spain. She is a voracious traveler who has visited over 40 countries: she writes about her travels on alissaswideworld.blogspot.com. Alissa lives in Talavera de la Reina, a city of 90,000 located about an hour southwest of Madrid, in the heart of Castilla la Mancha, and was excited to share five days of her Spanish eating life with Yummyfoto.
Wednesday, February 5
10 AM: Breakfast. Strawberry Greek yogurt and a pear. Greek yogurt is having a moment here in Spain, the same as in the US. I’d like to think this signifies solidarity with a fellow crisis-wracked country, but I think it’s more of a health-nut thing.
11:15 AM: Snack. Coffee with milk and sugar and leftover tea cookies from a school meeting (the kind with jam in the middle), eaten while perched at my customary seat by the radiator in my school’s dining room. I’ve definitely gotten more reliant on coffee since arriving here in Spain. I didn’t realize how strong I make it until I made some for an American friend this past summer and he spat it out, swearing.
3 PM: Lunch. The eating schedule is really late in Spain compared to the U.S., which means I don’t eat lunch until after school lets out. Today I’m feeling lazy, which means a store-bought quesadilla with cheese, ham, and sweet/spicy sauce and two clementines on the side. As an afterthought, I try for a culinary adventure and then am depressed to find that my apartment-provided blender won’t work.
3:30 PM: Hooray! I figured it out. I make myself a strawberry-nutella smoothie.
5:30 PM: Snack: an apple and some squares of chocolate with walnuts.
9:30 PM: Snack again. Chocolate-covered digestive biscuits. I should be making myself dinner now, but it’s hard to motivate myself to cook so late at night. To be fair, these particular biscuits are notoriously addictive. I have friends who have gone through entire sleeves in a day.
10:30 PM: Dinner. Okay, fine, I’ll cook something. I try to find something light because I am concerned that eating food late at night has something to do with my recent insomnia. I sauté two lomo filets (thin-sliced pork), and a handful of pimientos de padron-– small, mostly mild green peppers—in a pan and salt them generously. The saying here is “pimientos de padron: unos pican, otros no”: some are spicy, some are not.
11:30 PM: I celebrate the news of my first graduate school acceptance with a Lemon Fanta Zero and a mini ice-cream sandwich. (I know Fanta gets a bad rap in the US, but the lemon kind is actually delicious.)
Thursday, February 6
8:45 AM: Breakfast. A pear, a strawberry Greek yogurt, a Coke Zero. I know it’s early for Coke, but I need caffeine to be able to teach, and sometimes the prospect of coffee is too much.
10:15 AM: Now for that coffee, in my usual spot. I eat some tea biscuits with the coffee and – oops — spill some crumbs in it. Actually, a common breakfast here is coffee with biscuits floating in it. I can’t stomach that, but a couple of crumbs won’t do me any harm.
12:15 PM: Snack time. A bran cereal bar. The key is something filling so I can make it through until lunch.
3 PM: Lunch. I eat lunch at school a few times a week: as a teacher I can eat for free, and it’s hearty fare because lunch is the main meal of the day here. Today’s menu is sopa de fideos (noodle soup made of short, thin noodles) and cocido (a filling winter dish made with boiled chickpeas, chicken breast and thigh, and chorizo.) Pear for dessert.
4:15 PM: An American friend arrives for the weekend. She has never been to Spain before and doesn’t know anything about Spanish food. I intend to provide her with quite an education. I grab a mini ice-cream sandwich to tide me over until the feast begins.
7 PM: We start our tapas extravaganza. First stop is Taberna de Miguel. For the next couple of hours we drink botellines (cute mini bottles of beer) and pick over an assortment of tapas. The tortilla (a kind of quiche omelette made of eggs, olive oil and crisply fried potatoes) is divine, just gooey enough in the middle. The Manchego cheese (since we’re in La Mancha it’s just “cheese” here) is sharp and flavorful. And the morcilla, or blood sausage, is infused with pumpkin, a touch that can only be found in this part of the country. While we eat, the bartender chats with us: he says he learned to speak English because he “loved fucking with American girls” while he lived in Madrid. Meanwhile, the owner has devised his own bar game, which involves chucking bottle caps into vases, old agricultural equipment, and antique radios hanging from the walls.
9:15 PM: Time for a change of venue! We walk ten minutes down the street to La Mancha, a narrow bar decorated with painted tiled scenes from Don Quixote: almost everything is a reference to Cervantes here. We order a series of claras (small servings of beer mixed with lemon soda) and get the following tapas for free: huevos estrellados (eggs with french fries and Spanish ham), croquetas (essentially balls of fried bechamel sauce infused with various deliciousness– this time pork), french fries with ali-oli, and fried rice with veggies and ham. At some point I can’t stomach any more beer and switch to mosto, a rich grape liquid a few steps past grape juice and before wine.
11:00 PM: Home to pass out. God bless tapas.
Friday, February 7
8:45 AM: Breakfast. Pear, yogurt, coffee with milk and sugar.
11:30 AM: Snack. A bran cereal bar.
3:00 PM: Lunch. My friend is away in Toledo for the day and I’m feeling lazy. I boil some store-bought tortellini with jar tomato sauce and cheese. Dessert: a few more squares of chocolate with nuts.
6:00 PM: Snack: An apple and a wheat tortilla spread with nutella.
8:15 PM: My friend is back, so we go out for a walk to some of the traditional stores in my neighborhood. There is gorgeous butcher/deli so close to my apartment that I can use my own wifi while waiting for my order. We buy a big hunk of Manchego cheese, some jamon Serrano, and a quivery block of membrillo, a delicious quince preserve. My friend picks up a can of coconut water at the Columbian grocery store nearby and we sit in my apartment eating the jamon and cheese with bits of membrillo on top. Except for the coconut water, this must be the most Castilian snack in existence.
10 PM: Dinner. We’re still peckish after our late-evening snack, so we meet up with my Irish friend Lisa and head to a student hangout called La Fakultad. They have one of the widest beer selections in the city, and I am excited to order a Sam Adams Boston Lager. Although it’s €3.50, almost twice as much as a normal beer, it comes with a free full-sized hamburger tapa and a dose of warm-fuzzy home feelings.
10:45 PM: There’s a blues concert tonight at La Cremme cafe, but it’s outside in the cold drizzle. I order a Cola Cao, a much-loved Spanish version of Nesquick. It’s normally a morning drink so I get some weird looks, but it comes with a little lemon-tinged chocolate chip muffin so I am able to deflect the looks with muffin power.
11:30 PM: We walk over to the hilariously-decorated “American” Koyote bar. Their bathroom door is decorated like a Conostoga wagon; lurid paintings of Native Americans in outdated stereotypical war costume hang on the walls; a couch shaped like the bumper of a car and painted with Dali-style melting clocks graces one corner. We drink a couple of cañas (small, cheap servings of beer) and listen to a cover band. They are technically quite good, although the singer’s accent makes it hard to take him seriously. “Sweed Home Ah-la-baw-ma!”, indeed.
2:15 AM: On the way out I steal a handful of bar mix. Here it often comes inexplicably mixed with gummy candies, which I think is hilarious and, surprisingly, delicious. I drink a chocolate milk before bed.
Saturday, February 9
12:30 PM: Breakfast. Churros con chocolate and cafe con leche. Churros are like long, greasy donuts, and they are traditionally served for breakfast with divine, thick-as-pudding hot chocolate. These churros are sadly a little cold– from the napkins littering the ground of the bar I can tell we missed the morning rush– but the hot, thick chocolate could save any breakfast. We try the bigger, greasier porras and smaller, doughy, Mexican-style churros: they are equally delicious.
3:00 PM: I take my friend for a classic Spanish lunch– that is too say, alcohol-soaked and three-hours long. La Tubilla is famous for its tapas, and our first order of tinto de verano (red wine and lemon soda) comes with plate full of morsels of morcilla, tuna in savory sauce, and something like a fried dough ball with tomato inside. The next drink comes with open-faced jamon serrano sandwiches with tomato and olive oil and lomo on a baguette. Still, we can’t help but look jealously at the family at the next table tucking into an enormous portion of french fries with ali-oli. I ask the waitress how much it would be for a small portion and she responds by handing me a plate of home-fries-like fried potatoes, pimientos de padron, and sliced up hot dogs. Sweet success.
4:30 PM: Speaking of sweet, after a couple of hours eying the desserts we decide to order a giant slice of gorgeous cake each. The waitress’ expression as I order my slice and then two more for my friends is priceless. In the end, although their choices are flashier (caramel flan cake; white chocolate layer cake), my simple chocolate cake is still deeply fudgy, with incredible crunchy things hidden in the buttercream frosting. I am too full to figure out what they are called.
8:30 PM: I guess maybe I’m a little hungry. I try to nibble on an apple.
10:30 PM: We are finally able to move again. We walk to my favorite cafe bookstore cafe and order smoothies. I get one with banana, strawberry, and “fruits of the forest.” It’s light and refreshing.
Sunday, February 10
12:30 PM: A light breakfast. We drag ourselves across the street to Goxua, the best bakery in the city: they make everything on the premises. Our cafes con leche arrive in adorable matching flowery cups and saucers. We split a fresh, grilled croissant with homemade peach jam and an amazing “Basque tart” featuring vanilla-almond cookie crust, lemon crème, and raspberries.
2:15 PM My friend is leaving tomorrow, so I am looking to wow her with Restaurante de Antonio’s amazingly cheap-yet-enormous set lunch. In today’s case that means: a carafe of red wine; lemon soda; paella; rich stewed venison in brown sauce with french fries; enormous braised pork knuckle with sautéed vegetables and french fries, and two desserts. I endeavor to find space in my stomach for homemade rice pudding and cafe con leche over ice. We waddle home and pass out around 4:30. This is what siestas were invented for.
9:15 PM Still not hungry, but we go out to a Moroccan-style teahouse anyway with some friends. I order hazelnut rooibos tea, which comes in a wrought-silver teapot mixed with milk and a hint of sugar. We each order a single piece of Moroccan baklava. There’s just enough space in my still-full stomach for it. It’s lovely and intricately spiced, similar to the Greek kind but definitely distinct.
11:30 PM Finally hungry enough to eat a bowl of muesli with milk and honey, a few strawberries, and a chocolate milk. Bed time: I should probably sleep the rest off.