Before studying abroad, I hadn’t traveled much outside the United States. When I first moved to England in order to attend UEA, I experienced a huge shift in lifestyle, culture, values, daily routine, and everything else in between — but what was most jarring to me was the change in food. The types of food, what was normal to eat, how to eat certain foods, eating what things together….. once I became used to life in England, I figured that I’d seen it all. There was American food (which, initially due to our broad cultures, I thought included every food!) and then there was British/UK food (enough said).
I know this thought is relatively narrow, but it was just my basic instinct, especially because I was not a huge traveler myself. When I planned to travel outside of England, the main things I worried about were what sights I would see or where I would stay or if I needed to tip the taxi driver and how much and what history I’d be learning, how to say hello and goodbye… not necessarily the way I’d be getting my fuel every day. This, of course, is the reason why I am making this post. The eating/food culture in Spain was quite the shift (and a really amazing one)!
So here we are: the most jarring aspects I’ve noted whilst in the lovely country of Spain – food edition.
Imagine being able to get whatever you needed after just a short walk down any block at any hour of the day or evening. I don’t know if I just became adjusted to having to take the 15-minute bus into town in Norwich in order to get cooking supplies, last minute spices, etc. — but man, the Spanish know what they are doing here! You want it? The Supermercat 200 down your very block has it: ice cream, cookies, bread, pasta, sauces, spices, candy, juices, sodas, water, beers, ANYTHING. Super cheap too. Who wouldn’t want the luxury of getting a bag of chocolate chip cookies for €1 at two in the morning right next door to their apartment?
Don’t expect to eat dinner until 8… maybe even 9.
Do not be surprised when you walk up to a restaurant’s doors and try the doorknob only to find that it’s locked. Many of the restaurants in Spain don’t open until 7 PM or even sometimes later. The Spanish like their dinner late! Why? Not too sure about this one… but it sure made getting that gelato at 3 PM a much easier decision!
Tapas, tapas, tapas.
Speaking of food… 90% of the results you’ll see on TripAdvisor when looking for a bite to eat will be for “tapas“. What are tapas, exactly? Basically, tapas are our version of appetizers — except they’re more accepted as a meal. A lot of restaurants do deals where you select multiple tapas for one set price. It’s a rather cool way of eating, especially if you’re like me and have a relatively hard time making up your mind on what to order! The possibilities are endless. And something even more awesome about tapas culture? A lot of the time when you go to a bar or restaurant and only order a drink, they’ll give you some free tapas on the house! The free tapas (at least, the ones I’ve received) usually consist of some crackers or breadsticks with fresh cheese, prosciutto, or salami. Yummmm.
Breakfast: quick, on the go, & cheap!
I touched upon dinner and snacking… so what’s the deal with breakfast? Well, here is your answer: breakfast is quick, convenient, and on the go (well, it was for me at least). Like Supermercats, there are bakeries/pastry shops everywherein Spain. The number of times I was caught drooling at some homemade donuts or pastries in a random store window down a street in Spain is honestly embarrassing. There are so many places to grab a quick croissant, donut, churro, muffin – any baked good you could think of – for so amazingly cheap! I bought a chocolate croissant on my last morning there for just 50 cents. Starbucks charges, what – 2-3 dollars? And that Spanish coffee… magnífico.
So, here is the verdict: estoy enamorado! When it came time to leave the country of Spain to head back to England, I was super bummed. Not only did I have a positive response to the eating culture of Spain, as illustrated in this post, but Barcelona was spectacularly vibrant. Everywhere you go there is always something going on, something to do, something to buy, or something to eat. Churros, tacos, enchiladas, tapas, fresh coffee, home baked cookies, croissants — the list goes on and on! Leaving Spain and its culture, quick-paced environment, food, was tough… but it also warmed my heart to think pleasantly of the future visits to Spain that I intend to make later in life.