5 Differences Between American and Asturian Eating Cultures
Trying new foods and experiencing different eating cultures is something that always excites me about traveling to new places. What makes different areas of the world so unique is not only the foods they specialize in, but the role that it plays in their customs and culture.
Our program director, Jaime Duran, had told us that the eating culture in Spain, and Asturias specifically, was very different from the way we eat in the United States. Meal times, portion sizes and the types of food that are commonplace are just a few examples of differences that we would need to adjust to, but this excited me more than it scared me— I was ready to experience all of the new foods and eating experiences that Asturias had to offer. After all, Asturias is known for some of the world’s finest cured meats, cheeses, fresh fish and desserts.
The Temple Spain program immerses you in a culture rich with delicious regional cuisine. Plus, living with a host family gives you access to the most authentic version of Asturian eating culture. Here are five differences between the eating cultures in Asturias and the United States that you should be aware of before embarking on your journey.
1. Breakfast is not eggs and bacon.
Out of all of the differences in eating customs, this was the hardest for me to get used to. Breakfast is not a huge meal in Spain, and isn’t treated like “The Most Important Meal of the Day” as it is in the U.S. As somebody who considers an egg and cheese on an everything bagel a pretty regular part of my diet, this was a difficult adjustment. (There are no bagel sandwiches in Spain). The first breakfast I was served by my host family was four pieces of cake leftover from the holidays. At first I thought, “Okay, cake for breakfast. I can get used to this.” In the days to come, however, I was not getting cake for breakfast. In fact, I wasn’t really eating breakfast at all. I would just grab a piece of fruit before going to class, or on a rare occasion, a piece of toast or a yogurt. Yogurt is considered more of a dessert than breakfast over there, so it was a bit perplexing to my host family that I’d grab a yogurt on my way to class at 8am.
I’d been training my body to need breakfast for so long that I would find it hard to pay attention in my morning classes with an empty stomach, so I ended up purchasing a lot of one euro pinchos, or small snacks/sandwiches, at the University cafeteria to curb my hunger between classes. My advice: if you’re someone who needs a hefty breakfast in the morning, make it known to your host family. It might look different from the breakfast you eat in the U.S., but you can still authentically experience Asturias’ eating culture while also having enough fuel for your morning.
A pincho, similar to the ones at the University cafeteria.
2. Lunch, Dinner & Mealtimes
In the U.S., dinner is the largest meal of the day. It’s the time when families sit down and eat together. On the other hand, lunch is often eaten quickly, picked up on a break from work or class. But in Spain, it’s the opposite. They call lunch la comida, which roughly translates to “the meal.” Traditionally, what we think of as dinner in the U.S. is what they eat for lunch over there, like meat, potatoes and stews. Eating such a heavy meal in the middle of the afternoon is an adjustment, but, when you aren’t eating a big breakfast, a meal that big at 3 p.m. is definitely satisfying.
Dinner doesn’t start until about 9 p.m., or in my homestay, about 9:30-10. This sounds late, but when you’re eating a large meal at 3:00, you won’t really be hungry until then. Dinner is light: a sandwich, salad, or sometimes in my house, churros con chocolate. Yes, I mean for dinner, not dessert!
Churros for dinner with my host family.
Spanish tortilla, a common dinner my host mom would serve me, made with egg, potatoes and peppers.
A traditional Asturian stew, with potatoes, ham, and peas.
Meat is a staple of the Asturian diet: chorizo, morcilla, sobrasada, and jamon iberico are only a few examples of some common meat products. It’s not that meat isn’t a common part of the American diet; it’s just that it’s a lot harder to avoid meat in Asturias. Cured meats are a staple for a lot of tapas dishes, and pretty much every meal my host family made had meat involved in some way. One of the most traditional meat-heavy dishes eaten for lunch is Fabada Asturiana, a stew made with white beans, chorizo, morcilla, ham, and pork. I ate Fabada for lunch at least a couple of times a week.
I’ll preface this part by saying: I am not a vegetarian. However, I can empathize with a vegetarian living in Asturias. A lot of restaurants and grocery stores in the U.S. are much more hip to vegetarian options and meat substitutes, especially in more metropolitan areas. Walking around a grocery store in Oviedo, you aren’t necessarily going to find a wide selection of meat substitutes. But this doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t study abroad in Oviedo as a vegetarian. The best thing to do is communicate to your host family from the start that you don’t want any of your food cooked with meat. Offer to grocery shop with them so they know what to buy for you, but be understanding if there’s something that they mess up.
My favorite meat and cheese plate in Oviedo
Something I was told before going to Asturias was that you really won’t find too much takeout food, which is true for the most part. That’s not to say my host mom didn’t order in hamburguesas y patatas fritas from a local restaurant a few times, but it’s definitely less common. In Oviedo, you don’t get the same type of Chinese takeout or fast food as you do in the U.S. They place a lot of value in home cooking and sitting down to enjoy their meals. The same goes for coffee: you’ll almost never see someone walking around with a takeaway coffee in their hand during their morning commute to work. Everyone sits down to drink their cafe con leche at their kitchen table or at a local cafeteria. Places that have takeout usually advertise that they have food or coffee para llevar (to take). So, if you are craving takeaway food, there are a few options around Oviedo. But, you won’t want to do it too often. Take advantage of the traditional, home-cooked Asturian meals your host family will make you.
Some takeaway food you for sure can find in Oviedo: helado (ice cream)!
5. So much bread.
It only feels right to conclude this post with my favorite part about eating in Asturias: bread, or pan! Fresh bread is a staple with lunch and dinner. Each day, my host family would go to the local panaderia and pick up a 0.70 € fresh loaf of pan. They gave me a pretty large cut of the bread with lunch and dinner. This bread was essentially used as a spoon, to dip in stews and soups and to soak up the oils of a dish. The most common question my host mom would ask me was: “Mas pan?” (More bread?). The answer was usually, “Si.”
A standard lunch with my host family. Stew with lentejas (lentils), patatas (potatoes) morcilla and chorizo, pan with sobrasada spread, and yogurt for dessert.
You’ll have various opportunities to learn about the eating culture, not only by living with a host family, but also with Jaime’s monthly or weekly dinners, the trip to Picos de Europa at the end of the program, and, if you’re going in the summer, you can take the Gen Ed course, “Eating Cultures.” Though the Temple Spain program won’t be running as normal this summer, you can still take the Eating Cultures course online and experience the region through learning about their eating customs. If you want to truly immerse yourself in your host country, trying out the local cuisine is the best way to start!