Fleming on Food

Hello, everyone! Thanks for keeping up with my adventures. Hopefully you’re here of your own free will and not because my parents gently forced you to read my blog… but either way it’s much appreciated! As promised, this post will deal with a topic near and dear to my heart: food!

Food has always been a beloved and enjoyable part of my life. Various relatives – including my dear parental units – are extremely proficient in the art of cooking and throughout my life I’ve been the fortunate beneficiary of their prodigious culinary skill. And my brother is also a passionate eater and cook – I’m fairly positive he remembers just about every single meal he has ever eaten. Watching him eat and hearing him reminisce about past meals is always highly enjoyable.

Living the greater part of my life in Los Angeles has also provided exposure to a wide variety of dishes from different countries, including the Philippines, Japan, Korea, and Mexico (to name just a few). Essentially, I’ve been quite spoiled where food is concerned.

Thankfully, the food in Spain has not disappointed. Dishes here generally are relatively simple and consistently incorporate high-quality, fresh ingredients. Indeed, the classic Andalusian breakfast is “tostada con tomate,” lovingly prepared for us (myself and my roommate, Cedric) most mornings by Josefina, our host mom. This breakfast classic only requires 4 ingredients: French bread (toasted, of course), fresh tomatoes, salt, and olive oil (liberally drizzled on top).

Despite eating this dish with incredible frequency, I have yet to get sick of it and highly doubt that I ever will. Today I even sought out an additional tostada after my morning Spanish class; this one was topped not just with tomato but also with superb Spanish jamón. I washed it down with a delightfully strong “café con leche” (akin to an American cappuccino). In Spain, this mid-morning meal is termed a “segundo desayuno” (second breakfast), an ingenious concept that I had previously thought only existed within the pages of my beloved Lord of the Rings books.

In Granada, the big meal of the day is lunch, not dinner. In our house, this meal is taken very seriously; on the rare occasions when I’m too full to get a second helping of the main dish, Josefina appears incredulous and makes sure to ask me if I’m doing ok. During a recent lunch, I was served an absolutely gargantuan plate of pasta; Josefina immediately noticed that I was taking longer than usual to work my way through it and jokingly remarked that I was engaged in a “battle with my plate”. One of my classmates recently observed that each lunch here is like Thanksgiving dinner back home – and honestly, he’s not far off. After such meals, a post-lunch siesta becomes rather irresistible.

If I had to pick 3 culinary highlights thus far, it would be the following: Tortilla Española, paella, and shawarma. Tortilla Española, as prepared by Josefina, bears no resemblance to Mexican tortillas. It’s absolutely scrumptious and is a bit like a quiche without pie crust; potatoes and onions are fried to golden perfection, enrobed in eggs, and then baked for awhile. Truly magical.

Our paella was similarly delectable. Josefina was a bit nervous before serving it to us – the dish enjoys an exalted place in Spanish culture and she seemed concerned that her version wouldn’t be up to scratch. But she truly needn’t have worried – both Cedric and I were completely blown away. The seafood was fresh and flavorful, the broth soupy and rich, and the rice was, quite simply, perfect.

The shawarma here holds a very special place in my heart. At Marchica Shawarma, located a mere 4ish blocks from our house, one can buy a “Shawarma normal de pollo, con todo, picante” for 3 euros. The restaurant is tiny and oppressively hot – chicken and beef slowly turn on a rotating vertical spit, and the griddle is constantly being used to toast the shawarmas, durums, and various other dishes before they’re served. I believe there’s usually corn, lettuce, olives, tomatoes, and onions accompanying the chicken in each shawarma wrap, but honestly I never know exactly what I’m eating – all I know is that it’s consistently incredible and the Middle Eastern sauces and spices are divine.

Hopefully you didn’t read this on an empty stomach! And don’t think I’m done talking about food – I’ve barely scratched the surface.

¡Hasta pronto!

Tostada con tomate – and a nice cup of joe.

Olive oil here comes not in modest glass bottles but in hulking, voluminous containers.

Josefina’s tortilla Española! Quite simply a work of art.

Early Impressions

¡Hola a todos! Welcome to my blog. Because of my lack of technological savvy, this blog will not be particularly aesthetically pleasing; however, I’m planning to fully compensate for this absence with sparkling anecdotes and riveting content.

My semester abroad got off to a marvelous start when the man in the adjacent LAX airport bathroom stall began vomiting spectacularly. Since I had just consumed a large and greasy pre-flight meal consisting of a burger and fries, this was a fairly undesirable experience and not the way in which I had hoped to kick off my semester abroad. Thankfully, I refrained from following suit and made it through the 12 hour flight to Madrid (and the subsequent 50 min flight to Málaga) largely unscathed, although very exhausted.

We spent our first night and most of our first full day in Málaga, a lovely coastal city in very southern Spain. Although we did a little bit of initial sightseeing after arriving on the evening of September 2nd, our time in Málaga mostly involved participating in various orientation modules intended to prepare us for life in a foreign country.

In one of those sessions, the IES Granada program director, Javier, told us that meeting Spaniards for the first time is very different than initial greetings between Americans. Instead of a stiff handshake and minimal physical contact, Spaniards typically greet one another with hugs and a kiss on each cheek. Indeed, when my roommate and I met Josefina, our host mother, she immediately gave us big hugs and loudly proclaimed that we were both “guapo” (handsome). Josefina’s reaction was indicative of a key difference between Spain and the US – being honest and blunt here is normal and encouraged, even in regard to physical appearances.

Javier also warned us that sometimes the Spanish host families are exceedingly blunt in regard to the Spanish-speaking ability (or lack thereof) of the IES students that live with them. Apparently certain families immediately tell their IES students that their Spanish is awful; instead of being intended as an insult, however, these unflattering proclamations are simply an honest assessment of the student’s current level and are not intended to express dislike for a student. Fortunately, Josefina was very nice and complimentary regarding my personal level of Spanish, even though it’s honestly rather mediocre.

Generally, the Spanish host families, including my own, take great pride in helping students improve in Spanish and are very forgiving when linguistic mistakes are made. For me personally, my homestay has been a truly wonderful part of my Granada experience thus far; Josefina and her family have been unfailingly welcoming and kind. And the food here has been incredible! During my next post I’m planning to devote some serious time to discussing the food scene here in Granada – the topic definitely merits a lengthy discussion.

Until next time!

This is my orientation Spanish class at an Alhambra viewpoint. The view was quite stunning!

During orientation we also took a day trip down to Cabo de Gata – we spent the day hiking and visited several different beaches along the way.