Monday, July 18, 2011

Eating in Spain

I don’t consider myself a fussy eater. I used it, and I guess I am, but maybe the point is I either don’t allow myself or haven’t been made to feel like one in a long time. I don’t eat any seafood or fish except tuna, and I suppose I am very fussy with meat, it’s just that I’m so used to eating whatever fits in with everyone else that I forget how fussy I am.

The deal is, that when I was around 6 or 7, I remember hating the fatty parts of chops and steaks. We ate mostly mince or sausages anyway because it was cheaper and we were kids, and other than that the family preference tended to be chicken. So I didn’t grow up eating meat meat and like those of us that aren’t French may think eating frogs and snails is gross, I just don’t like meat.

I can’t just be nice and clean cut and rule out ‘meat’ and be a vegetarian though, that would be too easy. It’s the flavour of blood and the texture that I don’t like, but I can happily eat salted meats like corned beef, bacon or ham, and I have no problems with flavoured mince (tacos, chilli con carne, hamburgers) or sausages (although they’re not really meat are they). The only thing I don’t like is just meaty meat. Steaks, chops, casseroles, they’re all out.

The thing is, I eat everything else. There isn’t a fruit or vegetable I won’t eat. Throw a carb my way and I’ll take it. Dairy, no problem. Three out of four food groups I’ll try anything and if I wouldn’t buy it for myself, I’ll still happily eat it if it’s in front of me. I’m more than happy to eat extra servings of the veges served at dinner, or the salads and breads at barbeques. I can cook meat for others no worries. If meat might be an issue I simply say I’m vegetarian or only eat chicken and people don’t have an issue with that because it’s fairly common nowadays.

So for 20-odd years I’ve lived this way and on the odd occasion I’ve had to explain myself but generally speaking it’s been easy goings and I’ve got on fine. Ireland was easy, England’s food was awesome. Once I figured out the word Poulet (chicken) in French, life was easy in France too. Spain, well, that’s a whole other kettle of fish.

Fish - literally, because if you don’t eat seafood, you’re not faring well in Spain. 90% of every menu includes seafood, and no one eats chicken. It took us forever to figure out ‘Pollo’ is Spanish for chicken because they just don’t eat it. It’s been easier in Benicassim, perhaps the number of English tourists here warrants more chicken dishes, but San Sebastian I found chicken twice total, out of every menu we looked at, which is lots, because we perve at the menu of every place we pass.

In Sant Mateu, on the way to Benicassim, our very lovely restaurant/hotel hostess wrote out a note for me that reads ‘Please recommend a dish suitable for a vegetarian’ in Spanish. Funnily enough as soon as I had it, we got to Benicassim and I haven’t had to use it, but that was after a particularly difficult experience in Sant Mateu itself when I was tired and over-hungry. I take after my Mum in that as soon as I’m over-hungry – which can happen in the click of two fingers – I feel shaky and sick and I need to eat now or I get very agitated. I couldn’t read the menu, Courts had taken forever in the shower while I ate salami from the packet to try and tide myself over, the English speaking hostess was on a break and her impatient Spanish speaking boss wanted us to order yesterday. He, as with a lot of wait staff in Spain, wanted us to order the second we sat down and tried to sell us on a set menu in order to force us to make all our decisions at once. Set Menus are very common and very good value throughout the European countries we’ve visited so far, but in this case I was tired and couldn’t recognize any words except for the Queso y Jamon York (Cheese and Spanish Ham) Pizza, which is what I got but only after the English-speaking hostess came back and explained to him I didn’t eat seafood or meat. The look on his face was kind of puzzled because the town was tiny, they didn’t get tourists often if ever, and not eating seafood or meat is just not Spanish.

It makes me wonder, all this, if I had grown up with seafood and steak, if I had grown up in Spain, would I like this food? Or is it ingrained in me that I eat this way, like a baby fussy from the very start with solids? One bright side of Spain is that every table has a paper tablecloth over the linen one, so on one occasion I was able to draw a fish with a cross through it for a waitress that didn’t understand. For now, I’m making do, and I’m trying everything I end up with – even if it means leaving a small pile on the side of my plate for Courts and eating the Paella around them when a drawing of a fish doesn’t translate to ‘seafood’ and I can’t draw langoustine.

What challenges have you had with food while travelling? Are you a foodie or fussy?