miércoles, 28 de octubre de 2009
Food and eating have always been important to me. Living in London meant less studying and more procrastinating by hunting down different fishmongers and butchers, or a new spice that I hadn’t cooked with before. The sources of inspiration were endless, the piles of excitement high, although the budget remained depressingly small. Attempts at saving money often culminated in a guilt-ridden trip to supermarket-land, although I always did my hardest to steer clear of devilish Tesco, where your soul seeps away as you shiver from the cold that beams out from the open fridges, and where each aisle holds at least as much plastic as food.
Moving to Spain was an exciting experience even on just this count alone. To explore new places to shop, to wander aimlessly around busy markets, or to enter and understand a new food culture are things that I will never tire of doing.
Upon my arrival in Madrid, I found a plethora of markets and small grocery shops; perfumed by the welcoming smell of freshly baked bread; or the pungent notes of the legs of jamón hanging down from their hooks, whilst the strong hit of garlic frying somewhere nearby never disappeared from my senses for long. The fact that parsley is given out for free in the greengrocers; the custom of taking a leisurely three hours for lunch; and the availability of fresh, good seafood enthralled me.
Spain also does well on the fruit-and-veg-production count. In comparison to England, where a cursory glance in most supermarkets or groceries at the origins of the food often reveals trajectories that began as far away as Kenya, China and Chile, Spanish fruterías are filled with largely Spanish produce. And the burning sun here means that the tomatoes are plentiful, cheap and fragrant; the peppers shine almost purple in colour, and the melons are sweet and tender. In the autumn and winter, my hands are stained a grimy-grey from wrestling sweet chestnuts from their jackets, while the perfume of oranges from the south fills many a fruitbowl or pudding recipe.
However, my initial thrill at the bounty on offer in my adopted country has not lasted. Although I still love trawling the markets, fondling the fruit and marvelling at the fishmonger’s skill as he jousts with his knife, I am frustrated and saddened by a few aspects of the Spanish way of fooding.
This began as the same frustrations with unhealthy eating habits that I think are likely to arise more or less anywhere after the novelty period of trying each and every delicacy and delight has subsided. Crispy churros turned into greasy sticks of tasteless dough; the thick hot chocolate turned into dark, sickly sugar-syrup. The stale white bread that I had used to mop up the juices of a chickpea stew strewed its rock-hard crumbs over my table. That Spanish penchant for sweetness began to seem overbearing; the fullness of a good dark chocolate was replaced by squares of sugar that do a bad job of melting in the mouth. Gradually, however, these observations took on a different tinge; I noticed not only a lack of knowledge about where food comes from, and how it was treated, but also how impossible it is to find high-quality, yet simple produce. Fresh milk? Difficult. Organic meat? Forget it. Grass-fed butter? Pah.
So, that perfectly soft tortilla then turned into potatoes suspended in the product of battery-hell. Instead of drooling at the marbling of fat in the deep blood-red ham, I noticed the bitter taste of knowledge; of knowing that Spain’s animal welfare standards leave something to be desired. Stacks upon stacks of skimmed UHT milk became the shields of the enemy soldiers as I scurried my way through the market where everything began to scream ‘lacking in nutrients’. That Spain has an impressive production of organic foodstuffs is not to be denied; but the fact that the majority of it is sent to other countries is both regrettable and ironic. It was this factor that began to grieve me most; here is a country with not only potential but also already-developed organic production, and a strong food culture to back it up. So why is it so difficult to find good-quality products. Or rather; why do my searches and protests appear to fall upon deaf ears?
Happily, I can say that I have made moves forwards in my search; a search that is as erratic as it is broad. It began by the discovery of a few small organic food shops in my neighbourhood, which seem genuinely motivated by ecological ideals rather than simply jumping on the organic bandwagon on account of any fashion credentials it might have. They aim at sourcing local fruit and veg; non-homogenised milk, and local raw honey.
But better still has been the discovery of a self-governed co-operative a few minutes from my door, where the participants collaborate together to order not only fresh produce, but wines, oils and vinegars which are delivered either weekly or monthly. The only issue, however, is that the waiting list to join them is a good several months long. So for now I have to content myself with the knowledge that, although I might not yet be a part of it, it does exist there, hidden in the back streets of Lavapies, noticeable only by the conspicuous amount of bicycles parked outside.
This blog entry is proud to be part of Real Food Wednesdays