So after three happy years, I have moved home from Spain to England. I have said goodbye to tortilla and jamón, and hello to roast dinners and apple crumbles. We left at the end of another hot summer and one in which we finally made time to soak up the sun in our last weeks, relax on long windy beaches, and stuff ourselves silly.
Saying goodbye was sad and teary, and the 30-hour bus journey back was long and cramped. But it felt right, and gave me time to reflect on everything I will miss. Menús del día, balmy hot evenings and some truly wonderful friends. We wound along fast roads, watching slow cows on the Sierra de Guadarama chew on dark shrubs. Bye to soft and homely morcilla, bye to nights of greasy fingers sharing sardines and peppers, bye to some damn good cheeses, and bye to garlic and olive oil.
It is from watching Spanish food being bought, eaten and made that I became more able to channel my own food opinions. I both enjoyed a fragrant market culture with shiny fresh fish and juicy Valencian oranges, and got frustrated at the lack of prevalence of any (necessary) debates on food issues in the public arena. Spain is a massive producer of organic foods, but it exports over 90% of them. The public, especially the young, are increasingly buying at the big chain supermarkets, as Carrefour takes control of suburban food supplies. Free-range eggs are incredibly difficult to find, and very few of the public are aware of the GM corn being grown in their back gardens. A cultural emphasis on regional foods that embody traditions and customs has not prepared people for increasing corporate power and decreasing quality in the food system, and there is as yet very little discourse for normal people to talk about these issues.
But Spanish cuisine has changed the way I look at food. It is based on a confidence in the quality of ingredients, a trust in letting the raw materials shine by treating them simply. My cooking has altered with this attitude, although I still fry with butter. Food also has a different role in daily life; drink is never drunk without something to chew on; plates are always shared; food is not about who you are but the friends you have gathered around it.
So as I swap my cold caña for a not-so-cold Oxfordshire ale, and mornings once again begin with a round of hot tea, I can still taste the paprika on my lips and feel the deep-fried crunch between my teeth. As crispy fish turn into pork scratching, I think of it, and I can see us there all sat together on wooden stools, picking at shared plates of patatas with fried eggs, and boquerones en vinagre.
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