Most cafes in Spain we went into had ceilings hung with haunches of curing meats with little wells secured at the end of the bone to catch the oily drippings.

Food in Spain

We have heard stories about the wonders of Spanish cooking: delicate flavorful paella (saffron-rice with seafood and chicken or meat), tapas (various inventive snack-sized dishes), gazpacho (chilled tomato-cucumber soup) and great wines. But the cafe food we tried was, at best, uneven. Very often the tapas were interesting combinations–but they’d sat out on a warm counter for hours, ready to be served in spite of brown-tinged edges. And we never did find a decent paella or bowl of gazpacho.

Churros (long crispy fried doughnuts) and strong black coffee (cocoa or tea for the girls) were a favorite for breakfast. We were surprised to discover that "tortillas" in Spain are not a flat bread, but omelets. As in Greece, potato omelets were common, but were sometimes served tucked inside a bread roll and called a "bocadillo."

We soon discovered that our favorite meals were usually garnered from little fruit stands, groceries, bakeries and delicatessens: cheeses, Jamon serrano (cured ham) or cured sausages coupled with good peasant bread, fruit and carrots. To top it off, we’d get good wine drawn from casks into recycled pop bottles in little neighborhood shops.

One night in Barcelona, George and I went in search of special drinks after tucking the girls into bed. He was looking for absinthe, that decadent, mind-numbing liqueur so famous to the poets in the Paris of the mid-nineteenth century. (Remember the blank stares in Manet’s painting titled "The Absinthe Drinker"?) A chartreuse anise-flavored liqueur, it used to be made with opium before that substance was outlawed, although it was rumored to be occasionally available in its old form in Spain. I was on the prowl for "cava" a light sparkling Catalonian wine similar to champagne. We found them both at an upscale cafe swirling with fashionable night life. I delighted in the sensual taste of the cava, and George liked his absinthe enough to go on an additional quest for a bottle. When he found one several days later, he wished he hadn’t. I haven’t seen him so sick in a long time.

Our friend Santos (a transplanted Moroccan) at the Hotel España in Figueres made sure we tried good Spanish muscatel served in traditional style (poured directly in our mouths), Sangria, and "Estomacal Bonet," a Catalonian fruit and herb liqueur. All in all real eye openers--muscatel is not just for winos, Sangria can be really luscious, and folk herb remedies are just that, no matter how you pour them. Since I couldn’t figure out why Santos’s Sangria was quite tasty (unlike the usual fruit punch I’d had), I asked him for directions for making it. He couldn’t give me amounts or proportions (with my bad Spanish we had enough trouble with ingredients), so we’ll have to play around with proportions.

Santos’ Sangria

  • Oranges and lemons - sliced 1/4 inch thick cut into thirds
  • Vino tinto - (red table wine)
  • Sugar
  • Martini Whisky (Sweet Vermouth is my guess)
  • Cognac
  • Herres (I haven’t been able to figure out what this is, I suspect it may be a sherry, but one source tells me it sparkling wine, a Spanish Champagne)
  • Fanta Limón (Any lemon or lemon-lime soda will do)

Mix in a small pitcher and drink cold. My guess is that you’d have twice as much red wine as Fanta, maybe two cups to a cup; a couple of tablespoons of sugar; and a couple of tablespoons to a shot each of the other liqueurs/wines.


The girls’ favorite dish at the España was a custard called

Catalan Ice Cream

  • 4 cups milk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 teaspon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • a bit of lemon peel
  • eggs (optional)

Boil slowly stirring constantly until thick. Spoon into small ovenproof bowls, sprinkle with more sugar and run under a quick broiler to make a crispy top.

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