The Spanish people are sometimes referred to as the “Canadians of Europe” because their personalities and mannerisms resemble ours rather markedly. They are fairly low-key, reserved, quiet, pleasant, and polite. They seem a little more relaxed than Canadians and tend to enjoy life more. They spend a lot of time socializing in cafes and take the time to really enjoy their food. They are moderate consumers of alcohol, but smoking is very common. Surprisingly, very few people are overweight.
For years I have wanted to visit Spain, but somehow it eluded me until October, 2019. I made the trip with some of my family to visit my granddaughter, Anna, who lives in Madrid. Except for the language barrier I felt very comfortable. It helped that my daughter, Valerie, and my granddaughter both speak the language fluently. It also helped that we were invited to stay at the home of Anna’s boyfriend, Andres, in the suburbs, thus allowing us to become acquainted with Spanish family life, and with their help, to dine in some exceptional restaurants and see some of the major highlights of Madrid.
The daily routine in Spain is very different from ours and so is the food. Both can knock us off balance for a time. My day started with a breakfast consisting of crusty bread topped with olive oil and crushed tomatoes, or thin slices of ham and cheese. Coffee and fresh-squeezed orange juice were welcome additions. Cereal boxes or bacon and eggs were nowhere in sight.
Spaniards start work at 9:00 a.m., enjoy a midmorning snack and then break at 2:00 p.m. for a two-hour lunch, la comida, their main meal of the day. They return to work until 7:00p.m.
The midday meal, like our dinner, is eaten around 2:30 pm. One day I had a paella, a rice-based dish. We had two types: one made with vegetables and the other with seafood, flavoured with squid ink, resulting in an all-black entree that definitely did not appeal to me. Another day I ordered stew, thinking it was similar to ours. What a surprise I got when the waiter appeared with a pitcher of what looked like noodle soup. It was good, but not what I thought I had ordered. A few minutes later along came a full platter of vegetables and several kinds of meat that had been previously stewed in the “noodle soup”. The stew contained enough food for three people! On other occasions I simply ordered gazpacho soup, a specialty in some restaurants, and my favourite summer soup.
Later in the day workers may enjoy an afternoon snack called la merienda, consisting of French-style bread topped with chocolate or bread with sausage, ham, and cheese. Their dinner, la cena, occurs sometime between 9:30 pm and midnight. It is a lighter version of their midday meal or perhaps consists of tapas, (finger food), a late-night, wildly varied specialty of many restaurants, which people sample by going restaurant-hopping.
Our late-night restaurant meals with Andres’ family, for our benefit, were full course dinners, consisting of unusual seafood dishes, including baby squid, which we shared, thus allowing each of us to sample everything that was ordered. Most restaurants serve excellent beer and good wine. Few diners seemed to order liquor, but when they did so, they were served ample portions, unlike our meagre standardized ounce-and-a-half gulps.