Fiesta de la Vendimia—Grape Harvest in Toro

As they pass you by, the parade participants hand out mini cups of wine, sloshing a bit on the ground … but who cares? It’s Toro and wine is abundant today. Others hand out slices of spicy chorizo or slice off some jamón serrano for you to sample. I was lucky, as I seemed to get more wine and food than the rest of my party. We called it the efecto guiri, the guiri effect.
Guiri Fiesta Vendimia Toro

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Fusión Cultural: An American’s Journey through a Spanish Kitchen and Back

What is about food that can make one so homesick? Tomato soup and grilled cheese will always make me think of cold winter nights in Indiana. Corn on the cob elicits feelings of nostalgia for backyard barbecues and Fourth-of-July celebrations. And a tomato brings back memories of the family garden: eating it whole, warm and juicy from the earth. Food is family, food is culture, food is home.

Melanie Glover knows this quite well, having married a Spaniard, moved to the US, and subsequently learned to cook her husband’s favorite foods from home. He missed home, and thus she brought a little bit of his childhood to their new home by learning to make paella and ensaladilla rusa and beef soup. In her new ebook, Fusión Cultural: An American’s Journey through a Spanish Kitchen and Back (only $3.99 on Amazon!), she details this process—and provides a few recipes along the way.

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Having also married a Spaniard, I identified quite well with her journey: from not knowing much about Spanish food all the way to being quite enthusiastic about it! I came to Spain loving cooking and tomatoes, unlike Melanie, but I too had to learn to like new things. And I did! I now love olives, merluza (hake), and hearty red wine.

Melanie was gracious enough to answer a few questions for me about her book. Take a look!

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Melanie at the Barcelona Cooking School in Barcelona, Spain

Why did you first visit Spain?

I first visited Spain in 2005 as part of a study-abroad program through my university. I stayed for three months and knew I had to return. I left at a point that summer in which I felt I was at the peak of learning, and I desired that learning to continue. I returned to Spain for a month after I graduated from college in May–June 2006, at which time I met my Spanish husband, Álvaro!

Kaley: Sounds like we had a similar experience!

What were you first impressions of Spanish food (likes, dislikes, curiosities)?

When I first visited Spain, the food really didn’t catch my attention. I remember having a hard time getting adjusted to the differences in food, actually. My señora (the woman to whose home I was assigned to live for three months) promised that manzanilla [chamomile] tea would help my restless stomach, and it did for a time. But when I started dating Álvaro, he and his family opened my eyes to the wonderful Spanish gastronomy. Being from Extremadura, they taught me all about embutidos. I’m not sure how I lived without cured Spanish ham and cheese before then!

As for curiosities, I had always wondered about octopus before I tried it in 2009. But I didn’t like it because of the texture. [K: Me neither.] I have liked rabo de toro [oxtail] but disliked pigs feet—too chewy!

How did you meet your husband and what was your first meal together?

I met my husband in 2006 on a bus traveling from Madrid to Cáceres, his birth city. We were seated next to each other. He offered me a mint, we struck up conversation, and we spoke the entire four-hour bus ride! We kept in touch, and we started dating when I went back to Madrid in 2006–2007 to study. We married in 2009, and we’ve been living in Dallas, Texas, since 2010.

As I describe in the book, our first real meal together was at his apartment in Madrid in 2006 when he prepared baked fish and canapés de salmón. It was so delicious that it completely changed my mind about fish.

What are his favorite Spanish foods? What are his favorite American foods?

Álvaro’s favorite Spanish foods:

  1. Jamón ibérico de bellota [Iberian ham made from pigs that only eat acorns during the last months of their lives] 
  2. Lomo ibérico [Iberian cured pork loin]
  3. Queso de oveja curado [Cured sheep’s-milk cheese]
  4. Mejillones en escabeche [Pickled mussels]
  5. Langostinos a la plancha [Grilled prawns]
  6. Tortilla de patata [Spanish potato omelet]

Álvaro’s favorite American foods:

  1. Hamburgers
  2. Barbeque anything (ribs, brisket, smoked turkey, sausage, etc.)
  3. Tex-Mex and Mexican

What foods do you miss most when you are in the US?

I miss los ibéricos like crazy!

Besides your mother-in-law, how else did you learn to cook Spanish foods?

Green beans with ham and potatoes

A recipe in the book, green beans with ham and potatoes

Since meeting my husband and learning about the important of food to him, I have made it a point to learn more about cooking—but especially Spanish foods. I have felt an obligation to keep him well and healthy since he’s left Spain for me. I knew the immigration process was going to be a difficult one because of the cultural differences between the US and Spain, but I didn’t realize just how difficult it would be in the realm of food. I have purchased numerous recipe books (send me an email for recommendations!); I’ve asked my Spanish-language teachers to focus on culinary topics during classes; and I’ve taken numerous cooking courses both in Spain and the US to learn more about Spanish cuisine. I’m not an expert, but they’ve all helped tremendously.

What kitchen tools are necessary for cooking Spanish food?

  1. Chef’s knife for chopping (garlic, onion, etc.)
  2. Large, shallow pan for making sauces
  3. Peeler

Lemon peeler

Why do you think food helps your husband feel connected to home?

Almond chicken

Another recipe, almond chicken

Food is everything to Álvaro. It makes him nostalgic for a place, time, location, people, etc. Food brings back memories that allow him to recall the good times he has had in various places with people he loves. These memories are important for coping with living so far away from family and friends with whom he’s shared wonderful meals all of his life.

If you had to live in Spain, which foods would help you feel connected to the US?

I think I would miss pork or beef roasts with vegetables and potatoes because we ate a lot of these growing up. So I think I’d need to invest in some type of crockpot to replicate these dishes in Spain because that’s what my mother used here. I would also probably eat a lot more hamburgers and steaks to remind me of all of the grilling my family did while growing up in Michigan.

Thank you, Melanie, for giving me the chance to interview you. I love your book, and I’m sure I’ll be replicating some recipes soon!

Does food have the ability to make you homesick or nostalgic? Which foods would when you are away?

My Favorite Spanish Foods

A lot of people, mainly foreigners, try to make lists of Spain’s “best” foods. These lists are inevitably commented on by Spaniards who just have to tell them how wrong they are. I’m not into that. Why? I don’t think there’s any way to say certain foods are better than others, unless we’re comparing jamón serrano and jamón ibérico. Then’s there’s no contest.

Over my years in Spain, I’ve tried a lot of Spanish dishes, typical and atypical, homemade and in restaurants, in four different weddings … and I’ve come to realize that I’m very loyal to my favorites. Given the choice, there are certain foods I would eat day in and day out, every day for the rest of my life. If I could, you know, and money weren’t an option. What are these foods, you ask? Of course you want to know, because my favorite foods should be everyone’s! (Just kidding. The less people like them, the more for me!)

In no particular order, they are:

lentejas
[Source: Recetas de Rechupete]

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Wedding…¡a la española!

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This was not my first wedding. No, that already happened (actually, about a year ago). This was one, as deemed by one of Mario’s relatives, “de mucha etiqueta,” meaning fancy. Fancy as in top of the line food, with the reception in a beautiful country winery, lots of drinks, food, and dancing. Good stuff.

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Oh yeah, and they rented a Rolls Royce to take them to and from the wedding/reception. No big deal.

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Here’s where we were: Bodegas Monte la Reina, a relatively new winery located in Toro, Zamora, Spain. In case you didn’t know, Spain has turned me into a bit of a wine snob (at least when it comes to red wine), and Toro wine, while relatively unknown due to the immensity or Rioja and Ribera wines, is amazing. Do not miss it, especially a little wine that is one of my favorites for quality and bang for you buck: Elias Mora.

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After the wedding, held – of course – in a Catholic church, comes the cocktail party, wherein everyone dutifully waits for the bride and groom to arrive. Luckily, food and drink is always involved, and where there’s food in Spain there’s probably ham. This wedding just happened to involve top-of-the-line jamón ibérico, so moutherwateringly good that you can’t eat just one (slice).


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Say hello to Mario’s parents, Pepita (Josefa) and Jesús. They’re probably two of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, always willing to lend a hand or cook for you until your stomach threatens to burst the seam of your pants, not that I would know anything about that sort of thing. Pepita works for the government of Castilla Leon and Jesús is a schoolteacher (geography and history). When I say schoolteacher, I mean it. I don’t think anything makes him happier than teaching, even if he has to settle for teaching an American girl how to properly speak Spanish.

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This is Mario’s mother and me after we were given our parasols (sombrilla in Spanish) to block the sun. It was such a nice detalle (detail) as they say here. Isn’t it nice how they match our outfits rather well?

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After the cocktail party with lots and lots of delicious food comes more food. Are your surprised? First, we ate a refreshing salad of crab-stuffed monkfish, accompanied by fresh lettuce, tartar sauce, and shrimp. Next came a lemon mint sorbet, followed by the main plate, a huge tenderloin ox steak, cooked to perfection with a mushroom foie sauce. Last but not least, a hazelnut cream dessert accompanied by chocolate ice cream. Lest you think we were thirsty, no worries. There was lots and lots of water, wine (white and red), and Moet Chandon to finish off. Mmmm.

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As I’ve heard my American (girl) friends say, we weren’t mad. No siree.

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What’s that, friends? Open bar. I’ll say nothing except – gin and tonic. Classy, delicious, and a hint of lemon. No objections here.

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Then, after imbibing a bit, comes the dancing. Spaniards young and old know how to get down on the dance floor. No shame here, and I love it. Mario’s parents also love a good dance, and I love them for it.

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(L-R: Me, Mario, Víctor (brother), Manu (groom), Gema (bride), Pepita, Jesús)

Spanish weddings are quite different from the American weddings I’ve attended. They have theirs ups and downs, goods and bads, but who can say no to good friends, good food, and unlimited beverages? Not I. Not I.