Seville and Cordoba, Spain
Málaga and Granada
“Be sure to try the paella,” my Uncle George said. “It’s in every restaurant window you will pass by.” Without children and nearly retired, my uncle travels the world purely for the food, so I trust his opinion. When anyone thinks of food from Spain, both paella and tapas always comes to mind.
“The paella at España is a little dry,” he continued. “Have you been to that restaurant?” España, a small tapas and paella restaurant in Omaha used to be a favorite of mine, but after these two and a half weeks in Spain, the meals there will never be the same.
With this talk of the great food, I figured it would be a wonderful experiment to pay special attention to the wide variety of paella and tapas available. I chose to focus on my reaction to the food during my first few days in Spain while we were in Barcelona, and continued to do some research afterwards. Within just my first couple of days spent in the thriving city, I picked up on most of the tips I found during my research. Some words of wisdom were taught through advice of the locals, and some were learned through personal and memorable experiences during both good and bad situations.
First, for those unfamiliar with the famous Spanish dishes, tapas range in variety and size. Typically, they are served on small plates where two diners trying to be thrifty will be fine with sharing three plates. Depending on the restaurant, some come with larger portions, but usually the pricier places give you less, although delicious food. This is much like the dining culture in America, where more expensive restaurants will come out with smaller portion sizes. The food type can range from any sort of appetizer, to small meal portions, to dessert.
Paellas also come in a variety of types, but are much larger than tapas, although it is possible to find paella tapas. Paella on its own is typically served in a large frying pan type pan, where one portion is usually enough for two people. Most people order paella with seafood, but there are a variety of other choices, such as paella with different meats and vegetables. The toppings chosen are served over steaming hot, deliciously cooked saffron rice. When ordering paella on the trip, those not used to ordering such food before, were all shocked to find jumbo shrimp with eyes and antennas still attached. However, this is a complete cultural norm I have found during my food explorations.
The first rule we were heard from our local guide, Guillem D. Fullana Ferré, when landing in Barcelona was to never get sucked in by restaurant owners. This was also the number one rule I found while researching for tapas and paella ordering advice. Although we heard this tip upon our first arrival, during the second day in Barcelona, we were so hungry and worn out from trying to find the perfect restaurant that we actually got sucked in by the owner. Although we knew this was a bad sign, as it implies slow business and a need for more customers, we were just insanely hungry and worn out from our excessive amounts of walking, which we would also come to be used to over the trip. They did have some paella in this restaurant, however it was such a worn down place, I wanted to wait until we went somewhere good for my first official Spain paella dish. When I finally did get my paella in Barcelona, it was well worth the wait, minus the near allergic reaction. I had no idea mine would come with shrimp, my one food allergy, but was careful to eat around the portion and still managed to have plenty left over.
Another import rule when ordering food in general is to be aware of the overall cultural differences in dining. As I recalled beforehand from my high school Spanish studies, people in Spain consider eating a social activity, taking time to eat and really enjoy the company of others. This is unlike America, where people are constantly in a rush and where ordering a coffee while on the way to work is expected, whereas in Spain, this is never done. For those not used to this culture and if it gives you anxiety to sit at a table for long periods of time, it is necessary to order all aspects of the meal at once, including drinks, food and dessert. After, it is always necessary to ask for the check, unlike in America.
The last part of advice for making the most out of tapas and paella in Spain is to try not to go to restaurants with only pictures of the meals outside or stuck to the windows. These places usually are not as good. Locals confirmed this as well. Also, expect a ton of pork and shrimp – two foods I was especially aware of as I do not eat either. I usually stuck to ordering chicken, as the beef is a bit different from what we are spoiled with back in Omaha, where we are famous for our Nebraska steaks.
Overall, I really enjoyed the variety of tapas available at affordable prices, as well as the delicious paella that I will definitely miss once I am back in the states. It was enjoyable to order new foods and to get more on track with my Spanish language skills, especially as a majority of places I purchased things from assumed I was a local. Members from our group, along with myself, have already arranged to have a food party when we return to America, where we will make some of our favorite dishes. I am excited to continue my tapas and paella samples as the adventure continues.
Malaga Day One
Malaga and La Alhambra
Barcelona Day Four