A Voice In The Crowd: A matter of taste

July 1, 1993

A Voice In The Crowd: A matter of taste

By By Jim Spellman

Saturday night on la Rua Mayor, the city´s main tourist walkway, we encountered two of my wife, Ivonne´s, classmates, both of whom hail from Brazil. As we chatted, one of them stuck her finger in her throat, pulled it out and said in English, “That´s what I have to say about Spanish food!”

Most foreign visitors here would, I´m sure, agree.

Much Spanish food is tasteless, fat, and oily. Their treasured air-dried hams have the texture of raw meat and little flavor. The fish served here tastes fishy. American and European youngsters flock to McDonald´s and Burger King for hamburgers and fries, which to them are more appetizing than the local food.

This morning, our gracious hostess, Monica, snuck out of the house early to get us a special treat, freshly made churros. Hot, cold, fresh or stale, the brown sausage—shaped pieces of fried dough look like, yep, you guessed it. They do taste a little better.

Except for fresh fruit or juice, which isn´t always served, breakfast here is a disaster. The commonest bread served, magdalenas, are tasteless muffins, and who wants chocolate cookies or cake in the morning? Once in a while, I´ll sneak out to a cafeteria for fresh orange juice, a delicious

croissant and a cup of good coffee.

Spanish bread can be tastelessly awful with a much heavier texture than, say, good French or Italian bread. However, the pastries and desserts which I try earnestly, but not always successfully, to avoid are outstanding! The Spaniards really know how to make delicious sweet treats. For heavier baked fare, meat pies called hornazos (eaten hot or cold) are quite good but very rich.

Many of the stews served here are made with meat from which neither the fat nor bones have been removed. For instance, cooks chop up chickens without regard to the fowls´ joints, so that what is brought to the table contains, among other ingredients, chunks of skin and bones from which, after they´re sorted from the vegetables, one can pry some meat. Picking through paella (perhaps the most touted of all Spanish dishes) to find the seafood, then having to remove the greasy rice from the shells with one´s fingers before being able to extract the tiny morsels inside, is culinary punishment!

Everything fried is done in olive oil, of which large quantities remain in the food when it is served. When Ivonne asked Nicholas, the French lad who has just joined us at Monica´s, how he liked Monica´s homemade empenadas (to me one of her better offerings), he replied, “They´re too greasy.”

Speaking of being oily, the Spanish are very proud of their mayonnaise. Many, like Monica, make it at home with eggs and olive oil. It is delicious, without question. However, unless you like mayonnaise for mayonnaise´s sake, beware of salads, sandwiches or other dishes made with it. They are always slathered with overwhelming amounts of the stuff.

All that being said, I wonder what people from this country think of food in other places. It is, after all, food, which like so many other things, is a matter of to what one has become accustomed—a matter of taste.

Speaking of taste, the other evening on the Plaza Mayor, we passed a violinist playing for coins. He sounded so good that I dropped some centimos into the hat he had set out to receive them. He was wearing what looked to be Gypsy clothes. “He´s a Gypsy,” I said to my wife.

“Nah,” said she, “He´s English.”

“I´ll bet a coffee, he´s Hungarian,” I answered smugly.

His name was Michael Heater, and I lost the bet. He was from England. And it wasn´t coffee I bought, it was Michael´s excellent CD.

The point is that there are many beggars here. Some like Michael tastefully ply their talents for reward. Most of them are truly entertaining and add to the festive atmosphere of the area. Others move quietly among the tourists and diners selling useful things like cigarette lighters or small packs of tissue. None of those offend my sensibilities. They offer something of themselves as a way of asking for something.

However, there are some who simply walk about, or sit or even lie on the pavement with their hat or hand out. One evening, I was approached by a clean well-groomed older gentleman, who, as he walked toward me, shoved a cigar box at me. I was surprised but automatically reached into my pocket and came up with a five centimo piece which I dropped into the box. The old man looked at the coin then at me and growled, “¡Mas, mas!”, “More, more!”. How´s that for brass and tastelessness?

If you´ve read what I’ve written earlier, you know there are many, many things about Spain and Salamanca that I have enjoyed tremendously. Most of my memories of my stay here will be more than pleasant.

If you want to check out true Spanish food and the Spanish way of life, you can´t go to Mexico. You must come here. You might find that you like it. After all, it really is a matter of taste.

Jim Spelman is a local attorney.

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