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The Culture of Food in Spain Illustrated in a Bowl of Sweetened Strawberries

Spanish cuisine includes a list of dishes such as paella, jamòn con melon, a side of tortilla, heat quenching gazpacho and the bar famous tapas. While all these dishes are rooted in Spanish tradition and represent different parts of Spain, one of my favorite Spanish foods was one unique to my señora’s kitchen: a bowl of sweetened strawberries. Although all these foods may differ in tastes and ingredients, the process at which they are prepared and eaten illustrate traits special to the Spanish culture.

Towards the end of my time in Madrid my señora prepared a dessert. The dessert was quarterly cut strawberries soaked in a mixture of vino dulce, brown sugar, honey and a touch of water. The ingredients of the dish illustrate the lifestyle in Madrid: simple and easygoing. She only made this dessert for me in April and May, the season of the strawberries. She never rushed the process. She would go the day of to handpick the ripest strawberries from the grocer, waiting an extra day if necessary to ensure only the best quality. At times we would walk together to the corner fruit market and pick the strawberries together, and as we walked we enjoyed the weather and the blooming trees. Enjoying the walk to the market and appreciating that it was the time of the strawberries and that is why we ate them during these months depicts a huge Spanish mentality. People take the time to experience the joys in life and go with the flow without rushing time but rather practicing patience. Time becomes something you measure with quality versus quantity; it does not matter how many things you are able to accomplish in a couple of hours but rather what you spent those hours doing.

To follow the preparation, the actual eating of the dish became an event of its own. My señora always placed the strawberry dish in nice dishware, like she did with all meals. She believed that eating was an occasion; one spent a long time and effort to prepare it, and the presentation of the dish should demonstrate that. She also added that it made the food taste better, and after many meals I do agree, a bowl of strawberries tastes better in a nice decorative glass dish than a Tupperware container. The belief that a meal should be eaten sitting down with the appropriate silverware, instead of on the go as one walks out the door, unveils a beautiful Spanish culture characteristic: the appreciation of the ritual. Eating was seen as just that, a ritual. You sit and eat, and take the time to do so. Just as one takes time out for showering, studying, etc. eating is just as essential. By eating on the go, how could one enjoy the flavors of the food? The Spanish culture emphasizes the importance of spending time to do things right, and eating, a human behavior we do at times especially in United States, without much thought. We see the goal, getting nutrients to our bodies, without appreciating the process that gets it there, which at times is usually the most rewarding. The Spanish culture is a strong advocate of appreciation of the journey versus the actual destination, and they practice such a belief in the preparation and eating of their meals.

One of the best things of the eating process is the social aspect that accompanies it. After preparing the strawberries, we would always sit in the dining room and have long conversations as we ate the strawberries. Something that could have easily been a bowl of strawberries you eat as a snack became an anticipated dessert. The conversation would always become a maze of topics: the ripeness of the strawberries, the vino used to prepare them, the weather, current events, poetry, stories of when she was young, differences between Spain and America, works by Dalì… anything and everything was covered. I learned history and sides of Spain that I would have never had otherwise known. This dish, that could have quickly been made or more sadly bought at the store without much thought, became for my señora and me, a big part of our day. Most of our afternoon was devoted to this dish, and it was well worth it, as they say in Spain, “Vale la pena.”

Food is a permanent fixture in the Spanish culture. Like with the dessert of strawberries, one can see that their food mirrors the Spanish cultural practices of time, process and people. Through this dessert, my señora taught me the importance of taking time to experience the actual journey because that is where you learn and begin to appreciate life and the importance of spending time with people. The people around us are sometimes something we take for granted because we interact with them daily, however sending an email is different and less rewarding then going out and sharing a plate of tapas, or in our case a bowl of sweetened strawberries.

 

Yadira Villalvazo, '11
Spain—USC Madrid