By Christine Medina
JAMÓN IBÉRICO, SPANISH chorizo, Riojan
wine. Over the last few years, our Spanish
vocabulary in the United States has expanded
to include more from the Iberian peninsula,
where the cuisine’s worldwide recognition has
reached U.S. shores in the form of Spanish restaurants, imports and specialty food markets.
But what is Spanish food like, exactly?
Contrary to popular belief, Spanish food
is almost never spicy; tapas are a way of eating,
not a type of food; and sangria, while enjoyed
by some Spaniards, is much more popular
with tourists. With its increasing popularity in
the United States, and the upcoming expansion of Costco to Sevilla (aka Seville), Spain,
this spring, there is no better time to learn
more about Spanish cuisine.
If there is one thing people know about
Spanish food, it’s tapas. Tapas are the epitome
of gastro chic in the United States, and have
successfully made their way onto restaurant
menus around the country, even if they’re not
always executed as they would be in Spain.
The term “tapas” refers to the size of a
serving, which can range from individual servings (tapas) to appetizer-size portions of food
to share family-style (raciones), and can be
anything from more traditional dishes such as
tortilla de patata (see recipe) to avant-garde
creations as aesthetically pleasing as they are
palatable (see “Popular tapas in Spain”).
While hot tapas ordered off a menu are
considered the best quality, you can walk into
any bar in Spain and see cold tapas on display—sometimes in a glass case, sometimes
ready to be plucked straight from the counter.
Tapas aren’t typically consumed in just one
bar either—Spaniards will often tapear (bar-
hop) amongst various establishments and
make a meal out of it.
Spain’s unique dining schedule is why the
tapas culture works there; breakfast is quick
and light, usually coffee and a pastry, while a
second breakfast break is common around 11
a.m. to fill the gap until lunchtime with a tapa
or two. Lunch, the main meal of the day, isn’t
until 2 p.m., while dinner isn’t served until 9 or
10 p.m., or even later in the summer months.
While U.S. restaurants often market tapas
as highbrow, in Spain tapas are an informal
affair: Used napkins are tossed on the ground
(and later swept up), service is no-frills, and the
best places are convivial and packed with
locals, usually with a TV blaring in the background. Above all, tapas are less about the food
and drink, and more of an excuse to catch up
with friends and family throughout the week.
For its size, Spain is an incredibly diverse
country, and its food is no exception.
Specialties and cooking styles vary widely
among the 17 Spanish regions: Gazpacho, the
cold tomato soup and summer staple, originated in Andalucía in southern Spain; paella,
the saffron-infused rice dish that is one of
Spain’s most famous dishes, is from Valencia,
on the east coast. In northern Spain’s Basque
country, tapas don’t exist, but here you’ll find
pintxos (pronounced PEEN-chos), elaborate
canapés skewered with a toothpick.
What unites the country is its high con-
Your Spanish kitchen
sumption of bread, its love for a variety of
seafood and shellfish, and its affinity for cured
meats, particularly Jamón Ibérico (Iberian
ham) and chorizo. The best jamónes cost
upwards of $200 per leg. As for Spanish cho-
rizo, it’s entirely unlike its Mexican namesake:
It’s a pork sausage, available both fresh and
dry-cured, in a natural casing, seasoned with
paprika and salt. It can be devoured in between
slices of bread, simmered in hard cider or
savored as a tapa with red wine.
Spanish food has become increasingly
accessible in the United States. Spanish restaurants are on the rise, and common Spanish
ingredients are easily bought in stores or
online; the rest can be made at home. The
essence of Spanish cooking is its humble
roots, based on the use of fresh, simple, local
ingredients to create vivid flavors.
To kick-start your own Spanish kitchen,
it’s essential to buy high-quality extra-virgin
olive oil and garlic, as they are the cornerstones of Spanish cuisine. However you
choose to indulge, Spanish food will delight
your taste buds. C
Christine Medina (
com) is an American freelance writer and
blogger who resides in Spain.
The Costco Connection
Look for various ingredients for Spanish dishes, including Kirkland Signature™ Manchego
cheese, Kirkland Signature extra-virgin olive
oil, Kirkland Signature saffron and Spanish
wines, in your local warehouse and on
Costco.com. Costco.com also offers limited-edition dry-cured Spanish ham.
Above: Pimientos de padrón is a popular
dish of fried, mild green peppers.