It has been fascinating to catch up with people who have lived in Spain, but moved away. Particularly when it comes to what they miss about the excellent range of food and ingredients on offer throughout the country.
It is clear to me that Spanish food has a big role to play in the lives of expats in Spain. And it is that they miss most when leaving the country.
Take Jessica. She was born in England but raised very much as a Spaniard from a young age. Only in her thirties did she have the notion of moving back to the UK. Having done that, she has realised the error of her ways and is now packing her bags to come back to Spain. And food is a major reason.
She tells me: “It has been a shock working in London. I was a child when i left the UK and I have had a good life in Spain ever since. I am used to having lunch on the coast, or going for a nice Menu del Dia in town. Sitting outside and eating and having an hour and a half for lunch.
“In London it is unbelievable. Can you believe it, Vernon? People just snatch a sandwich at lunchtime and often eat it while walking fast back to the office. They queue for a boring sandwich, a muffin or pastry. And they cost so much! Only the bosses ‘do lunch’ as such. Nobody I work with actually goes for a meal unless it is Christmas or a birthday celebration. I can hardly believe how people eat here. It is rubbish food and pub grub is so overrated and expensive.
“Then there is the time factor. Nobody takes time over food here. Not like in Spain. Here food is just something you have to stave off hunger. It is not seen as an experience in itself. I come from a culinary background and things have changed since I left the UK as a youngster. Everything is rushed now. It is all about fast food eaten as fast as possible. I cant stand it!
“I did try a tapas bars or two in London, and they did give me a taste of what I miss. But I want the real thing, so I am already getting ready to move back to Spain for the food I miss most. I should never have left Spain. I miss the sunshine, for sure, but I miss the experience of eating in Spain just as much as the weather.”
Wow! What a quick u-turn Jessica is performing. I had to tell her that, yes, I know all about how busy working people in London and major cities in the UK treat lunchtime. I was only surprised that she was surprised.
So, now she has her return ticket to Spain, what does she envisage eating in her first week or two back in Spain?
Jessica replies: “That’s easy. Day 1 will be an excellent set lunch with my best friend. Three courses for just 8 euros sat in a nice plaza in the sunshine. I am hoping that some prawns are on the menu that day. A nice salad perhaps. That is something else they do better in Spain. A lovely fresh salad. And I shall definitely be eating at least one serving of fresh fish in week one. A friend in London took me to a fish and chip shop as I had the notion that i missed the classic English meal. It cost six pounds and made me feel ghastly all night long.
“Clearly, living most of my life in Spain has changed my tastebuds. I will be seeking out some croquettes stuffed with serrano ham and I can already taste the tuna served in my local restaurant on the Costa Tropical. I expect that I shall eat too much in the first few days back in Spain, but I know I will feel better for eating Spanish food once again.
“You cannot always see with your eyes that you are healthier for a classic Mediterranean diet but, believe me, you can feel it. Since eating the way people in England do I have not only put on weight, but I feel groggy and slow every day. Bloated, and with much lower energy levels. Ironically in a country where you need much more energy than you do in Spain. Where opening a jar of olives was the most energetic thing I did!”
So Jess is on her way back. I look forward to sitting down with her for a Spanish lunch once again.
She is not alone in missing the unique experience of cooking in Spain, and of eating out in the country.
It seems that wherever expats now live, the experience of eating Spanish food, in Spain, is one that lives long in the memory.