While taste is the sense most people associate with food, one should not overlook the importance of the sense of smell.
Every day in Spain i know what people in my Andalucian village are cooking. Not because i have asked them. Not because i have barged my way into their kitchen – though I am always being invited so to do. I know what they are planning to eat for lunch or dinner simply because my nose tells me. I can smell what is cooking in a Spanish kitchen.
The other day i knew that the man who delivers fresh fish from the port of Motril was in my village. I could smell sardines cooking all over the village. I don’t mind that smell. Some people do. But for me it encourages me to do the same. Cook some sardines, simply on the grill and then add some salt and a lemon. I’m not sure cooking a true Spanish lunch gets any simpler than succulent sardines.
I have had them baked in the past and they are lovely done that way, with some garlic and parsley. There is a recipe for that meal on this website. Likewise there is a recipe for sardines with potato skins, a favourite of mine.
But to my mind sardines were meant to be grilled and, while you probably should not have some clean washing hanging out as you cook sardines; i actually don’t mind smelling of sardines myself. Though a shower before bedtime may be a wise move!
One Spanish smell that never fails to make me go weak at the knees is that of cooking bread. Today i stood on my roof terrace at dawn and found myself breathing in the aroma of baking bread wafting over from my local bakery. They start work early at all panaderos in Spain. And it is amazing how early some people get to the bakery to buy their regular loaf or stick of bread, from a choice of so very many.
The sheer array of bread on offer to the customer buying from the bakery or a bread van is overwhelming. It really is a case for experimenting and finding out which bread hits the spot for you.
Many of my neighbours will buy bread twice a day. What are they doing with so much bread? I like bread but were i to eat as much as some of the people in my village, my stomach would blow up like a balloon.
Of course they use bread in so many ways. In cooking other meals. In using as a base for certain dishes. As breadcrumbs for meals such as migas. To have simply with some ham or cheese. Or, in the winter months, to dip in soups or stews. You need filling food in those months, and bread does the job.
One woman living near me is Maria. She is lovely and a mean cook. She explained to me the important role bread has played in her life.
“When i was growing up bread may have been the only meal of the day. It was the cheapest way for my mother to fill my fathers stomach. And mine. I cook my own bread for special family occasions and the grandchildren love the smell of cooking bread. They say they could find my house if they wore a blindfold. They would use their noses to find grandma’s kitchen.”
Spanish food looks good. It tastes great. But spare a few minutes to sample the smell what is in front of you or around you. The smell of Spanish food cooking adds to the anticipation of lunch or dinner, and the experience of eating it.
So, before your open your mouth, open your nostrils.