Spanish food!!

I only come back to my home country, Spain, once every year or year and a half. During all this time, I practically forget about dozens of products we use in Spanish Mediterranean cuisine, because they are impossible to find in Japan, where I live.

One bad thing of being from Murcia is that the trip from Tokyo takes about 24 hours, with at least 2 step-overs. One good thing is that one of these step-overs include Barcelona, a bright, warm and multicultural city. I love this city.

Barcelona has many big food markets, but without any doubt the most famous and crowded one is “La Boquería”, located alongside the “Ramblas”, a main artery of the city. True, it has become so touristic that prices have inevitably gone up, and some of the shops do not really sell local produce anymore. But 90% still remains faithful to the original taste, and one positive consequence of massive touristic affluence is that shopkeepers put much more attention into how they display their merchandise.

People buying vegetables at "La Boquería"

People buying vegetables at “La Boquería”

One vegetable that I’m always happy to meet again after more than a year of abstinence are artichokes.

Artichokes. Forget about them if you live in Japan.

Artichokes. Forget about them if you live in Japan.

You can find artichokes in Tokyo – there’s almost nothing you cannot find there – but they are so expensive that I don’t even bother to search them. In Spain, and especially in Murcia, my hometown, they just are everywhere. Huge fields of artichokes border roads all along the coast from Barcelona to Murcia. They’re probably as common as oranges and olives, which means that they are dirty cheap. That’s why we eat them very often and in a lot of different ways: grilled, in stews, boiled, marinated, canned, …

Another thing, less exotic in Japan but also quite pricey, are nuts. Spain is a big nut producer, thanks to its dry and sunny weather. Look at the photo below.

Nuts and dried figs.

Nuts and dried figs.

We also have pomegranates. People in my hometown never buy them. You just go outside, find the closest pomegranate tree and pick them from the tree. And trust me, Spanish pomegranates are the best I have tried so far (sorry American and Chinese pomegranates!).

Pomegranates

Pomegranates. Spanish ones are the best.

This time, I was incredibly lucky to come during the season of “calçots” (pronounced “calsots”), a kind of fresh onion typical in Catalonia.

Calçots, a kind of onion typical from the Catalonian region.

Calçots, a kind of onion typical from the Catalonian region.

They are the normal kind of onion we all know, but instead of planting them and leave them in peace, Catalonians had the idea of adding soil around the shoot as it grows, resulting in an elongated, soft and tender onion. They are sublime grilled and accompanied with Romescu sauce, something they call “calçotada”. I was lucky enough to be invited to one during my stay in Barcelona, so expect a post about it shortly.

If you have a rabbit as pet, skip the photo below.

Rabbit

Rabbits skinned and ready to be eaten.

In Spain we eat a lot of rabbit. They sell it already skinned and without some organs we don’t use for cooking. One of our hosts, Diana, can teach you how to prepare rabbit with rosemary in Barcelona, or you can learn paella with rabbit with Luis and Miguel in Valencia.

Rabbit with rosemary, cooked in the oven in an earth dish.

Rabbit with rosemary, cooked in the oven in an earth dish.

Rabbit paella, Valencian style.

Rabbit paella, Valencian style.

And then we have olives and capers. Sorry, I’m being chauvinistic again, but Spanish olives are the best. I have tried olives in France, Tunisia, Morocco and Portugal, and I found them to be less juicy and way too bitter. Spanish olives are smooth as the oil they produce, slightly salty with an acid touch, and definitely not too bitter, with some exceptions, such as the wrinkly black olives in the foreground below.

Spanish olives. The wrinkled black ones on the foreground are quite bitter, but not at all the other ones.

Spanish olives. The wrinkled black ones on the foreground are quite bitter, but not at all the other ones.

Capers. Did you know it is a pickled flower bud?

Capers. Did you know it is a pickled flower bud?

Caper's bigger sister: caperberries

Caper’s bigger sister: caperberries

Spain’s neighbor, France, is famous for its cheese, but Spain also has a lot of local cheese. We have goat, sheep and cow, from creamy to rock hard.

Spanish cheese.

Spanish cheese.

Which combined with jamón serrano (raw ham) or any of the supreme sausages of our land…

Jamón serrano (raw ham) and various sausages.

Jamón serrano (raw ham) and various sausages.

…and this particular type of tomato, small, rounded and extremely juicy…

A special variety of tomato, small, rounded and very juicy

A special variety of tomato, small, rounded and very juicy

…results in one of the most celebrated dishes in Catalonia, “pan amb tomaquet”!

Pan amb tomaquet, bread crumbs with tomato, olive oil and raw ham, sausage or cheese.

Pan amb tomaquet, bread crumbs with tomato, olive oil and raw ham, sausage or cheese.

Our three hosts in Barcelona, Diana, Alba and Mikel, offer pan amb tomaquet in their menus. You cannot come to Barcelona and not try it. It’s like stabbing yourself.

Ham off the leg!

How often do you have a chance to see this in Tokyo?

A rare sight in Tokyo!

A rare sight in Tokyo!

I’d certainly never before! Raw ham can be very expensive in Japan, and so when you see it, it’s rarely an entire leg! One of our newest hosts, Fernando, managed to get a hold of this beauty for his first Tadaku session in Tokyo recently, which also proved to be a big success. Fernando is from Albacete in Spain, and has been teaching Japanese people how to cook Spanish food in Tokyo for the past 3 years.

Fernando-_0008_Layer 3a

Knives from Fernando’s hometown

I was lucky enough to get a spot in Fernando’s class before it filled up, and I was quick to notice his passion for food and cooking! Fernando had clearly taught before, ensuring all of his guests had some way to help out at all times. He also holds great knowledge about Spanish food, culture and history, and so was a great person to learn from.

Helping chop potatoes

Helping chop the potatoes for the omelette.

We learnt that there are many things to keep in mind while slicing ham from the leg – the direction you should slice, the thickness of the slices, the best way to eat, and perhaps most importantly, to keep your spare hand out of the way!

There are many things to keep in mind when slicing raw ham.

There are many things to keep in mind when slicing raw ham.

Fernando also taught us a lot about the different types of ham in Spain.

Fernando loves ham!

Fernando loves ham!

We also learnt how to make Spanish omelettes. All of the guests were surprised at how it could taste so great with so few ingredients – just egg, potato, onion and salt!

Spanish omelette

Spanish omelette

All of the guests had a wonderful time despite the snow storm, and some were very happy to practice their Spanish with our enthusiastic host.

Ready to eat!

Ready to eat!

Fernando’s session is available to book anytime in Tokyo.