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Spanish gastronomy
By Emmanuelle Poiret

Spanish gastronomy is not just about paella, tapas or the famous “jamón ibérico”. It finds its roots in a gigantic garden nurtured by the sea, rivers, mountains, crops... a generous garden from which locals and restaurant select their ingredients to prepare many recipes that give Spanish cuisine’s international reputation known today.

Olive trees, orange trees, vineyards and rice fields draw the Spanish landscape

Rows of green shrubs so characteristic to the Spanish landscapes stretch as far as the eye can see. Olive trees crisscross the Andalusian and Catalonian plains, as if it was a chessboard. Spanish virgin olive oil is one of the best manufactured in Europe, and has become the basic ingredient of the Spanish cuisine. Oranges and other citrus fruits can be found in Valencia and Murcia areas. Filled with sunshine, oranges are delicious either plain, with sprinkled cinnamon or in a "zumo de naranja natural" (natural orange juice), as long as you drink it on site. And when there are no orange or olive trees, the vines take over. You can find excellent wines in Spain, which can be tasted in "bodegas" (cellars). The best wines are from the Cadiz region: the “Xérès “. Similar to champagne, Catalans produce sparkling Cava. Symbol of quality and tradition, the Spaniards have built wine cathedrals, the most famous one is called Pinell del Brai in Terres de l'Ebre.

Spain also produces rice. Who would have thought? Famous for the variety and richness of their cuisine, just as the Basques, it is once more the Catalans who grow it. In the Delta del Ebro, the rice fields spread out to infinity and offer shelter to thousands of migratory birds who find here some “snacks”. The paella and other rice dishes, including the famous "arroz negro", would not have the success they have today without the renowned Bomba rice or other famous existing varieties in Spain.

Culinary journey to the heart of the Spanish regions

Wealthy land watered with light, Spain’s territory extends from the Pyrenees to the arid soil of Andalusia passing by the wetlands of the Ebro Delta. Here everything is produced and raised. Almonds and dates from Valencia and Andalusia regions, seafood from Galicia, pork and other cattle in Extremadura ... have shaped the identity of each of Spain’s regions: they each have their own customs, goods and delicious recipes. Among the classics: the Spanish dish par excellence that can be found everywhere, the "cocido" (equivalent of the pot-au-feu served with chickpeas), Andalusian gazpacho, the "montaditos" of the Basque Country (tapas served on bread), cider from San Sebastian or Asturias, Jabugo (Iberian ham) from Huelva, fried croutons from Extremadura or the countless fish, either fried or prepared “a la plancha”! Turrón from Alicante or Jijona, horchata de chufa (nutsedge milk), popular drink in the Valencia region, polvorones from Andalusia, crema catalana, the ensaimada from the Balearic Islands give the sweet touch.

Water _the Mediterranean on one side, the Atlantic on the other_ is of paramount importance in eating habits of the country. By combining seafood with mountain food, the Spaniards gave birth to the sanctity dish of their cuisine; the Valencian paella with its variants such as the "mar i muntanya" (sea and mountain) in the Costa Brava. Let’s not forget the Balearic and Canary Islands where fish and shellfish are key components of the island's gastronomy.

Eating at Spanish time

In Spain, a whole rhythm of life has been settled around meals. First the savory breakfast that locals accompany with a "cortado" (coffee with a dash of milk) or a "cafe con leche" (latte coffee), followed by a "bocadillo" (sandwich) at 11am, then lunch at 14h, the merienda (snack) at 18h, ending with dinner at around 22h ... this would be a typical day in this country. After work, the people of Madrid have introduced the "tapeo", also known as Spanish after work which consists of one or even several cañas (beers) and multiple appetizers: anchovies in vinegar, tortilla pincho, jamón ibérico or meat or fish croquettes.

The abundance markets

Places to get together around a good meal are multiple: taverns, cider bars, freidurias, chiringuitos, starred restaurants, tapas bars, covered markets. Meats, cheese, rice, fruit and vegetables, fish and shellfish, Spanish markets have something to rival with neighboring countries. Ribera Market in Bilbao in the Basque Country, with its 10,000 square meters, is certainly the largest in Europe. Here, the show is both inside and outside. Built in 1929, it presents a set of front-Art Deco ornamentation. Just for the beauty of the show, everyone will recommend Barcelona’s colorful Boqueria market. Also in the Catalan capital but certainly less known, the Santa Caterina is noted for its corrugated roof. Renovated in 2005 by architects Enric Miralles and Benedetta Tagliabue of EMBT, multicolored octagonal pavers repeat the tones and colors of fruits and vegetables. True oasis for locals and tourists, the Spanish markets are appreciated for their usability. People gather there to bring them to shop for food, share some tapas and enjoy the diversity of the Mediterranean diet in a particularly lively atmosphere.

The excellence of the Mediterranean diet

Listed as World Intangible Heritage by UNESCO since 2010, the Mediterranean diet is much more than a healthy diet. It has established itself as a culture promoting social interaction, respect for the land and biodiversity, and the preservation of traditional and craft activities related to agriculture and fisheries. Most famous products are olive oil, cereals, fruits and vegetables, meat, fish and dairy products in limited proportions, condiments and spices, not to mention the wines and infusions. The Mediterranean diet, which involves several countries of the Mediterranean Arc including Spain, is recommended for its health benefits!

A shower of Michelin stars and a life-size laboratory

Internationally recognized Spanish cuisine enjoys great prestige. Today, 170 institutions have one or more Michelin stars and eight of them receive the highest distinction these are: "Quique Dacosta" in the Valencia region, "Celler Can Roca" and "Sant Pau" in Catalonia, "Akelare "," Arzak "," Martin Berasategui" and "Azurmendi "in the Basque Country, and "Diverxo" in Madrid. Ferran Adrià, one of the biggest names in Spanish cuisine and former owner of Bulli on the Costa Brava, has revolutionized the world of gastronomy. While in 2011, the engineering of molecular cuisine decides to draw a line under his chef's activity, he created El Bulli Foundation, which aims to establish a gastronomic center of creativity for generating and sharing new culinary ideas on an international level.

Besides haute cuisine, slow-food and km0 restaurants are becoming increasingly important in Spain. The culture of responsible and creative cuisine while focusing on local products is implanted in restaurants or through meetings, conferences, workshops or showcooking!

As elaborate and sophisticated than simple and traditional, Spanish cuisine to pleases every palate. It can not be uprooted or it risks loosing all its flavor. Whether local ingredients, the atmosphere or the sun, it will be difficult to meet elsewhere this set that only Spain is able to offer to reach the soul of its greedy garden!

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