Food for Thought: Andalusian Cuisine
I’m writing this from a lovely coffeeshop in Rabat, Morocco, but I wanted to reflect on the wonderful few days I just spent in Andalusia, Spain.
KC and I arrived in Sevilla (via BlaBlaCar from Madrid) during the hottest days ever recorded in Spain, with temperatures reaching 48 celsius / 119 farenheit. Fortunately the Andalusian lifestyle has long adapted to summer heat, and between our time in the historic cities of Sevilla and Ronda and the stunning little town of Montecorto we were able to get a true taste of what makes life in Southern Spain so appealing.
That the quality of life there seems exceptionally high is not necessarily surprising – the French and Spanish have long been envied for their manner of living. What did surprise KC and me as foodies was the cuisine.
The food in Andalusia is notable for it’s simplicity and freshness. Jamón ibérico, prawns, fish, bread, and olive oil comprises about 85% of the cuisine, and the preparation of these ingredients tends to be exceptionally simple, either grilled or fried. It makes a lot of sense, given the quality of the ingredients, the abundance of fish and olives in the local vicinity, and the pride associated with the tradition of producing the finest ham in the world; however, it also explains the reason that you don’t find Andalusian cuisine all over the world the way you would find Mexican, Chinese, Indian, French or Italian – the quality of the cuisine is 100% determined by the freshness of the main ingredients and cannot be made up for with spices or sauces.
KC, while recognizing the freshness of the ingredients, lamented that the prawns were simply fried and the sandwiches were simply bread, ham and oil – she finds interesting combinations of flavors to be more exciting, and likes to use spices and herbs in her own cooking tho accentuate and complement the flavor of quality ingredients. I generally agree, and over an extended period I’m sure I’d find the lack of variation boring, but for the few days I found it to be a refreshing change of pace. Neither of us, however, were as disappointed in the cuisine as the Mexican guy with whom we were sharing a hostel room. His take on the cuisine: “Can’t they use the prawns to make a ceviche or something? How hard would that be?”
The simplicity of the cuisine may in fact just be a reflection of the Andalusians attitude towards food and drink, namely that rather than something to be savored itself it is rather a vehicle to facilitate social interactions. It seemed as though Spaniards loved to engage in leisurely meals in which a couple of plates of tapas and a small glass of cold beer, rioja, or tinto de verano (red wine and sprite) served as an excuse to sit on in a lovely plaza with a group of friends. It’s not as though that concept doesn’t exist in the US or UK, but the whole set up of cheap small plates and cheap drinks (often for about €1) seems designed to allow Spaniards to eat out casually and frequently.
KC and I are strongly of the opinion that quality food can be the destination itself and not necessarily just part of the journey. We’re willing to pay for a memorable or creative experience and believe that creative, local, seasonal, plant-based, chef-driven food can be an important factor in building a sustainable quality of life anywhere around the world. But in order for it to scale, it has to be accessible, and the simple Andalusian cuisine demonstrated how accessible food can drive social interactions and community building.
The closest equivalent we have in the US or UK is a coffee shop, where food and drink items tend to be more affordable and social interactions can occur on a frequent basis. It gives me hope that we can offer a potent combination of quality and accessibility as we seek to build out Mesa Salvaje in the coming months.
Just some food for thought 🙂
P.S. I’ve not published much recently as I’ve been ruminating on a longer post that is taking a while to come together. Hopefully it will be worth the wait!