How Being an Expatriate Can Improve Your Culinary Skills

I miss peanut butter. This is the most common food question for many Americans who come to Spain: Where can I get my hands on some good old American-style peanut butter? Luckily, if you’re in Madrid, the answer is easy. Actually, most towns that have a Carrefour or Mercadona will have peanut butter. (Now whether it’s any good is up to you to decide.)

But there are many other foods we crave. As good as Spanish food is, I know I have a list of things I like to eat when I get home. I crave spice, Ranch dressing, cottage cheese, and mainly anything from Trader Joe’s. (Someone please bring a bottle of their Champagne Pear salad dressing, stat. Oh—and some trail mix.)

So how have all these cravings made me a better cook? Easy—necessity is the mother of invention. Or so they say.

What can the American expat make in Spain instead of traipsing from Taste of America to Al Campo to El Corte Inglés?

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Foods Spain Taught Me to Love

Moving to Spain has taught me a lot. It’s made me fluent in Spanish. I’ve learned how to navigate the metro system and bureaucracy. I’ve learned how to make foods I miss: crackers and peanut butter and Ranch dip. (Though I still long for bottled Ranch dressing and cottage cheese.) But more importantly, I’ve become a more-independent, self-assured person. I found my media naranja. I came to terms with just how important my home country is to me.

A lot of us experienced changes when we moved here. You feel me, auxiliares (and former auxiliares)? We learned just how little we knew about English grammar and Spanish slang. But we’ve also learned to love new foods. Thus, I asked some of you what foods you’ve learned to love since moving to Spain. Your answers were fun to read, and I’m listing them here.

Cat from Sunshine and Siestas: Snails

Eating Snails Spain Jerez

“So. Snails.

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Fiesta de la Vendimia—Grape Harvest in Toro

As they pass you by, the parade participants hand out mini cups of wine, sloshing a bit on the ground … but who cares? It’s Toro and wine is abundant today. Others hand out slices of spicy chorizo or slice off some jamón serrano for you to sample. I was lucky, as I seemed to get more wine and food than the rest of my party. We called it the efecto guiri, the guiri effect.
Guiri Fiesta Vendimia Toro

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Anniversary Dinner at Madrid’s Teatro Real

Madrid’s Teatro Real Restaurant was the perfect place for Mario and me to celebrate our first wedding anniversary. Elegant, glamorous, and ethereally silent, this restaurant is located on the second floor of the royal theater and is itself decidedly royal.

The Teatro Real, or Royal Theater, was originally built in 1850 in front of the royal palace. It served as the city’s opera house and housed the Madrid Royal Conservatory until 1925. There were several periods of reconstruction, but the theater opened for good again 1997. It hosts opera, concerts, and ballet and is home to the Madrid Symphony Orchestra and Choir. Its many halls are decorated with works of art from the Prado and Reina Sofia museums.

Teatro Real Salón Naranja

The Salón Naranja is decorated with the portraits of Juan Carlos and Sofía

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