There are some products that you can only seem to find in the United States.
Take food for example – since moving here I’ve yet to “get my hands on” a decent jar of peanut butter, microwavable kettle corn, or any form of cottage cheese.
I’m not too terribly upset about this (even though a mini bag of kettle corn sounds really good right now!) given that there are so many new food and drink items for me to experience here in Spain. While some typical Spanish foods are universally delicious – for example their take on the omelet – there are some that, at least from the American perspective, are just down right strange.
You guys are lucky for two reasons. First off because I’ve never once passed on trying any type of food or drink offered to me in this country (translation: I’ve consumed a lot of “weird” stuff). And second of all because I’m willing to tell you all about it! 😉
Ray’s Top 5 Weirdest Spanish Food and Drink List
(3/10 on the “What the heck is this?!? scale)
I’ll never forget the first time I had gazpacho. It was 2007 and I had just moved into the apartment of the Spanish family that I was going to be a nanny for that summer. It was a hot day in June and I was sitting with the children’s mother Margarita at the kitchen table about to eat lunch. It was then that she offered me gazpacho – which she described as tomato soup. When I heard this, being a typical American, I imagined something similar to the canned Campell’s version. You can understand my surprise then when Margarita, instead of ladling me some soup from a pot on the stove, opened the refrigerator, took out a paper carton, and poured a red liquid into my bowl! This was more than my brain could handle. I mean c’mon – cold soup?! Call me sheltered, but I had never once tried any soup that was purposely served chilled – especially of the tomato variety!
Have you ever heard of gazpacho? I guess it must be somewhat common around the world because the WordPress spell check recognizes it 🙂 Anyway, like I said, it’s a tomato based soup (it also contains olive oil, garlic, and other veggies like pepper and cucumber) that you store in the fridge and eat cold. It’s very popular here and usually consumed in the summer. After I wrapped my mind around the concept that soup doesn’t have to be served hot, I decided that I really loved gazpacho. Not only is it delicious and healthy, it’s also refreshing when enjoyed during the warmer months of the year.
#4 Calimocho (4/10 on the W.T.H.I.T scale)
Interesting cultural fact about Spain – typically “pre-gaming” for a night out at the bars doesn’t happen at someone’s house like in the US. Instead, if you want to meet with your friends to drink something alcoholic before heading out for a night on the town, you typically meet up with your buddies in a public place like in a park or a plaza. (This is practice is called botellón) It’s common here, therefore, on Saturday and Sunday mornings to see the “aftermath” of a botellón, i.e. beer/liquor bottles and cups littered around parks and streets.
I remember during my first few months in Spain in 2007 I saw on the ground of a park one morning a bunch of empty wine and Coca Cola containers. I forget who I mentioned this to, maybe to one of the teachers from school or to my host mom, but anyway he/she explained to me that it’s typical to find wine and Coke botellón bottles together because young people here like to mix wine with Coke! I remember thinking this was super strange. At home, I had only ever seen soda mixed with hard liquor – never with wine. I eventually tried this wine and Coke combo (called a calimocho) and concluded that it didn’t taste bad at all – in fact the Coke over-powers the taste of the wine completely. (I suppose if you’re a young person drinking the cheapest wine you can find this is the desired outcome 😉 )
(6/10 on the W.T.H.I.S scale)
Spain is known around the world for its top-notch pork products. The Spaniards are serious about their ham and about all things pig. As I mentioned in another post, a high quality leg of cured ham can cost you 100+ Euros. Talk about ham appreciation!
Well, around here the “meat” of the pig is not the only thing people eat. I’ve seen everything from pig’s feet – to tails- to ears being sold in butcher shops. I think you see where this is going – and yes, you’re right – I’m going to tell you about the weirdest part of a pig that I’ve ever eaten without first knowing what it was! Ready?
Fried pig face aka jeta! I ate this at a bar with a friend in Salamanca. The waiter gave it to us as a tapa (a free mini appetizer some bars give you if you order a drink first) and I dug right in. It was only after downing few crunchy pieces did my friend explain to me what I was eating! I was a little “weirded out” at first – especially after a closer inspection revealed to me that you could see the pig’s actual pores and facial hair. But I quickly got over it since it tasted alright – salty and greasy like a potato chip but thicker and slightly less crunchy.
(8/10 on the W.T.H.I.S scale)
I reserved the number two spot for another food made with pork products. Some of the more “normal” ingredients of chanfaina are rice, onion, garlic, pepper, and laurel leaves. Not very scary sounding, ….right?
But now imagine those same ingredients but add some pork, pig’s feet, and top it off with some pig’s blood and now we’re not talking about something so innocent anymore 😉 Yes, this is fairly common Spanish dish (typical in Western and Southwestern parts of the country) and is usually made as a part of a special meal on Sunday or on holidays. I really liked chanfaina when I tried it for the first time. I probably would still like it to this day if I hadn’t later eaten what must have been a bad batch of the stuff and got sick from it, yuck! So now chanfaina is tainted for me – but if you ever visit some place in Spain like Salamanca, Ávila, or Extremadura you should give it a try 🙂
(9/10 on the W.T.H.I.S scale)
I’m sure it will make Diego proud to find out that the strangest food (both in concept and in flavor) I’ve ever tried in Spain was in his home state of Asturias! Up until now, all the food and drink on this list has sounded weird or strange but actually tasted (once you wrap your mind around foreign food concepts like cold soup and pig blood) pretty good. I’m not a picky eater whatsoever so I can therefore say with confidence that there is no typical food here that I don’t like….
….except for one major exception – erizos or sea urchins!
I have many issues with erizos. To begin, they are served raw which puts me a little “on edge” right from the start. Secondly, when you eat sea urchin, you are actually consuming their eggs and reproductive organs, kinda weird! I guess I could get over these facts if sea urchin actually tasted okay…. but to me it definitely doesn’t!
I would describe erizos as slimy, briny, and that they taste a lot like iodine. I must admit say, however, I have never tasted anything similar to sea urchin. So I suppose they win some points for having a truly unique flavor…? The superlative list ends there because I honestly can’t think of another good thing to say about them.
Ekkk… and I’m recalling just now that they had a lot of sand in them and that afterwards my teeth had this nasty grimy/sandy feeling – not what I would call appetizing. Finally, be warned all you adventurous foodies – erizos, along with having an peculiar texture and taste, are quite expensive.
You’d be wise to follow my advice and try them once in your life (if you’re bold and/or rich) but from then on stick to the Spanish crowd-pleasers like their omelets and gazpacho 🙂
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?
Have you tried sea urchin? Did you dislike it like I did?