Once I actually arrived, I discovered that I had a bit of a false impression of “Spanish” food based on my experience with Mexican and Latin American food. Spanish food, at least the Costa Blanca variety of Spanish food is not spicy. We went to one of the local supermarkets the day we arrived in El Campello, and I got some indication of what was available.
There was lots of delicious looking sausages and cured meat. Most of the sausages have a clear orange tint, from the spice. I have sampled many of the sausages, and discovered that they are actually very unlike our chorizo. or I should say that what we call chorizo back home is not what the actual chorizo is like. The first one I bought was flavorful, but not at all spicy. Another lesson in Spanish; “dulce” is a sweet sausage, where “picante” is a spicy one, but they are all called chorizo.
Everywhere were whole cured legs of ham or jamon serrano. Most bars and small restaurants had them sitting on a counter ready to have thin slices cut off for sandwiches. They are never refrigerated or even packed away, at most covered with a hand towel. Every supermarket or butcher shop had them hanging at various prices. These are salt cured meat, and unlike our ham it is darker in colour. The meat is very flavourful, but salty and a bit tough. Unable to justify purchasing a whole leg, I bought a small chunk of the meat from one of the markets, and used it like bacon for breakfasts.
There were lots of red and green peppers at the markets, but I could not find any of the nice little hot red peppers I expected to see. I'm sure I recall them hanging in bunches from the market stalls in Barcelona. Finally, when I went to the weekly market here in El Campello I found a bag of them, but they were sold not by a Spanish vendor, but a very pleasant Asian lady who warned me that they were “picante – HOT”. I got a whole bag of them for one euro and they lasted me a week. She insisted on giving me a nice batch of fresh parsley to go with them. They were actually not that hot, but did add a bit more flavour to the things I cooked.
The oranges were perhaps the biggest disappointment. Here we were close to Valencia, with an orange named after the city, and everywhere we went we could see acres of trees covered in oranges, yet I have found it difficult to get good oranges. The ones left at the apartment by our hosts from their own tree were good, but many from stores and markets were very dry inside with little juice as if old. I understand that the “Valencia” orange is not known as an eating orange, and is generally used to produce juice, but I would think that the oranges would be much better. Perhaps the locals recognize me as a foreigner and slip me the “old” product.
We do not eat out very much, electing to cook our meals using the fresh local produce, but we have gone out when visiting Madrid, Valencia, Grenada and Alicante. The whole experience is different. Many restaurants use a “Daily Menu” that is a set price with a choice of two courses. The area is known for rice dishes, and we have had a couple of excellent ones usually with seafood mixed. There is little beef and lots of pork. Again, the food is generally full of flavour, but not at all hot or spicy. Of all the food I had in dining out my favorite was the tapas, or bar snacks. In Grenada, almost every bar served free tapas with every drink. One and a half Euro got you a beer and a plate of snacks. It was often on slices of bread, but could have been almost anything. We had a plate of delicious meatballs, stuffed sweet peppers, and squid in sauce. One bar brought over nice pork sandwiches with our beer. Some bars had extensive menus of different tapas, and some had glass cases with pre-made tapas on display so you could choose. For an average price of 5 euro you could get a plate of one type of tapas, so with four people you could order several and get to taste many different things.
Then there is the wine. Alicante is known as a wine producing region, and on the train from Madrid we saw kilometre after kilometre of vineyards prepared for another season of grapes. You can purchase wine in any grocery store or from speciality Bodegas. In the Bodegas you can actually pay a good deal for a bottle of wine, and I'm sure it is very good, but so far I have been quite happy with the selection from the grocery stores. Other than one bottle that sits beside the stove relegated to cooking, even the inexpensive bottles have been excellent. In the grocery stores it is hard to pay more than 10 euros for a bottle, and I purchased one excellent bottle on sale for .99 euros. It is going to be hard to go home and have to pay $20 for a nice bottle of Spanish wine.