Tapas and home-cooked meals an important part of Spanish culture | PostIndependent.com

Tapas and home-cooked meals an important part of Spanish culture

Rachel Matheson
Special to the Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
Contributed photoRotary International exchange student Rachel Matheson shows what's left of her dinner after eating out in San Sebastian, Spain.

To many people, San Sebastian, Spain, is known for its food. Before departing for my year abroad, countless people raved to me about the outstanding food I would have the chance to experience, and they were all right. The food in Basque Country and Spain is deliciously unique.

Tapas, or pintxos in Basque Country, were new words to me when I first arrived in Spain almost six months ago. But it didn’t take long to learn about this defining part in the Spanish culture.

Through the streets of San Sebastian there are countless bars and restaurants decorated with colorful and appetizing pintxos and ham legs hanging from the ceiling.

A pintxo is basically a small portion of meat, fish or vegetables, often served with bread. In the states, they are roughly the equivalent of appetizers.

I love going out for pintxos on weekends with other foreigners visiting San Sebastian. We have a great time walking up and down the streets of Parte Vieja, the old town, peering into all the store fronts. When we see a lively place with lots of napkins on the floor, we head in for a pintxo, knowing it must be good.

On many nights, we bounce from place to place until our stomachs can’t hold any more food.

Some of the most celebrated pintxos are fried octopus, calamari in black ink, tortilla de pata (potato omelet), croquetas, mushrooms, sirloin steak, or suckling pig soaked in red wine. In addition to many common pintxos, many places have their own unique creations.

After pintxos, we often get a dessert crepe and enjoy it while walking along the beach.

As fun and unique as tapas are, locals usually only indulge on special occasions or with some co-workers before heading home for dinner. Meals are a very important part in the culture and are shared with your family.

Our days in the household revolve around our 2 p.m. lunch and 9 p.m. dinner. We go about our days as we please as long as we return home for lunch and dinner with the whole family.

The food normally prepared is both filling and abundant. Ham and olive oil are probably the most important ingredients in every meal.

Just as it would in the states, the meals in each household vary. Some of the common meals I’ve noticed are tortilla de pata (omelet), rice, fish, fried eggs (for dinner) with potato chips, a mix of vegetables and small bits of ham.

We have a loaf of bread at every meal and fruit or yogurt for dessert. The Basque don’t cook with very many spices, and they love meats and vegetables.

Because almost everything we eat is grown in Spain, we eat what is being harvested that season. The food prepared is much more seasonal than in the United States, where we expect everything year-round.

There are several new foods and ways of eating them I’ve been introduced to while living in this Spanish city on the Atlantic Ocean – items that were never available to me in Glenwood Springs.

I have tried many things and am thankful for this outstanding opportunity as an exchange student in Spain.

Rachel Matheson, 16, is spending her junior year on a Rotary Youth Exchange trip to San Sebastian, Spain, sponsored by the Sunrise Rotary and Club Rotario. Her column, “Rotary Traveler,” appears on the third Tuesday of the month.

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