Love in the Time of Coriander

Thoughts on food & more.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Spain & Morocco, Part 1

E & I have just returned from a 2 week-long journey through the south of Spain and parts of northern Morocco, where we moved as if whirling dervishes through many landscapes in such a short period of time. Madrid to Sevilla to Cordoba to Granada to Algeciras (the ferry across) to Tanger to Chefchaouen to Fes to Rabat to Tanger (the ferry back) to Tarifa to Ronda to Madrid. Phew!

Then, of course, we spent a harrowing 26 hours in flight time getting back to our sweet home in the Bay Area. After such an anxiety-provoking trip home, it only seemed fair to bypass the torrential downpours and flooded streets to be greeted by sunny, 60-something-degree weather. After weeks of wandering through gorgeous sanctuaries of several religious persuasions, I reasoned that the weather was an illustration that there was, infact, a God.

All of our friends and families are naturally asking: Was it amazing? And telling: You're so lucky. I'm sure it was beautiful. Truth is, we're still digesting the contents of the trip. Definitively, I can say that I came back about 2 to 3 pounds lighter, even after imbibing a good amount of wine daily, which may testify to the difficulties we had in finding solid gastronomy. Partly, there is no one to blame but ourselves. After a disappointing experience in a restaurant in Mexico City, which fell far short of our expectations of haute cuisine, E and I have become more wary of plopping down the Benjamins for a mediocre meal. In other words, we were overcautious and didn't dare set foot in anything that had too pricey a menu, despite the recommendations that I had diligently printed from searches on the message board.

Not only has the world become smaller, allowing us to taste better versions of those things found in abroad, but we're also privy to a vast variety of ethnic cuisines, most of which exist within a radius of 10 miles. And our produce -- well, that's another boon altogether. Biases aside, people's eating habits as well as their expectations for restaurant food still differ greatly. I can't help but be ethnographic in saying this, purporting ostensibly objective facts but knowing that I'm still a person with tastes and subjective experiences that color my reporting.

In Spain, bar food (commonly known as tapas) is a standard way of getting in an evening meal and few glasses of wine with friends. It's not myth or lore that their eating habits vary greatly from our own, a more northern European style of dining with a big breakfast, a mid-day lunch, and an early dinner. Restaurants in Spain open their doors before 8pm but might not serve anything but a little bit of tortilla espanola (a potato omelette) and a few other, sitting-around-all-day-in-mounds-of-olive-oil snacks. For naive travelers like me, the late meal and day-old snacks can get stale quickly. But if you're accustomed to this and dine at 10pm like the Spanish do, you won't stupidly crave things that are certain not to be available until much later in the evening. And you'll know how to suss good bar food from bad, fresh items on the menu from the questionable.

As it was, however, E & I came away with a Spanish-food-ain't-so-great attitude, which in retrospect, I'm sure is not very fair. The cheeses and cured meats were delicious everywhere we went, but one can only eat so much manchego and jamon iberico for dinner. On the other hand, the breads were really quite awful. Often day old, white-flour loafs, not even toasted to mask their mediocrity. Okay, what I'm going to say next is probably might be very myopic. I understand this and am willing to receive criticism! E & I have always been of the opinion that Mexican pastries always look much better than they taste. When glancing through the window of a panaderia, what you imagine to have a delicious flaky texture or be moist when popped in the mouth often falls very short of the expectation, predicated on French pasties, which are both flaky and moist. Well, for what it's worth, in my mind, the Mexicans have been exonerated from simply being bad bakers. They've got the colonizer's wisdom to thank for their not-always-the-best baked goods.

Though only a few miles across the Mediterranean, sharing the same climate and so much of the same history as witnessed in the Moorish architecture and aesthetics, Spain and Morocco are worlds apart in their cultural habits. Wine and ham are central components to the Spain way-of-life, but Moroccans, who are predominantly Muslim, don't drink nor do they consume pork. A lifestyle without alcohol strongly affects how Moroccans eat and socialize. Unlike the Spanish, who drag entire families (grandparents and toddlers included) into the bar (the very of idea of a bar as a site for family, not just the American twentysomething fun) for an evening bite, Moroccans are home-centric. There's street fare, Mexican taco-bar style, with breads and kebabs brewing in little kiosks around towns, but Moroccans don't really do the "restaurant" thing. Without a strong middle class, few can afford this kind of experience of dining out. Thus, the best and freshest meals are to be found in the homes, and the best way to be given the opportunity to have one of these stellar meals is to befriend, like crazy, the locals.

More tastes, smells, visuals, observations from the trip to come . . .

I promised myself to stop blogging and get to work on writing dialogue for a live performance next week. For those of you in the area, the Poets' Theater Jamboree begins this Friday, January 13 at California College of the Arts in SF. I'll be a part of the Neo-benshi lineup on January 20. Check it out!


At 4:19 PM, Blogger darlamay said...

Hello! I dropped by your site and I really like it! You write well.
My husband and I are planning a trip to Spain and Morocco when he graduates from grad-school in a couple years. I'm really looking forward to it and appreciated your honest review. I agree with you on the comment about the world being so small these days and that we're harder to please. It's rather disappointing, like finding out Santa doesn't exist, in some ways.

At 7:30 AM, Blogger the food therapist said...

Hi Darlamay,
Thanks for the compliment! Stay tuned because I'll be writing more about Spain and Morocco in the upcoming weeks!

At 8:53 AM, Anonymous payal said...

Hi! Not sure how I got to your site but am glad that I found it. I actually skimmed through most of your adventures and appreciated your writing style and frankness. So, from one clinical psychologist to a budding one, keep up the good work! Looking forward to reading more.

At 5:40 AM, Anonymous MoRocco said...

Hi! Great review on Morocco and Spain! Wish I could write that well..


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