food and drink


food and drink
   The increasing pace of life, which is a feature of modern and especially urban Spain, together with cultural influences from outside the country, have effected many changes in eating and drinking habits.
   Traditional Spanish dishes are mainly the products of regional cooking, which owes its variety to a range of historical, economic and especially geographical factors. The Meseta, the central plain of Castile, a wheat-producing and pastoral region, is the home of roast lamb. The northern coastal regions are rich in fish and meat, and the Ebro valley in trout and market garden vegetables. Catalonia, and especially Valencia and Murcia, are renowned for dishes such as the famous paella, which depend on rice, one of several commodities first introduced by the Arabs. Typical of Andalusia is the cold vegetable soup, gazpacho, and the region is also famous for pescaíto frito (mixed fried fish).
   In addition, the quality and authenticity of many local products are protected by guarantees of origin (Denominaciones de Origen), including eleven types of cheese (those made from the milk of cows, sheep and goats are the ones most commonly eaten in Spain), three of the huge variety of locally produced hams (those from Teruel, Guijuelo and Dehesa de Extremadura), four kinds of fresh meat, two kinds of rice, various varieties of fruit and vegetables, four brands of olive oil, honey from La Alcarria and turrón (a form of nougat made from honey and almond etc.) from Jijona.
   These originally local cuisines and products have become increasingly "nationalized", helped in no small measure by the phenomenal growth in the publication and sales of cookery books, and the development of cookery sections in magazines, all of which reflect the greater interest in culinary matters in the 1980s and 1990s. This phenomenon, together with the virtual disappearance of domestic help, has also led to the establishment of high-class restaurants throughout the country and to an increase in the frequency of dining out.
   Spain is also experiencing the effects on its cuisine and diet of various socio-economic and cultural changes. One of these is the increasing "internationalization" of food and eating habits. French, German, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Indian and Mexican are only some of the many types of restaurant to be found, especially in the largest cities, and "exotic" imported foods from regions such as Latin America, the Caribbean and Asia are increasingly common. At the other end of the scale, cornflakes and other cereals have begun to oust the traditional breakfast, margarine is increasingly used instead of olive oil for cooking toasted sandwiches and eggs, and the bottle of ketchup is the modern substitute for tomate frito, the traditional condiment based on fried tomatoes. Especially noticeable have been the general increase in the pace of life and the growing number of women who go out to work, developments which have both contributed to and been encouraged by the availability of fast food outlets and "convenience food". A study of the typical "shopping basket" of the mid-1990s showed, by comparison with that of the mid-1970s, that foods requiring long preparation, such as chickpeas, had virtually disappeared from it, while frozen foods and pre-cooked dishes, easy to store and cook with the advent of freezers and microwave ovens, were very popular. It is reckoned that the time spent preparing a lunchtime meal has shrunk from sixty minutes to fifteen.
   The contents of the modern Spanish shopping basket are not, however, determined solely by speed and convenience. Chicken and salmon, once prohibitively expensive, are examples of foods that have become commonplace because they are much cheaper relative to other meat and fish, while the popularity of salads and other light food reflects an increased concern for healthy eating. There have been marked changes too in preferred drinks. Spain is the producer of a huge range of wines, and wine was still the most likely accompaniment to the foods in the 1976 shopping basket, together with Spanish sparkling/mineral water such as La Casera. But by the middle of the 1990s they had been ousted by beer and American soft drinks, especially among the younger generation. Many well-known brands of German beer are brewed under licence in Spain, and are often preferred to the traditional bottle of wine. Besides, changes in work-patterns have begun to make inroads on the custom of having a heavy meal with wine in the early afternoon, followed by a siesta.
   See also: mealtimes; merienda
   Further reading
   - Andrews, C. (1989) Catalan Cuisine: Europe's Last Great Culinary Secret, London: Heathline.
   - Aria, P. (1992) Essential Food and Drink: Spain, Basingstoke: Automobile Association (a useful general guide).
   - Casas, P. (1985) The Foods and Wines of Spain, Harmondsworth: Penguin (a handy compendium).
   - —— (1991) Tapas: The Little Dishes of Spain, London: Pavilion (one of the few studies of this very distinctive feature of Spanish cuisine).
   - Read, J., Manjón, M. and Johnson, H. (1987) The Wine and Food of Spain, London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson (co-authored by one of the leading writers on Spanish food and wine).
   - Ríos, A. (1992) The Heritage of Spanish Cooking, London: Ebury Press.
   EAMONN RODGERS

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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