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Spanish Culture

A guide to Spanish culture

This section offers advice and information on areas of the Spanish culture including food, bull fighting etc.

Spain has an extraordinary artistic heritage. The dominant figures of the golden age were the Toledo-based artists El Greco and Diego Velasquez. Francisco Goya emerged in the 18th century as Spain's most prolific painter and he produced some wonderfully unflattering portraits of royalty. The art world in the early 20th century was influenced by a remarkable group of Spanish artists: Pablo Picasso, Juan Gris, Joan Miró and Salvador Dalí.

Food in Spain

This guide is more of an introduction to the cuisine as each of the regions have their own distinct cuisine.

As a general rule of thumb the Spanish like to eat late! Be prepared if you want to fit in with the locals, you may have to retrain your stomach-clock to ward off those hunger-pangs!

Breakfast – desayuno, usually just a café con leche (white coffee) with a pastry to have on the way to work or a cup of hot chocolate served with churros which resemble small curls of batter not unlike that which makes doughnuts. This is hugely popular in central and southern Spain.

Lunch – comida/almuerzo, is eaten around 2.30pm and is often the main meal of the day for the Spanish. If you do want to eat out in stylish restaurants and at a decent price, then check out the menu del dia at lunchtimes.

Dinner – cena, is lighter and rarely eaten before 10 pm. If you get peckish then fill your time and your stomach with tapas if you cannot handle waiting that long!

In Spain, and when we say this we mean the real Spain (the Spain that is free of British theme pubs of the Costa del Sol), people eat tapas. Tapas are often served as a free accompaniment to a drink. If you want to have a meal, you take a table and order a “racion” or a large portion. If your stomach cannot handle such a serving then you could always opt for a media racion, a half portion. A few of these raciones, some salad and bread will be enough for most couples. The Spanish often like to move around from bar to bar to sample the varieties of tapas and make a real evening of it. You can have an individual plate of tapas (platos) but the general custom is not far removed from the Arabic method of sharing the same dishes with others and picking at what you want.

Typical dishes served in most taverns are:

Deep fried fish
Calamares – rings of squid
Boquerones – fresh anchovies
Lenguado – small sole
Gambas – shrimp or prawns. These are usually served “a la plancha” which means pan-fried (frito means deep-fried). You will find that often these are served with the legs and heads intact, giving you the fun task of peeling them off. Deep sea fish are usually cooked a la plancha such as aguja (needlefish), rape (not as suspect as it sounds – it’s actually angler or what the French call lotte) and swordfish.

Paella has a long tradition in Spain and its main ingredients are rice, accompanied with either seafood (mussels, squid etc.) or meat. There are many types and vary depending upon the locality. Often they are served in the pans they are cooked in, some of which can be sizable if they are for a group. Imagine a full-English breakfast served in a huge frying pan!

Ensalada – salad. This is typically made of tomatoes, lettuce, onions and olives and is served plain so you pour the dressing of aceite (oil) and vinagre (vinegar) yourself. Spanish salads are not always the tastiest, in fact they are often criminal in that when making them, the lettuce leaves are not even shaken to remove excess water.

Gazpacho – a chilled summertime soup, almost a liquid salad made more glutinous with the addition of bread dough. It is then enhanced with rich olive oil (unrefined oil is better), garlic and vinegar. It is consumed either as a soup or like a drink with your fish.

Patatas fritas – Fried potatoes. Usually tasty and fried in olive oil (sometimes large amounts!). This is the local method of cooking potatoes and is called “patatas a lo pobre”, potatos poor man’s style.

Huevos – Eggs. These are a big favourite with the Spanish. They rarely ever boil them choosing to either fry them or make an omelette, a tortilla. There are two types of omelette, the “tortilla espanola” (the Spanish omelette) and the “tortilla francesca” (the French omelette). The Spanish omelette is filling and stuffed full of potato and onions and served in slices or wedges in tapas bars. French omelettes are plain with no filling. We hope you like your omelettes well done as that’s the way they are served!

Ham is a massive delicacy in Spain but it is not the cooked Ham which is so common in the UK. Peculiarly the ham is called York Ham, jamón de York *. Similar to Parma ham it is a great delicacy here, but not the cooked kind you're used to, which, strangely, is called York Ham - jamón de York. Sample a slice to see if you like it, it's delicious but requires some getting used to. You will find that away from the bustling streets the ham is quite raw and pink, but in the cities you can get the more cured varieties. Spanish ham should be sweet as opposed to salty.

Pork sausage comes in various guises but the most common are chorizo (tender and spicy) and salchichón (drier and similar to Italian salami).

Whereas in Britain we like nothing better than to settle down to roast beef on a Sunday, in Spain it is something of a delicacy. It is known as ternera, which means veal. Order a "filete de ternera" and you will be presented a beefsteak fried in olive oil (in keeping with the trend).

You can get "chuletas de cordero" or lamb chops in most eating places but be warned they can be somewhat over-fried. They mercilessly over-fry them, for my taste.

Herbs are rarely used in cooking apart add flavouring to olives and mecidinal teas Strangely, herbs such as rosemary and thyme are not used in Spanish cooking, except to flavour table olives.

*jamón de York is pronounced ha-MON-day-YOR.

Drink in Spain

Wine is an essential accompaniment to any meal. In the south the wines tend to be sweeter. Most table wines are riojas and valdepenas. Riojas tend to be similar to the French Bordeaux but not quite as light whereas the Valdepenas rare favourable but not so smooth on the palate. The best of this wine is found between Madrid and Cordoba.

Sherry is most famous in the Jerez area and is the place where it was first exported. Today the UK buys some three-quarters of the exported sherry from this region.

The four main types of sherry are:

fino which is pale and dry,

amontillado , dry, richer in body and darker,

oloroso , medium, fragrant and golden dulce , which is sweet.


Brandy is inexpensive and palatable for most if rather sweet. Jerez is once again the home of some of some of the popular brands which include Magno and 103.

In the Basque Country, chacoli is a favourite, green wine, slightly sparkling and sour.

The majority of Spanish sparkling wines are sweet and fruity and even the inexpensive supermarket wines have an important place in the wine culture.

Cider also has an importance in Spain and also beer of which there are several large breweries.

More information about Spain

Flamenco

Flamenco is a Southern Spanish art and a genuine one at that. It’s origins and creators are often seen as the gypsies, but early Flamenco was undoubtedly influenced by the popular songs and dance. Actual Flamenco frequently shows influences of other kinds of music, as Jazz, Salsa, Bossa Nova, etc.

In recent times the mass media has opened our eyes to its art but it is essentially a deeply intimate kind of music. Real, authentic Flamenco is the type which you should enjoy in small groups, late at night in Southern Spain. The flamenco dance has changed with female dancers now using it to express their temperament as opposed to their artistry. Likewise the Flamenco guitar which would just serve to accompany the dancers has now evolved into an art form all of its own.

It exists in three forms:

  • Cante - the song
  • Baile - the dance and
  • Guitarra - guitar playing

Flamenco first appeared in literature during the late 18 th century when the first Flamenco schools were created in Casdiz, Jerez and the Triana ( Seville). Flamenco in this period existed mostly in the ballrooms and was purely vocal and only accompanied by a clapping of the hands. Guitar playing was introduced by the likes of composers such Arcas.

The Golder Age of Flamenco dates from about 1870 until 1910. This saw the emergence and development in the cafes cantantes or music cafes to its peak with the guitarists and dancers working side by side. Simulateously cante jondo also appeared expressing the deepest of emotions.

From 1910 to the mid-fifties, the musically easy ópera flamenca arrived with fandango tendencies and the South American influenced cantes de ida y vuelta. However, as it’s popularity increased and Flamenco became a more global art form, but this was seen by the elite as a dilution of the original form and as such saw competitions and contests to arise to promote the real, genuine article.

From 1955 Antonio Mairena and many of his contemporaries started what could be considered a rebirth or renaissance of the original art form. The best soloists and dancers soon appeared in the grander surroundings of the concert halls and theatres of the day.

Bullfight

The bullfight, la Corrida, is well-known part of Spanish culture and also one which can cause the most ambivalence since it can be seen as barbaric, yet for its admirers though it is considered to be more than a sport, rather like Flamenco it is seen as an art form: man against beast. The bull carries a huge amount of symbolism and would be nothing without the Toro Bravo, an ancient species only conserved and bred in Spain.

For the visitors of this website you may either read on from here or skip it depending on your feelings on the event. This is what happens chronologically:

The Paseillo, with all of those involved in the bullfight enter the ring and presents himself to the crowd.

Two Alguacilillos, on horseback, present themselves to the presidency and ask for the keys to “puerta de los toriles”. The puerta are the doors which holds the bull back. When the door is opened and the first bull enters the ring, it is the cue for the spectacle to start and the first of the three tercios or parts to start too. In each of the tercios, two bulls have to be reared.

The first tercio: the bullfighter uses the a capote, a large rag of purple and yellow colour. Two horsemounted picadors then enter with lance type weapons.

The second tercio: This is know as la suerte de banderillas. Three banderilleros have to stick a pair of banderillas into the back of the attacking bull.

The third tercio: The final part is the suerta suprema where the bullfighter uses the muleta, a small red rag. The point here is to display his ability and mastery to dominate the bull or faena and also to be at one with the beast.

The Corrida ends with the torero using his sword to kill the bull.

More information about Spain


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