Food: A Cultural Difference

I experienced my first European backpacking adventure this past weekend. About ten USAC girls took off to Lisbon, Portugal for the five-day weekend. Four of us made a detour to Madrid for two days.

It was only five days, but it was exhausting. Am I too young to tell you I am getting too old to do this? I am not sure if I was exhausted because our multiple 8-hour sightseeing days, or because of the people I was with never seemed to stop going. But I just want a nap!

I wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything. I fell in love with Lisbon’s vibrant colors, beautiful tile, and endless graffiti.

I fell in love with what I do not see in Bilbao or Getxo. For the first time since my arrival in Spain, I was not comparing anything to California or Idaho, but I was comparing everything to Bilbao and Getxo.

Sure, there are still cultural differences between the U.S. and The Basque Country, but I was not thinking about it anymore because Bilbao/Getxo is my new home.

I found myself comparing the food: Basque vs U.S. vs Lisbon.

There is a lot of diversity when it comes to food in America. I used to ask myself, “What kind of food do I feel like tonight?” and the answer would be based off the food’s ethnicity. “I want Chinese food, or Mexican,” I would tell myself.

In Spain, at least in Bilbao, my answer would not be an option. Tapas, or Pintxos, or Kababs (a middle eastern dish). I do not know why there are so many Kabab places around Spain, but they are delicious. It’s a mixture between shredded lettuce, tomatoes, meat, a delicious mystery cheese, a thin ketchup like sauce, and a thin mayo-ranch-type sauce wrapped in a pita pocket. For vegetarians alike, they have falafel to replace the meat.

I cannot say I am a fan of Pintxos, but only because I am vegetarian. And the vegetarian Pintxos come complete with crab and ham. I wish I could say I could scrape off those bits of meat and seafood, but the crab is mixed in with the mayo and the taste lingers.

The only Pintxo I can eat are the Spanish tortillas, which I love! It is basically like a Quiche. A tortilla normal is cheesy potato, eggs and occasionally sautéed onions or peppers. Sometimes they make a sandwich with their fresh-baked baguette. I could eat this for every meal.

The tortilla sounds nothing special, right? It’s a very simple dish with not a lot of flavor, I know. But that is Spanish food. Or that is the Spanish food I can afford. I cannot treat myself to an actual restaurant. I have heard that Spain does not use a lot of spices, though. Instead, they use a lot of oil to cook things.

So once we made it to Lisbon, we felt as if we were in food heaven. The locals looked at us very weird when we raved about their most simple dishes. A simple sandwich with goat cheese, basil, and tomato was heaven to the four of us who ordered it. We went to a Portuguese restaurant and ordered food that came with flavor and spices. I am not sure if the food was actually that good, or if we have just been deprived of tasteful food. The world will never know.

A Portuguese dish (I don't know exactly what it is, but it was yummy!)

Overall, some of my food habits have changed and some have stayed the same:

-I used to hate Ketchup, but I learned to like it while in Spain because I need something to put on my food and hot sauce is not an option here. I told my mom, and all she could say was, “At 20 years old…” Ooopps!

-I drink coffee because it is only .25 E at school and it compliments my croissant breakfast. Which leads me to my next point…

-I eat small breakfasts. I do not like eating a pastry for breakfast because I get an overwhelming feeling of guilt. I miss veggie omelets with egg whites-something I have yet to find in Spain.

-I eat later in the day. My lunch is around 14 or 15:00 (2 or 3 p.m.), and my dinner is at 21:00 (9 p.m.), which keeps me up late at night. Dinner is eaten anywhere from 9:00 and can last until midnight! This meal is often eaten at a bar or a restaurant, while enjoying the company of friends. It may be full meal or just tapas/Pintxos while bar hopping.

Overall, I am getting used to Basque Cuisine, but my occasional backpacking trips will be including a lot of stops for different types of food so I can escape tortillas!

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