On the last leg of our whirlwind trip through four countries, England, Italy, Greece and Spain, we landed in Spain with high expectations. Our daughter, Nicole, lived in Barcelona for a few months almost a decade ago, while doing a work study program. She had raved about the food, so we were ready, or so we thought. Alan speaks enough Spanish for us to get by well in Mexico and Latin America, but for some reason it just didn't work as well in Spain. Part of the problem was identifying the foods on the menu. For many items, we were not familiar with the English translations. Frequently, even if the menu was available in English, the waiter did not understand English, so the ability to ask questions was limited to our knowledge of Spanish. I had my Gluten free Spanish Passport, and used it as appropriate, and made it through the country without being glutenized, which was my primary goal.
Grilled seafood and meats, and salads are widely available. Gluten free foods, as such, are not. Tapas are outrageously popular in Spain, and options like olives, cheese, shrimp, and Iberian or Serrano ham were available for these snacks, but many of the tapas are served on bread, or are fried, dredged in flour or a breading. I had proudly orderly a variety of tapas one afternoon, in Spanish, to find they all came delivered to the table on small rolls. The menu, I thought, was clear, and I had asked if they had gluten free bread available (they did not) and I proceeded to order a variety of bocadillas, turns out that in English that means sandwich. I hadn't learned that word yet, but now I have.
Paella is a widely available menu item, and we enjoyed a tasty version in Barceloneta along the waterfront. Everywhere I inquired, the paella was made gluten free. Surprisingly, Gazpacho, a cold tomato vegetable soup, always had bread in it. Spanish tortillas, which is an egg and potato dish served hot or cold, is widely available, and most were gluten free, but some were not. I found an incredible gluten free pistachio cake from a bakery in Barcelona, but failed to get the name of the business or another piece of cake the following day.
Our funniest experience happened in Sagunto, a beach side town south of Barcelona. A Catalan dialect known as Valencian is the language spoken in this region. The menus were not available in Spanish or English, and after deciding on a restaurant, none of the waiters could communicate with us either. I was able to order dorado (mahi-mahi), since the word is the same in Spanish, but Alan was actually making animal noises to determine the type of meat he ordered. He wound up with pork chops.
In Arcos de la Frontera, I ordered dorado a la plancha (grilled mahi mahi), the waiter explained, in Spanish (his only language), that they didn't have any available that evening and recommended his favorite, fresh from the sea, sepia. Once we discussed the way it was prepared, I ordered. What arrived about 30 minutes later was a bit of a surprise. Looking something like a clear/whitish jellyfish with tenacles, tasting it, we both decided to forgo this entree. Yes, we've eaten octopus, calamari and squid, but somehow we just couldn't get around the looks of this fellow. Turns out it was cuttlefish, and we had enjoyed it before, cut up and disguised in recipes, but this blob on the plate just didn't work. Guess it's just one of the hazards of ordering food with minimal language skills.
Our final evening in Madrid, we found a restaurant advertising gluten free items on their menu. They offered four items, one was flatbread with tomato and cheese, which I ordered and enjoyed with a glass of sangria. We experienced a lot of tasty foods while visiting in Spain, different, and for us unusual combinations. Yes, the gluten free was not widely available, and a bit of a challenge, but that is what the experience and fun of travel is all about. But, it's nice to be home, and in my kitchen so I can start cooking again!