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Spanish food - full of mayo?

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So a woman I know just returned from Spain and told me that the food there is "gross - all mayo and fish salads and boiled meat." Now, I don't necessarily trust her taste or powers of observation, but it is a fact that I cannot stand mayonnaise, cream or aioli. (Oddly enough, I like cream in desserts, but can't bear it on savory food.) Please reassure me that I will be able to eat successfully in Spain. Thanks.

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  1. Opinions on Spanish food tend to differ quite widely on this board. I have a good friend (also a chowhound) who lived in Madrid for 3 years and after my two week holiday to visit her plus subsequent travels down to Seville, Cordoba and Granada I have this assesment to make: Spanish food is a huge disappointment. Tapas is good in Seville but horrid in other places. Mayonaise is everywhere - please avoid at all costs. The said friend who spent 3 years in Madrid contracted salmonella from eating mayonaise. Apparently this is fairly common (according to her Spainish doctor).

    The Spanish don't like vegetables - you will have a hard time finding any other than fried potatoes. The cusine is largely fried and not hugely flavourful, however in Madrid we did eat at a brilliant Paella restaurant frequented by locals and located in the vacinity of Atocha train station - though, unfortunately the name elludes me. One of the things I found particularly lacking about Spanish food is creativity. Everything includes either jamon (cured ham like parma ham), chorizo sausage (good but not every day), potatoes, manchego cheese (again, good but not with every meal), and fried seafood (squid or whitebait).

    I'm sorry if I have made matters worse by telling you this. I'm sure someone else will step forward and argue the contrary. Good restaurants do exist - I'm sure. Perhaps a good amount of research is necessary before you visit.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Hallie


      If there is some trick to spotting good restaurants, we never figured it out. Better to have plenty of fino sherry and tapas, which as noted is good in Seville, poor other places. If the tapas is lousy, sherry and a ham sandwich is available at the bar and tasty if not exactly what you went to Spain for.

      1. re: Hallie

        I completely disagree! I have had some of the best food ever in Spain! I lived in Spain for over ten years, and it's not true that Spaniards have vegetables! I'm shocked! Vegetables are served with every meal and the markets have wonderful (and cheap) produce.

        The issue that people may be encountering is this: tapas are often greasy and meat-based, and a good healthy meal is often not cheap (still cheap compared to the US, but more expensive than having some fried calamari at the first place you see). So people on a budget, and who don't know locals and/or have a good restaurant guid, can suffer.

      2. Traditional Spanish food does tend to be underseasoned for American tastes, except for the salt levels, which are right up there. Most tables have salt only for the salads, which you dress with oil and vinegar, salt and ground white pepper after you receive them. It's best to bring a pepper mill and shaker of cayenne. This will perk up your meals considerably.

        Yes, they love their mayo. On the plus side, they usually serve it on the side. Just don't order the "ensaladilla", which is potato salad, with loads of mayo. Can you speak Spanish? "No quiero mayonesa" is what you need to say, or have written on a card to show the waiter.

        The fry a lot of stuff, but you can avoid this. They never get tired of french fries there. We did. They don't usually sneak creamy sauces in where you don't expect it. Cream sauce, bechamel in both English and Spanish, is particularly bland, and a major component of many Spanish-style "Italian" dishes. Unless you like overcooked macaroni, avoid the pasta. They always cook it soft.

        Lots of nice vegetables are available in markets, if you want to cook them or snack on them raw. Aside from that, you'll probably want to stick to salads and pimientos de padron, as most vegetables that are available are cooked absolutely to death - a state of greyishness that we see as extraordinarily unappetizing.

        Hopefully you like pastry for breakfast, if so, buy churros and coffee or hot chocolate (outstanding).

        Remember that they are still into their traditional cuisine, and they haven't modified it to suit the whims of duelling medical researchers or foreign tourists. The food is basically simple, not fussy. Shellfish and fish are good. Wine is cheap, olives, meat, cheese and bread (hopefully you like it without butter) and tapas can round out your diet.

        2 Replies
        1. re: ironmom

          You sound like you know a lot about Spanish food. I love what I have eaten in Barcelona, Sevilla and up north near the border ( fois gras in abundance to die for!)I am now living in the Costa Blanca (paellas are good and nice fresh fish and seafood) and the dining out scene is really boring. Tapas are more of the same, paella, calamari,etc. Am dying to find some offbeat yummy places and maybe the odd "gourmet" experience. If you can help - please! I have been living in Brussels, Bangkok and Taipei previously and am a bit spoiled for good eats.

          1. re: Elizabeth

            I only stayed in Santiago de Compostela. Spanish food is what it is - if you're looking for the kind of variety you find in many other places, you'll be disappointed. Of course, Santiago de Compostela is a very Spanish city, too. There isn't the presence of ethnic groups that is needed to get a variety of cuisines.

            I found more balance when I did some of my own cooking, because I always ended up craving stuff that was unavailable. Like melted cheese. Or crisp-tender veggies.

            I understand that Spaniards who come to visit the US end up missing the french fries that come with almost every meal there.

        2. Poppycock! I protest!

          Spain is the same as anywhere else--there are good restaurants and bad restaurants. To condemn all Spanish food and claim its full of mayo is as silly as evaluating French food based on what you find at the Charles de Gaulle airport.

          I used to go to Spain regularly for vacations and I usually went to Paris on the same trip. I found good food and lousy food, in both places. I'm not sure where you were finding the food full of mayo---the only thing I can think of that might fit in that description is ensalada russe.

          While Spanish food may not be focused on vegetables [and they may not have the highly developed breads of their Northern neighbors] Spain has great seafood and it is not just fried calamari --steamed cockles, mussels, barnacles [sp], incrediably fresh shrimp. Spain has great game--partridge, rabbit etc.
          Different regions have their own specialities, like the Basque region to the north where cooking is an art or Galicia for seafood or Valencia for paella. One thing you want to make sure is not to try a particular regions speciallities in another region---had a sad experience eating paella in Toledo one time [don't know what I was thinking]. Most cities have great open markets to wander through---in Bilbao, the market is three stories tall which each floor specializing.

          Get a good spanish cookbook---something by Penelope Casas--- and learn about Spanish food and what's best where. She also has guidebook on restaurants in Spain but I can't remember the title.

          But don't judge until you've been there.

          5 Replies
          1. re: jenn

            Mind you, I've never been to Spain and I can't wait to go and eat! I was just concerned about my officemate's description of the cuisine, as I has assumed it was olive oil-based, not mayo/cream-based (like France).

            1. re: eeee

              No cream in mayo - its an oil based sauce (with egg and lemon/vinegar)

              1. re: jen kalb

                I know, but what can I say - I think it's icky!

                1. re: eeee

                  Things may get better if you do some homework before you go and dont just take pot luck wherever you happen to land- I have posted a link below to a thread that mentions some reliable food guides about spain. One of the recommended guides is in Spanish but dont be intimidated; its not hard to get this limited amount of info out of a foreign language guide even if you dont know the language.

                  There is also a guide/cookbook called To the Heart of Spain, Food and Wine Adventures Beyond the Pyrenees, by Ann and Larry Walker which might lead you to some good places.

                  Last but not least, if you search the International Board for Spain or the names of your destination cities, you can probably create quite a reliable list for yourself. Just go to that message board, hit control f and insert your search term. Good luck, I am totally sure you will find some great food on your trip.

                  Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

              2. re: eeee

                Mayo is made with oil, eggs and vinegar,,,and in Spain, it is made with the local GREAT fresh olive oil, so it tastes great and is slightly green.

                I suspect your office mate ate alot of food from places that served "the 2 meals included a day" crowd. Not the way to judge ANY country's food!

            2. Of course you can eat wonderfully in Spain without any mayo! I don't know what that person was talking about. Perhaps all they had was cheap food in bars, which sometimes have greasy food and many tapas with a generous amount of mayo.

              1. I am spending five days in Barcelona in April. Problem: I am allergic to mayonnaise, I can eat all the ingredients but when they are emulsified, something happens and my system rejects it violently. Am I going to starve in Barcelona?

                2 Replies
                1. re: DollarBill

                  Returned from Barcelona and my "mayo" fears were unwarranted. Never had a bad meal and never saw even a hint of mayonnaise. In addition, I was delightfully amazed with the quality of fruits and fruit stands in La Boqueria. While here in America we believe of fruits and vegetables are superior to anywhere in the world, I couldn't believe the sweetness and the size of just about every type of fruit. For cheese lovers, don't pass up the "real" machengo and mahon cheeses. Heaven.

                  1. re: DollarBill

                    I'm glad you had a good time. There was definitely a lot of allioli (which, in its cheapest incarnation, is mayonnaise with garlic in) in Barcelona but it wasn't unavoidable. The fruit in La Boqueria is delicious-looking but some of the temporary markets in L'Eixample or even way out by Selva de Mar are just as good, and cheaper.

                    I was shocked by the seafood -- it was so much better than even just next door in France, yet it was mostly prepared by Basques. Barcelona is still "the city with its back to the sea", I guess -- while there's good seafood available, it's not something people eat every day.

                    If you're a typical tourist and you're starving hungry at 6:30 PM and by 7:30 you're wandering La Rambla, ready to eat anything that doesn't crawl away from you as you try to stab it with your fork, yes, you're going to be eating a lot of crappy mayonnaisey glop, especially on pintxos of dubious quality.

                    We eat very well in BCN, and I don't think of mayonnaise when I think of Catalan food. While allioli is often mayonnaisey, the other "Catalan mother sauces" (samfaina, picada, sofregit, romesco) aren't mayonnaisey at all -- and most restaurants have escalivada, which is aubergine and red pepper.

                    It's not a vegetable-heavy cuisine, for sure... but that doesn't mean they don't eat vegetables. Just avoid amanida rusa (which is a good idea for anywhere in the world).

                    Perhaps next week I will make esqueixada... I miss it.

                2. I've spent time in Andalucia in and around the Sherry triangle. I found the food in that region to be wonderful. I don't remember having anything that remotely resembled mayo while I was there. We ate much grilled seafood in Cadiz, olives/cheese/jamon round the clock, and gallons of Manzanilla and Amontillado. I even fell in love with that fat spread on bread with my cafe cortado every morning!

                  Oh yeah, there are some great places to get schwarma in Granada!

                  1. i've been to spain and i loved eating there. i think your friend probably got roped into touristy places and/or doesn't understand traditional cuisines. the fish, eggs and meats are pristine and often simply prepared. the cheese and olives glorious. i stumbed on a place, lost, late one night driving to toledo, that served game trapped and shot by the owners. most delicious partridge i've ever had. even the egg sandwich i had a truck stop was delicious.

                    not one person has mentioned that some of the world's most extraordinary and inventive food is coming out of spain right now. hello, feran adria, anybody?

                    your co-worker's blanket comment is ignorant.

                    1. When I spent two weeks in central Spain in 1990, I don't think I encountered a speck of mayonnaise. I would remember, because I dislike it.

                      Spanish food has significant regional variations, with the counterintuitive result that Madrid -- the highest capital in Europe, up on a high dry plain -- is a major place for seafood!

                      Anyway, I had good vegetables, but what struck me was the superlative fruit (it was fall); I've never had comparable anywhere else except Hawaii.

                      The roasted meats (lamb, pork, et cet.) were great.

                      Understand that tourist-oriented menus (which Spain regulates pretty heavily in terms of number of courses and what not, IIRC) might be heavier in things you don't like.

                      And Spain has an interesting customer complaint system that can be your friend if you think you're being taken advantage of.

                      1. Thanks to all. That's a relief.

                        1. I just clutched my pearls when I read the posts bashing Spanish food! I love, love, LOVE Spain. I went there the fall of '05, had such a great time that I returned for another holiday the Spring of '06 and don't recall everything being mayonnaise-laden. I had a couple of the my favorite meals ever at restaurants there---Lambok in the Chueca area of Madrid where my friend had a delicious kangaroo steak---and a wonderful chinese meal. I agree w/those that say that there are good restaurants and bad restaurants WHEREVER one goes. If you do your research ahead of time (on Fodors or Chowhound for instance) I think you should be able to find some reasonably good cuisine that suit your palette. Don't be afraid!

                          1. You can definitely eat well, but to be safe, anything that could have mayo, just ask for it sans - My friend and I (both mayo abhorrers) went to a Barcelona cafe and thought we'd be adventerous and order a bunch of things from the menu - not kidding, everything but maybe one dish had mayo all in it or over it - a $50 laugh and we went down the street to a great restaurant and had some paella...

                            1. I've never been to Spain, not in a long time anyway, (and I'm in Oklahoma) but every time I read about the food there I've been overwhelmed by the wealth of riches. It has a long history. The kings in Madrid used to have teams of horses running fish in from the coast just so it could be fresh. And so many influences. Barcelona (which has many special dishes) was occupied by Greeks, Arabs, Phoenicians, etc. In the north, pilgrims from all over Europe traveled to the shrines at Santiago, bringing knowledge of their cuisines to the inns they stayed in; maybe that's why Basques are such great chefs. Here's a tiny glimpse of the food, based on one restaurant in Newark. http://www.chowhound.com/topics/255972

                              Mayonnaise. I don't know, but I've met people in Europe who think that Americans put ketchup on everything.

                              1. In my opinion the Spaniards take the same ingredients used by Italians but create boring to gross food. I don't get it. And yes, far too much mayo.

                                1. the past couple times that i have gone to the fair and bought corn there has been mayo out among the toppings. personally, corn and mayo should not go together. plus, i wonder if the employees change the mayo throughout the day. it's just sitting out in the heat. doesn't it go bad? i can't image that's good.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: goldenroxy

                                    "elote" is a mexican dish of corn on the cob cooked with mayo and lime, then finished with shredded cheese. it isn't spanish.

                                      1. re: hotoynoodle

                                        And one of my favorite eats at Mexican street parties. Also corn, mayo, and chile sal limon!

                                    1. I shudder to wonder where the "Spain-haters" above have eaten in Spain. I have travelled in Spain extensively and have been consistently impressed. I never eat paella there, nor have I run into ANY mayo there. Where are y'all eating? Gas stations? Most breakfasts are light and include fresh cold meats, eggs, fresh bread, fresh squeezed juice, or more traditionally just a chocolate and churros.In Santiago I have returned to Casa Marcelo again and again...a small dining room surrounding the active kitchen for food that would be triple the price in NYC. In Madrid, try Jaime Renedo's ASIANA, culinary fireworks reminds me a lot of Blackbird in Chicago. In the northwest, the seafood in Galicia is so fresh and diverse, it is served simply steamed, no butter, no sauce...try some percebes along with a good bottle of albariƱo. The tapas in Bilbao are fantastic, each bar putting out a huge array of foods. In San Sebastian, Arzak's influence climbs into the hills...a dinner at Mugaritz two years ago ranks as one of my top five meals of all time...far better than any Paris meal I have had to date. And then there's Barcelona and the waves of influence flowing down from El Bulli. The southern coast cities are of a differnt flavor and tend to be more tourist-oriented, but there is no dearth of GREAT food. If you're going to have paella, Valncia is the place. From small bars and taverns to the grand luxe restaurants. Spain is having a prolonged culinary moment. The wines are terrific too...try some Ribera del Duero's or Bierzo's Try eating where and when the Spainiards eat: chocolate first thing, a fresh "snack" at 11am, a good big meal at 2 or 3, meet friends for drinks and tapas at 7 or 8pm, if you go out for dinner at night, do not plan on showing up before 10pm (midnight is the Spanish equivalent of NYC dinner at 8). For those of you who missed the great food there...please go back and dig a little deeper. Jeez, you don't know what you've missed!

                                      1. my 1st trip to spain was w/ a boyfriend, who was from central america. he was thrilled to go, as was i. our 1st night in seville, after almost 20 hours of flying and driving, we went to a place recommended by the desk clerk of our hotel. we were tired and kinda cranky. it was early by spanish standards, about 9:00. i ordered a glass of wine, he wanted a martini. in europe that usually means dry vermouth, aka martini and rossi. he couldn't understand the confusion so reluctantly ordered a beer. for dinner, he wanted a steak. i tried to discourage him but he was adamant. i ordered shrimp and potatoes. they were sweet, juicy, perfectly cooked and my spuds were crispy on the outside and creamy inside with a hefty sprinkle of salt and paprika. it was just what i needed -- simple and delicious. his steak was cooked well-done, which is how spaniards normally eat it. he hated it, and could not be convinced he'd ordered badly. even the waiter had lifted an eyebrow.

                                        my point is that rather than accepting and embracing local cuisine, he had expected an "american" kind of dinner. so yeah, he was bound to be disappointed. more meals than not went that way for him, but i got happier everyday trying cool local stuff.

                                        it saddens me that on a board like this people will dismiss the cuisine of an ancient and noble country as "gross."

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: hotoynoodle

                                          I'm sure some Europeans do this. They've heard that the most popular restaurants in the US are McDonalds and Taco Bell, and they believe that the best way to find a good authentic restaurant is to go where the natives eat, so they do, and then they hit a diner close to their hotel, and tell all their friends, you won't believe how bad Americans eat, they throw ketchup on everything!

                                        2. Go to Spain. Visit Jerez. Spend a day at bodegas Gonzalez Byass and Pedro Domecq. Fall in love with Fino. Drive to Sanlucar and fall in love with Manzanilla.

                                          Come home and pine for the day you can return.

                                          1. When I was in Spain the food I ate was simply prepared, olive oil based and delicious. Keep in mind that I avoided anything with pork and cheese and in spite of this I still had so much to choose from! The only fresh veggies I found in abundance were in the salad mixto (usually lettuce, asparagus, canned fish- but good quality, olives, cucumbers, eggs with AMAZING olive oil) and gazpacho...but no matter what I ordered with few exceptions, the food is fresh and delicious. Try the tortilla espanola- eggs, potatoes and onions in olive oil- so simple and so yummy. The pollo olio- chicken and garlic in olive oil. If you want to avoid fried, try their seafood. Their sandwich selections are limited by american standards )(pork and or cheese- none of which I can eat or tuna in pastry) and I did find their pasta to also be overcooked but if you stick to simple classics you'll be happy. (If of course for some reason you do not like olive oil you may wish to stick to other ethnic cuisines- look for moroccan, asian, french, american, etc)

                                            1. I'm making an assumption, based on some people I know. But I think some people expect Spanish food to be similar to Mexican food, and it's just not. I really enjoyed eating while in Spain. I don't remember things being especially creamy. As for mayo/aioli, it accompanied a lot of dishes, but wasn't mixed in. I don't think I ever had boiled meat. As for tapas bars, some were unbelieveable, others were worse than mediocre...same can be said for bar food anywhere. One thing funny thing I remember is the so-called "bikini" sandwich. Basically ham and cheese. I have no idea why it was called a bikini (you certainly wouldn't eat them to fit into a bikini!) Someone else mentioned churros y chocolate...so, so good, unbelievably good! (also not good for a bikini body though!)

                                              1. In Madrid, we very much enjoyed a vegetarian restaurant, Al Natural, at Calle Zorilla 11, about three blocks from the Th.-B museum.

                                                1. Sadly....I have to agree about the over abundance of Mayonnaise in tapas, I was in San Sebastian in early August 2012.

                                                  I had traveled there 20 yrs. ago and can't seem to recall so many "salads" consisting of small quantities of seafood to large servings of mayo, placed upon bread rounds. If I am correct, there were mostly skewered pinxtos, veggies, cheeses, meats and seafood.

                                                  Times are tough now and everyone, everywhere is making cut-backs. Maybe this is my imagination getting the best of me, but I think quality has been compromised for quantity......

                                                  1. While I wouldn't say Spanish food was "full of mayo", I would say mayo is present. It is also present pretty much in all Latin American cuisines. Personally, I find that only in the US are there so many "ani-mayo" people. I don't get it. I'm not a massive fan of mayo, and I don't put it on most things, but I accept it. Potato salad with lots of mayo is common in Spain. Yet, that doesn't mean it's a completely mayonized cuisine--perhaps just more than in the USA.