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Oct 24, 2002 03:18 PM

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.


              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.