Chapter 19: Yummy-Nummies

Uncle Jimmy!

Do you and your siblings still celebrate the winter holidays together? Remember how you and Uncle Bobby used to steal something from your sister’s house every year as a Christmas Surprise, and how pissed off she would get? Do you still swipe something out of her casket now, just for old times sake? Like maybe her femur?

I’ve recently noticed that my letters to you have been covering many basics of my life now: history, people, and places. But no real deep dives into cooking, which is probably the most important thing to write about when traveling, right? 🙂 Food? It’s a moral imperative, I think. Perhaps even a law in some countries. Every time I pondered starting a new letter, I knew I must eventually discuss nourishment and food culture with you.

And that when is now.

“Food Life” here in Barcelona is different. Shopping and cooking in Spain is very healthy and very local. Yes, they have a large-ish grocery store semi-near where we live, but we only go in those when we need things not fresh. Because there are so many better options for recently picked, fished, and harvested fare. Bakeries, butchers, fish mongers, and produce booths. Many versions of each, all within blocks of wherever we find ourselves. We shop for the day. It is what’s currently available within our area. And it is night and day superior to Safeway and a freezer.

For instance, one block away from our apartment is the Barceloneta Market. All sorts of food vendors under a huge roof. Half of which seem to sell seafood … except on Mondays and Sundays. Why? The fishermen don’t go out on weekends. So there simply isn’t any ‘plucked right out of the sea’ goodness to sell. It’s that fresh.

We went to the produce stand the other morning in the same market, and it was slim pickings. Again, it didn’t come out of the ground that week, so it wasn’t on display for sale.

They even have vendors who only sell fresh herbs. Nothing else. And we love all of the specialization.

What this translates into is a seemingly healthier population. I know you were fastidious about your weight, but the average North American isn’t. Including me. Obesity is a huge issue in the States. But not here. Overweight people are rare. Most are fairly thin or just normal.

Yes, there is a lot more smoking, which might help in a sick sort of way. But there is also a much higher amount of movement. People in Europe walk everywhere.

Food portions in restaurants are right-sized. In Spain, they eat the biggest meal mid-day, with smaller ones at the beginning and end. And it all works.

Once you notice that there isn’t morbid obesity everywhere, you can’t un-notice it. You can’t help but to compare it all to our way of life back in the United States, as much as I’m trying not to compare. And sadly, in this contest, we don’t win. We don’t even come in second.

OK, back to the food. The other day I bought some shrimp-like things at the market. They told me to cook them any way I wanted … fried, boiled, sautéed. Easy, right? Except these were whole. As in, with head and limbs still firmly attached. I didn’t know exactly what the hell to do with them. Shrimp back home come decapitated with all those inedible parts removed. But when in Rome, and all that, right?

I marinated them in random spices, sautéed them in olive oil, and served them with grilled chunks of zucchini and onion. The plating was so beautiful that I immediately snapped several pictures worthy of any grand food magazine. We sat down with a bottle of dry white and …

… had one of the grossest ordeals of forcing food down our gullets in recent memory. This was just nasty stuff. Not so much the actual ingredients, although I wanted to blame them. Mostly it was cooking in a strange kitchen, with Spanish-labeled spices I was unsure of, and something alien to prepare.

Twas not my best showing as a chef. 🙂

But, life’s always better when you screw up, I usually believe. We didn’t starve, I have a picture posted that I can smile at when others compliment, and I know better than to do weird shrimp in that way again. All part of the journey.

OK, my dear uncle, Barcelona is calling me and I need to go answer her. More soon.

Love, Rick

LETTERS TO A DEAD UNCLE

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