I had never been to Spain before studying abroad and I wanted to immediately immerse myself in the unique culture. Within my first week in Barcelona, I took a Spanish cooking class! The class was organized through SAI and held at a modern kitchen just a few steps away from the Barcelona City Hall, in the Gothic Quarter. I was worried about how the food would turn out due to my lack of cooking ability, but the dishes were all delicious thanks to our teacher, Chef Mario. Our group prepared the different courses simultaneously and it culminated with an amazing meal.
Our feast started with roasted vegetables and Romesco sauce, then tortilla de patatas con pan con tomate (potato omelet with tomato bread), leading up to the massive main course of Valencian style paella, and finally we finished with a delectable Crema Catalana. Having the opportunity to learn how to cook traditional food from a local was an incredible experience.
One major cultural difference between Spain and the United States is the emphasis on long, wholesome meals. The cooking class was over three hours long including the time to eat the meal. In Barcelona, work and school is scheduled around long meals. In the U.S, many meals are often fast-paced and ordered to-go. On a normal day for Spaniards, breakfast is served around 8AM, midmorning snack at 11, Lunchtime starts between 2-4PM, another snack at 6 o’clock, and dinner never begins before 9PM- sometimes people don’t BEGIN eating dinner until past MIDNIGHT. In the cooking class, we didn’t start eating until 9:30PM, but it was worth it. The change in meal times has taken some getting used to, but I am slowly adapting to the local schedule and cuisine.
My role on our cooking team was to help prepare the dessert: Crema Catalana, a dish like crème brûlée. The overall dish was much easier than I expected, and only took six ingredients to create a tasty masterpiece. I loved cooking this dish and being able to burn the sugar on top at the end! The Romesco sauce was spicy and overflowing with flavor, a perfect complement to freshly roasted vegetables. The potato omelet was thick and filling, stuffed with onions and boiled in oil for 30 minutes. My favorite dish was the Valencian style paella, cooked in a massive pan specifically made for paella. Paella’s lively flavor comes from a wide range of different spices and seasonings. The dish included a mix of chicken, vegetables, a lot of garlic, and amazing rice. Overall, the meal was incredible and I left completely stuffed.
Chef Mario was a terrific instructor, managing to oversee the preparation of four intricate dishes and teaching the class about Spanish culture at the same time. It was an eye-opening experience to spend time with a local and learn firsthand about traditional food and Catalan traditions. I have loved living in a different country and exploring a new city, it’s life changing- and delicious!
Andrew is a SAI Barcelona spring 2018 student from the University of South Carolina.