Que tal la comida?
ALWAYS. Anyone who talks to me, asks me, “Que tal la comida?” which roughly translates to “How do you like the food?” My school was visited by a director in my program today to see how I was doing (both to see if my school was satisfied and to make sure I was adjusting well). She asked me if I liked the food.
Yes, I love the food. No, it is not too strong for me nor do the shrimp with eyes and cooked pig blood stop me from enjoying it. The only thing that I didn’t like was an anchovy (or sardine?) salad because the fish taste was just wayyyyy too strong (they were just stuck on the top of lettuce with tomatoes, oil and vinegar) . But canned fish in cheese pie with red peppers? Me gusta. (I like it).
One of the things I have noticed since coming here is that overall these people are thinner than Americans. In Aguilar, I definitely have not seen anyone who is morbidly obese and that is a common sight in the US.
Yes, they exercise more. Everyone walks but very few people run (this was my observation and was also told to me by a Spaniard). I also don’t see very many people who look like they are biking for the sake of burning calories. Most people ride (or walk) at a leisurely pace. It is simply a means of transportation.
Even with the extra exercise, their diet is not what an American would consider “healthy”. We eat white bread with every meal. I have only seen one item that my host mother eats that advertises high fiber (and yes I can recognize the Spanish word for fiber) and nothing that claims to be “whole grain”. Every meat I have eaten here is pan fried (if it isn’t a sausage like thing that has gobs of fat in it). Eggs also are always fried (either in tortilla or alone). Their meatballs are served in the liquid they are cooked in (without draining the fat). Homemade French fries made in the deep frier (my host father grows potatoes) are served at least three times a week. Alcohol is consumed daily (which is high in calories).
I do believe that their food is healthier though. I haven’t seen a single item with corn syrup as a sweetener. Most of the fruits and vegetables are locally grown (except the bananas which come from the Canary Islands). They soak their dried beans overnight before cooking them. Fewer artificial colors are used (my pudding was colored with cumin – a very healthy spice). The fish is all labelled as defrosted or freshly caught and you buy it as a fish with eyes and watch the fish guy (?) chop its head off and debone it for you.
My host family eats less processed food than your average American. Breakfast is packaged pastries, occasionally we eat a small piece of chocolate or turron after dinner, the tomato sauce comes in a box and once or twice I have had a preprepared meal (such as a frozen pizza). That is all. Everything else is prepared from veggies, meat, or legumes and maybe there is pasta in it. The fruit is just eaten as is. Even the bread served at every meal is fresh and one of my host siblings goes to the supermarket across the street to buy it every day.
Their diet is a balance of dairy, vegetables, fruit, meat and starches. Almost every meal has a vegetable dish and a meat dish (served in two different courses). Traditionally, lunch and dinner are finished with a fresh piece of fruit (I’m rarely hungry enough by then). Snacks are nuts, dried fruit, yogurt, chorizo(!) or sunflower seeds.
Even the fried foods aren’t unhealthy. (I have a study to back this up: http://www.naturalnews.com/034785_fried_foods_heart_health_olive_oil.html). Here everything is fried in olive oil. Olive oil is also what our salads are topped with (their salads don’t have croutons most of the time either). As this study shows, frying in olive oil is not a risk for your heart. I can send you (or post) studies indicating that “high fiber” and “whole grain” don’t really indicate healthy either.
The picture above is a hot mint tea. It was served with a sandwich: cured ham, tomato, and olive oil on traditional Spanish bread. (It is a demonstration of Spanish kindness – I was in a bar owned by friends of my host family and they gave it to me for free.)
I have been making my own observations about Spanish food ever since I got here (if you haven’t noticed, I’m a bit if a food/health nut). Ironically, my mother (biological) sent me this link today and I saw it right after my host father told me (and I understood his Spanish!) that Spanish food is much better than American food.