Last night I made nachos with Melanie. Although Spain is a Spanish speaking country (shocking, I know), Mexican food is not common here. Before I came here, I knew Spanish cuisine wasn’t like Mexican cuisine at all, but I still thought that Mexican food would be readily available here as we live in a globalized world with lots of immigration and as immigration between nations that share a language is higher than between nations with different languages, I imagined Spain would receive a lot of immigrants from Mexico. I was wrong.
There is one Mexican restaurant in Salamanca and I’ve heard
mixed reviews about it. There are two “Mexican” restaurants within two blocks
of each other on M Street by Georgetown. I’m an East Coaster so my definition of what
is Mexican food is different than that of West Coaster, Texans and probably
Mexicans. I consider burritos, nachos, fajitas etc of any variety to be Mexican
food, which means I count Chipotle, Qdoba and the like. I’m not saying they are
the best Mexican food I’ve ever had (that would probably be Cactus Cantina),
but its Mexican food. I’ll admit I have no idea what’s the difference between
Mexican food and Tex-Mex. I’m guessing the amount of beef.
The lack of Mexican food is not just reflected in the lack of Mexican restaurants here, but also the availability of ingredients needed to cook said food. There is only one supermarket here that has tortilla chips, and their selection is very limited. Before this discovery, I had lamented the lack of corn chips in Spain to Melanie and several others. They point out that there are Doritos here. I’m sorry, Doritos may be made of corn but they are not tortilla chips. I was at a party and people were eating guacamole with Doritos….the horror, the horror. Melanie surprised me earlier this week with a bag of honest to goodness corn chips she found in a supermarket. I took that as a sign that I needed to make nachos to share with this strange land.
There are some linguistic difficulties when searching for nacho ingredients in Spain. First off, you can’t ask for tortilla chips as tortillas here are about an inch and a half thick concoction of egg, onion and potato…think thick omelet (which is a tortilla Frances here). Secondly, salsa in Spanish means sauce. If you ask “where can I find salsa?”, people will ask you what kind of salsa you want, which ranges from pasta sauce to stuff you use to baste a turkey. Also, since nachos don’t exist here, nacho cheese doesn’t exist either. This made selecting the cheese quite and adventure, I eventually settled on cheddar that was sliced for sandwiches. Finally, I have no idea what sour cream is in Spanish, nor can I describe it adequately, so it was sour cream-less nachos.
I spent 15 Euro on two bags of tortilla chips, a can of black olives without stones, cheddar cheese, salsa, guacamole, refried beans and a liter of OJ. There was only one size jar of salsa and it was tiny, it was about the size of a stick of butter, it was also more than three Euros. The fact that nearly blew my mind was that salsa was more expensive than guacamole; it is the opposite in the States. This really messes with the whole nacho topping balance since it’s cheaper to be guac dominated than salsa dominated. It would be an amazing development if the guacamole in the store was good and not liquidier than ketchup. Avocados are a little pricey here, but plentiful, next time I will make my own guacamole. We had a little cheese difficulty as there was no block of cheddar, and even if there was, we don’t have a grater, so we ripped up sandwich cheese slices. It ended up being a good lesson in chemistry and how more surface area makes it easier for matter (in this case cheese) to change its state (from solid to liquid), which is to say it didn’t melt so well.
But in the end, it was delicious. Melanie had some trouble
at first since she didn’t understand the nacho eating procedure (hands are key,
cutlery is ridiculous and napkins are a must) and she had also never had a
nacho before so the sensation was very new to her. While eating I realized how
much I had missed the taste of spicy, which doesn’t exist here (patatas bravas
After nachos, Melanie’s Brazilian flat mate, Sheila, decided to make popcorn from the kernel. This led to a surprising cultural exchange. I asked where for butter and salt, Melanie asked for the sugar, and Sheila brought out ketchup for herself. I learned that in Brazil popcorn is eaten with ketchup and usually mayonnaise and that in Brazilian movie theaters you there are ketchup and mayo dispensers for this purpose. Neither of the girls had heard of the concept of putting melted butter and salt on popcorn, which for me as an American who has worked for a movie theater (oh the Narberth Theater, fond memories), was very odd. Melanie was extremely shaken by learning of these two other methods of popcorn eating, almost as shaken as when she learned that there are many versions of Monopoly and that the original does not take place in Paris. For Melanie, popcorn is always with sugar or caramel. I didn’t suffer too much culture shock from learning that as we have caramel corn in the US too. Melanie decided to be brave and try popcorn with ketchup (I refused) and reported that it tasted “like popcorn, but with ketchup.”
Next time we go to the movies, I’m getting popcorn.
p.s. This post is longer than the last paper I had to write for class and I also wrote this in a fifth of the time it took me to write my other paper. I guess that reflects on the facts that my command of English is far stronger than my command of Spanish, that it’s easier to recount a story than to craft an essay and that I have a strong passion for Mexican food.
p.p.s Melanie wrote about this experience too in her blog (in French). The tittled sums up her sentiments pretty well - Gastronomic Traumatism.