When I learned that I’d be traveling to Spain one of the first things I thought about was the savory cuisine that Spain had to offer. Seeking culinary adventure isn’t exactly something I’m known for. To be honest I’m pretty boring when it comes to ordering food or picking out a new restaurant. It’s not that I’m uncomfortable with trying new foods; it’s simply a matter of knowing what food I like and sticking to it. When friends start raving about their favorite Indian dish I usually nod and listen, but for the most part it’s like they’re speaking a foreign language to me. See…I’m the guy who walks into the new French restaurant and orders a burger. But in Spain it would be different. Travel is all about letting your guard down and trying new things, and that’s exactly what I planned to do. I set out for Spain on a culinary quest to try new foods and experience authentic Spanish cuisine. Ironically, the biggest departure from my culinary comfort zone came when I tried to play it safe.
It was our last day in Barcelona and operation “Try new foods in Spain” was going smoothly. I had enjoyed several different types of paella, black hoof ham (Iberian ham), and I even went as far as eating octopus. Surprisingly most of the students I was traveling with showed zero hesitation when trying new foods. If they were going to boldly immerse themselves in Spain’s culinary culture, then so was I.
Before heading west towards Madrid we gathered for one last lunch in Barcelona. All of us decided to order two tapas each and together we’d sample a variety of foods before leaving the Catalan region. We went around the table and ordered in Spanish. Some chose traditional tapas such as croqueta de bacalao (cod croquettes) and tortilla de patatas (potato omelets), while others continued searching for new and exotic foods. I chose to play it safe, or so I thought, and ordered pescado frito and patatas bravas. I was fully aware of what patatas bravas were. For those of you who do not know, patatas bravas are cut up fried potatoes usually served with spicy tomato sauce and aioli. I had not tried pescado frito, but I mistakenly thought to myself, “Pescado frito? It’s probably similar to the fried haddock I’m accustomed to back in New England.” Fried fish and fried potatoes – In my mind I had just ordered fish and chips with a little bit of Spanish flair.
The waitress set down the tapas one by one and placed the pescado frito directly in front of me. I wasn’t expecting British style fish and chips (some believe fish and chips was inspired by pescado frito, but that’s another story) but I definitely wasn’t expecting what was put in front of me. On the plate were whole fried fish about four inches in length. This wasn’t a fried fillet of haddock or cod that I had often eaten back home, but a small pile of whole fish – head to tail, bone and all.
I had to try them. I couldn’t order pescado frito and then disrespectfully not even take a bite. As they had been the entire trip the students were up for the challenge. So we picked them up by the tail, and bit down on the miniature fried fish.
Aside from the extra crunch, the taste was no different than most other fish plates. I’m not sure I’ll order pescado frito the next time I travel to Spain, but I will continue trying new and unique cultural foods. I survived my quest for culinary adventure in Spain, but more importantly I didn’t waste the opportunity to fully experience a different culture. That’s really what traveling is all about. Whether it’s trying new Spanish foods or running with the bulls, for me travel is about breaking free from your comfort zone, and taking the opportunity to overcome fears, insecurities, and complacency.