The Med Diet experience
I used to have a streetlight outside my bedroom window; now I have a palm tree.
After ten years reading and reporting on research into food, one thing stood out: nothing beats the Mediterranean Diet. Yet while so much has been written about it, and many of us do our best to try to adopt it, I wondered what it would really be like to fully experience it. So, after over 30 years of living in London, I upped sticks and moved to southern Spain.
My professional aim will be to try to open a window onto the Mediterranean diet for you. So, these notes will not be on academic research, more observations and anecdotes from the front line. I’ll be looking into how the Spaniards live, shop, cook, eat, exercise and enjoy life, hoping to learn the secret to how Spain is projected to be the country where people will take the global top spot for health by 2040.
- Is it the climate?
- The food?
- Meal preparation?
- The lifestyle?
- Or perhaps a combination of all of the above and more?
I’ve been here three months, and while I’ve spent a good deal of my time refurbishing my new home and settling in, it has also provided me with an opportunity for an introduction to aspects of the Spanish diet. Some have been surprising, others less so, but the place I intend to start is the kitchen.
If you come from Northern Europe one thing that is noticeable when viewing or moving into a Spanish property is how much smaller Spanish kitchens tend to be. Realtors will tell you that it’s because the Spaniards don’t cook at home much, but this has not been my impression. Indeed, when checking out hobs for the refurbishment of my kitchen, I discovered that there is an important difference to Spanish hobs and those elsewhere across much of Europe. While most European hobs have four rings for pots and pans, typically Spanish hobs have three with one especially large ring.
This intrigued me; ahh, must be for paella, I thought. Well, yes, however, it turns out this is not the only dish Spaniards cook at home. Typically, slow cooked foods are popular – making large one pot meals with lots of fresh produce. And with this discovery came another revelation: not only do the Spanish cook at home, when it comes to the Med Diet Spanish style, there is one simple rule of thumb: always add more! This is especially true when it comes to tomato, onion and garlic. The ripeness and freshness of these ingredients make their inclusion a delicious necessity, with each element of this classic troika incredibly sweet. My own little secret is to take individual unpeeled garlic cloves and drop them into the dish I’m preparing. Then after cooking, I squeeze the soft sweet flesh into the mix for a delectable Iberian flourish of my very own.
As for the canned tomatoes – not only are they cheap and delightful, from what I have seen, extra large cans are most popular.
Regarding the small size of Spanish kitchens, kitchens here are for preparing and cooking the food. When it comes to eating, why sit in the kitchen when you can dine under the stars?
A Spanish conundrum
I thought I’d round off this initial piece by examining an issue that has long confused and concerned many food researchers and dieticians; the predominance of pork in the Spanish diet. Too much pork is bad for us, right? Yet, as I can testify, no serious Spanish supermarket is complete without a section specialising in Iberian ham that can be carved off the bone in front of you. And the range of these processed meats is extraordinary – with cost ranging from cheap to sky high. Yet the thing to note: no matter the limitations of individual budgets, the portions are not excessive.
Might the secret simply be just a little of what you fancy? I’ll allow you to judge for yourself. Meanwhile I will look forward to providing more observations as I explore aspects of food and lifestyle, sharing secrets of what it means to eat real food and live healthily the Spanish way.
Next week, Baking bad with wholegrains, nuts and seeds, plus lots more reasons to make eating real food Just Routine.
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