Exploring Spain, one bite at a time

Susan Lewis Solomonts's picture
One of my favorite ways to explore a new country is at a dining table, sampling local cuisine. I’ve eaten bouillabaisse in France, pasta in Italy, pad thai in Thailand, summer rolls in Vietnam, and ceviche in Peru—to name just a few.
Exploring Spain, one bite at a time
My adventurousness does have its limits, of course. If you said to me, “Tonight, we’re going to have pig’s knuckles and braised bug legs,” I would say, “How interesting,” and then offer a polite, “No, thank you.” I’m a former-diplomat’s wife, after all.
It’s this detail, as the wife of former U.S. Ambassador to Spain and Andorra under President Obama from 2010-2013, that enabled me to travel extensively around the beautiful cities and regions of Spain. I made a point of trying cuisine from each place we visited. It was a delicious adventure.
Enjoying Tapas in San Sebastian. From Exploring Spain, one bite at a time
Enjoying Tapas in San Sebastian
Spain has more Michelin-starred restaurants per capita than any other country in the world. It’s recognized as something of an epicenter for avant-garde, creative, “molecular” cooking. I managed to visit 23 of Spain’s Michelin-starred restaurants. Not too shabby. But there are also plenty of street food kiosks and cafés that are not to be missed.

Here are my recommendations for acquainting yourself with Spain, one bite at a time:

● Try one of those “spherical olives.” Called Acei-tunas esfericas, olive juice is made to resemble a real olive through a spherification process. They look like olives served on a Chinese soup spoon, but when you put one of these remarkable olives in your mouth, it explodes with flavor. This innovation originated at the famous El Bulli, a Michelin 3-star restaurant in Catalonia.
● Put the leisure back into a leisurely lunch. Once, when being treated to a paella restaurant by a friend in Madrid, we got to the restaurant at one thirty and left around five. A three-and-a-half-hour lunch! By the time I got home, after all that rice and wine and good conversation, I just wanted to collapse in bed and take a long
nap—not something I could do on a daily basis. However, if you are an American accustomed to grabbing a sandwich and eating it while checking e-mails at your computer and calling it lunch, this change of pace can be jarring at first, but ultimately very restorative to body and mind. 
Paella on an open grill. From Exploring Spain, one bite at a time
Paella on an open grill
● Pour the sidra. This is hard apple cider poured from earthenware jugs. Don’t be surprised if you are taught to drink it the traditional way: by picking up the jug, hoisting it over one’s shoulders, and letting the cider flow out the spout and into one’s mouth.
● Don’t forget the corte de foie. When enjoying copitas (a glass of wine and hor d’oeuvres served late in the day), the perfect complement is a little corte de foie, a sweet homemade wafer biscuit with a piece of foie (liver) in between, drizzled with a port wine reduction. My husband and I have fond memories of enjoying these as prepared by the head chef in the Embassy. 
● Experience ham as a true delicacy. On one occasion, my husband and I visited COVAP, a farming cooperative that raises pigs and produces huge amounts of jamón ibérico de bellota. It was wonderful to see how lovingly the farmers cared for these animals. The pigs graze on pristine countryside, swelling to over six hundred pounds before meeting their fate. Before slaughtering them, the farmers bring them inside, give them baths, and play classical music. The pigs fall asleep, and only then are they killed. It is far different from the methods used in conventional, industrial slaughterhouses. And these pigs have feasted on on the acorns filled with healthy omega-3 fats, so you’re eating something that’s really healthy for you.
● Splurge on Arzak.  Chef Juan Mari Arzak’s restaurant dates back to 1897 when his grandfather built the house that is now his restauarnt. It’s proud heritage of four generations of Arzak’s has 3 Michelin stars. His daughter Elena Arzak has since joined him in the kitchen and has been named one of the world’s best female chefs. Their cuisine is considered the “New Basque” and is as creative as it is delicious.
Spain is filled with beautiful architecture, historic museums and cathedrals, but tasting the world has always made it a memorable exploration for me, and I hope the same will be for you.
Before her husband's appointment as U.S. Ambassador to Spain and Andorra under President Barack Obama, Susan Lewis Solomont served as a      philanthropic advisor at TPI (The Philanthropic Initiative) in Boston. In 2013, after launching numerous initiatives for women in business while in Spain, Susan was named International Woman of the Year by FEDEPE, the leading organization for Spanish women executives and directors. Earlier in her career, Susan worked as director of corporate development for WGBH-TV. A member of the Berklee College of Music board of trustees, she holds a bachelor of science degree from Cornell University and a master's degree in education from Tufts University.
She the author of the memoir, Lost and Found in Spain, Tales of an Ambassador’s Wife (Disruption Books, March 2019). She lives in Boston with her husband and a cockapoo named Stella Blu, who is the subject of her forthcoming children’s book Stella the Ambassadog.
 Lost and Found in Spain, Tales of an Ambassador’s Wife