The Great Spanish Cook Off

It’s the beginning of September and my trial as a Spanish restaurant cook is drawing to a close. Oh, did I not mention? Well, it wasn’t intentional. Let me explain.

As the old saying goes, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. So, when my son started at a local school here last September and became entitled to actual free lunches I should have realised that there would be a catch. On the surface it was simply brilliant. Every Monday we’d receive his meal plan for the week, sent home in his tiny rucksack and detailing three daily courses of hearty, home-cooked Spanish fare, always followed by a piece of fruit for pudding.

Every weekday he and his ten classmates, accompanied by two classroom assistants would walk up the hill from school to the local bar where they would troop upstairs to the balcony dining room. Every weekday except Wednesday that is. Wednesday they had a half day from school because that’s the day the bar closed.

And so the school year passed with my little blonde boy filling out on fabada, calamares and chorizo and developing a startling dependence on table napkins. (Spanish children don’t do mucky faces. A fact I find most unsettling.)

Then the summer holidays arrived and it was payback time.

I had my first inkling that trouble was ahead when we stopped one afternoon for a cold drink on a hot day in Teverga. As we took a seat in the dimly lit bar our little son spied the formal dining room through the archway. ‘Quiero cenar ahí,’ (I want to dine through there) he declared to us and the barman and strode off. I gently tugged him back and placated him with a glass of milk and a humble ‘pincho de tortilla’ (slice of typical Spanish omelette served on crusty white bread).

The writing was on the wall. A peanut butter and jam sandwich at lunchtime quite simply wasn’t going to cut it any more. This boy expected daily servings of proper, authentic Spanish food cooked to a restaurant standard.

And that’s how I’ve come to pass the summer expanding my repertoire of typical Spanish dishes; nosing around in my neighbours’ kitchens, picking up tips from the real experts who make everything from their own chorizo and black pudding to dulce de manzana (a delicious apple paste that goes fabulously with strong blue cheeses such as the famous local Cabrales.)

The conclusion: I will never make a tortilla half as good as any of my neighbours. They have all been cooking them since they were big enough to tip a bottle of olive oil and they all have sacrosanct, dedicated tortilla pans in their kitchens (touch them at your peril). But on a good day I can whip one up that might fool an unsuspecting Brit…..or even a hybrid British-Irish child who is growing up mostly Spanish….


Hmmm…. Checking out the albóndigas….



  1. Wowser well done you for cooking a new cuisine! Does that mean you will be investing in a special pan?

  2. That’s brilliant! Only one and a half hours flight and a completely different world. Ham, cheese or jam rolls don’t cut it for my boys either for school. I wonder what the other kids think the smell is when they open their lunch boxes stuffed with rolls of chorizo and serrano. Have you got your madrenas by the front door too?

  3. Hmmm – ‘woman in a tabard’ – it may catch on, you know…..
    At least he’s craving home-cooked food and not pre-packed McRubbish :-)

    • It´s already caught on around here Sue, trust me!! ;-) And you’re right – I’m delighted that he’s craving home-cooked food. The formal dining experience has been really great for him and his eating habits.

  4. Well done! Your kid is going to be a gourmet )) I love Spanish cuisine too!

  5. Acabo de leer este otro artículo y me recordó a lo que comentas por aquí.

    • Gracias por el enlace Raquel. El artículo es muy interesante. Parece que el movimiento ‘slow food’ existe aquí desde hace siglos….y que siga así, digo yo!!

  6. Good for you! A hot lunch is always such a luxury. I’m sure your child is used to such good food now he’ll never stand for the usual British fish-fingers school lunch fare.

  7. Oh I wish I could cook! I love the sound of the food over there. I might have to get myself some lessons.

  8. Ha! What a little poppet, wanting a proper lunch. Good for you, picking up new skills.
    I am having to do something similar as my son’s girlfriend is Malaysian. I tried a Chinese recipe for ‘hot salmon steaks’ yesterday and she said it was very good (well, she ate it all up so it can’t have been that bad).

  9. I do love the photo… Quite the albondias critic it looks like! Luckily for me, my two have packed lunches most days. I am not sure I could make many knodels! :D

  10. helloitsgemma says:

    Gosh, I think this would make me relieved to see School begin again…. although, I can’t quite get my head round a child eating such a broad diet.

  11. Yumm school dinners never sounded so good. You sound like you’ve done really well too with learning all the recipes!

  12. What a fantastic experience. I think I’ve heard of something similar in someplace in the UK, where the local pub provide hot fresh lunches. Not sure how much the napkin comes into play but it’s a great way to support a local business (instead of a huge catering company) and give kids good food in a local setting.

    • Absolutely. It is a great support for a local business and really helps to foster a thriving community spirit. I particularly liked the fact that in the run-up to our son starting school we felt morally obliged to pop in the bar for the occasional drink, just to familiarize him with the place ;-)

  13. Your son has a wonderful taste for food already! ;)

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