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Everday life in Spain Living in Spain

Everyday life in Spain 3 – Plum Cake

Plum cake

Hmmmm…. no deep philosophising about Spanish culture today I’m afraid, just a shout out for a great, and bizarrely named, Spanish cake. Now the Spanish aren’t all that hot when it comes to pastries – this is not France. A Spanish croissant, for example, looks just like the French version, but it’s a poor, dry, and slightly less interesting cousin (which is possibly what the French think about Spain), and the rest of the offerings on display in the bakeries of Madrid have never exactly moved me…

Until that is, I discovered Plum Cake. The only trouble is that for at least a year I felt far too ridiculous saying it to actually buy any. You see not only does Plum Cake have nothing to do with plums – it’s just a rich, moist, melt-on-the-tounge sponge cake with almond chips on top – but it isn’t pronounced anything like our word ‘Plum’ either. Think of the ‘oo’ sound in ‘boom’, and stick a pl- on one end and an -m on the other. ‘Ploom’. That’s it. Now add ‘cake’, just the way we say it in this case, walk into a bakery, order, take home, and hmmmm… heaven.

The one I just picked up is the size of a small loaf of bread, how the hell can I stop myself finishing it before Marina gets home?

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Everday life in Spain Living in Spain

Everyday life in Spain 2 – Food Shopping

Spanish Tomatoes

Some ideas and observations…

1. When you buy fruit and veg from the market or small grocery stores, ask for some parsley, they’ll always throw in a bunch for free.

2. Food is generally cheapest in the markets, but:

3. You are highly likely to get charged higher prices in the market once they detect that hint of a foreign accent. Avoid this by checking prices at a few stalls before buying.

4. Everywhere but the supermarkets, ask for recipe advice for whatever you are buying. The grocer will tell you exactly how to make the best ‘revuelto‘ (scrambled eggs) with those ‘setas‘ (wild mushrooms), the meat guy will enthusiastically explain how best to stew his beef… and they all love to tell you.

Fabada5. The wise Spaniard always has a can of Fabada Litoral in the cupboard. Litoral is a brand that does an incredible job of putting Fabada, that famous Asturian bean stew, into a can. A lifesaver when the fridge is empty.

6. If a shop only sells one thing, always buy that thing from that shop. There is a shop around the corner from us that only sells eggs and only opens on Wednesdays. Best damn eggs in Madrid!

7. Spanish shoppers always carefully check their receipts, even in supermarkets, looking out for those few unscrupulous shopkeepers that still slip the extra item onto the list every now and again. Do the same, and argue as vehemently as they do when you spot a ‘mistake’.

8. Never buy bread from Chinese shops or supermarkets, it’s crappy. Look for the local bakery with the biggest line and queue up with the grannies.

9.Chinese shops, the corner shops of Spain, never shut. The tired Chinese girl behind the counter has been there 18 hours a day, 7 days a week, all her adult life – hence the Spanish phrase ‘trabajar como un chino‘, to work like a Chinaman, i.e. very very hard. When everywhere else is shut, Chinese stores are great places for essentials like beer, milk, and crappy bread.

10. No self-respecting Spanish housewife ever buys fish on a Monday – it’s left over from Saturday. The fresh stuff comes in from Tuesday onwards. Oh, and fresh fish has bloody eyes.

How does this compare to your neck of the woods? What have I missed?

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Everday life in Spain Living in Spain

Everyday life in Spain 1 – Urban Neighbours

Urban Spain

The guy who lives next door has a stinking cold. I know this because I can clearly hear his early morning sneezes from the other side of the wall. Last night I enjoyed his jazz collection, and I can occasionally make out what film he’s watching on his home cinema… thank god he put sound-proofing in last year, or, as one Spanish friend put it when describing how thin partition walls between neighbouring flats are in Spain, I’d be able to hear him fart…

Yes, the kind guy next door spent thousands of Euros having an extra layer of sound-absorbing wall put in on his side of the divide, so that we could live happily in relative isolation from each other… he is, of course, also not Spanish, because for the Spanish, living with the noise of the nieghbours – music, sneezes, farts and all – is just part of everyday life. The only exception to this rule is if you are lucky enough to find a building put up before 1923-ish, the approximate date when Spanish builders became cowboys, and apartment partition walls went from being several feet to just several inches wide.

Yet despite listening in on each others’ lives, neighbours in urban Spain hardly ever speak to each other. Neighbours are just people that happen to live in the same building as you, and though of course there are isolated cases of friendship – usually between the oldies or people with kids – it rarely goes further than that… with the important exception of the Spanish Olympic sport of complaining about the comunidad.

Definition time: The body of home owners or tenants in every block of flats/apartments in towns and cities around Spain, is called the comunidad. The comunidad is made up of the vecinos, neighbours, or those that occupy each flat, each of whom pay, wait for it, comunidad, a set monthly fee, around 100 euros in our case, for upkeep of the building and extras like central heating.

Confusing? Don’t worry, all you need to know is that the concept of comunidad, or shared responsibility for the building you live in, is what leads to the complaining, which in turn is the focus of most neighbourly interaction in urban Spain.

Central heating not working? Time for a good moan with a neighbour as you meet on the stairs. Porter not cleaning the foyer properly? Promised repairs to building electrics still haven’t started? Dodgy looking bloke moved in on the first floor? All provide an excellent excuse for a marathon complaining session with the woman from across the hall who, despite the obligatory passing ‘hellos’ and ‘goodbyes’, has completely ignored your existence for the last 12 months.

So although I might not be painting a utopian picture of neighbourly love, where people pop round for sugar or stop by for a coffee, and despite the fact that most interaction comes down to moaning, I think the Spanish should be celebrated for their high levels of neighbourly tolerance. There are 100 apartments in our building, hundreds of people living on top of each other, and despite the early morning sneezes – which are kind of comforting in an other-humans-are-always-around kind of a way – we are all able to live almost as though we enjoyed a detached house experience of our very own.