Spanish Food 101: Pan

A culinary journey through Spain via the unparalleled medium of informal oral testimonies. This is written in English. If you would like a Spanish/Spanglish translation may I recommend reading slower, louder, and adding the letter “o” intermittently to the end of words. This is the sixth in the series of this crash course in Spanish cuisine. An introduction to this tale can be found by clicking here, and you can see the earlier forays of this adventure by scrolling down and reading more of this blog, which I would recommend that you do anyway. 

Carbs, glorious carbs! In Spain, like most of continental Europe, the humble loaf (or slice, depending on your appetite. More slice than loaf) of bread is still celebrated. It is an integral part of most mealtimes, and oftentimes comes in as a handy plate cleaner for the more saucy dishes.


Pan (en General)

Spending the best part of a day shopping is a not uncommon, and the Spanish people who I have met aren’t averse to travelling all across town and beyond in order to buy the best ingredients. A stop-off at the panadería is therefore often warranted. Indeed, my host family exclusively buy bread from a local bakery and have a handful they frequent depending on their bread needs. Indeed this morning there was a great argument over bread, with the mother not wanting to make the journey to the father’s preferred bakery and two non-optimal bread days in a row was too much for him to handle. I preferred the taste of the richer bread from yesterday, but the texture of today’s lighter bread is preferable, especially for toast.

Some towns and villages also have their own village oven which can be used by locals, or which is entrusted to the most skilled baker.

In Europe, the Germans get my vote for best bread. They tend to prefer denser ryes and what not. Then the French. The baguette will ever remain a pinnacle of dough-based treats. In Spain, the breads that I have tried are primarily white flour-based, crusty, and light. Best toasted, otherwise regularly required for mopping up the juices of dishes. Bread: the culinary plate cleaner. Gluten free never looked so wasteful.


Pa amb tomàquet / Pan con tomate


Or “dirty bread”. You take some toasted bread, add a dash of oil (or add the oil after if that is your preference) then rub half a tomato on it. Bickety bam, you are done. The tomato is thrown away which appears wasteful to me but clearly I am in an abundantly tomatoful country and even the peasant dishes are rife for waste. In a country that hosts the festival of La Tomatina I should really withhold my surprise that they’re not above wasting a few tomatoes on the domestic scale. I’d still like to think that poorer families use the cast-off tomatoes for salsa but I have no evidence of this.

This features often as a side to meals, in tapas, and sandwiches. “All sandwiches are served on pan con tomate” read more than one menu in Barcelona.

For all they rave about it and eat it, I am still yet to fully understand the hype. Bread with oil is equally as enjoyable, so much so that one of the children cried last night because she was served pan con tomate rather than pan con aceite, although her bread was pan con tomate. Children – who ever can tel?!


Coca de Escalivada

Coca de Escalivada

A type of Catalan pizza, though not a pizza proper. A “coca” is a stretched bread which has different ingredients put on it before being baked quickly in the oven. A “coca” is also a type of cola, and a hair tie, which led to confusion that the word came up in all three contexts last night at dinner.

A Coca de Escalivada is a coca which specifically has roasted red pepper, aubergine and onion on it. According to preference, you may also add tomatoes, potatoes, olives, or anchovies. And a drizzle of oil. Always a drizzle of oil.

I am yet to try an actual escalivada, or indeed a coca, but it was described to me as I was recommended to add roasted aubergine and pepper to my pan con tomate. Lovely, a definite improvement. The son recommends the following order of construction for cheat CdE: “first tomato, then oil, then aubergine, then pepper, then a few seeds of tomato, then oil. Is wonderful.”


Pintxo / Pincho


Spain is not Texas, so not everything is bigger. Speaking of Spain and Texas, Andalusia is probably the most similar place topographically to Texas/New Mexico/Arizona/ regular Mexico (which used to be called ‘New Spain’, so this tidbit shouldn’t necessarily come as too much of a surprise) and is quite regularly used in movies as filming locations for the American southwest.

Pinchos are similar to tapas, with the main difference being that they are “pinched” by a cocktail stick which holds them together. They are served as individual portions, usually on bread, with a variety of fillings from seafood, vegetables, and the carb-on-carb tortilla, as pictured (n.b. the most carb-on-carb horror I felt was in Malaysia, where the people I was staying with ate spaghetti on bread and literal ice cream sandwiches; the British have the chip or crisp sandwich which is arguably equally carb-heavy), cheese, meat: so, the other main staples of the Spanish diet. The family eat them when they’re having a quick dinner after a heavy lunch, and they are moderately popular as a snack with drinks in Barcelona. The most popular region for them in Spain is the Basque country, namely San Sebastián.




“They are so popular in Spain that there are jokes about them.”

I imagine that there are jokes about a great many things in the country, but the host father made a point of saying this and I thought I should relay the message to you, dear reader.

Italians have calzones, the Cornish have pasties, and the Spanish world has empanadas (based on my time in Elephant & Castle, I thought it was a Colombian specialty which sometimes got mentioned on TV in other contexts, but a quick Google has taught me otherwise).

The internet tells me that they originated in Galicia and were first mentioned in Libre del Coch, a Catalan cookbook published in 1520. Where other varieties of empanada favour variations on meat and potatoes, in Catalunya I have found that seafood is preferred. The family’s homemade empanadas had a filling of tuna, onion, bell peppers, hard boiled egg, tomatoes, and some herbs (empanadas de atún).  You can also add spice, but not for the children.



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