November 26, 2011

Local Vocab: "Echar de menos"… homesick in Valencia, part 2

Yesterday I mentioned some good locales for hanging out whenever you're missing home, and started to shift gears to where you can buy products from home. Here I'll pick up where I left off...

• Shopping for expat products (cont.): 
One good centrally located place where you can find a bunch of expat goods, and support local business, is at Valencia's Mercat Central. In general the vendors at the Mercat Central specialize in regional produce, fish and meat. However, as a regular there, I've discovered several stands whose owners are catering to exotic, foreign tastes, and who sell many of the items that even El Corte Inglés fails to offer or offers at a much higher price. Probably the most valuable stands for expats are run by José Luis Meri, who is quite an entrepreneur and is actively canvasing the extpat community for ideas of what to carry. He runs three stands (#115), all located on the "Pasillo Luís Vives": "British" (self explanatory name, though also has a US section), "La + Latina" (with mostly South American, but some Central American products), and "Asiática" (Japanese and other asian products), the last of which is me and my wife's favorite since it opens up an entire continent of Asian cuisine for us at home.

That covers much of the typical guiri gastronomía. But probably this Texan's favorite stand in the Market is "Hierbas Frescas y Aromas Rafa y Maria José" (#259) located on "Pasillo Arquitecto Enrique Viedma". The owner of this stand shares with me a passion for spicy food, which I'm sure most of you have discovered is quiet uncommon in Spaniards. He always has some chili or hot pepper, usually carrying thai red chilis, an adequate substitute for many American chilis in Tex-Mex, but he also frequently has Habanero peppers… Yes! Habanero peppers, possibly the spiciest chili produced and sold on a mass scale. Most importantly, this summer (around July-August) they carried fresh jalapeños brought from a local Valencian farm that is able to produce it on a modest scale then. (I was cooking jalapeño dishes for weeks, and we still have a supply frozen in the freezer). For foodies, the best part of buying from his stand (which also carries other exotic produce and herbs) is that the owner always has ready suggestions on how to prepare the rare or unusual ingredients that he carries, i.e. he is a complete foodie himself and loves to cook.

Finally, if you've struggled to find baking ("repostería") ingredients for baking those American goodies you miss from home, there are couple of very helpful stands in the Market. You can rely on "Xocolates Vamm" for difficult-to-find chocolate ingredients, like white chocolate chips! There is another great stand for baking materials, whose name escapes me at the moment, but which I believe is located on "Pasillo Conde de Trenor" near the Calle Palafox entrance. My wife, who is quite the baker, has been thrilled to find ingredients there which seemed impossible to get elsewhere in Valencia/Spain.

For these and many other reasons, I highly recommend you take a stroll through the Mercat Central. I promise you I will one day give a much more thorough introduction to it in a future post. (I also suspect you can find plenty of exotic ingredients at the Russafa Market, given how international the neighborhood has become, but I have yet to go there.)

For those of you missing middle eastern food and ingredients,
there is a great stand located right off the center, El Racó de Feri

The world is flat – Chains catering to global tastes:
And I could also mention the many familiar chains in Valencia importing or catering to American tastes… TGI Friday's is easily the best, with its happy hour cocktails offer and pretty decent Americana dishes. But there's also Tony Roma's, and then those paragons of globalization: McDonald's, Burger King, Subway, KFC, etc. My personal experience with these is that they are slightly different to what you'll find in the States: 1) slightly better quality ingredients, 2) mostly teenager/preteen clientele (as opposed to small children and parents), and 3) often the only easily accessible bathrooms in town… Which is why I've taken to referring to McDonald's as "free public bathroom" whenever traveling throughout continental Europe.

One longtime, popular "American Restaurant" here in Spain, with a couple of locations in Valencia, is Foster's Hollywood. Though themed as an American restaurant, it is actually a Spanish chain. And who could leave out Starbucks? Valencia has at least two locations, which seem to be popular with American expats and tourists… though for the life of me I can't understand why expats would frequent them. Nothing marks you as a guiri more quickly than hanging out there, and the coffee most everywhere in Spain is incredible, easily competes with Startbucks. (And, again, in Valencia you can find hip hangout places like En Babia or DeliKate.)

As much as I ought to resist assimilation to the big global corporations, it wouldn't be honest of me not to thank two Spanish chains for carrying a fair number of helpful expat staples: El Corte Inglés and Mercadona. I feel sorry for those of you living outside the Mercadona range in Spain, since it is incredible for its inexpensiveness, quality products, and for carrying many exotic, foreign products catering to the eclectic international tastes of college students. I've talked with Spaniards in the Basque Country, for example, who wished that Mercadona would open there. El Corte Inglés probably needs no introduction, but due to its expense I'll just say that you should only go here for products when you've made sure you can't find them anywhere else. (For example, this is where I get my maple syrup for our weekend pancakes, or certain canned chilies for my Tex-Mex dishes.)

One of the coolest things El Corte Inglés does is its Christmas lights displays.
If you have a chance to visit Barcelona during the Xmas season, I highly recommend
 you visit the Plaza de Cataluña at night, where there are at least four such displays.

And increasingly the web brings it all to your home. just got started up, and looks like it will eventually be as good as our back home at providing otherwise hard to get items online. (It also has a market place option, further enhancing Spain's secondhand products market.) At the moment, though, I also recommend you check if dot-ES fails you, since often the shipping from the UK is free to Spain, and you find many more products catering to US-UK audiences there. And for those of you settled enough here in Spain to be building your own library, I recommend looking for non-Spanish language books at, though I read that it was purchased by Amazon, so I don't know how long it will maintain its independence…

And there you are, my long two-day homage to how I've foraged over the years in Valencia for products that let me maintain a connection with back home. You probably won't hear much more on this from me for a while. The truth is that, in general, Valencia is now my home. Most days I'm perfectly happy here, and cocido, tortilla de patatas, my mother-in-law's paella, these are my new comfort foods.

But we all have those days when we feel wistful and think nostalgically of where we grew up, of those tastes of our childhood and old acquaintances long forgot. If you ever need to explain this to a local… say they get a little exasperated with you for clinging to your old country customs… just tell them: "tengo morriña". The word morriña comes from a Gallego word (morrinha) which Galician sailors and fishermen might have used to express that sadness and nostalgia that would come over them on a long voyages out to sea and journeys away from home. It captures the kind of homesick melancholy that any Spaniard whose gone away for a while can relate to.

Once you've indulge that fresh jalapeño pepper binge, or heard that "last call" as you down the final pint at your local "paf", it will pass. Tomorrow morning you'll wake up hankering for that tortilla de patatas again and feel plenty excited about your new home.

Galicia has a long history of sailors on long journeys out to sea and, I just learned with the recent elections,
it is also not surprisingly the region with the highest percentage of citizens who vote by mail (i.e. don't reside there).


US taxes abroad said...

That's alot of chilies! Very nice pics.

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