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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The legendary Mediterranean diet

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Although I recently lost some kilos without noticing it myself, I need to do a lot more about my weight, because I can feel it in my knees and feet. As this morning I went to a traditional market nearby, today I had a green salad for lunch.

I used a tomato typical for the region of Valencia, an onion also from here, lettuce from Murcia, a small cucumber and olives from Andalusia, some tuna labeled by a company from La Rioja, but in fact from Ecuador, and Italian balsamic vinegar.

So that sounds like I have finally started my own healthy Mediterranean diet. Well, according to my experience in almost two and a half years in Spain, that is one of the biggest myths regarding European eating habits, diligently perpetuated both by locals and some foreigners alike.

Besides often boring and tasteless attempts, as a salad is more than just some cut vegetables put together, and salt and pepper as well as spices seem to be persistently ignored by most Spaniards, you won´t see many green things on your plate.

Almost all of them will be ornamental anyway, like those already small green peppers from the Galician municipality of Padrón, located on the Saint James Way (also known as the Camino de Santiago), which after over-frying usually end up reduced to microscopic size.

In any case, you should be grateful for those, as most main dishes do not include any vegetables at all, with the occasional exception of garlic, of which I’m very fond of and even eat it raw sometimes. At the same time, I was shocked to realize that the French fries haven’t improved at all in 35 years and are as bland and greasy as they used to be.

Although this might sound contradictory, lunch is actually easier to digest than dinner, which often consists of all kinds of repetitive deep-fried stuff you easily get tired of. As fish and seafood are expensive, there’s also an over-reliance on pork, including the omnipresent jamón serrano.

This opinion is undoubtedly related to the strong influence that Chinese culture, and particularly its cuisine, do exercise on me after 20 years in Taiwan. Dishes there without vegetables are very rare. As I my diet was 90% local, my current preferences are easy to explain.

There’s obviously no accounting for taste. A German acquaintance that visited me on the island in 2008 complained just about that mixture of vegetables with fish and all kinds or meat that I enjoy so much. He asked bluntly which they wouldn´t separate them! I didn´t know what to reply!

Except when you are willing to spend real money (especially for dinner), or did find one of the few cheaper creative restaurants, this kind of highly overrated cuisine basically consists of the same dishes for lunch and tapas at night, often served by untrained, unfriendly and unmotivated staff.

Its overall undeserved reputation might be related to a certain life-style, which for a holiday seems perfect, though due to the unhealthy late eating hours it implies should be avoided in the mid-term, particularly as the lack of variety will quickly put you off.

My father used to say that those habits went against nature, and when he passed away at the age of 87 in 2007, he had outlived almost every friend or neighbor of his generation that I remember from my childhood and adolescence in Spain.

Surprisingly, this urban legend is often associated with the impressive longevity in Spain, which in most statistics appears as the highest in the European Union. That definitely isn’t due to what they eat, but how they do it, taking their time and often having a chat with whom happens to be around.

Eventually, this philosophy of life and the concept of reducing stress to a minimum is something that outsiders might want to consider, notably when they live in this country for a while. For a gourmet who refuses to accept overpriced delicacies, there are indeed better options around the globe.

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