“The food tastes nothing like it does back home…” is such a cliched expat gripe that I’m almost ashamed to join in. But today, I’m going at it hell for leather. A burst water pipe put me in the right mood. I now have a
spare bedroom Home Spa with a ceiling-to-wall water feature feeding a rapidly expanding infinity pool on what was once a shiny hardwood floor.
Right, let’s get to it. I’ve not moved countries for the first time in my life, so I’m used to missing many beloved food items. Decent bread, for instance, is hard to find outside of Germany/Austria/Switzerland, and if you’re used to proper English tea, you’re going to have to find yourself a teabag mule once you take flight from the rainy British Isles. That’s just how it is, and you expect that.
But there are certain things you don’t expect to be in short supply when you move to a sunny country. I’d never have thought that in Spain, I’d miss decent fruit. Yes, you read that right. In the very country, which is Europe’s biggest exporter of fresh produce, I find the fresh fruit offering terribly lacking.
Let’s start with strawberries. We all know Spanish strawberries, right? (Well, if you happen to live in Europe, you do.) It’s those turnip textured red things which start arriving en masse in supermarkets and greengrocers around February. They sure do look like strawberries, but they taste of absolutely zilch. And what’s worse – they are CRUNCHY, for Pete’s sake! HOW WRONG IS THAT?!
Now, because my work is tightly connected with the food industry, I’m well aware that many countries grow two different “types” of fresh produce – produce for domestic consumption (which tastes great but doesn’t transport well) and produce for export. Those turnippy aberrations are excellently suited for the latter – you can toss those into the back of a lorry and truck them across the entire continent, and even after a week in transit punctuated by the odd motorway pile-up, they will emerge at the other end looking fresh and dewy and miraculously unbruised. And if you’re a supermarket that wants to display perfect looking strawberries on its shelves, this is exactly what you want. It’s all about durability and shelf life.
I naively assumed that Spain had two types of strawberries, i.e. those engineered for export, and those divine creations, which were surely spun by the angels from crimson sunset-dipped cotton candy clouds, and which fall from the heavens in the month June.
But I was wrong. I’ve quizzed friends about this, and the response has been a puzzled stare, as if I had been enquiring about the fairies living at the bottom of their garden. Unlike the good people in countries like the UK, Germany and Sweden, Spaniards only know turgid turnipberries. They have no idea of the gloriousness of putting a REAL strawberry into your mouth, and squishing it into a sweet, succulent mush, without it ever touching your teeth.
Next in for a lambasting are mangoes. All I can find here are those horrible red-green coloured harpy eggs from Brazil. I’m convinced that they are, in fact, a byproduct of cricket ball manufacture. Their fibrous, acrid, slightly slimy interior remains as hard and rubbery as a British Bobby’s baton right up until they start to rot in your fruit bowl.
Nowhere to be seen in Spain are those delectable golden yellow Pakistani mangoes with their rice-pudding soft, perfume-scented flesh that just melts in your mouth, which you can pick up all over London for six quid a box.
And there’s no point pleading with the greengrocers, although some will tell you, with a churlish grin on their faces, that there’s no broccoli to be had because “it’s not in season right now” (WTF?!), and they will quite happily import woody Chilean asparagus stalks so rigid that you could use them for knitting needles.
But it is Spain’s apple situation, which is probably the biggest disappointment of them all. I sorely miss English Apples. Coxes. Orange Pippins. REAL apples, with just a few brown flecks on the outside and crispy flesh imbued with that perfect balance of tartness and sweetness on the inside. No such thing as Bramley cooking apples here either. All I’ve seen in Spain so far are generic, polished, sterile fruit that looks and tastes like syrup-injected candle wax fluffed up with polystyrene. Sure, those blemish-free mutants are found in supermarkets all over the globe, but usually, in most other places, there are at least some tasty native mongrels populating the shelves during the autumn months.
I realise, of course, that people across Spain have the most sumptuous fruit sprouting in their back gardens, but, as nobody grows these varieties commercially, the good stuff just isn’t entering supermarket supply chains. Ho hum 😦
So, is there any fresh produce you really miss?