Family Meals and Life-Changing Guiso

Last fall, our ACCENT Madrid staff interviewed UCEAP Contemporary Spain student Veronica Preciado, who was staying with a Spanish host family. Veronica talks about the importance of family meals in Spain, the delicious dishes her host family made, and the value of slowing down and appreciating time with friends and loved ones.

Can you tell me about your host family?

I live with Sofía and her three boys. At first, I was really overwhelmed and scared, but they’re the sweetest things. My whole life I never wanted siblings my age, but after living with them, I think I would have wanted a little brother.

How old are they?

They’re 14, 19, and 22. It’s always fun when we eat dinner. We all talk because Sofía likes to have family dinner together. We set everything up and then we have a first dish, then the main dish, and then other little things to pick from. Everyone sits together and we start eating and having conversations. Sometimes we’ll sing, and it feels like I’m at home with my family, I really enjoy it.

What is your favorite thing about being in a homestay and what is something that has challenged you?

The best thing about being in a homestay is seeing a different family dynamic in another country, because some things they do, I don’t do. I remember Sofía was making fun of me, she said, “You Americans, you don’t know how to use your knives.” Here, they’re really about manners and setting the table. Back home, it’s never been a thing for me. We don’t make it a big thing to have dinner together, but I like it. I also like that I have my own room so I still have my own space. But then also, if I feel lonely, the boys are there and I have them or Sofía to talk to.

I think the challenging part for me is living with the boys because I’ve never lived with three other boys, but it’s really fun. It challenges me to have to catch on to their colloquial language because, obviously, I say a lot of different things in Mexican Spanish than they do in Castilian Spanish, so sometimes it’s hard to keep up. When I first got here, I don’t think I could understand 100% of everything they said because a lot of the things were colloquial, but now I do, so that helps a lot.

Food is such an important part of a culture. How has your homestay experience affected your opinion of Spanish culture and cuisine?

That was the biggest thing that I told my friends and family when I first came here. Back home, food is just food. Obviously, food tastes good and you want to get it, but a lot of times, it’s on the go and you have to rush to do whatever you’re doing. Here, you take a pause and you breathe. You enjoy spending time with people and taking time with your food, and that’s something I don’t think I’d really experienced before. I think that’s really valuable.

It’s made me realize the value in taking time to appreciate this food that I’ve never had before in my life, and I want to implement things like that into my daily life, such as taking time with dinner and setting the table and making it an event during the day instead of thinking “okay, let’s just hurry up and eat this and go to bed.” It’s made me realize that I need to pause and enjoy life instead of just having tunnel vision. I think that’s a big thing in Spain. They really cherish it: you sit down, you eat and you don’t think about anything else, you just spend time with your loved ones and you enjoy the food.

Talking about your host mom, what is the best dish that she cooks? Has she taught you any recipes?

She’s taught me how to make her tortilla de patatas (Spanish omelette) and the albondigas (meatballs), that you put in them. What’s her best dish? That’s so hard, I love everything. I really love her tortilla de patatas, I think it’s the best one in Madrid, honestly. I love her guiso (stew), it makes me want to cry, it’s so good! I don’t like red meat, but the way she makes her albóndigas converted me because she goes and buys the meat fresh, which is different from back home. She watches them grind it, and then she makes the meatballs with bread and different spices and puts them in the guiso. I wish I could bring it with me and take it to people back home. I also like the calamares with ink. She makes peas with bacon bits and potato, that’s really good too. I love her empanadas, her croquetas

What is one dish that you will definitely make when you’re back home?

Tortilla de patatas, for sure, because that’s the easiest one that I can remember and I love it. And the albóndigas from the guiso. I have to make it again. I can’t leave here and never have that guiso again. It’s life-changing!

~ Veronica Preciado, UCEAP Fall 2018, ACCENT Madrid

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