Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Spain and France

Divisions within France that border the Mediterranean are the Provence-Alpes-Cote and the Languedoc-Roussillion region. Marsailles is the capital of the Provence-Alpes-Cote and is the second largest city and largest port in France. This area has high immigration from Italy, North African, and Greece leaving the ethnic French a minority. Provence’s breathtaking scenery has inspired many artists, especially in regards to the purple sea of lavenders that flood the country side. Avignon is home to the Nortre Dame de Doms along with the Palais des Papes; these two churches attract tourists to the area. Nice is famous for its folk music and dances, with the most popular being the farondole. This lively music spurs open chain community dancing from the locals in a jig-like fashion. Contrasting to the rural feel of the farondale festivals, the French Riviera has made Nice a tourist attraction for its mild winters and beaches. The highlights of the Languedoc-Roussillon region include the fortified French town, Carcassone, in Aude along with the Festival de Radio France et Montpellier in Herault that offers free music and dancing along the streets of Montpellier in the summertime.

Provençal cuisine is heavily based on olive oil and there are literally hundreds of varieties ranging in color from green to gold. Olives were introduced to Provence 2,500 years ago by the ancient Greeks, and now they are used in all aspects of cookery. Olive oil is mixed with garlic and basil to form pistou and in a garlic mayonnaise called aïoli that is served with hot and cold dishes. There are a number of dishes that Provence is famous for. Bouillabaisse is their classic seafood stew made with an assortment of fish and shellfish, tomatoes, garlic, saffron, herbs, wine and olive oil. Bourride is similar to bouillabaisse except that it does not have tomato and is thickened with aioli, a garlic mayonnaise, and another traditional Provencal concoction. Pistou is the Provencal equivalent of pesto and used as a sauce, condiment and as a flavoring agent in soupe au pistou.

Cooking traditions in Languedoc Roussillon have roots in the same primary products as those in Provence. The main ingredients in Languedoc Roussillon cuisine are olive oil and tomatoes, garlic, onions and aromatic herbs are also used. The only difference may be that cooks use a little bit less garlic than in Provence. Sea food products are an essential part of the Languedoc Roussillon cuisine. Languedoc is the single largest wine-producing region in the world. It is responsible for more then a third of France's total wine production. More wine is yearly produced in this area then the entire United States.

Spain is currently a constitutional monarchy with King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia on the throne. Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain and the capital to Catalonia. The Ciutat de les Art I les Ciencies can be found in Valencia which attracts tourists to view its modern architectural structures. The Balearic Islanders of Spain are most known for their love of Flamenco music and dancing as well as the sport of bullfighting, both attracting a lot of tourists, and money, to the area.

Endless cultures, as they passed through or settled in Spain, have influenced the history of Spanish food. The Phoenicians left their sauces, the Greeks introduced Spain to the wonders of olive oil, and Romans, Carthaginians, and Jews integrated elements of their own cooking into that of Spain. However it was the Moors who, during their centuries of reign, most impacted Spanish gastronomy. They introduced fruits and light seasonings into the Iberian diet, as well as combinations of fruits and nuts with meats and fish. Rice- a genuine staple of Spanish gastronomy- and therefore Spain's vast array of rice dishes, come straight from the Moors, as does the use of saffron, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Traditional cooking includes stewed vegetables, rice, pasta, beans, fish stews, chicken casseroles, grilled meat or fish served with alioli, a dressing made with garlic and olive oil, and very creative salt cod based dishes. The place where spinach are sautéed with raisins and pine nuts, is where the innovation is happening, because this is the land of the experimental chefs, and where Mediterranean cooking becomes ultra modern.
One popular Spanish tradition is Tapas. The word tapa, meaning cover or lid, is thought to have originally referred to the complimentary plate of appetizers that many tascas would put like a lid on one's wine glass. Tapas can vary from simple to complex and include cheese, fish, eggs, vegetable dishes, dips, canapés, and savoury pastries.

1 comment:

Steve said...

I love the pictures and overall cerebral approach to the subject. Will you be publishing more here?

-Steve Parker, M.D., author of The Advanced Mediterranean Diet: Lose Weight, Feel Better, Live Longer