There is one thing one can say about Andalucians – They love their food and will make almost any occasion into a celebratory feast.
Food is certainly a favoured topic when we are in the sierra with our mountain groups. We may be leaping over boulders, crossing a river or scaling a cliff side, yet our fellow hikers somehow manage to hold a running commentary. More often than not, it is not about the trail or the magnificent views, but about eatables. We have rarely ascended a peak without learning a new recipe. The steeper the hill, the richer the ingredients, with further intensity and willingness to share roasting tips closer to the holiday season.
On the way to the mountain in the morning, the conversation may skirt around healthy-ish fare, due to the physical effort we are about to endure. Around mid-hike, almost every conversation is about what they have brought, or would like to have brought, or wish they could have brought for lunch. By the routes’ end, usually sitting down for a post-hike cerveza, our gang is a virtual cacophony of voices, trying to top each other’s dirty jokes and stories of hedonistic eating pleasures.
But, the Andalucians’ love for food doesn’t limit itself to mere talk. As soon as we take off on a bus tour, someone will bring out a bottle of something festive. We have hardly left town before it is time to stop for a ‘quick’ bite. Likewise, after walking up the first steep hill, someone will insist that we must stop for something to eat, as they did not have time to eat breakfast before leaving. During our many walks, not an hour seems to pass without a snack break, one of multiple lunch stops or a halt for a communal cheer. In other words, Andalucians require frequent refuelling.
The lunches our fellow hikers bring are a chapter to itself, well worth a closer appreciative look. I have hiked since I was a child and was always taught to pack a hearty lunch, and I still do. Water, a fruit and a wholesome sandwich. The latter is generally squashed up in my pack by the time I devour it, admittedly without the greatest of pleasure, or much thought. Not until now…
Andalucians have given me a whole new meaning to the concept of hiking lunches. Why make a dreary sandwich before you leave home, when you can make something tasty en route? Just bring a whole, fresh, white loaf of bread and something to fill it. Take a generous block of sheep-milk cheese, a can of fish, oily sardines if you have them, plus some fresh tomatoes or a glass jar or pickles. Cut it all up with your hunting knife and you have a feast worthy of a mountain king. It may take up a bit more space in your pack, but it makes for a much better lunch. Besides, nobody is going to want to share my pre-packed, shrink-wrapped poor excuse for a sandwich!
A freshly made trail-sandwich is one option for the Andalucian hikers, though they will also bring sausages, Iberian ham or fuet by the meter. Not to mention a few links of spicy chorizo. All these make excellent high-cholesterol hiking food, while instantly giving you new friends.
Like-wise, a fresh tortilla of a dozen eggs or so, with onion and potatoes and possibly a bit of spinach will keep you going for hours and make you very popular, particularly with the expat hikers with their sad little sandwiches. Fruit? Only if you peel it right there and offer all around. Chocolate bars? Why bother? It is much more fun and certainly more social to bring a whole cake and share it with the lot.
Then there are the all-important liquids. Of course you need plenty of water on a hike, especially during the hot summer months, but cans of beer, pop and cider are also most welcome trail blazers. However, when it comes to mealtime, no Andalucian hike seems complete without at least somebody offering you a hit of wine or a slug of Manzanilla from their leather bota.
Nothing they pull out of their packs, or their hats, surprises us anymore. The key to Andalucian eating is sharing, which always makes a better meal and a jollier time. I suppose it boils down to a basic cultural difference; We Nordic types generally eat to live, which the Spanish live to eat. And, believe me, eat they do!
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank our fellow hikers, guides and mountain pals for all the wonderful open-air meals and good cheers we have enjoyed together in the sierra. I promise to work on improving my lunch contribution for the next walk!