Community is a vital part of Spanish culture, and what better way to establish this community than through food? Almost every social interaction I had in Salamanca, whether it was a gathering with friends from class, an excursion with my study abroad group, or a conversation with my host mom, involved food, which always made it taste so much better because I enjoyed it with others. Spain is a strong follower of the Mediterranean diet as well, enjoying the use of food items like olive oil, vegetables, grains, and with my host mom especially, seafood. I had never really tried Spanish cuisine before, but with the earthy taste and combination of flavors in every meal that my host mom made, I found myself looking forward to what would be served next.
I especially enjoyed exploring the numerous cafes and bakeries, or panaderías, with my friends and host mom. My host mom often took me grocery shopping with her and surprised me with pastries while I studied for exams, helping alleviate my stress at the time. Also, every weekend my friends and I would meet at the Plaza Mayor, the “living room” of the city, and explore together. We would stop for some kind of treat along the way, and I remember one night we found a bakery called La Tahona de la Abuela, which served a variety of gelato flavors from Tiramisú to Mango con piña (mango with pineapple). We traversed the city for hours after acquiring our gelato, walking down the cobblestone streets, admiring the myriad of night lights, and savoring the liveliness of the city. The taste of my tiramisu gelato was almost as sweet as this memory.
The most touching memory that I remember involving food, however, took place with my study abroad group during our farewell dinner mid-March, when we had to return to the US two months earlier than expected. We met and shared a three-course meal, reliving our favorite memories and trying not to think about our plane tickets booked for the next day. I remember with each plate that arrived at our table, I was reminded that we were getting closer and closer to leaving. Nonetheless, I tried to enjoy the sweet taste of my tartaleta de fresa as we finished our conversation. Once only fellow Emory Explorer Brandon and study abroad advisors Maica and Ángel were left in the restaurant, I shed my first tears on that trip. I was having trouble processing all the sadness, disappointment, and confusion, unable to believe that our world had been turned upside down overnight. After the wave of tears and numerous hugs, Brandon and I went for one last walk around the city and noted all the closed bars and empty streets that had once been so crowded, a testament to the rhythm and life of the city. As I look back at these memories now, I realize that although food brought back some of my happiest memories, it also brought about some of my saddest. More than anything, though, it reminds me of the gratitude I hold for being able to live such a once-in-a-lifetime experience, enjoying so much in such a short amount of time, and perpetually satisfying my sweet tooth with such cherished memories.