As the family get ready for the New Year’s Eve celebration – the second main celebration of three over the festive season in Spain – Benjamin and I take a trip to the jetty where the fishing boats come in with their daily catch.
Benjamin’s mother has already been here earlier this morning to buy the seafood for the family evening meal on December 31st. There are twenty-two family members coming for dinner and Carmen (Benjamin’s mother) insisted on going to the muelle (port) to buy the galeras (mantis prawns) straight from her cousin’s fishing boat. She knows they will still be alive and even fresher than in the market place.
As we roll up at the wharf, there’s a buzz of activity. A man walks out with three large nets of mussels and my taste buds start to kick into action. We walk in and inspect the fish. It’s all in boxes on the floor. The floor is wet and people have their wellies on.
The fish is laid out in polystyrene boxes. It’s been weighed and each box has its label telling us the weight of the fish or seafood in the box, it’s origin and the name of the person who caught it.
We walk around examining the boxes. The fish has just come in off the boats and is so fresh it’s still alive. We find the galeras. They are wriggling around in the box.
Little black eyes like peppercorns on their transparent coating. People come in and marvel at the lubina (sea bass). It’s a good size and would easily feed a family of four on New Year’s Eve.
We wander out on to the harbour. A fishing boat is on its way out. They wave out to me as they see me taking a photo. They have a fantastic day for fishing. The sky is a beautiful blue, the sea is calm and there’s little wind. Another group of fishermen are unpacking their catch, they wash off the fish on board and throw it into a large plastic bucket ready to hand over to be sold.
Benjamin and I wander out of the building and over to the fisherman’s bar La Cantina Marinera. The sun is warm despite the temperature of 13 degrees and the terrace is busy. We walk through the terrace and make our way to the bar. At first, I think I am the only female in this busy bar. Something that years ago would have made me feel shy. On closer inspection, I notice there are more women and one of them I recognise from earlier when I saw her organising fishing nets.
I order some tapas and a couple of beers.
Everything on display is fish or seafood. The colours are amazing. Three generous tapas and two beers come to nine Euros. We sit at a table in the sunshine. The tapas are fresh and mouth-wateringly good. The bar starts to fill up with people coming for lunch. We sit back, soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the tapas.
As a retreat host in Spain, I provide a welcome pack for my guests. In reality, it’s not just a welcome pack. It’s a lovingly thought-out and carefully planned display of fresh and scrumptious goodies waiting to be tucked into. It adds a wow factor for the guest and provides me with an inadvertent opportunity to build relationships.
Of course, I could just pop into a large supermarket, saving myself time and effort. I’d do the shop all in one go, picking up things off the shelf and throwing it heartlessly into a trolley. I’d walk around under the artificial lighting, feeling tired, while I breathe in the particles from the air-con. I’d rummage around in the fruit section trying to find stuff that’s not rock hard and won’t go off as soon as I leave the store. I’d maybe exchange a word or two with the checkout staff, jump into my car and be on my way. Easy.
But would I enjoy it? Would I build relationships?
The answer to that is no. My clients would miss out on the best possible fresh food, thus dampening the wow factor. And, I would miss out on the local shopping experience.
Shopping Local – Pain or Pleasure?
For me, one of the pleasures of food shopping for the retreats in Spain is the effect it has on the senses. Going to the fruit market is a feast of colour, smell, taste and entertainment. Smelling the fruit and selecting the fresh pieces you want is just no comparison to picking up a plastic-wrapped product that will go off in your fridge not long after you get it home. In the market apples smell of apples. Freshly picked oranges and lemons get sold by the kilo
When we get to our favourite stall, Bella and her brother give us a hearty welcome. They ask us how we are getting on as they haven’t seen us for a while. When I explain about the retreats, they tell me about a company in their village who do cycling tours. I immediately see a connection. They promise to get the name and phone number. When it’s my turn, I check my list and Bella starts to fill up our bags. Local plums, soft and juicy, get passed out to us to taste.
I ask for some watermelon.
Bella quickly picks one up from the table behind the stall. She chops it up and offers us a taster. She moves onto the other variety, slices it and offers it to us to compare with the first one. By now, my mouth is watering with the fresh goodness.
I choose the one I think my guests will like. It’s a lovely red colour and refreshing in the heat.
I’m inspired by the display and warm to the array of colour. A lot of work and thought goes into setting up each day. I’m under no pressure to buy any of the things I’ve tried. I’ve been asked to enjoy the fruit, to taste how good it is. And, then the decision to buy or not is mine.
I can’t see the type of lettuce I’m looking for.
“Don’t worry, we have some in the store room.” Bella asks her brother to get some.
“This is from Ubrique and these are organic,” she tells me.
I’m touched that she remembers my taste for organic. She hasn’t forgotten I like to buy local products and that I appreciate organic food. I ask her how much the tomatoes are. The organic ones are better value than the mass-produced ones. I’m pleasantly surprised and order two kilos. A kilo of lemons goes into my bag next. They are fresh off the tree and smell incredible. No wax in sight.
Someone new arrives in the queue and asks about the plums.
“Are they ripe? Do they taste sweet like the ones I bought last week?”
I tell her that I’ve just tried one and it was wonderful. Bella passes one out for the client to try. The lady smiles at me and nods in agreement as she savours the sweetness. She asks me where I come from and then tells me her nephew works in London. We have a short conversation. She’s interested in what I do. Bella joins in.
I have so many bags by now that even with the help of the other half, it’s going to be hard work carrying them back to the car. Bella asks me where we’ve parked.
“That’s too far to walk. Bring your car to the door and when you arrive we’ll come out with the bags.”
I shower ‘gracias’ on her. She waves me away with a cheery ‘de nada’ (you’re welcome).
She has customers who shop there every day. She treats me like one of them. In all fairness, I might have been asked if I needed help packing my bags in the supermarket, but nothing quite beats this personal touch, taking my car to the door and having the bags loaded into the boot.
Bella’s brother has been talking on the phone whilst Bella was serving me. He hangs up and passes me a slip of paper with a name and number. It’s the cycling company. He has called a friend to find out the name for me. Fruit shopping-cum-networking.
I have spent a large chunk of the morning getting to the market, parking and talking to people. But, I wouldn’t swop it for the world. I have been served by a person who has taken an interest in me and not tried to rush me through the queue as quickly as possible. I’ve eaten fruit and had five-star treatment. They have even worried about how I would get my shopping to the car. I have some pesticide and wax free fruit. I have built relationships without even realising. These people are a generous source of information. They have passed on a name and number to me with no strings attached. Who knows? Perhaps one day they’ll pass mine on to someone else. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve done business whilst out shopping in the community. Last time that happened, I was at the butcher’s. But, that’s another story.