Almost 10 years ago, writer Matt Goulding got sidetracked in Barcelona on his way to Italy. He fell in love—with the city and the woman he would end up marrying—and never left.
The co-founder of Roads and Kingdoms and author of “Grape, Olive, Pig: Deep Travels Through Spain’s Food Culture” spoke on Milk Street Radio about life and love in Spain, the best thing he ate at El Bulli (two ingredients: olive oil and salt), and why jamón Iberico makes prosciutto taste like bologna. Plus, the overlooked rice dishes he calls Spain’s undiscovered treasure.
Check out the excerpts below and listen to the full interview here.
On how he unintentionally ended up in Spain
I was looking to find a quiet corner of Italy to write a book in, fall in love with an Italian—you know, a very original idea for a young American writer. But I stopped over in Barcelona and I met a lovely young Catalan woman who kept me where I was. So I never actually left Barcelona and I’ve been there ever since. It wasn’t until Thanksgiving night, I invited a bunch of European friends over, and I cooked a turkey and at the end of the night everyone had kind of wandered home, and she came back and helped me with the dishes. And that’s not a euphemism!
On jamón Iberico
For me I don’t think there’s any better protein expression in the world than that of an acorn-fed jamón Iberico. We’re talking about serious dedication, extraordinary craftsmanship and above all, the pigs are just treated really well. They live really well and they finish their last three or four months eating nothing but acorns. So that gives them this extraordinary marbling and the fat itself is really sweet, really deep flavored, which gives jamón Iberico that really special flavor. I always say, to the ire of Italians, you eat a piece of jamón Iberico and prosciutto tastes like baloney next to it.
On the best thing he ate at El Bulli
It was an olive oil chip. They use maltodextrin to solidify olive oil into a crystalline shard, that looked like a piece of glass. Inside of these two thin pieces of olive oil glass there was the greatest first-pressed olive oil that you’ve ever tasted, with a few big crystals of coarse salt. You just crunch through this thing and the hair on my arms stands up to this day as I’m describing this to you, because it recalls so much emotion.
“I’m not in the business of giving pleasure. I’m in the business of producing emotion.”
— Ferran Adrià
On Spain’s undiscovered culinary treasure
Really what Spain is great at is this wide variety of Spanish rice dishes, which I think is one of the great undiscovered culinary treasures of the country, if not the world. You have these things liked soupy rices; they’re called arroz caldoso, or arroz meloso, which is sort of a Spanish version of risotto, which is the midpoint between the dry paella rice and the soupy, lobster and crab and shrimp rices. Point being that they are extraordinarily good, hugely satisfying rice dishes, and that’s what people should be looking for when they travel over to Spain.
On Spanish idioms
When I talk about doing something and leaving something out, my wife will be like, “Como un huevo sin sal—that’s like an egg without salt.” Or “como un beso sin bigote—that’s like a kiss without a mustache.” You’re like, wait, what does that mean? Like being kissed with somebody without a mustache, and that’s a bad thing? There’s a lot of food baked into the colloquialisms in Spain.