This article was translated by John R. Bopp
Mike Randolph is a writer and podcast creator about “Spanish food and culture”, and he’s written an article on elvers and our taste for them in the north of the peninsula.
The article was published in the Travel section of the BBC website, and we had to read it several times, because we couldn’t believe what we were reading. We’re not sure what caught our attention more (putting it lightly) in everything we read, because there’s a lot that did.
One the one hand, there’s the author’s determination to transmit the idea that it’s incomprehensible to anyone with two brain cells to rub together would find the dish attractive. As he explains quite well, he doesn’t get how it’s possible that there are people who are willing to pay so much money for a handful of baby eels that taste of nothing and, what’s more, are prepared according to the “traditional recipe (a la bilbaina), which requires frying garlic and spicy peppers in a ton of olive oil and then adding in the elvers, a sure way to dominate their light flavor“.
It’s a good thing, the article seems to deduce, that many Spaniards actually have taste and also don’t understand how such absurdly high prices can be paid for something of so little culinary value.
On the other hand are the worrying comments of some restaurant owners and other experts who were interviewed that explain, or at least this is the impression the article gives, that those who order elvers do so to show off their ability to spend. The truth is that, if what the article says the experts said is true, they don’t really seem like experts.
It’s hard to explain cultural elements and traditions to those who judge the world only through the lens of their own culture. It’s not good to think that those who enjoy foods that we don’t eat or like or think are too expensive are wrong and have no idea what they’re doing.
For example, there are people who eat fish eggs, even paying astronomical prices; those who enjoy eating ants, worms, or grasshoppers; there are those who eat yak gust, or those who enjoy surströmming, a fermented herring that, for those of us who didn’t grow up eating it, smells like rotting demons. Nobody’s actually wrong about these things, except those who dare to say that others’ habits, traditions, or tastes are “incomprehensible”.
We haven’t eaten elvers in a long time. Not because we wouldn’t like to, but because we can’t afford them. We remember, and long for, those days when we were children and we ate them at home, made by mom or dad. But it would never occur to us to think that those who eat them today do so to show off their social status. Rather, we believe that they do so because they like them, enjoy them, and because they form part of their culture and traditions.
And by the way, while we’re on the subject of culinary traditions, and their quality and richness, I do not believe that the Basques, a poor people which was able to turn the cheapest and most common base ingredients into an extraordinary people’s cuisine, has much of anything to learn from our good friends north of the English Channel.
It’s also interesting and enlightening to know that in Great Britain, for example, until they learned of our admiration for this fish, they used it as manure or feed. Now they eat them.
BBC – 14/3/2018 – Gran Bretaña
Why baby eels are one of Spain’s most expensive foods
Baby eels are one of Spain’s most expensive foods, but when you see them for the first time you might wonder why. They’re not, to put it mildly, something that cries out to be eaten. When alive, they’re transparent and slimy, slithering and squirming like tiny snakes. Cooked, they turn opaque and resemble limp, dead worms, except they’re white with two tiny black dots for eyes. Hungry yet?