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French Influence


Spanish food history is long and rich and it's very different from what it used to be a few centuries back. Outside the courts tables, the commoners used to eat what was available and accessible. This included many vegetables, as Spain was mostly a rural country and people cooked what was in their orchards. The cuisine at court was different though, vegetables were sparse, meat was abundant and medicine was more of a guessing game, so doctors did not recommend a healthy diet as we know it now.

If you ever visit Spain you will be able to sample and taste all the variety that the Spanish gastronomy has to offer, and there's plenty of options, including vegetarian dishes. However, let's take a look back at how the king and his court fed 300 years ago.

Felipe V

In 1700 the last king of House of Hapsburg, Spain's ruling dynasty for nearly 250 years, died childless and thus the Spanish branch of one of Europe's greatest and more powerful dynasties extinguished. What followed was a war of succession that lasted until 1713 and ended with Bourbon monarch Phillip V on the Spanish throne. He had great opposition of course, as other powers were not happy with the idea of the union of two great crowns through inheritance and they supported the archduke Charles' claim. In the end the Bourbon king was crowned only after signing the treaty of Utrecht in 1713 which forbid him from taking the French crown and incapacitated the French heirs to have access to the Spanish throne

The change of an entire dynasty is very capable of brining more than social, political and economical changes, it can also bring about a lot of changes in a country's gastronomy. .

In the Spanish food history the most influenced were the courts kitchens, evidently. But Spaniards were not happy to be served French dishes instead of the ones they were used to. The nobles considered their gastronomy as a right and tradition and resisted to being forced to change their habits because of a new and foreing dynasty, they were reluctant to abandon their customs to adopt ones that they considered alien and strange. Who would win in court?

Why, the king of course. The Bourbons, unlike their predecessors, did not like lavishness or of great parties. Philip V managed to impose his much more refined cuisine. When he later married Elisabeth Farnese Italian cuisine also entered the Spanish courts tables and eventually it would leak down to the bourgeois and commoners.

As an anecdote we have references of a culinary incident which had great diplomatic repercussions. A banquet was offered in honor of the of the king's future consort Maria Luisa of Savoy. As a symbol of friendship between France and Spain, several dishes from both nations were served in alternate order. The Queen had no idea of the meaning of banquet and ate only from the Spanish dishes, causing great discomfort in the French.

The Queen and King's diet

Burgundy wine

The king himself was a little boring when it came to food. Apparently he suffered from melancholic states in which he'd either eat nothing or devour everything he could find, but most of the time he'd choose a potage made of egg yolks, sugar, cinnamon and burgundy wine. He also drank little alcohol and when he did it was always burgundy wine.

He did indulge with the national vice of the time though: chocolate. He was known to drink it, specially on fast days, but never in large amounts or very frequently.

The queen was a different matter. She liked and enjoyed good food. In quantity she ate sometimes less than her husband, but much more varied and hardly ever chose the same dishes as her husband and she liked to drink champagne. But she had another vice: tobacco. Apparently she smoked frequently and a lot, and the king never got used to that.

The food served at the courts tables

In those times people at court, we mean the king and queen as well as the nobility were fed mostly with meats of many different types. Those that didn't have actual meat were still derived from animal products but the vegetable part was rather scarce from their diet.

For instance, the king began eating consommé in 1737, made with all the liquid substances of two hens, two quails, 4 pounds of veal and 2 of ram. This dish would also enter the queen's menu a few years later and she would drink this broth twice a day, for lunch and dinner.

But not only did Phillip V brought his customs to the Spanish courts, he also adopted some of the typically Spanish dishes. One of these was olla podrida, consumed on Sundays (all Sundays) of the 1720's, it contained beef, ram meat, hen, pigeons, hare, pig leg, bacon, sausages, trotters, pig ears, chick peas, some vegetables and spices. As we have mentioned, there were hardly notions of a healthy diet. In the Spanish food history this dish has been very popular.

Nowadays the Mediterranean or Spanish diet has changed a lot, fortunately and meat is balanced with vegetables, fish and other more healthy products. Olla podrida still exists, however it's composition has also varied quite a lot since then and the food served in restaurants and bars is a lot more balanced.