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From Churros to Cocas, and from Chocolate to Moscatels, Life in Spain can be Ever so Sweet

Coca de Sant Joan“Wow, Spain…”

That was the typical reaction that we got from fellow Canadians when we told them of our plans to relocate here.  It’s difficult to express on paper just how much was communicated with those two little words.  Curiosity, mystery, romance, confusion – it was all there, every time.

At this point, I can’t really imagine what it is that sprang to people’s minds when we mentioned Spain: bullfights and flamenco?  Sangría and castles crumbling in the sunshine?  These are probably the first thoughts that I had when I thought of Spain all those years ago before I started my love affair with Spanish culture and history.  In my experience, the real Spain is no less charming than that vaguely imagined country, yet amazingly different from it in so many ways. (Flickr photo by visualpanic)

One thing that I didn’t expect the first time I moved to Spain, and that had completely slipped my mind before my return last year, is Spain’s impressive sweet tooth.  The romantic image of Spain’s fiery temperament may conjure up impressions of spicy cuisine, but the truth is that sugar is a much more common element of Spanish gastronomy than anything piquant.

Interestingly, one of the western world’s most popular sweet beverages, hot chocolate, arrived in Spain from the new world as a bitter, spicy drink to be quickly transformed into the sweet version that we know today.  That addition of sugar isn’t surprising for anyone wandering the streets of any modern Spanish town, populated by countless pastelerías and bars offering chocolate con churros.

But not all sweet things are so casually encountered here.  Shortly after arriving in Barcelona this past June we began to suspect that a holiday was approaching when line ups spilling out of bakeries made it difficult to navigate the streets with our son’s stroller.  Everyone in the world, or so it seemed, was ordering a Coca de Sant Joan in preparation for the mid-summer feast of Saint John.  (We pick up on these things…)  Not every holiday has a dessert or pastry to go with it, but the many that do inspire an impressive reverence for the accompanying sweets.

As a Canadian, I tend to think of ice cream as a treat for kids, but on hot days here – and there are many of them – ice cream is a standard snack for children and adults alike.  Equally surprising to me is the popularity of Coca-Cola. There’s no other product that represents North American culture and consumption habits so wholly, and yet it seems to be the non-alcoholic
beverage of choice here too.

Of course, there is a full range of sweet drinks that do contain alcohol as well.  There are sweet table wines and Cavas, sugary sangrías, and a whole host of dessert wines.  The range is far too great to discuss here but I will be writing more about the sweet moscatel wines of Valencia that have made me realize just what a sweet tooth I have.  I’ll leave the sherries to Ryan and Gabriella as their expertise is far, far greater than mine, but suffice it to say that sherry is virtually a world unto itself offering delights for all, from bone-dry to sugary-sweet.

For the daring, here is a list of just a few of the many dessert recipes that Spain has to offer.  Like all Spanish food, they will be best enjoyed in good company and paired with your favourite Spanish wine, dry or sweet.


Ivan Larcombe

Ivan loves wine and food almost as much as he loves writing about them. Next on the list is hearing from interested readers: he welcomes comments and visitors to his blog, Ivan In Valencia.

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