VISITING A SPANISH FAMILY IN LA RODA
Don Quijote sculpture in La Roda
After a two-hour train from the capital Madrid, I arrived La Roda, a pretty Spanish town of the autonomous region Castile-La Mancha. In a town where you hardly see a foreign person, interestingly, I find a strong connection between me and the authentic Spanish culture here.
Spain is one of the top destinations in Europe, and it's not easy to 'explore the real Spanish culture' in major cities such as Madrid, Valencia or Barcelona without bumping into big groups of tourists who are holding either a camera or ice cream on their hands. La Roda is different. In this small town located between Madrid and Valencia, most of the population are ethnic Spanish, and there's no sign of tourism activities happening here. That's good, because I'm not here to be a tourist, I'm here to be an explorer.
Being the only Vietnamese in town, I'm about to see what it's like to live in a traditional Spanish family and eat the most delicious home-cooked paella. But first, I have to make sure that I came to the right destination. I am here in La Roda on an invitation of my Spanish friend, Javier, whom I met in London and whose family lives in this town.
It took only one direct train from Madrid, but along the whole journey from getting on the train until arriving this silent, small and empty station of La Roda, I've been the only non-Spanish speaking person, and literally the only Asian guest here too. It felt a little bit strange, I could be in any city in Spain wandering the streets by myself but here, it's quite different. Luckily, a few minutes later Javier's car approached, gave me a honk and a wave. Realizing I didn't get off at the wrong station, I then gave my friend a big hug and couldn't wait to explore his town.
La Roda is neither a populous place nor a popular tourist stop, yet, it's a pretty and peaceful town located in La Mancha region. La Mancha is famous for being the setting for the adventures of the famous literary hero Don Quixote.
Yes, 'Don Quixote of La Mancha', I am sure you've heard of this novel.
A familiar feeling
Less than 7 minutes drive from the train station, we reached Javier's home, a small villa surrounded by trees and different kinds of fruits. In the garden, a Spanish man taking care of his plants and the fences, a scene that looks just like any Vietnamese grandparent's life inside the old French villas of Hanoi. "That man over there in the garden, that's my father." Javier says.
Javier's father, Francisco and mother, Angela greeted me at the door in the most welcoming way. They don't speak any English and I don't speak Spanish, but I know they are one of the nicest and sweetest people I've come across during my journey in Europe. Most of the conversation between us needs to go through a final step of translation by Javier. We don't share the same language, but we share the same smiles. It's a lovingly experience for me.
Javier's home in La Roda is a simple beauty. Everything is just right and in reasonable sizes. Not saying I'm a minimalist, but I have a huge thing for accommodation like this. Not a big house, but it's tidy and well organized. And like many old houses in Hanoi's old quarter, living room and dining room is one. The kitchen is not large but it makes senses, it really does. Then along with the warm welcome, the furniture, the table, the tv, the whole house in general and the way Javier's parents non stop giving me food make me feel like visiting my grandparents in Hanoi.
The real Paella
Paella is Spain's most recognized dish and needs no further introduction here. In every travel video or documentary about Spain that we made, we talked about this delicious rice dish. In real life, I'm addicted to Paella too. I had paella almost everyday when I was in Madrid. I had paella almost everyday when I was in Barcelona. I had paella twice in Valencia where the dish comes from. I've had paella in Vietnam too.
For Spanish people, paella is for gathering, for a weekend meal with your loved ones. Paella brings people together, and the reason why it's become Spain's national dish is because it's a family thing. Enjoying a delicious home cooked paella with a traditional Spanish family in Spain surely makes my journey really meaningful.
Javier's mother, Angela shows me step by step of cooking paella. The whole process would take about half an hour. We were cooking and filming at the same time, so Angela was very excited about the existence of the camera.
Putting the last bit of red peppers into the pan, she smiles at Javier and says "We are going to be famous in Vietnam" - in Spanish.
Sitting at the table, we shared a lot more about our cultures. I was able to help Javier's parents know much more about Vietnam. It's safe to say that Paella does bring people together, and right now it's bringing Vietnam closer to Spanish people. Yes I still don't understand Spanish, but I know that Francisco and Angela are constantly saying "Khoi, you need to eat more food, more breads, more everything", which is why I mentioned the lovingly feeling of 'visiting grandparents' earlier.
"In Spain, we have paella every Sunday, but only Sunday. Today we are making an exception, for you." Javier says. In a cozy room filled with love, generosity and smiles, I am having the most delicious paella I've ever had in my life.
Very Late Dinner
One thing I've noticed in Spain is that people eat very very late. It's not just my experience, it's one fact that Spanish people have very late dinner. Here, dinner is normally a lighter meal than lunch, and it is generally eaten between 9 pm and midnight. On the first night of my stay, the family is taking me to a family-run restaurant where locals in town favor. It's literally a few steps away from Javier's home.
Read more: Why do people eat so late in Spain?
Here we have Russian salad; Patatas Bravas (fried chips with spicy sauce) and Fried cheese with marmalde
At 10 pm, dinner is served with many different delicious small dishes. The late eating, the atmosphere, the way food is made and the small plates remind me of a familiar picture that any Vietnamese youngster can relate to: late night hanging out with friends and having snacks on the streets.
We finished our food at nearly midnight. After the meal, now it's time for coffee. Here people drink coffee after every meal, even after a late dinner. It was a Friday night anyway. After a few sips of coffee, I started noticing a strong sense of community. This family run restaurant is also like a family for the locals. Most people come to this small restaurant would stay after their dinner for a while, like Javier's family. We had coffee, watched late night TV program together, chat with the restaurant owner, and chat with everyone else. It's a laid back lifestyle in such a small society that seems like everybody knows everybody.
Friday night in La Roda wouldn't be completed without a few drinks. After leaving the restaurant, me and Javier walked to a local bar nearby. I'm not sure if this is the only bar in this quiet town, but it is as cool as any other bar in big cities.
The next day, our dinner is at home. Again, it's 10 o' clock. I normally have dinner at 8 and that's already considered very late for Vietnamese people. Feeling already hungry since the afternoon, now I'm excited about a Spanish family dinner. As mentioned that in Spain, dinner is a lighter meal than lunch so the portions are normally smaller and the plates are simpler, but still, it's a beautiful meal, and just like any other meal, Javier's parents makes sure I'm happy about the food. Here we have different cold cuts, olives, tomatoes, potatoes and red wine.
It's already my last night here. After dinner we just stay indoor. All of us sat on the same sofa and watched Spanish television until 1 am. I came to this town as a guest from the Far East, now I feel like a part of this lovely Spanish family.
The whole time in La Roda has been an unforgettable experience for me. It's one of the most special journeys I have done too, being able to getaway from busy Madrid for bit in exchange for a warm family atmosphere and delicious home cooked food. I find the local Spanish people here very friendly too. I remember when I was greeted by Francisco and Angela at the front door, an elderly woman also walked past and said hello to me. They must have been excited to see me, I guest.
Muchas gracias Javier, Francisco and Angela!
It was raining heavily in Madrid the day I caught the train from there.
After my first night in La Roda, I woke up and saw my socks washed and hung. Turns out Javier's mom washed them for me after they got wet and stinky from the rain in Madrid. This sweet woman then laughed and said something to Javier. Only after the translation have I realized that my socks don't match. Silly me! I've been wearing mismatched socks the whole time.
Founder and Explorer
I love travelling, making documentary and connecting myself with people of different nationalities. As an explorer and founder of Viexplore, I have traveled to many places, created beautiful memories with the locals and other travelers. This is why I always want to represent our Vietnamese cultural identity to the world.
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