SPAIN BOOK REVIEW: ‘Inside the Tortilla: A Journey in Search of Authenticity’ by Paul Read


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Life has a habit of throwing obstacles in your path for a good reason: They arise to challenge the undaunted, or deter the uncommitted. Either way, when you stumble into a town that the guide books have overlooked, you must choose between quickly moving on, or staying to see what the obstacles conceal.

When one man and his faithful hound turn their backs on the Mediterranean Sea and set out on a journey into the interior of the Deep South, they go in search of a town that still cooks it’s food rather than shops for it. Tired of the disposable nature of modern living and its embrace of microwaved food, this search for authentic recipes unveils not just a series of gastronomic secrets, but the rich history, culture, politics and diet of a charismatic country as it struggles out of the shadow of its past and into the searing light of its future.

Inside the Tortilla: A Journey in Search of Authenticity

I am generally suspicious of anyone using the word ‘authentic’ when it comes to Spain. There will be half a million Brits living in Spain right now, penning out their ‘new life in Spain’ book, thinking they are special. There will be legal hoops to jump through, a charming neighbour named Juan, lazy builders, translation mishaps… blah, blah, blah. I gave up reading such books a while back, after reading a memoir so bad I tossed it out a window. But when Paul Read told the story of searching for authentic tortilla in Andalucia, there was finally a ‘living in Spain’ book with reading.

Many pronounce to have found ‘the real Spain’ (as if there can be a one-size-fits-all Spain). If they do find such a beast, they pen the tale all wrong. Not so with Read – Inside the Tortilla reads like you’re in the moment, hearing the words from the author himself, who spares the clichés. Read’s words rang true about the Mediterranean coast being a mess, and the food being disappointing. Tourism is the ultimate double edged sword – it’s a huge industry, making money and providing employment, but it also poisons all it touches. Read goes where many an expat doesn’t bother – away from the packaged coast of Spain.

Enter the town nicknamed ‘La Clave’ in the hills outside Granada, and a more natural way of life. We find Read finding his way, making a new life far removed from the path many expats take. We meet Andrés, who gives rise to the nickname ‘Gazpacho Monk’ as the author is known. The book dives into everyday meetings with those in the town, the fiestas that dominate Spanish life, the annoyances of having a car towed, and throwing what is akin to a Brontosaurus hide at a dog living on a roof.

Through the story lies recipes, the classics that the Spanish enjoy eating, recipes that exist solely because of Spain’s once simple way of life. The book also tells of the town’s history, of the first Spanish Republic, and its ‘Revolution of Bread and Cheese’, and of Spain’s more recent battles, with the 2007 historical memory laws and the threat of opening old wounds. Strategies to cope with the Spanish heat are included, along tips for eating almejas (clams) – a picture of King Alfonso is required, or a suitable substitute such as Real Madrid  memorabilia or a toilet roll.

Anyone who knows Spain well will find themselves nodding in agreement at the Spanish way of life, like the old ladies gossiping at the bus stop, or the act of getting a recipe with your mortgage. Those who don’t know about living in Spain can get an introduction into what the country is really like when you step away of the microwaved version of the country found along the coast. This is no guide to moving to Spain; this book is a success story, told by someone who made a real effort to build a new life.

Buy Inside The Tortilla here

Meet Paul Read, the ‘Gazpacho Monk’