As an important aspect of socialization and human development within a particular country, national identity is formed due to different cultural elements – language, religion, art heritage, and some other criteria. These factors, in turn, are reflected in different spheres of life and create unique ideas about people of a particular nationality. Spanish culture is known globally for its rich background and long history of development. However, along with the aforementioned factors that shape national identity and influence the image of the state, such an aspect as Spanish cuisine should be taken into account.
The food preferences of this European country, with its characteristic dishes and cooking methods, are significant cultural markers reflected in various creative fields. This work aims to present the importance of Spanish food in the local cinema and as an element that largely reflects the national identity of its citizens. The analysis shows that, in Spanish films, the topic of food is often touched upon, which contributes to popularizing this country’s cuisine globally and creating its unique image complemented by characteristic dishes and eating rituals.
Spanish Dishes as Semiotic Objects in Cinema
Due to the interest of Spaniards in their national cuisine and its traditions, many dishes have gained world fame, which the cinema has popularized to a large extent. For instance, in addition to portraying food itself in movies, individual filmmakers often focus on food culture and unique rituals (Martínez and Alonso 293). In this regard, the national cuisine has become an object of semiotics,i which is expressed in the ability to convey individual ideas not only through actors’ play but also through the culture of eating. Martínez and Alonso give the example of a film in which the characters constantly eat gazpachoii and find themselves in comical situations (304).
This technique is an effective semiotic tool and incentive to create specific ideas about individual dishes and the national cuisine in general. Therefore, the frequent mention of food in Spanish cinema has allowed people of the rest of the world to have a corresponding idea of this country and its most popular foodstuffs.
As cinema promotes certain food preferences and rituals in Spanish cuisine, some myths and stereotypes have emerged as a result of the popularization of relevant cultural practices. In an interview with the Indian newspaper, chef Andoni Luis Aduriz answers questions about the myths associated with food in Spain and characteristic rituals (Verma). He confirms that a range of foods and beverages shape a cultural context that, in turn, is the subject of discussion (Verma). He confirms that many of the myths and views of foreigners on local eating practices are true, but a number of conventions exist, for instance, regional rituals that have been formed in a certain territory (Verma).
The assertion that Sangria is the favorite drink of Spaniards presented in movies can be challenged since, in some regions, txakoliiii is preferred more (Verma). All these factors prove that stereotypical ideas about Spanish cuisine did not originate out of the blue, but certain criteria, in particular, the geography of food preferences, should also be taken into account to make the image of local food as credible as possible.
Food, as a semiotic object, allows Spanish filmmakers to convey unique images of characters that the public associates with specific behavioral characteristics. For instance, sellers of tortilla, or omelet, as a common Spanish dish, often appear as ordinary people with uncomplicated dreams and hopes (Martínez and Alonso 302). The image of olive oil, another national product, often emerges in the context of intimate relationships and passion (Martínez and Alonso 302).
These examples that entered Spanish cinema in the second half of the 20th century prove that associations between food products and scripts are possible if the cuisine is varied and vibrant. In Spain, a large number of dishes made from different ingredients opens up a wide range of possibilities for creating metaphors in cinema, which filmmakers sometimes take advantage of and apply to influence the audience.
The role of national products, as objects of semiotics, is not only to supplement movie plots with real details but also to convey subtexts. When analyzing one of the Spanish films, Martínez and Alonso give the example of a poisoned omelet as an analog of the weapon used in Russian roulette (305). Such a comparison is natural if the cuisine occupies a large place in the national culture. The inherent ritualism of food intake distinguishes Spaniards from many other nations where late dinner is not the norm and desserts cannot be served both after the main course and before it (Verma). This feature of Spanish eating practices opens up opportunities for the use of appropriate rituals as tools for movie plots. As a result, while observing such decisions, the world cinema shapes a general idea of the specificity of Spanish cuisine and distinguishes it from many others as an important component of national identity.
Methods of the Popularization of the National Cuisine in Cinema
Cinema practices where food products are utilized as storytelling elements are common in Spanish films due the richness of cuisine. A wide range of dishes varying from region to region of the country convey the mood and enhance actors’ performances. For instance, meat dishes prepared with numerous recipes are a typical technique to emphasize the Spanish national identity (Viguera). Martínez and Alonso mention jamoniv as one of the products that have gained worldwide fame, and in one of the films, it was one of the main plot elements (305). However, the emergence of this practice of popularization in cinema largely originated from specific political trends that emerged in the first half of the 20th century.
Francoist Spain, under the leadership of the dictator, embarked on a course to strengthen national identity. The cuisine was chosen as an area that could create a characteristic image of the country and set it apart from a number of other states that were on the rise. For instance, oranges that have become an integral part of the image of Spaniards were deliberately popularized both in everyday life and in the cinema, thereby creating artificial stereotyping (Anderson 81).
This technique, used as an instrument of political pressure, moved into the social sphere and became part of the formation of the national cuisine as a Spanish visiting card. Rivalry with other countries, such as France, contributed to the emergence of unique varieties of Spanish wines, which subsequently received public recognition (Anderson 83). This practice of planting cultural values took root firmly, and over time, its aggressive context ceased to exist, giving way to a natural interest in the national cuisine as cultural heritage. As a result, the numerous images of products and beverages in Spanish films can be regarded as a partial consequence of political pressure on society during the dictatorship.
The results of popularization have turned out to be significant, which allows saying about the success of the methods of enhancing Spaniards’ national identity through cuisine. Scenes from numerous films in which food plays an essential role involve not only the food itself but also the ritual aspect of the meal, which, in turn, amplifies the impact on the audience. Martínez and Alonso compare some of directors’ techniques to ritual paradigms that, when combined with the contexts of stories, impress the public (297). Biblical stories, comical situations, serious incidents, and other topics can be addressed through the prism of food intake and rituals laid down in history.
Seafood, being a symbol of Spain, is promoted worldwide as one of the must-haves in the diet (Viguera). The merit of filmmakers in this is as follows: by using the scenes of seafood, they affect the audience and create a sense of lightness and luxury. Therefore, ritualism, as an aspect of cultural impacts, constitutes a significant background of Spanish cuisine promoted both in local and world cinema.
Variety of Meals and Locations as Cinematic Techniques
The ability to convey national flavor through food in cinema is largely due to a variety of dishes and locations of their cooking. Food is cooked not only at home and in catering establishments but also on the street, and this part of culture occupies an essential place in people’s lives. Churros,v as one of the Spanish dishes, is often sold in street kiosks, and for decades, this pastry has been associated with the country’s unique image (Anderson 78).
The internationalization of cultural characteristics, as part of Spanish historical heritage, has attracted the attention of filmmakers and contributed to the inflow of investments in the local film industry (Viguera). This factor became one of the decisive ones and allowed people from different countries to learn about Spain as a state where food rituals were developed so strongly that they could be researched individually. Thus, by promoting the national cuisine, local residents have ensured its fame not only within their regions but also abroad.
A wide assortment is what has allowed Spaniards to glorify their cuisine all over the world, and cinema has become one of the most effective tools. The gastronomic richness of this country, where the climate allows diversifying the diet with numerous products, attracts guests from all over the world, which is convenient for filmmakers due to a wide range of actor types (Verma). Local names for dishes, for instance, paella,vi have entered the world language and become widespread in many countries, thereby displacing popular English names (Mosehayward). Therefore, the cinematic ambiance provided by the richness of the local cuisine is a significant incentive to promote Spanish culture in films.
In Spanish cinema, food plays the role not only of an artistic element but also one of the tools for creating appropriate plot subtexts due to its diversity and close association with the national identity. The semiotic characteristics inherent in the dishes of this country have made it possible to popularize numerous products and beverages globally. The political overtones also played a role, and from the middle of the 20th century, the Spanish cuisine began to develop. This, in turn, allowed it to turn into an individual cultural sphere with specific food rituals and a wide range of unique features.
Anderson, Lara. “A Recipe for a Modern Nation: Miguel Primo de Rivera and Spanish Food Culture.” Revista de Estudios Hispánicos, vol. 52, no. 1, 2018, pp. 75-99.
Martínez, Eva Navarro, and Alejandro Buitrago Alonso. “Myths, Traditions, and Rituals of Food in Spanish Cinema.” Semiotica, vol. 2016, no. 211, 2016, pp. 293-313.
Mosehayward. “Paella, Tortilla, Gazpacho and More: The Common Foods in Spain You Oughta Know.” FluentU. Web.
Verma, Abhinav. “Talking All Things Spanish with Maestro Chef Andoni Luis Aduriz.” Hindustan Times. 2018. Web.
Viguera, Maria J. “Spain.” Britannica. 2021. Web.
- The science of signs that store and convey relevant information, usually in a cultural context.
- Cold soup made from grated vegetables.
- White wine, dry and fizzy.
- A dry-cured pork leg.
- Fried sweet choux pastry.
- A rice dish with the addition of seafood, fish, or meat.