One day, the main topic of a French class at my secondary school was food. We were talking about whether people in Spain and France have two courses or just a main meal for lunch.
A classmate said ‘Well. At my house, we only have the main course, and then el plato.’ I and the rest of the class nodded, as that was exactly what everyone did at home.
My French teacher was from Burgos (in northern Spain) but had been living in Extremadura for many years. Yet she had no idea what el plato was.
‘Yes, you know,’ my classmate said. ‘The plate with the cold meats and cheese you bring out in case people are still hungry after the main course.’
The teacher didn’t know what we were talking about. She was surprised, and so were we to discover she didn’t know what el plato was. Everyone knew, or so we thought.
‘There is no such thing in my house,’ she said. ‘And when I’ve been invited to people’s houses, I’ve never seen that plate. Not even once.’
Of course, she hadn’t.
El plato isn’t something you bring out when you have guests. It doesn’t look nice. When you have guests, you prepare a ‘proper’ meal—starter, main and dessert; or main, second and dessert. Hence, if you are a guest at somebody’s in Extremadura (unless you are part of the family), you’ll never see the plate.
Pigs had been, for many years, the main source of meat in humble homes in rural areas, that’s why there are pork cold meats in every house. Although today people generally don’t eat as much (or as often), I guess having el plato is a good way to avoid the hassle of cooking two courses.
It works like this: you finish your stew, or soup or whatever the main is that day. If you aren’t full, you get some bread and cut a few slices of your favourite cheese or cold meat, and make a mini bocadillo. And there you go. Full.
There is one of these plates in every fridge, in every kitchen in Extremadura.
Here’s the one at my parents’ house.
Picture by my mum, who explained to me the products currently on the plate:
- El Dornajo’s cheese, made with sheep and cow’s milk. (Artesanos del queso is a family-run business from Cabeza del Buey. My mum knows the owners and I always bring some of their cheeses back to the UK).
- Chorizo (top) and salchichón (right), from a local shop in Alburquerque
- Iberian lomo (loin, below), cured by my grandmother