Over Christmas break, I gleaned some menus from my family’s take-out drawer to use in a class activity where the kids role-play a scene in a restaurant , and then answer various questions about their specific menu. The distinction between a take-out and sit-down restaurant was complicated by the presence of some menus from restaurants that offer both options, such as Applebees or Mimi’s Café. One of Applebees’ slogans, “Food fast, not fast food” confused a lot of students. One group’s entertaining answer to my question, “Is your restaurant a to-go restaurant?” was “No, I go.”I obviously had a lot of explaining to do about the types of restaurants in the U.S.!

Julia and I have found an unlikely source of “food fast, but not fast food” here in Spain- Julia’s school! Early in the year, Julia discovered that her school offers an occupational elective for those students thinking about careers in food service. During their lessons, the class creates several dishes, which they subsequently package in plastic containers and drop off in the teacher’s room to sell for about 1 euro each.

Julia also quickly discovered that the teacher’s demand for this food greatly outstrips the student’s supply, so that obtaining these little containers involves a strategic and aggressive offense. The promise of freedom from the kitchen on a week-night moves the teachers into what Julia calls a “furious frenzy.”

First, Julia has explained, timing is of grave importance. If she is not in the teacher’s room when the goods are delivered, she can kiss her chance of nabbing some food “adios!”

And then, even if she finds herself in the fortuitous position of being in the right place (the teacher’s room) at the right time (the moment the students deliver the food), she is not guaranteed to score dinner for that night. Teachers frequently mob the students at the door, leaving only empty trays to be set down on the teacher’s room table.

And then, even if the trays do make it to the table with some containers of food intact, there is the competitive snatching and grabbing to contend with. Julia once picked up a container, indecisively set it down for a moment to consider whether or not to buy it and found it whisked away by another teacher from right under her nose. There is no room for uncertainty in this battle of colleagues.

So what is all the fuss about? Is the food really that good to elicit Black Friday-like throwing of elbows and cold disregard for the fellow competition?

Here are some of the trophy dishes Julia brought home on her successful days:

Smoked Salmon Pasta with Goat Cheese

Roast Pork Ribs with Rice Pilaf

Huevos a la flamenca, or Flamenca-style eggs- baked eggs with a variety of cooked vegetables and ham

“Spring rolls”- a typical spring roll filling in a French-style crepe

Apple strudel

Gachas dulces- toasted cinnamon and milk porridge

Other dishes we have also tried but aren’t pictured include lobster bisque, shrimp fettucine, and ham and cheese Spanish tortilla.

I have been supremely impressed with the good quality of some of the dishes. Others are perhaps not so stellar taste-wise but do give us a glimpses into new Spanish gastronomic territory, such as a stew we recently tried that was surprisingly punctuated with squares of pig fat with some hairy bristles still attached!

All in all, we have loved occasionally having a ready-made dinner after a long day of work and tiresome commute! The students at Julia’s school have unexpectedly blessed us by providing us with some food fast, saving us from resorting to the evils of fast food. Fight on, Julia!