August 24, 2016 No Comments

Spain: A Gastronomic Catastrophe

Spanish cuisine, a catastrophe? Well hardly, but it is for other countries around the world, as Spanish restaurants frequently win global awards for their exquisite offerings, and the Catalan restaurant El Celler de Can Roca currently holds the title of “second best restaurant in the world“, an award it won in 2015. Among the top 10 restaurants worldwide in 2016, Spain managed to secure three places.

Most expats will tell you they eat out a lot more frequently after moving to Spain than they did when living in the UK. The main reason for this is probably due to the lower cost, but also because eating out in Spain is so accessible. Unless you choose to live in a very rural location, you will find a great choice or restaurants and cafes within walking distance; even the urbanisations on the outskirts of towns usually have a least one restaurant where residents can go for a meal or a drink without the inconvenience of driving.

Depending on the area, you will find UK style food available as well as Chinese, Indian and Italian restaurants. Like in the UK, there are also plenty of fast food outlets, but given that you are in a country renowned for its fine cuisine, not sampling the culinary delights Spain has to offer would be doing yourself a great disservice! Like with many other things in Spain, the food you are likely to find on offer varies from one region to another.

Paella

No doubt the most well-known and popular dish among tourists in Spain is paella, which is generally thought to be a rice dish with seafood. In fact “paella” was originally the name of the pan the dish is cooked in; a type of shallow frying pan with two circular handles. The paella pan is characterized by being round with a flat bottom.

The pan can be anywhere from around 12 inches in diameter to serve one person, to several feet wide, a size often used at town fiestas to feed dozens from one dish. The one thing that doesn’t change is the height of the paella pan. It is less than 2 inches deep which means the rice has maximum contact for fast cooking with the bottom of the pan.

paella

Seafood paella

When travelling around Spain you will find not only the famous seafood paella, but also meat, vegetable, or mixed paellas. Also each region has its own interpretation of the famous dish: some will serve you rice with green beans and snails, others will add chorizo and other spicy sausages to the rice, while in Galicia and in coastal regions it will be prepared with mainly mixed seafood, including calamari, prawns, clams and mussels. The one thing all these dishes have in common is the round, short grain rice and the saffron that adds the unique colour and aroma.

In Catalunya you will often find a dish on “Menus of the Day” called Fideua, (pronounced fid-ay-wa) which is similar to the seafood paella, but made with pasta noodles instead of rice.

Embutidos

Sausages and cured meats, known as embutidos, are another popular food in Spain, which again can be found in most areas, but will differ from province to province.

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Gastronomia – Region by Region

Galicia is famed for its seafood, fresh local vegetables and regional cheeses, and locals eat a lot of goat and lamb. The Basque country is known for its cod dishes, and a wide use of sauces on both fish and meat, of which lamb is the most common.

Asturias is probably best known for Fabada Asturiana, which is a rich stew with a base of white haricot beans, which in fact feature in many dishes of the area. Locally caught sardines and tuna are featured widely on menus in this region, and the most commonly served meat is pork.

Navarra is famous for its fish dish – river trout stuffed with serrano ham. The region also produces wonderful vegetable crops which are sold throughout Spain. Navarra is perhaps best-known for pimiento piquillo, small pointed red peppers that are somewhat spicier than red bell peppers, and distributed widely throughout the country.

La Rioja is best known for its wine, but they too have some amazing cuisine, with an emphasis on sauces. The fish mainly eaten here is cod, along with dishes using local poultry and fresh vegetables, as well as cured hams and other meats.

Valencia is the original home of the paella, and it can be found in its many variations, along with Fideus a la Cassola, which is a type of stew with noodles. Almonds are produced abundantly in Valencia, and are used in turron (Spanish nougat) and made into sugared almonds, candied almonds, added to fruitcakes and much more.

spanish-turron

Turron from Alicante

Murcia is where many of the country’s beans, lentils and other pulses are grown, as well as tomatoes, garlic, vegetables and fruit; as the land in the region is very fertile. Murcia is also famous for its spicy chorizo and goats’ cheese, both of which are popular throughout Spain.

Andalucía produces olives, rice, oranges, lemons, and a variety of spices, since the Arab influence of many years ago. These days the region also produces many fruits, including tropical varieties. Because of the abundance of olive fields, this area is the third-largest exporter of olive oil for Europe. Sardines and calamari are the most popular fish in Andalucia, and in the mountainous regions you will find stews made with chickpeas and tripe, or oxtail. Andalucia is also the home of gazpacho, a cold soup featuring tomatoes, peppers, cucumber and olive oil. Cadiz has its own fish soup called cachoreñas.

Extremadura, like most of central Spain, serves up incredible dishes of wild boar, partridge, hare and pheasant, as well as cured hams, chorizo and other meats. This region also has many sweet offerings; cakes, buns and biscuits.

Madrid produces an array of preserves, cured hams and sausages, but generally the restaurants here will serve fresh fish and meats from other parts of Spain. The most famous local dish is Cocido Madrileño, which is stew containing chicken, belly pork, ham, beef, chorizo, morcilla (blood sausage) chickpeas and cabbage. This is served as three courses: first the stock, then the chickpeas and cabbage with chorizo and morcilla, followed by the meat.

Of course Spain is famous for its first-rate wines; initially La Rioja, but other regions produce equally excellent wine: Navarra, Ribera del Duero, Valencia, Murcia, Andalucia, and Catalunya, to name just a few. Catalunya is famous for its Cava; a sparkling white wine, while Jerez is the home of sherry.

Eating In

While you are likely to eat out more frequently in Spain than you are accustomed to in the UK, you are also likely to find eating in an equally enjoyable experience. Due to the fabulous weather, many people choose to eat outdoors.

barcelona-outdoor-dining

Outdoor restaurant in Barcelona

Apartment dwellers can eat while sitting on the terrace enjoying the view, and those with a garden and adequate shade can also make the most of the space as a dining area.

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