Sans spice!| Traditional tapas & Spanish food
Given the chance, Goan’s would like to start every single day with breakfast of chorisa+pão (the portuguese term for bread) and a pint of beer! [King’s preferably!] We adore food…..our fish curries, gravies or chicken cooked in any manner is just delectable!
It wouldn’t matter to us if a region would have nothing extraordinary to offer. No astounding sights & no incredible attractions could do, as long as there’s glorious food on offer – albeit with a pint of beer.
Enter Spain : a nonidentical twin of Goa!
Sleepy streets, siestas in the noon, endless flow of wine and glorious, glorious food.
I was mildly surprised when a Spanish colleague happened to mention in passing that Spanish food is not spicy. My instant reaction “How can food be tasty without being spicy?” And by spicy, I did not pungent [ Yeah being totally oblivious here!]
And I knew that I was in for a gastronomical rendezvous while planning the trip. And I wasn’t disappointed in the least bit.
Did we neglect the world renowned Paella? Oh no! We did go on a quest to find the tastiest paella and guzzled Sangria with every dish! But we also ensured that:
We didn’t leave Spain without trying…
How could I start this list without the first mention being of Jamón ibérico?
Indians like to add spice to everything possible. That includes sausages, salami & ham too.
Jamón ibérico was an exciting change in all its humble glory. In its basic cured state – its the best traditional ham available in Spain. It could be paired with nuts/cheese or olives but tastes exceptional all by itself as well.
The Ham is sourced from the Pata Negra (black hoof) pigs that are atleast 50% Iberian and fed on a diet rich in olives, acorns and grains! One of the reasons the Jamón is preserved and hung with the [black] foot visible, as evidence of its pedigree.
The meek counterpart: The Jamón Serrano, made from white pigs. Minus the streaks of fat found in the Ibérico version, but still tasty and a cheaper alternative.
Just a mention of my native chorisa albeit in a foreign avatar – is enough to make me drool. Since the origins could be Spanish, it could not do without a mention. The Spanish choriza way less spicy than the goan counterpart, is still intensely flavorful with additions of paprika, white wine and garlic.
Best had with crispy bread – any that you could get your hands on, be it chapata [Spanish Ciabatta] or the traditional bocadillo or bocata – baguette-style bread loaf.
I sometimes try to replicate a Goan flavor to the chorizo I make at home, and serve it with pearl onions and tiger bread.
Here’s a recipe you could use to make choriza pulao, its pretty similar to what my mum makes :)
The Spanish version of the daily croquettes. Although not unique to Spain, this dish is for every traveler that wouldn’t be keen to experiment with food. Available in innumerable variations including one with a filling of Jamón, the cover is usually made of stiff béchamel; mashed potatoes are used – rarely though. Fried to crisp perfection with an addition of Manchego cheese to the center, a heaven of gooey goodness.
My favorite: One with a filling of fresh creamy cod.
Is not Black Paella! i.e. paella made with black rice.
Do not let the color put you off!
Arròs negre is a heady, shocking dish made in the same manner as a paella using squid ink, and sepia/squid as the staple. The color of the ink camouflages many other flavors to be a muted flavor that predominates the senses, with hints of smoked paprika and tomato. Its a classic example of Catalan cuisine, a mixture of simple ingredients turning into a scrumptious phenomenon.
Hesitant at first, I knew I had to dive in and go with the mantra ‘Food is meant to be eaten and not looked at!’
Try it out, I wasn’t disappointed.
Gambas al Ajillo
When a waiter passed by, while we were waiting for our sea urchin, with a wok full of deep pink shrimps in stock, accompanied by a aromatic, garlicky waft – I instantly knew, I had to have that as well.
Gambas al Ajillo is yet again a simple amalgamation of flavors. Shrimps cooked in olive oil with garlic leading the flavor wagon. After you’re done with the juicy yet crunchy shrimps, it’s immensely satisfying to scoop the remains of the stock with a bocata .
The closer you are to a seaside restaurant, the fresher the shrimps and more intense the flavor! Another ‘safe dish’ award winner :)
P.S. Sometimes the shrimps are replaced with mussels and the dish is still a winner.
Although we had Paella in every city, one of the best we had was at Port Olímpic, Barcelona at La Fonda del Port Olímpic. You should give it a try!
I hope you’ve not left just yet! There’s plenty for the veg aficionado’s as well:
Pimientos de Padrón
In my search for something fiery (which was a massive failure) I however did get rewarded with these tiny treats: charred with a sprinkling of coarse sea salt and a generous helping of olive oil. You should play a game of Pepper roulette with them and if you’re lucky, you might end up with 1 being spicy out of 10.
Which one could be spicy? Only one way to find out—pick 1 by the stem and finish it in a bite!
Do ensure to keep a glass of Sangria or Beer handy, just in case you get scorched!
I could survive on soups/broths for everyday! Yes it may sound extreme, but its my idea of a hearty, healthy meal. Although not a big fan of cold soups, Gazpacho is tangy and refreshing! And undoubtedly tasty. It’s made with vegetables that could be pureed ripe – tomatoes reigning supreme. Add some bread, peppers, a dash of garlic & olive oil and voila! A summery goodness of bursting flavors that complement each other perfectly.
There’s your inspiration for a quick 2 minute blender recipe!
Of course there’s also the Salmorejo – that skips the veggies and only makes use of tomatoes.
Tortilla de patatas or Tortilla española
More about the patatas than the eggs, a delish combo of basics: potatoes & eggs, that could be had at about any time of day and would taste just as good. Very versatile [as eggs always are] and can be had with as many additives as you prefer! Robust and filling.
My suggestion: Have it by itself rather than with bread. Simple & no 2 tortillas could taste the same!
Patatas Bravas is synonymous to Spain as Curry is to India. You could have had this delicacy anywhere in a Spanish cafe, around the world, but wouldn’t you want to try it in its own region? ;)
Even if you do get away sneakily past it on the menu, it might pop up as one of the options when you’re too tired to order and wanna start off eating right away!
Crisp potatoes topped with a creamy ‘Allioli’ style garlicky sauce to go along with the fierce tomato one…. there’s your classic tapas.
Berenjenas con Miel de Cana/Fried Aubergines with cane honey
While on a day trip to Girona, we did come across some Indians as well. And when we bumped into them at a local restaurant, the first mention was that of ‘Sweet Fried Brinjal rounds’ :)
Easy to relate to, unique in all its right, these crisp fried rounds are batter fried and then immediately topped with ‘Miel de Cana’ or sugarcane honey aka Molasses. Another winner.
How can I wrap up the list without some dessert? So here goes:
A native Catalan dessert, although yo may find it almost all around the country. It will remind you distinctly of Crème brûlée [Although I’m pretty sure, interchangeably they do mean the same!]
Crème brûlée being my favorite dessert, I survived on Crema Catalana whenever I had sweet cravings.
Sangria provided company the rest of the times ;)
And now for a special mention for something suggested by a Spanish friend, which is definitely distinct:
A bubbly produced from traditional local grapes, Cava is much closer to Champagne than Prosecco. Although some people still refer to the drink as ‘champán’ or ‘champaña’, it is anything but Champagne.
Definitely not sweet and quite the opposite in comparison to Sangria.
‘Cava’ is nothing but a cellar/cave that was used in ancient times to mature the wine.
A ‘must’ for special events and occasions in Catalan culture.
Oh the gluttonous joys of nibbling on luscious treats, and then turning into a couch potato! – we Goans are good at that as well, ha!
Ensure you don’t step a foot out of Spain without trying the above!
In every country I try to ensure we have 1 unique fare either local or exotic.
What was it for Spain?
Well, it was Sea Urchins, at the La Fonda at Port Olimpic in Barcelona.
And how did it taste?
I would say more like a cream cheese sauce although quite smooth and savory.
There’s your enticing foodie inspiration!
For traditional Spanish tapas food
- La Fonda Del Port Olimpic for Paella near Port Olimpic in Barcelona
- Taberna Coloniales in Seville for authentic cheap tapas
- Bar Kiki near Mirador San Nicolas in Granada for Duck with Apricots
Have you been to Seville? Here’s where I went hopping around the city…..
Are you a foodie? Do you like playing safe or do you like to experiment with food?
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