A short subjective guide on what to treat oneself to in the country of flamenco, corrida and sangria
NOTE! The order of dishes is random and doesn’t mean those on the top of the list are better than the bottom ones, e.g. pintxos are better than paella or boquerones en vinagre
– pintxos — Basque version of the Spanish tapas, small snacks that served before the main meal or constitute the main dish, which is accompanied by wine and a meeting with friends.
The best thing about pintxos is that they usually just stand on the bar and “ask” you to be eaten. That’s why it’s a good idea to take a walk in the Old Town of Bilbao or San Sebastian and visit a number of different bars on the way. Remember to choose spacious but crowded places serving a variety of pintxos. They range from very simple (sandwiches with jamon serrano, an omelette or tortilla de patatas) to more sophisticated: sea food, fish, stuffed, grilled or pickled vegetables, various pastes or cheeses. The more colours and types of snacks you see on the bar, the better.
– calamares — a bit like salad with goat’s cheese in France, in Spain calamares are pretty much always a good choice. We were delighted with juicy and crunchy ones served in Castro-Urdiales, as well as small mouth-watering calmares in Combarro. In the menu you will find them either as deep fried squid (calamares fritos) or as calamares a la romana. The Spanish sometimes treat squid like ham or cheese 🙂 and so they go for bocadillo de calamares, which is a squid sandwich.
– tortilla de patatas — the most famous of all Spanish tortillas: an omelette made with potatoes and eggs, and often also with onions. Sometimes you’ll see versions with chorizo, ham or peppers. It’s eaten individually or on a sandwich and it’s good both for breakfast and as a snack. Potatoes are what distinguishes Spanish tortilla from French omelettes.
The story behind tortilli de patatas, or maybe I should say the legend behind its origins, is also quite interesting. The very beginnings of the dish date back to the period of the Carlist Wars in the 19th century. They say that during the siege of Bilbao, a Carlist General Tomas de Zumalacarregui fed his army with this simple, quick to cook and nutritious tortilla. Another legend has it that during one of the battles in the field Zumalacarregui came to a house nearby and demanded a meal. The host only had eggs, potatoes and onions to offer and that’s how tortilla de patatas was born. You can never say how much truth a legend hides but either way Mr Zumalacarregui did have a good taste.
– patatas bravas — small oven-baked potatoes served with spicy tomato and peppers sauce or with garlic and mayo alioli sauce. A perfect tapa with wine or beer.
– pimientos del piquillo rellenos — red peppers stuffed with tuna or cod, served in tomato sauce. Delicious!
– pulpo a la gallega — octopus chunks in hot peppers, usually served on slices of oven-baked potatoes. Very good and filling — try it when you’re in Galicia
– pimientos del padron— small green peppers grilled with salt, a very tasty and light snack.
– mejillones al vapor — mussels; not as frequently served as squid but you might find them if you’re lucky.
– paella — on of the “must eats” in Spain; a combination of rice with saffron (which gives it that characteristic yellow colour), sea food, meat and vegetables. In the past, as they say, paella was a mix of all the leftovers from the whole week — nowadays it is the number one in restaurants. It is almost always tasty and sometimes so delicious it makes you want to cry… as in a certain restaurant in Barcelona in 2010 🙂
– boquerones fritos or boquerones en vinagre — small fish, served fried or in vinegar, a perfect starter or snack during a long sightseeing tour or a long walk in the Spanish sun. Maybe that’s why it is very popular in the south of the country.
And, last but not least, Spanish cheese and ham — queso manchego, jamon serrano and other delicacies. Taste best with fresh baguette sprinkled with olive oil, and tomato. Served with scrambled eggs with chorizo. That’s what I call a perfect breakfast!
Oh my, I got hungry writing about all this. I have to do something about it now. Bon appetit!