Spain is the country I imagine when I am suffering from lack of sun. And just thinking of it, I remember all the Spanish food I love. I smell the olive oil, the fresh tomatoes, I’m in a chirigito on the beach in Barcelona eating some chipirones with a gazpacho; I’m on a terrace in Madrid eating a piglet and drinking a good red wine. This is Spain for me – sun, abundance, plates full of flavour, and enjoyment in the glasses.
All of you know what paella is: rice – yellow thanks to the saffron – and meat or/and fish and seafood…but without chorizo said the residents of Valencia to Jamie Oliver! But who knows arroz negro? It is similar to a paella but the rice is tinted by the ink of cuttlefish and the major ingredients are cuttlefish and prawns. Other ingredients can be added like octopus, crab, Dublin Bay prawn, etc. Yes, it is black rice and the effect on your plate is fantastic and it is as good as a good paella. Originally from Valencia, you will find also find it on the coasts of Catalonia and of course in Barcelona. I ate the best in the Port Olympic and in Barceloneta in Barcelona. They used to serve the arroz negro with aïoli, a sauce made with garlic and olive oil. For me it’s not compulsory, but like eveything it depends on your taste. Another meal related to a seafood paella is the fideuà: the base is not rice but short vermicelli noodles, and it is also very flavourful!
Cured Pork Meats
In Spain I really enjoy eating cured pork meats named embutidos. Spain is the fourth pork producer in the world and you can eat very good Serrano ham, chorizo, saucisson etc. I discovered lomo curado: pork loin that is marinated and then dried. You will find it as tapas in restaurants, in delicatessen and in supermarkets. It was really something new for me and I find the texture, pink colour, smell, and taste fantastic. Moreover, I was absolutely thrilled by the pata negra ham, made with meat of the breed ‘cerdo ibérico’. They eat mostly acorns and live a free-range life. For me it is the best ham I ever tasted. It is equivalent to foie gras talking about the multiplicity and finesse of taste you have in one bite… and the price. The consistency is also interesting.
Spain equals tapas, it’s obvious. Restaurants and bars offer small quantities of various foods you can share with friends. And if you choose a good place to taste it, it’s a really good option. From croquetas de jamon (ham croquette) to patatas bravas (fried potatoes served with a spicy sauce), embutidos (cured pork meats), cheese, etc. Among them you’ll find also a lot of seafood, including the chipirones. They are small squid fried. It’s crunchy and tasty. The best spot are at the beach, with your feet in the sand in the really small restaurants called chiringuitos.
Rioja Red Wine
Spain has an ancient tradition of wine production and you’ll find some very good white and red wines. French producers contributed to the development of this production when some left France after the grape blight crisis in 1850. The most famous wines, and those that I drank the most, are those from Rioja, in the North of Spain (Cantabria).
“The(se) red wines are characterized by a modest level of acidity, velvety tannins and vanilla aromas typical, due to prolonged breeding American oak barrels. But we meet more and more fruity and juicy raw, with woody aromas less marked. The reservas are wines aged one year in oak barrels and then another two years in barrel or bottle. The gran reservas are wines that are produced only in good years; they are bred two years in oak barrels and then another three years in barrel or bottle. La Rioja has a DOCa (Protected Designation of Origin)” (mondovino).
I found them a bit strong (the alcohol degree is never low) but I liked the taste which goes well with the embutidos and other typical plates. Their red dark colour reminded me of something linked to Flamenco, ardent character, generosity…many associations came up.
Churros Con Chocolate
Churros are now international and you can find them in every fair, but they come from Spain and you have special local shops for them: the chucherrias. What could be more invigorating on a windy and cold day of winter? And better if you can take them with a hot chocolate. Some of the hot chocolates are very thick due to the corn starch they add, but always with a good cacao taste. I believe this was a traditional breakfast for the mid-morning pause.
Yes you can eat very well in Spain. There is an abundance of fresh products and a lot of restaurants cook from day to day. I can’t make an exhaustive list but I should advise you to taste piglets (baked slowly in a wood-fired oven), the saubressada which livened up my omelettes, the gazpacho and the horchata which was a real relief on the hot summer days, the range of cheese, the tourron nougat, the pan con tomate in the Catalan restaurants (yes tomatoes and garlic are just rubbed on the bread, but I never managed to have the same taste at home), the list goes on. Open your eyes when you go there, taste the local specialities. Go to the shop yourself and observe what the Spanish really buy to cook. Ask your Spanish neighbours about the most typical restaurant they woudl recommend..be curious…
Pack Your Bags
Spain is located in the South of Europe. Winters can be cold in the mountains and in Madrid but are tepid in other parts of Spain. Summer is always hot and the beginning of the spring and autumn can be rainy. Best months to visit are May, June and September but even in the winter the weather can be very pleasant and bright. Just adjust your wardrobe to the weather forecasts.
Spain is on Central European Time (CET) (except the Canary Islands) so plus one hour versus Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) in winter and plus two hours during the summer. So you can enjoy more longer evenings in the sun light. The Euro (EUR) is the official currency.
Spain has various international airports served by the big airlines and lowcost airlines. Taxis, buses and/or trains are all available to reach the major nearest cities.
The railway network is also developed, with some international trains going to/from France. The roads and railways are good and you can use your own car or a bus. The entrance from France can be very crowded in summer.
Each province, each city, almost each village has its own celebration. If your trip can match one of them, even better! Go for example to the Mercè celebration around the penultimate weekend of September in Barcelona; the Semana Santa for Easter in Andalusia and also important in other provinces; the Fallas in Valencia in March – there are so many.
Culture and history are very rich in Spain. Museums, Roman churchs, antiques, famous painters (Dali, Picasso, Velasquez…), dancers, singers, Spain has it all. Everyone will find something to suit their own interests. Sport is also an option. You can’t get bored in Spain!