This is the first of a series of blog postings from different friends of the Club, who have kindly offered to write about some of their food and drink experiences.
Our friend David is a regular visitor to the Club. He’s traveled widely and as something of a ‘gourmand’ we love hearing his tales of some of the places he’s eaten.
Just back from a walking holiday in the remote Guadarrama National Park in Central Spain. Beautiful undulating countryside and in five days of largely unchallenging walking we only met a handful of fellow trekkers. At either end of the walk, we spent a few days in the lovely medieval cities of Segovia and Salamanca. The whole experience reminded me how so many people under-rate Spanish food. To my mind it is right up with French, Italian, Chinese, Japanese and Indian as one of the great cuisines of the world.
Whether in a bar of one of the tiny villages that are dotted around the National Park (lamb cooked in an open wood-burning stove or delicious beef cheeks) or in the more sophisticated eateries of the cities (roast suckling pig or salt-encrusted cod), a delicious culinary experience awaits. And of course each region of Spain has its own distinctive cocina.
But what I love more than anything about eating in Spain is how civilized it all is. For a lazy sod like me, how nice to be able to loll about in bed and know that you can get breakfast until 11.30, that you can enjoy lunch any time up until about 6pm and dinner doesn’t even start until 9.
The thing though that really makes the Spanish food experience stand out from any other and turns the whole thing into a cultural event is the world of pinchos (pintxos), tapas and raciones.
How wonderful to go into a small bar at the end of a 10 mile walk and be greeted by an ice cold beer and plate of small ‘bits’ (literal translation of ‘pincho’, pintxo is the Basque equivalent). Not only that but very often they are complementary with the drink. A small slice of bread with some delicious aged jamon, a small bowl of pan fried squid, a few succulent slices of home-made chirozo or morcilla (black pudding), a dish of freshly picked olives, or some fresh prawns in garlic – all of these and many more were consumed at the end of the days’ exertions, making lunch even for a greedy chap like me unnecessary.
The difference between pinchos and tapas seems to be largely regional. Tapas is the generic word used all over Spain while pinchos are mainly found in the north. I stand to be corrected on this but that’s how I understand it.
For a more serious tapas experience – look out for Raciones, larger portions and a more diverse selection. These do of course cost but nonetheless can represent a very good value meal. At the end of our walk, I met my wife Kassie in Madrid and as ever she had done her homework on the pick of the tapas bars.
We ate lunch at the fabulous Cervecia Cervantes (in the Plaza de Jesus), which specialises in seafood raciones but also serves some excellent meat. We shared a delicious ‘mille-feuille’ of scallops and then a plate of melt in the mouth lamb cutlets. Worth the plane fare, alone! Every other building in the Calle Cervantes contains a tapas bar which judging by their menus and the number of Spanish eating were all worth a visit. Can thoroughly recommend going if you are ever in Madrid.
David Wallace, Maida Vale, London
CLICK HERE to see David’s photostream of pictures from his trip