Food • September 2015
Forget the patatas bravas – Spain isn’t just the new gastronomic star of Europe, its many regions offer myriad traditional flavours. Ahead of the next After Hours Club event, Alicia Miller, assistant editor at Sunday Times Travel Magazine, rounds up the must-eat dishes – and the need-to-drink wines to match
** This event is now sold out. Please see the November 2015 issue for details of the next After Hours Club taking place in January 2016 **
Sun-baked and slow-paced – replete with Moorish ruins and powdery beaches – Andalucia is as quintessentially Spanish as it gets. Ditto its cuisine: this is the homeland of tapas, those famed mini-plates that range from croquetas to albondigas (meatballs). But when down in the country’s tip – where olives ripen to perfection, and the Atlantic coast provides countless marine delights – for a truly local mouthful look no further than a tapa of oil-drenched boquerones (anchovies). You can’t go wrong at Blanco Cerrillo in the heart of Seville, where their version – fried or marinated – is the stuff of local legend.
Salud! Wash it down with a frosted copita of fino sherry, the umami-rich fortified wine from Jerez.
The undulating emerald hills of Asturias – often cloaked in a misty veil – remain unknown to most visitors. It’s a shame, because this gorgeous northwestern region claims some of the scrummiest food in the land: hearty, meaty stews; uber-fresh crab and shrimp; blue-veined, cave-aged Cabrales cheese. But the star dish has to be fabada, a rich pork-flecked stew, brimming with the region’s jumbo fabas (beans). Try it in a cosy sideria, or plump for a gastro-version by chef Nacho Manzo at his Michelin-starred Casa Marcial in Parres.
Salud! There’s only one thing to drink in Asturias – local sidra (cider), traditionally poured into tumblers from on high.
With eclectic Barcelona as its capital, there’s little wonder that Catalonia boasts many flavours – this Mediterranean region is Spain’s culinary melting pot. But, no matter how many de-constructed Michelin meals you eat (try Albert Adria’s Tickets, here the simple things still rule. Especially veggies: pan con tomate – bread topped with sun-ripened tomato – is ubiquitous; escalivada (grilled vegetables) is a year-round favourite; barbecued calçots (a type of onion) are the subject of locals’ springtime obsessions. Pop into Barcelona's bustling La Boqueria market to sample Catalonia’s greatest hits on the hoof.
Salud! Spain’s answer to champagne, cava, free-flows from the Catalan sub-region of Penedes.
Think you know paella? Not until you’ve eaten it in Valencia. In this south-eastern region – the birthplace of the world’s most famous rice dish – they take preparation seriously. There are rules: you need the right short-grained rice; the right garrafon beans; and you must never, ever mix meat and fish. A chicken, snails and rabbit combo is the authentic Valencia way, some of the best turned out at Restaurant Levante in the city of Valencia. But it’s not just paella in these parts; try a myriad of other classic rice dishes, re-invented, at modern Riff.
Salud! Valencia’s most famous tipple is the sweet moscatel wine – it’s like drinking liquid gold – but if you’re on the paella it has to be a merseguera white or garnacha red.
Butting up against Portugal, rugged and remote Extremadura remains Spain’s great undiscovered culinary region. Yet, its most famous product is world-renowned – jamón Iberico, the silky, savoury aged leg of acorn-fed Iberico pigs. This is meat country; aside from as much jamón as you can handle, the food is hardy farmer fuel – think mutton stew, or chorizo, made with lashings of smoky Pimentón de la Vera (paprika). At Hospederia del Real Monasterio – an ornate monastery in Guadalupe – feast on Iberico pork fillet marinated in pimentón, or morcilla.
Salud! Rich, fruity reds from Ribera del Guadiana are just the thing to complement the region’s bold dishes.
It’s often heralded as the culinary epicentre of Spain – if not Europe – but the Basque country isn’t just a foodie wonderland because of its abundance of Michelin stars (47 at last count). It’s the vibrant everyday food scene, led by an obsession with pintxos – the Basque tapas, often served on a skewer. Stumbling between nameless pintxos bars in San Sebastian, sampling each one’s speciality – it’s not just a meal, but an event. Besides the prime seafood, you simply can’t leave without sampling a real Basque asador, or grill. The rib-eye at Restaurante Urbano in San Sebastian has won plaudits, but for the full experience it has to be Asador Etxebarri, west of Bilbao.
Salud! If you’re eating chuleta, turn to the great reds of Rioja Alavesa – but if the sun is shining and you’re nibbling pintxos, make it a frizzante txakoli.
Feeling hungry? The next, Spanish-themed, After Hours Club event will be held at The National Gallery on 16 October 2015 in association with Peyton & Byrne. Inspired by the forthcoming Goya: The Portraits exhibition at the gallery, the event will feature a three-course Spanish menu and wine tasting. Click here to buy tickets